EU MPs reject move to harmonise pilots’ working hours

EU MPs have rejected the move to harmonise pilots working hours across the EU, The Telegraph has reported.

The harmonisation move could have effectively increased the working hours for British pilots. The vote by the EU and Transport and Tourism Select Committee was hailed by pilots unions, including the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), which had warned that it could put passenger safety at risk. However, the vote was condemned by the aviation industry.

‘We are really surprised after two years of consultation it can be rejected,’ said a spokesman for the European Low Fares Airline Association, whose members include Ryanair and easyJet. ‘There were penalties for airlines, which we accepted because of the benefit of harmonising arrangements across Europe.’

Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, said, ‘This vote puts at risk key measures to improve aviation safety. Safety is the first priority for the EU and the sole objective of this revision. Pilot fatigue is a very serious issue and that’s why there are already strong EU rules in place.”

The all-party Transport Select Committee at Westminster, which shared BALPA’s concerns, said that the proposed changes would have led to a lowering of standards in the UK.

Jim McAuslan, the general secretary of BALPA, welcomed the decision saying: ‘British pilots with 40 million hours of flying experience between them and by the public, 90 percent of whom are concerned that a pilot could be landing their aircraft having been awake for 22 hours.

‘The commission must now go back to the drawing board and work with pilots and scientists to develop rules on flying time and tiredness that are based on evidence and expert experience.’

The vote comes after a BALPA survey found that nearly half its members had fallen asleep in the cockpit, with one in three saying that they had woken up to find their co-pilot also asleep. BALPA has warned the proposed changes would lead to pilots being awake for 22 hours if standby hours are taken into account, which could risk passenger safety.

The EU had said the changes were essential to ensure airlines in all 27 member states operated on a level playing field. According to proposed rules, pilots could work a maximum of 110 hours in a two-week period, more than the 95-hour limit under British regulations. At nights the flight limit would be extended to 11 hours from the current 10-hour limit.

Though endorsed by ministers, euro-MPs have voted by 20 to 13 to reject the move. A final decision is expected at the full session of the European Parliament later this year. If approved, the new rules drawn up by the European Aviation Safety Agency would have come into force in 2015.


Travellers urged to confirm currency requirements, use cash-cards

One-tenth of holidaymakers are unsure of the legal currency at their destination and carry the wrong currency especially when travelling on holiday to European countries, according to a survey by the International Currency Exchange (ICE).

ICE plc, a UK-based foreign exchange and prepaid currency card provider, has conducted a survey of 2,000 people who went on holiday in August. The agency is now urging holidaymakers and travellers to double-check the legal currency in use at their destinations and not to assume that any European country will accept euros, according to Travellers to Euro destinations are also urged to use a fee free and secure prepaid currency card, such as the ICE Travellers Cashcard, to avoid confusion.

Tom Johnson, head of ICE Online Business said: ‘It’s easy to assume that if it’s Europe it must be euro.

‘It’s even easier to assume it’s euro if it’s an EU country. But currently only 17 of 28 EU members have adopted the European currency, creating some currency confusion for travellers. ‘

For example, while Poland is part of the EU, the currency currently in use in the country remains the Zloty, not euros. Similarly, despite being in the EU, Denmark and Sweden both use their own form of the Krone, while Finland use euros. Croatia, the latest country to join the EU, is currently advising travellers to take both euro and Kuna.

Johnson said: ‘Wherever holidaymakers are heading, it’s important to do some research on the local currency. The Eurozone may seem familiar territory, but it still has some surprises up its sleeve and holidaymakers can get caught out. Order the right currency before leaving the UK, preferably online to obtain the most competitive rates and to avoid additional charges incurred through ATMs when using debit and credit cards abroad.

‘Travellers to Euro destinations can also consider a fee-free, prepaid currency card such as the ICE Travellers Cashcard, as a more secure and convenient way to pay for goods and services than carrying cash.’

The ICE Travellers Cashcard is a fee-free, PIN-protected Mastercard prepaid currency card that claims to offer travellers a secure and convenient method of payment overseas. Provided with a free back up card if the first is lost or stolen, the card has no ATM charges, no penalty fees, no fees for topping up and offers 1 percent cashback on all point of sale purchases.

Britons face high costs when driving in Europe

Failing to take out excess waiver insurance (EWI) can cost holidaymakers that hire cars in Europe up to £1,186.

EWI reduces the excess payable for accidents or theft to zero. However, a report by UK Post Office Travel Money Car Rental found that nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, of holidaymakers who hired a car to drive overseas, paid only the basic rental charge and failed to take out EWI.

The Post Office analysed the excess charges in 19 European holiday destinations and found that they were lowest in Turkey at £400 and Bulgaria at £404. However, the cost could rise to more than double this amount. The excess charges levied in Italy were £842, while in Norway holiday motorists could face costs of £893, and in Portugal £961.

In Switzerland, those that venture out without EWI could pay £1,064 or more if their car is damaged or stolen, and £1,186 in Ireland.

According to the research, nearly 80 percent of holiday motorists also failed to take out insurance cover for tyre, undercarriage and window damage, thus facing hundreds of pounds in excess charges. However, the Post Office also found that paying for the extra cover when hiring a car from airports at holiday destinations could also add hundreds of pounds to rental costs. For example, the cost of including EWI and tyre, undercarriage and window damage insurance adds £152 to a week’s basic car rental package of £124 in Spain’s Costa del Sol, while the charge for an additional driver adds another £41.

The Costa del Sol was just one of six destinations where rental costs doubled when extras were added. The others were the Costa Blanca, Tenerife, Majorca, Larnaca and Dublin. Car hire extras costs are reportedly cheapest in Marmaris, Turkey, at around £35 for EWI and £19 for an additional driver, but were almost four times costlier at Pisa Airport in Italy (£205).

Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money said: ‘Car hire costs can go through the roof when extras are added so it is understandable that many motorists go for the cheapest rate offered when booking online. It can also be very difficult to find out the cost of Excess Waiver Insurance before travel and it is only when collecting the car that what seemed a cheap deal becomes a very expensive one.

‘However, the consequence of not paying for the extra insurance could be a much higher bill if you have an accident or if another driver hits your car and leaves without giving his details. There is an easy solution to this because you can buy an insurance policy before leaving home for a fraction of the cost of EWI. The lowest cost we found was around GBP14 for a week’s insurance compared with an average of almost £102 for EWI in Europe,’ he said, adding: ‘In many cases drivers must pay for car hire extras when they collect their rental car, so it makes sense to carry enough foreign currency to cover this – rather than incur charges for paying on plastic.’

Europe’s floods cause travel cancellations

Extensive flooding across large areas of Central Europe is causing travel chaos and the cancellation of holiday bookings.

Following days of heavy rain, many of the rivers in Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland and Hungary are dangerously high or have already broken their banks. River cruise companies have been the hardest hit, with US-based Viking River Cruises already having cancelled its June 9 sailings from Budapest to Nuremberg, and Passau to Budapest. Further cancellations and alterations to schedules are expected between June 5 and June 16.

In a statement, Viking commented, ‘In many instances, due to having the largest fleet in river cruising combined with our in-house nautical and operations team in Switzerland, we are able to continue operating our itineraries through careful planning and switching of sister ships. In every decision we make, the safety of our guests and crew remains our top priority.’

A number of other river cruise operators are also announcing cancellations, including Avalon Waterways, with three departures cancelled between now and June 14.

Flooding in Slovakia, particularly in its capital city, Bratislava, has prompted the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office to issue a warning for travellers to the country, saying, ‘Some people may also experience disruption to travel plans as a result. Please check with your local operator for the latest information.’

The Czech Republic has also announced a nationwide state of emergency, with 3,000 people having to leave their homes, seven people having died, and the floodwaters yet to peak. Southern Germany has been badly impacted by the flooding, with the army called in to help. According to the BBC, water levels in the Bavarian town, Passau, are impassable and higher than at any time since the 16th century.


British wine tourists’ favourite vineyards revealed

A recent study has highlighted the wineries most popular with British wine tourists.

The study was undertaken by, a travel metasearch engine that compares airline, hotel, car rental, cruise, and other vacation deals from other travel sites, including other fare aggregators. The company based its findings on an analysis of searches on its website, and the survey results have been released at a time of burgeoning interest in wine tourism, and as World Wine Week draws to a close (last day Tuesday May 14).

Europe monopolises the vineyard popularity poll for British wine enthusiasts, not surprising considering its proximity to the UK and the quality of the wines produced on the continent. It accounted for eight of the top ten vineyards, with California in the US claiming the other two top spots.

The top winery was Cims de Porrera – Catalonia, Spain. Kayak said each vineyard in this region sits on steep, rocky summits around 500 metres above the village of Porrera. The black slate soils, varying microclimates and old vines ensure the production of exceptional quality wine. The suggested local wine was Solanes Barrica (2006).

Second on the list was Tedo River Vineyards – Douro Valley, Portugal. The Duoro Valley lies in northwestern Portugal and is combed with golden vine-filled terraces and the tranquil River Douro that winds its way from the Atlantic. The wild vineyards in this region have been awarded Unesco World Heritage status and offer a selection of tours and tasting courses. The suggested local wine is a bottle of 20-year-old Tawny Port.

The top Californian vineyard, which entered the list at number five, was Kunde Estate Vineyards in Sonoma County. Kayak said that this family run, 1,850 acre estate in the heart of the Sonoma Valley produces a selection of sustainably farmed wines from elegant, balanced reds to delicate, vibrant whites. With a variety of vineyard tours and a dedicated tasting room, this winery is the perfect destination for all wine enthusiasts. The Suggested local wine is Kunde Sauvignon Blanc (2011).

The full list was:-

Porrera Vineyards – Catalonia, Spain

Tedo River Vineyards – Douro Valley, Portugal

Taylor’s – Oporto/Gaia, Portugal

Weingut Juliuspital – Wurzburg, Germany

Kunde Estate Vineyards – Sonoma County, California, US

Robert Mondavi – Napa, California, US

Villa Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti – Tuscany, Italy

Castello Banfi – Tuscany Italy

Baden Wurttemburg Vineyards – Wurttemberg, Germany

Lavaux Vineyards – Lavaux Switzerland

UK drivers face continental fuel price hike

UK drivers planning to take their cars to Europe during the holiday season, or to tour the continent in a rental car, will notice a considerable increase in the price of fuel compared to what they would have been charged last summer.

The warning for increased expense comes from the Post Office’s seventh annual report on Motoring on the Continent. According to the report, while pump prices for unleaded fuel in the UK have not been subject to an increase in the last 12 months, France has seen an increase of £0.07 per litre, and Spain’s increase is £0.09 per litre.

The price increase to UK drivers has come about mainly because of the pound’s devaluation against the euro over the last year, rather than any major direct increase in the price of continental fuel. In fact, the cost of unleaded fuel has actually fallen in the majority of the 18 countries that the Post Office surveyed, while diesel is cheaper in all bar four countries. However, the poorer exchange rate means that for every 1,000 miles of continental motoring on unleaded fuel, tourists will have to pay £19.00 more year-on-year, or £11.00 more if the travel is carried out in a diesel car.

18 countries were surveyed, and drivers will notice an increase of up to £0.12 per litre in 13 of them. Andorra and Luxembourg are the cheapest countries for UK travellers to buy fuel for the second year running.

A spokesman for Post Office Travel Money, Andrew Brown, commented, ‘The disparity between what motorists pay for diesel and for unleaded petrol in Europe is in marked contrast to the UK, where diesel has long been more expensive. This was just one of the anomalies we picked up in this year’s survey, another being a difference of up to 48p a litre in fuel costs across the eurozone.

‘It may not make sense for holidaymakers to plan big detours just a save a few pounds, but the higher price of motoring on the Continent this year means they should plan their routes carefully before setting out so they keep costs down.

‘One of the ways in which holiday motorists can keep fuel costs to a minimum is to detour off the motorways to fill up at a supermarket. Just like in the UK, these can be the cheapest places to buy fuel, whereas motorists are likely to find the highest prices on the main roads.’

Cheaper European smartphone usage from July

Travellers to Europe after July 1 can look forward to the lowest ever data roaming charges when carrying their smartphone.

Legislation passed by the European Parliament means that the cheaper phone usage prices from July are set to become cheaper still during 2014.

From July 1, the most that a mobile operator can charge a customer to access mobile data in Europe is £0.56 per megabyte, a substantial reduction on charges that are currently being imposed. From 2014, overseas smartphone users will also have the right to use a different provider to the one that they use at home, in a move that is intended to encourage greater competition.

The legislation has come about in the wake of large numbers of travellers returning home to extortionate mobile phone bills, often generated at the ignorance of the user by features that are constantly updated by the home provider when the phone is left switched on, even if it is not used directly. Such usage will now be capped at £40.00, after which the user will have to be informed and agree to further charges. Call charges are also being capped at £0.23 per minute plus VAT.

The changes that are being imposed will result in overseas mobile usage charges showing an 85 percent reduction compared with those imposed in 2007.

However, caution will still be recommended when using smartphones in Europe, as the amount of data that specific applications use is unpredictable and can vary greatly dependant on location and individual systems. This means that despite the hefty price reductions, undisciplined usage could still lead to a nasty surprise when the traveller returns and opens their phone bill.

Price cutting war good news for UK holidaymakers

A new study suggests that UK holidaymakers will be big beneficiaries of a cost cutting war at European destinations this summer.

The Post Office Holiday Costs Barometer suggests that the popular destinations of the Spanish mainland and Portugal’s Algarve have seen local prices cut by 20 percent and 15 percent respectively. The benefits to UK travellers are still apparent, despite the pound being worth almost 5 percent less than it was a year ago.

When compiling its list, the Post Office study took into account the cost of 10 items that holidaymakers are likely to purchase locally. These were a three-course meal, a cup of coffee, a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, a soft drink, bottled water, suncream, insect repellent, cigarettes and a newspaper.

Resorts on the Algarve came out cheapest overall at £46.34, but the Portuguese advantage was slight when compared to Spain’s Torremolinos at £46.50, and Javea on the Costa Blanca at £47.14.

Spain’s islands proved to be more expensive, with Menorca the highest at £88.22, considerably more than Majorca at £55.26.

The cost savings are not only restricted to European destinations. Orlando, Florida has also seen a price reduction of more than 20 percent year-on-year, with the 10 items now costing just £58.16, while Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Red Sea coast has seen a 17 percent reduction to £62.83.

However, cost decreases are not universal, and some destinations have actually increased their prices over last year. Prominent among these was Dubai, with its £103.23 cost not only the highest on the survey, but it also reflected an increase of more than 60 percent year-on-year. The Turkish resort of Bodrum has also seen an increase of more than half, to £90.15.

According to Andrew Brown of Post Office Travel Money, ‘The pound may be worth less in Europe than a year ago but fierce competition means that lower prices in several of the resorts we surveyed can easily offset the falling value of sterling.’

Cruise market booms in UK and Europe

The cruise industry is experiencing massive growth in Europe that is epitomised by the UK, according to recently released figures

The figures, released by industry body, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Europe, showed that the number of cruises booked by Europeans in 2012 rose to a record 6.139 million, doubling the figure for 2004. The CLIA made the figures public at the 29th Annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference, and they reflect an annual growth in the industry of 8 percent per annum over the past 5 years.

The UK is in the vanguard of cruise-oriented nations, and its individual figures replicated the Europe-wide growth, with 1.7 million British passengers taking to the seas last year, which was 1,000 more than in the previous year.

However, Europeans do not travel far to embark on their cruises, with 80 percent of them choosing to cruise in European waters, reflected in a growing fascination for cruising in less temperate Northern Europe, the market for which grew by 10 percent last year, and served 1.333 million passengers.

While Britain tops the cruising league table, Germany also grew – by 11 percent – and takes 25 percent of the market, and France grew by 9 percent.

Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, the chairman of Clia Europe, commented, ‘2012 was a strong year for the European cruise industry, especially in view of the challenges the year presented. The doubling in the number of Europeans booking a cruise in the past eight years reflects the fact that the European cruise industry provides quality, innovation, value and great range of choice.

‘We very much look forward to seeing that growth continue this year, and the associated economic benefits that this will bring to Europe.’

Strong Pound Encourages Brits to Take a Winter Holiday

Travellers from the UK are being encouraged to take a winter holiday with the pound gaining strength over other European currencies.

With the value of Sterling edging higher and higher against the Euro over the last five weeks, indications are that the British economy is bouncing back by comparison with many of its European neighbours, and this will result in travellers having more spending power for winter vacations.

With British tourists benefiting from saving a few pounds thanks to the strength of Sterling, they will also be more likely to pre-book their other travel components, including car rentals.

A spokesperson for a car rental agency has said, ‘Jetting off for the winter holidays is something a lot of our customers admit they wish they had tried years before. It makes a nice change to get the family away for an end-of-year break and we know from customer feedback that renting a car works out as one of the best ways to get the most out of a holiday any time of the year.’

A report that was submitted at the World Travel market 2012, which was held in London recently, suggested that UK citizens have been taking more holidays in 2012 than in the past three years, having made around one billion trips globally. Around half of UK travellers, or 52 percent, have admitted to taking more than one holiday in 2012, compared to 41 percent in 2011, and barely 24 percent in 2010.

In 2012, 34 percent of travellers have taken two holidays, compared to only 28 percent that did so in 2011. Around 13 percent of UK holidaymakers have taken three trips in 2012, compared to 10 percent in 2011, while 5 percent have taken, or are planning to take, four or more holidays in 2012, compared to 4 percent in 2011.