easyJet launches mobile boarding passes at Belfast International Airport

Passengers at Belfast International Airport (BIA) will now be able to board their easyJet flight using their phone, as the airline becomes the first European carrier to introduce mobile boarding passes.

From yesterday, passengers flying from Belfast International (BIA) with easyJet will be able to download their boarding pass via the airline’s app, and scan it to access to their flight. The airport has installed special scanners at bag drop desks, security and departure gates to help expedite queues and boarding times.

Ali Gayward, easyJet’s head of Northern Ireland, said: ‘We’re pleased to introduce mobile boarding passes across all easyJet flights from Belfast to make travel easier for our passengers. The service will be offered in addition to printed boarding passes and will allow customers to check in and download their pass via the easyJet app.

‘Mobile boarding passes can be saved on the easyJet app and accessed without network coverage or roaming charges wherever you are. Customers can check in for their flight as early as 30 days ahead of the departure or as little as two hours before.’

Uel Hoey, business development director, Belfast International Airport, said, ‘This is another great initiative from easyJet and with the growth of mobile devices it makes sense that this service is in place for all of easyJet’s Belfast passengers. With around 50 percent of the air travel market in Northern Ireland using easyJet we are sure passengers will welcome this new development.’

Over 100,000 passengers at Belfast International Airport are expected to download mobile boarding passes over the next year. Since the introduction of the technology in September 2013, over 2.5 million mobile boarding passes have been downloaded across Europe by easyJet customers.

Passengers using the easyJet app can also receive live information about every flight. The Flight Tracker tool enables customers to search for their departure and see real time information direct from easyJet’s Operational Control Centre.

The tool, which is also available at www.easyjet.com/en/flight-tracker, displays scheduled departure and arrival times as well as vital real time information in times of disruption.

The easyJet app enables passengers to book a flight in less than 30 seconds. Adding mobile check-in and boarding passes is claimed to make the process even quicker and more seamless.

Northern Ireland prison to become hotel

Armagh Gaol, an operational prison in Northern Ireland until 1986, is set to become a hotel and spa.

The listed building, which is an historic landmark dating from 1780, will be subject to a £23 million redevelopment that will turn it into a hotel with apartments. Viewers of the BBC’s Restoration programme, which was on air a few years ago and which involved a number of historic buildings competing for redevelopment funds, will recognise the former prison as one of the competing structures.

Seven shops are included in the design plans, in addition to 32 apartments, the hotel and spa and a heritage centre. The BBC has reported that the hotel’s en suite rooms will each comprise three of the former cells, and some original features of the prison will be preserved for inclusion in the new design.

Alex Attwood, the environment minister at Stormont, said: ‘This is a huge redevelopment scheme which will benefit all of Armagh and the surrounding areas for many years. It will contribute to the tourism potential of the Armagh area, providing much needed tourism accommodation within the city.’

As befits such an historic building, it has an intriguing past, having been the site of several hangings as well as featuring prominently in the sectarian conflicts of the 1970’s and 80’s. During that period the prison was used to detain female Republican prisoners, including those convicted of the London car bombings. Three of the women prisoners were involved in hunger strikes in 1980, as part of their demands for Republican prisoners to be given political status.

Northern Ireland Cancels Air Passenger Duty on Long Distance Flights

Airline passengers in Northern Ireland flying long distance from Belfast Airport will be spared having to pay Air Passenger Duty (APD) next year.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has recently voted to remove APD on long-haul flights from January 2013, while the charges will still be levied on short distance flights.

From next year, passengers taking direct long-haul flights from Belfast airport will no longer have to pay, following the partial devolution of powers to the Northern Ireland Executive.

Last year, the Department for Transport in the UK lowered the APD rates on long-haul flights from Northern Ireland to the same level as short-haul flights, and the new move is expected to encourage international tourists to visit the country.

The rate cut is also in response to competition from the Republic of Ireland, where APD for short distance flights departing from Dublin Airport is currently just €3.

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), a UK-based travel agents association, has earlier called for the international community to extend support against the increase in the UK’s Air Passenger Duty.

The UK government is currently charging APD for passengers flying out of the UK on an aircraft that has an authorised take-off weight of more than ten tonnes, or twenty seats for passengers. Passengers must pay the tax twice on a return journey, adding around an additional £26 to a return fare.

APD was introduced in 1994, and the annual revenue generated by the tax has increased by 250 percent since its introduction. In 2012, the tax will be providing £2.6bn to the Treasury. In a recent survey conducted by ABTA, forty percent of UK travellers said that high air taxes have put them off flying, an opinion that is expected to negatively affect leisure air travel in UK.

easyJet reconfirms service to Northern Ireland

easyjet has announced that the airline has appeared before the House of Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee to highlight its commitment to serve the region, and clarify its stand on the Airport Passenger Duty tax.

The airline’s UK director, Paul Simmons, at the session with the House of Commons Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, said, ‘easyJet started its Belfast operation on 18 Sept 1998; we have a local base located at Belfast International Airport and we directly employ over 230 local people.

Northern Ireland has seen several airlines come and go from Belfast, but easyJet’s consistence in the Northern Ireland market and experience of carrying over 34 million passengers since its launch in the region makes it well placed to give evidence on matters affecting local people and the local economy in terms of air transport.

Airport Passenger Duty (APD) however, remains one of the most significant barriers to growth in Northern Ireland, with local people being disadvantaged when they fly to UK destinations such as London, Manchester and Scotland as they are hit twice with tax.

This is an unfair tax overall, but it’s especially unfair for the people of Northern Ireland. And if this tax is increased, it will have a serious impact on tourism.

easyjet currently has a 46% market share in Northern Ireland, with Aer Lingus holding 8% and British Airways 7%. The company flies to 23 international destinations from Belfast International Airport. On Monday the carrier struck a deal with parliamentarians to provide budget travel for MPs and peers, and hence cut expenditures that would go against the taxpayer.

Simmons added, ‘Like British Airways, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic, we continue to call on the Government to publish an independent study of the economic effects of APD.’

New Giant’s Causeway Visitors Centre Opened by National Trust

National Trust, the charitable organisation that looks after around 250,000 hectares of countryside, 720 miles of coastline, and numerous historic places in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, has announced the opening of a visitor centre at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Northern Ireland Tourist Board (NITB), the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the National Trust, have jointly funded the visitor centre at the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The centre has taken an investment of around £18.5 million, and has been designed by Dublin based architects, Heneghan Peng.

The centre, designed to blend into its surroundings of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, offers a breathtaking view of the Causeway from its interior. As part of the visitor centre construction, the trails and pathways around the site have also been upgraded, for better access and views.

The centre also features exhibitions, audio guides, guided walks, and interactive displays and activities that help visitors enjoy the beautiful landscape to the full.

Heather Thompson, the National Trust director for Northern Ireland, said, ‘It was extremely important for us to create visitor facilities worthy of this unique, legendary visitor attraction. As well as looking the part, we wanted to ensure the building was sustainably built, using the latest technologies wherever possible.

Currently 600,000 people visit the stones each year, and the new centre will enable us to increase capacity by 30 percent. This will not only provide a major boost to the regional economy, but we will now employ 150 local people and 30 volunteers.

This is a significant milestone for the National Trust in Northern Ireland and is the culmination of years of working in partnership with stakeholders in the community, the business sector, the government and political arenas.’

Outbound Travel in Northern Ireland Creating More Jobs

The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), a UK-based association of travel agents, has said that recent visits to Northern Ireland by tourists and other travellers have had a positive affect on the country’s economy.

An independent study shows that outbound travel directly contributes over £420M to the Northern Ireland economy, representing 1.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The research also highlighted that the outbound sector is currently providing around 18,000 full time jobs, representing 2.7 percent of the full time workforce of Northern Ireland.

Mark Tanzer, the association’s chief executive officer, said, ‘Many people falsely assume that going abroad means money taken out of the NI economy. This report proves conclusively that that is simply not the case. It shows that the outbound sector is a vibrant and healthy contributor to the NI economy and a significant source of jobs and employment.

With this in mind the Government must recognise and support outbound travel in its current and future policies and planning strategies to deliver growth to the wider economy.’

The study has also highlighted that as outbound travel is customer-focused and often requires the personal touch, it provides jobs that are generally difficult to replace with technology, and as a result they should continue to be an asset to the economy.

The outbound travel sector also provides jobs to the supplier sector of the industry, and in Northern Ireland this accounts for around 27,000 full time jobs, representing 4 percent of the country’s workforce.

UK holidaymakers spend around £532 per head, or £31.2bn annually, in the UK on products and services, preparing for outbound travel, almost the same as the expenditure incurred in travelling abroad, which is £31.6bn annually.

Easyjet Announces More Services from Belfast

Easyjet, a UK-based airline, has announced additional services on its routes from Belfast International Airport to Edinburgh, Manchester and four other airports in the UK.

The airline is also launching new flights to Birmingham from Belfast from October 28, 2012.

The expanded services include an increase from three to four daily flights between Belfast and Edinburgh on Mondays, an increase from two to three daily flights on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; an increase from two to three flights between Belfast and Manchester daily on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, and an increase of flights on weekday mornings and evenings between Belfast and Gatwick, Luton, Southend and Stansted airports.

The airfares commence from £20.99 one way on the new route, and £15.99 one way to all London airports.

Ali Gayward, the airline commercial manager, said, ‘Edinburgh and Manchester are important centres for the business community and also for leisure travellers, including people going there for our popular city breaks.

We operate up to 13 flights daily from Belfast to London, significantly more than any other airline, but demand is such that the extra morning and evening flights are essential.’

The company had previously announced that it would no longer maintain a base in Madrid, Spain, due to a lack of demand. The airline will be moving its aircraft to other bases in Europe, and will be reorganising its crewmembers based out of Madrid in a phased manner.

The airline is currently operating around 200 aircraft across 23 bases in the UK and mainland Europe.