In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
  • Coronavirus

    Flights, cruises, package holidays - massive new cuts

    25 days ago

    With international travel close to a total freeze, British Airways parent company IAG has announced it will reduce its capacity by at least 75% in April and May; Virgin Atlantic said it planned to be cutting around 80% flights a day by 26 March and to make further reductions in April; the huge international holiday group TUI said it would suspend “the vast majority” of operations until further notice. This included package holidays, cruises and the operation of hotels; Ryanair said it expected top ground the majority of its fleet over the next 7 – 10 days and said a full grounding could not be ruled out; EasyJet said it would continue to operate rescue flights where possible but added a similar warning. The BA figure, it should be stressed, represents the number of seats it operates times the number of kilometres its aircraft fly – and therefore does not necessarily translate into a proportion of its flights. Carriers owned by IAG (International Airlines Group) also include Spain’s Iberia and Aer Lingus. Willie Walsh, the group’s chief executive, said: “We have seen a substantial decline in bookings across our airlines and global network over the past few weeks and we expect demand to remain weak until well into the summer. We are therefore making significant reductions to our flying schedules. We will continue to monitor demand levels and we have the flexibility to make further cuts if necessary. We are also taking actions to reduce operating expenses and improve cash flow at each of our airlines. IAG is resilient with a strong balance sheet and substantial cash liquidity.” TUI , which is headquartered in Germany, has around 28 million customers annually and employs over 70,000 people. It comprises more than 400 hotels and resorts, five leisure air-lines, 18 cruise ships and 1600 retail travel agencies. In a statement today it said: “The Group has cash and available facilities of approx. €1.4bn and year-to-date performance had been in-line with expectations prior to COVID-19. We are taking substantial cost measures to mitigate the earnings effect. Moreover, we have decided to apply for state aid guarantees to support the business until normal operations are resumed. Ryanair said in a statement: “The Ryanair Group has strong liquidity, with strong cash and cash equivalents of over €4bn as at 12 March. Our focus now is on completing as much of the scheduled flying program as is permitted by National Governments over the next 7 days, so that we can repatriate customers, where possible, even as flight bans are imposed and ATC and essential airport services are reduced. We have seen a substantial decline in bookings over the last two weeks, and we expect this will continue for the foreseeable future. We will continue to monitor demand, as well as Government flight restrictions, and we will continue to make further cuts to schedules as necessary.” Meanwhile more cruise lines have suspended departures Carnival paused sailings of its North America based ships until 9 April. P&O and Cunard suspended departures until 11 April. Holland America and Seabourn said they were halting sailings for 30 days.

  • Cadaques

    Costa Brava - off limits. Image by Joaquin Aranoa from Pixabay

    Travel chaos grows: Spain off limits, US flights to stop, restaurants in France closed

    26 days ago

    The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has advised against all but essential travel to Spain and flights from the UK and Ireland to the US are to be banned from Tuesday. Both measures will put huge new pressure on airlines already hard hit by the coronavirus crisis. France is now also effectively a no go destination. The downhill ski season there has been effectively suspended after the French Government ordered the the closure of all non essential establishments open to the public until further notice. That included restaurants, cafes and ski lifts, though food shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, and banks will stay open. Wintersports tour operator Crystal announced it had cancelled its entire ski programme for the remainder of the season. In the US the Colorado state government ordered the temporary suspension of all downhill skiing. Leading holiday company TUI UK and airline Jet2 – also a major tour operator – had already cancelled flights to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, until at least 29 March and for the next seven days respectively. The move followed earlier measures by the Spanish authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the closure of bars, restaurants and shops. Some Jet2 aircraft turned back to the UK in mid journey. TUI has also announced the temporary cancellations of holidays to several other destinations. including Malta, Jamaica and Cyprus.

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    Argentina - quarantine rules hit travel

    More holiday firms suspend tours

    28 days ago

    As more holiday companies suspend departures in the fact of coronavirus, Cosmos, part of the Swiss based Globus group, has frozen its tours and cruises until 30 April. Customers are able to switch to new dates without incurring cancellation fees or other charges. They are also being offered credits of when booked with associated companies. For example they get £40 if they’re booked on a Cosmos or Escapes by Globus tour during the relevant period or, £150 if they’re due to take an Avalon Waterways cruise. Trafalgar and sister company Insight Vacations are variously suspending holidays to destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Argentina, the Far East and in the UK until the same date. The land cost of holidays can be credited against future bookings with either company or associated operators including Luxury Gold, and Uniworld. Full details are on the companies.“ Adventure operator Contiki has suspended all trips to UK, Ireland the rest of Europe, yje Middle East and Asia – including India and Sri Lanka until 30 April. Its 21 March Patagonia Trail trip has been suspended because of quarantine requirements in Argentina, as have a range of other South American holidays. The company is offering switches to other holidays until the end of next year and free cancellation – with various conditions – to exisiting customers. However its departures to Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, Africa and Latin American trips other than those imminently affected are running normally.
    *Meanwhile long haul operator Kuoni has extended its flexible cancellation policy for customers making new bookings until the end of this month. They will be able to switch destinations later without charge up until seven days before departure. And the company says it is trying to help worried existing customers. CEO Derek Jones said: “We’ve introduced an additional layer of support dedicated to bringing more flexibility for people travelling to any destination with genuine concerns and our aim is to bring some peace of mind, and help do all we can to delay balance payments, move dates or even limit any charges if they want to cancel.”

  • Ski slope

    Virus closes more ski lifts

    28 days ago

    Skiers and snowboarders are the latest to be hit by the coronavirus crisis. With Italian resorts already off limits and many of those elsewhere in Europe closing their lifts, tour firms are cancelling holidays. Leading operator Crystal announced it had cancelled all holidays to Austria, Norway and Germany for the rest of the season. Customers were promised full refunds with 14 days and advised they did not need to contact the company. This who booked through High Street travel agencies were advised to contact those agents. Inghams said that with many authorities in Austria closing lifts from Sunday (15 March) it was cancelling holidays, also until the end of the season, to the following resorts: St Christoph, St Anton, Ischgl, Galtür, Obergurgl and Hochgurgl, Sölden, Seefeld, Kühtai, Igls, Mayrhofen, Alpbach, Niederau and Oberau, Westendorf, Kitzbühel, Söll, Ellmau, St Johann, Zell am See, Saalbach-Hinterglemmm, Filzmoos, Obertauern, Lech, Zürs, and Bad Kleinkirchheim. The firm said: "If you are due to travel to these resorts in the next few weeks we will contact you in due course with further information regarding your holiday. We will contact those due to depart soonest first and we kindly ask for your patience and to only contact us if urgent. If you booked via a travel agent, they will be your point of contact. "

  • Vikingoceanship dubrovnik 02

    Ten cruise lines suspend cruises

    28 days ago

    At least ten cruise lines have now suspended departures: they include Viking, Princess Saga and Disney Cruises. Virgin Voyages inaugural cruise has also been delayed until mid summer. Viking ceased operating ocean and river trips until 30 April, blaming “travel complications” caused by the outbreak. Customers affected are being offered full refunds or vouchers worth 125% of money paid and redeemable over the ensuing 24 months on any cruise. If they decide on the latter option and then can’t go, they will still get the original cost of their holiday back. Princess Cruises has “voluntarily” paused global operations of its 18 cruise ships for two months until 10 May. The company will allow customers hit by the move to transfer their payments to future cruises – plus providing a credit towards extra costs, such as those incurred on board. This will be available to anyone who had made their final payment and cancelled their booking on or after 4 February 2020. With the Government advising over 70s not to go cruising, over 50s operator Saga suspended its cruise departures until 1 May. Passengers can take a full refund, or change their departure dates with an additional 25% credit. They may just take the credit, which will be valid for 24 months, and redeem it again a future against a future ocean cruise. Or if it runs out they can’t take advantage they will also get a full refund of the original cruise price when the credit voucher expires. Disney will suspend sailings from tomorrow (14 March) until the end of the month. Virgin offered a credit against a future voyage worth double the original price paid, customer’s original; which you can apply to another sailing, rather than a refund. Those using it before 30 June will get up to $500 worth extra – depending which cabin they booked. If none of that suits they will get credits worth 25% of the price against the cost of future cruises.

  • Edge

    Dizzy heights at a discount

    28 days ago

    With a glass floor 1100 feet above street level, Edge, New York’s newest observation deck which opened this week, is the latest attraction to be made available at a discount to visitors armed with a CityPass ticket. The deck, claimed to be the highest in the western hemisphere, is at Hudson Yards, a new $20 billion shopping, dining and entertainment complex on the west side of Manhattan. It is available using the cheaper of two CityPass New York options, the C3, which allows a choice of entry to three of 12 major attractions. They also include the Empire State Building, the ferry to the Statue of L:iberty and Ellis Island (including entry to the respective Statue and Immigration museums), Circle Line sightseeing cruises and the Museum of Modern Art. The pass costs US$87.

  • Coronavirus

    Trump bans European travellers

    29 days ago

    In a dramatic bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus, President Trump has banned people entering the to the US if they have been in the EU’s border free Schengen area in the 14 days before their planned arrival. The ban, which is for 30 days from midnight tomorrow (13 March), applies to travellers from 26 European countries but does not affect those from the UK or the US itself. However, is is not clear whether or not it will apply to UK travellers flying via Schengen area airports, notably Amsterdam’s Schiphol. The decision, which may be reviewed before the full period is up if circumstances permit, also suggests travellers from Ireland will not be affected as Ireland is not part of the Schengen area.

  • Lakes hotel

    Rooms with heavenly views at new Lakes hotel

    29 days ago

    Telescopes for stargazing are on offer at a new hotel just opened in Grasmere, in the Lake District. They will be provided in four of the Victorian House Hotel’s 19 rooms, which will have “hip to ceiling” windows joining at one corner, giving guests a 180 view of sky and landscape. The property will also have separate “Shepherd’s Hut”, sleeping two, by the passing river. It will have a room for muddy walking boots, facilities for washing bikes and a warm water dog shower – with towels to dry them off. B&B prices start at £115 a night.

  • La plagne

    La Plagne

    Tour firm offers free “no questions asked” cancellation

    about 1 month ago

    As travel firms devise novel ways to keep customers booking and boost cash flow in the face of coronavirus, a novel approach from Ski France. The London based tour operator is offering free cancellation to anyone booking its winter or summer holidays, provided they pay in full at the point of reservation. The offer covers holidays booked on the telephone this month with departures during the rest of the ski season, and summer breaks – such as walking trips – until 10 June. Customers may cancel with “no questions asked up to 72 hours before departure date”. The operator offers hotel, chalet and apartment holidays in over 50 mountain destinations.

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    FCO declares some Maldives resorts off limits

    about 1 month ago

    The Foreign Office has now advised against all but essential travel to four island resorts in the Maldives and the coronavirus continues to hite holidaymakers. They are Kuredi, Vilemendhu, Batalaa and Kuramathi. The FCO says they have been placed under temporary quarantine. The Maldives Government has imposed a temporary ban on all cruise ships disembarking passengers or docking in the archipelago and will now allow entry or transit to travellers who have been to a range of countries in the past 14 days – including Italy and China but not Hong Kong. Passengers still arriving by air must complete a health declaration card and undergo screening.

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    By Image by Image by Jan Hazevoet from Wikimedia Commons

    Aurigny takes over Flybe Guernsey routes

    about 1 month ago

    Channel Islands based Aurigny is set to launch services from Guernsey to Birmingham today, replacing those operated by failed regional airline Flybe. It is operating daily round trips, except on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And from tomorrow (12 March) the airline will start operating Flybe’s Guernsey – Exeter route, with departures on Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

  • Coronavirus

    Travel firms scramble to offer flexible bookings

    about 1 month ago

    Travel companies including airlines, tour operators and cruise lines are offering flexible booking policies iin a desperate bid to counter the severe Impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The message to consumers is to check the website of any company you are travelling with – and do it urgently. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Etihad, Kuoni, Abercrombie & Kent, Railbookers, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean are among those to have changed their rules in various ways. Check their websites for details. For example BA is waiving change fees for passengers booking between 3 and 16 March. Virgin is doing likewise for those booking between 4 and 31 March on flights departing until the end of September. Long haul tour operator Kuoni is allowing customers booking between 6 and 16 March to change the dates of some holidays departing until 15 February. Railbookers is allowing customers with existing bookings to reschedule up to five days before departure, while those making new bookings by 20 April can change dates or cancel with the same condition. It will issue vouchers that can be redeemed against future trips. But it warns additional restrictions may apply to holidays including various cruises and luxury train journeys/ And Royal Caribbean’s Cruise with Confidence initiative allows customers booked on trips up to and including 31 July to cancel and receive a credit against any future cruise this year or next. Smaller companies are taking similar steps. Greenleaf Tours says customers booking since Monday (9 March) with its walking holiday brands, including CaminoWays, CanariaWays and FrancigenaWays can make make one free date change up to seven days before departure. They must then travel within 12 months of their original bookings dates. It is also worth checking with hotels to see whether they are offering free cancellation to customers anxious to delay their trips.

  • Norwegian 787

    Norwegian to cancel some 3000 flights

    about 1 month ago

    Low cost airline Norwegian is to cancel around 3000 flights as the coronavirus spread hits forward bookings. The move will affect approximately 15% of its services between mid March and mid June and will affect its entire network, including flights from the UK. In a statement today the airline said affected customers would receive information about changes to their flights “as soon as they take place”. CEO Jacob Schram said: “This is a critical time for the aviation industry, including us at Norwegian. We encourage the authorities to immediately implement measures to imminently reduce the financial burden on the airlines in order to protect crucial infrastructure and jobs."

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    Colosseum, Rome: now off limits (Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay)

    Don't visit Italy unless it's vital urges Foreign Office

    about 1 month ago

    Confusion and disappointment for thousands of travellers planning holidays in Italy has deepened following new advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that they should avoid visiting the country altogether unless their trips are essential. Many were left unsure whether the crisis would ease sufficiently for their trips to go ahead later in the year. As things stand, tighter restrictions imposed by the Italian Government will remain in place until at least 3 April. But with that date only a week before Good Friday, it looks unlikely travellers will be able to take planned Easter holidays there. The move particularly hits affects people scheduled to take city breaks in cities including Venice and Rome and skiers and snowboarders heading for resorts in the Italian Alps. It broadens earlier FCO advice, which was limited to major areas in the north, including Lombardy and the Veneto.. The advice means those still determined to visit the country risk not being covered by their travel insurance. Conversely it means independent travellers forced to cancel should be able to claim costs if they paid with credit or debit cards, or through their insurance policies. ABTA said tour operators should offer alternative arrangements if possible, or if they were not acceptable to customers, they should provide full refunds. But it noted the FCO advice related to imminent departures “and if you have booked a package and are not due to travel imminently, tour operators will decide on an ongoing basis how far in advance they’ll begin offering alternative arrangements or providing refunds”. It added there was no legal definition of “imminent” travel and each travel company would implement its own policy, but the description was general taken to mean “within the next few days”.

  • Jebel hafit desert park

    Abu Dhabi desert park opens

    about 1 month ago

    A desert park combining archaeological interest with outdoor activities has opened in Abu Dhabi. Containing many unique archaeological discoveries, some dating back 8000 years, it is part of the first region in the UAE (united Arab Emirates) to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Jebel Hafit Desert Park is just south of the oasis city of Al Ain on the border with Oman, about 90 minutes by car from Abu Dhabi city. Activities include bike riding, guided hikes, tours in powered carts. Camping options include luxury

  • Solo woman

    Solo travel is tonic for women over 55 – new survey

    about 1 month ago

    Women over 55 who have never travelled alone are deterred by concerns about safety and “special anxieties”. But new research shows that when they pluck up the courage most say it makes them feel independent (57%), free (44%), adventurous (34%), happy (30%), confident (29%) and empowered (26%). A mere 12% reported feeling anxious. The findings come from a survey by Riviera Travel to mark yesterday’s International Women’s Day. The operator says 77% of customers taking its holidays dedicated to solos are women, while their numbers have jumped by 142% over the past five years. The survey, conducted by Censuswide, found 41% of women going solo said they did so because they enjoyed their own company, 33% wanted the challenge themselves to do something new, and 29% said it allowed themselves to put their own wants and needs first. When booking, 40% preferred trips that enabled them to experience other cultures, nearly a third (30%) wanted to visit unusual places and a quarter (25%) looked for holidays off the tourist trail.

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    Coronavirus - silver travellers least deterred

    about 1 month ago

    Silver travellers are so far proving the most resolute in the face of COVID-19, according to a survey commissioned by marketing and communications company Finn Partners Travel. It found 70% of over 60s were continuing to book – compared with 68% off 45 – 69 year olds and 61% of those between 30 and 44. In sharp comparison the proportion of 16 – 29 year olds currently booking travel was only 53%. Less than one in five people questioned (17%) said they would put off booking a holiday until they could see how the crisis developed, and only 13% said they would not book a trip with a departure in the next six months. When people were asked what would persuade them to overcome their hesitation, they cited bargain deals (44%), flexibility to change their travel dates at no extra cost (30%) and a reduction in the number of cases (26%). Nearly a quarter (23%) said the concern stopping them booking was that they might be stuck in quarantine abroad.

  • Travmedia united kingdom 1390906 kate chapman m%c3%balafossur  faroe islands %28c%29 kate chapman

    Mulafossur, Faroe Islands (c) Kate Chapman

    Gatwick to get direct summer Faroe Islands flights

    about 1 month ago

    London will have a direct air link with the Faroe Islands for the first time in six years this summer. Atlantic Airways will operate once a week, on Tuesdays, from Gatwick to Vagar Airport. Northbound departures will be at 3.25pm, southbound at 2pm. The service will complement the airline’s existing flights there from Edinburgh and those via Denmark. It wil be short lived, however, operatiing only from 23 June until 11 August. The move comes as the Faroes prepares for the opening of the two new four star hotels: the Hotel Brandan is set to open this spring in the islands’ capital, Torshavn, and a Hilton Garden Inn – the islands’ first property under and international brand – is scheduled to open in July.

  • Flybe400

    Flybe - coronavirus was the last straw

    about 1 month ago

    Most passengers left stranded after coronavirus dealt the final blow to struggling regional airline Flybe will need to book flights home on other airlines. The Government has not asked the Civil Aviation Authority to organise repatriation flights. However, the airline’s franchise partner Blue Islands, which continued to operate its Channel Islands services normally, mounted additional flights with the promise that it would carry Flybe passengers free of charge on a “first come first served” basis. And its other franchise partner, Eastern Airways, will honour tickets on the Flybe services it operates until Monday, promising further updates on its website. EasyJet* offered special fares on routes former;y shared with the collapsed airline. And Ryanair stepped in to offer rescue fares on flights from Liverpool to Knock, Bournemouth and Bristol toDublin, and Stansted and Manchester to Belfast. The fares have to be booked by midnight on Sunday but will be valid for travel until the end of April. It was not immediately known today how many travellers might be affected by the Flybe collapse. But the downturn in air travel caused by the coronavirus crisis and the fact that this is in any case a relatively quiet time of year for holiday travel should mean alternative seats are available. The CAA believes very few Flybe passengers are protected under the ATOL scheme that covers package travel. Passengers who have booked scheduled flights direct with the airline using credit or debit cards should be able to recover their costs, however – the former under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, the latter under so called “charge back rules”. The CAA advises you should check with the card issuer. If you booked through a travel agent, that should be your first port of cal. And some travel insurance policies include cover for scheduled airline failure. They may either just cover the orginal ticket price or the cost of an alternative flight. Meanwhile the coronavirus, COVID-19, was blamed for killing any last hope of saving Flybe. Virgin Atlantic – with the Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital Partners, was a member of the Connect Airways consortium that bailed it out in 2019. In a statement Virgin said: With customers and staff at the front of our minds, over the past 14 months the consortium has invested more than £135m to keep the airline flying for an extra year, maintaining 2,400 people in employment and ensuring customers could keep travelling. This amount includes approximately £25 million of the £30 million committed in January 2020, alongside a Time to Pay arrangement with HM Treasury for Air Passenger Duty to the value of £3.8 million. Sadly, despite the efforts of all involved to turn the airline around, not least the people of Flybe, the impact of COVID-19 on Flybe’s trading means that the consortium can no longer commit to continued financial support.”
    *Passengers should contact easyJet’s customer service on the following numbers: If calling from UK & elsewhere: +44 (0) 330 365 5030;
    If calling from France: 0806 141 143
    If calling from the Netherlands: 0900 506 0900
    If calling from Italy: 199 304 213

  • Loganair embraer 135

    loganair to to take over 16 Flybe routes

    about 1 month ago

    Scotland’s Loganair ia to take over 16 Flybe routes. And starting next week Flybe’s franchise partner Eastern Airways will operate the failed carrier’s flights on three routes. The Loganair services will be launched progressively over the next four months, with the earlist introduced on 16 March. The routes are Aberdeen to Belfast City, Birmingham, Jersey and Manchester, Edinburgh to Cardiff, Exeter, Manchester, Newquay and Southampton, Glasgow to Exeter and Southampton, Inverness to Belfast City, Birmingham and Jersey, and Newcastle to Exeter and Southampton. Passengers booked with Flybe will need to make new reservations and claim back the cost of their planned Flybe flights from card companies or on their travel insurance. The move means Loganair will operate up to 400 extra services a week. It will recruit more pilots, cabin crew and engineers, prioritising applications from former Flybe staff. Eastern Airways will also operate flights from Aberdeen to Birmingham and Newcastle and Manchester to Southampton.