In the News this Week...

brought to you by News Editor, Roger Bray
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    Sao Paulo - flights launch postponed. Image by skeeze from Pixabay

    Now Virgin suspends flight change fees

    about 1 month ago

    Virgin Atlantic has joined British Airways in waiving change fees for passenger needing or wanting to avoid flying during the coronavirus crisis. It has also postponed the launch of its Heathrow – Sao Paulo service from 29 March to 5 October. Customers will not be charged for changes for tickets bought between yesterday (4 March) and 31 March for flights up to and including 30 September. The airline says: “We continue to review our flying programme and additional changes will be made as the situation evolves”. To counter the impact of the outbreak the airline has taken a range of other measures including pay cuts of 20% and 15% respectively for its CEO Shai Weiss and its executive leadership team for the four months April-July inclusive.

  • Me dubai facade

    Dubai – curvaceous new hotel opens

    about 1 month ago

    A luxury hotel in a building designed by the late Dame Zaha Hadid has opened in Dubai. With 74 rooms and 19, the ME Dubai, in the Burj Khallifa district, reflects her description as “the Queen of the curve”. It occupies three floors of the mixed use Opus by Omniyat building, which comprises two towers with a central link. It has three food and drink outlets and access to no fewer than 15 more under the same roofs. The hotel, whose interior was also designed by the architect, has a spa, and a gym with systems that, if supplied with a guest’s biometrics, will come if with a personalised workout. It is part of the Spanish Melia group.

  • Uk landscape

    Rural breaks: cheaper direct? image © Roger Bray

    UK hotels cheaper if you book direct, claims consumer site

    about 1 month ago

    Looking for a UK hotel? It can be cheaper to approach the property direct than to use an online booking site. So says Which? Travel. The consumer body found 8 out of 10 stays cost less when its researchers phoned or emailed the hotel. The biggest saving it was offered was 12%. It noted that so called parity clauses, which prevent the hotel undercutting booking sites, only apply if you book via the hotel website. These clauses are banned in some countries but still observed in Britain. Which? Travel also blamed commission charged by the likes of and Expedia, though it adds that both those agencies denied their commissions were pushing up prices.

  • Ba

    Flight change fees waived as BA tackles virus crisis

    about 1 month ago

    British Airways is tackling the coronavirus crisis by waiving the fees it charges customers for changing or delaying their departures. With the outbreak hitting air travel and the airline cancelling over 200 flights it will not impose the fees for bookings made between today (3 March) and 16 March. In a statement the airline said: “As some customers are facing uncertainty when booking travel at the moment, the airline has introduced the policy to give its customers more confidence, across any of its routes.”

  • Luton train

    Fast train plan for Luton Airport

    about 1 month ago

    Luton Airport may have a new non stop rail link with London’s St Pancras station by the end of the year. East Midlands Railway (EMR) has proposed a half hourly service to and from Parkway station between 6am and 10pm. The journey would take 30 minutes. There would be additional late night and early morning departures from the airport. EMR has also proposed half hourly services from Corby and other stations in its network, enabling passengers to travel to or from the airport in under and hour. Network Rail is expected to make a decision on the plan in late spring. Next year Luton’s transport links are scheduled to take another leap forward with the completion of a £225m, automated rail shuttle transfer between Parkway station and the terminal. This promises to reduce the total journey time to and from London to 30 minutes for passengers using the fastest trains.

  • Mobility

    BA tests autonomous mobility devices

    about 1 month ago

    Autonomous mobility vehicles are to be tested by British Airways at Heathrow’s Terminal 5. The Japanese made electric devices, which BA has already tried out at New York’s JFK Airport, are aimed at passengers who are unable to walk long distances but may not have wheelchairs. They are equipped with anti collision technology. Users can set their preferred destination and the vehicles will self navigate there without the need for help from travelling companions or the airport support team. They can change destinations as many times as they like on the way to the gate. And when they reach the gate the vehicle will make its own way back to the docking station. Nearly half a million passengers who require additional assistance fly with the airline each year. This number is forecast to increase by 10% by 2021.

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    Image by t. watanabe from Pixabay

    Coronavirus chaos – cancellation cover essential

    about 1 month ago

    Travellers are being urged to ensure they have adequate cancellation insurance as the coronavirus crisis casts a shadow over countless holiday plans. Refunds or the ability to postpone trips depend largely on the goodwill of the operator or airline unless the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel. If that happens – as it has in the case of eleven small north Italian towns – it should be possible to make an insurance claim. However, Which? Travel says even if the FCO hasn’t declared your destination off limits, insurers may be prepared to pay out in specific circumstances – such as if you are suffering from a pre-existing medical condition. But, as the Association of British Insurers notes: “Travel insurance is not designed to cover ‘disinclination to travel’”. The ABI has issued guidance on coronavirus cover on its “website”: Meanwhile airlines have been cancelling, or considering cancelling, some flights. They include British Airways, which will offer affected customers full refunds, bookings on flights at later dates or a switch to another airline if that is possible.

  • Rembrandt's ganymede

    Abduction of Ganymede (courtesy Dresden Old Masters Picture Gallery)

    Old Masters Gallery set for re-launch

    about 1 month ago

    Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, home to gems including Raphael’s Sistine Madonna and Rembrandt’s Abduction of Ganymede, is set to re-open fully on Saturday (29 February) following several years of renovation and reconstruction. The gallery is housed in the neoclassical Semperbau, on one side of the Swinger Palace courtyard. Because the re-vamp has been split into two phases, its most [prominent works have remained on display, with the addition of two interim exhibitions. Visitors will now find a collection that has been rearranged according to geographical origin and school, drawing attention to certain theme sin history and using key masterpieces as focal points. Besides paintings, an important collection of sculpture will be on display again in the East Wing

  • Bayard rustin nywts 3

    by Orlando Fernandez, New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division via Wikimedia Commons

    “I Have a Dream” in new immersive museum exhibit

    about 1 month ago

    Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech will be part of a virtual reality exhibit opening tomorrow (28 February) at Chicago’s Dusable Museum of African American History. The exhibit, which will run until November, will recreate the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that saw a crowd of some 250,000 gather in front of the capital’s Lincoln Memorial. It was produced by TIME Studios with executive producers Viola Davis and Juliua Tenon. Actors used to recreate the scene included the great grandson of a man who took part.

  • Roger whale min

    Whale & dolphin watching cruises from UK launched

    about 1 month ago

    A programme of nine voyages in search of whales and dolphins has been launched by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines in conjunction with marine conservation charity ORCA. Volunteers from the organisation will be on board to offer passengers insights through lectures, workshops and other activities. For its part ORCA will collect data on the number and species sighted. The cruises include a voyage on the Black Watch to Spitsbergen, in the Arctic Circle, departing from Liverpool on 25 June and a cruise to Greenland aboard the Boudicca, departing from Dover on 11 August. Both cruises are for 16 days, with prices starting at £2599 and £2199 respectively.

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    Godafoss waterfall by Tord Dellsen from Wikimedia Commons

    Iceland suffers big tourism drop

    about 2 months ago

    Tourism to Iceland, which had been roaring ahead, took a nosedive in the last year. The country saw a 14.2% fall in the number of arrivals in the first nine months compared with the same months in 2018, according to the latest quarterly report from the European Travel Commission, which blames the demise of Icelandic low cost airline WOW and the strength of the krona. Though the percentage drop was in visitors worldwide and not specifically from the UK it raises the possibility of promotional deals aimed at stimulating the market. In contrast, Montenegro saw a 21.4% upsurge, while tourism to Turkey and Lithuania jumped by 14.3% and 10.1% respectively. Portugal (up 6.8%), Serbia (up 7.4%), Slovakia (up 8.6%) and The Netherlands (up 7.5%) all saw increases bigger than Europe’s overall rise of 4%. The Dutch Tourist Office is working to woo more visitors away from the country’s traditional hotspots which, the ETC says “are struggling to cope with tourist demand”. The UK saw a 2% increase in arrivals.

  • Havana

    Capitolio, Havana: by Andy Leung from Pixabay

    Historic Havana is reborn

    about 2 months ago

    A former hotel from the rum and rhythm days before Cuba’s revolution was scheduled to re-open today a Kempinski. The Gran Hotel Bristol, in Old Town Havana, has undergone a major restoration. Its original façade, which must have been familiar to Ernest Hemingway when he drank nearby at El Floridita, has been retained. Even before the Second World War the hotel boasted advanced comforts such as private bathrooms and in room telephones. It advertised itself in 1938 as “one of the most popular hostelries in Havana, catering to American travelers who appreciate Efficient Service, Hospitality and delicious international cuisine”. Now it has 162 rooms and suites, five restaurants and bars and a gym. On the ninth floor there is an infinity pool with views of historic sites such as the Capitolio, the port and the Spanish Fortress. The property is be two block away from Kempinski’s existing Gran Hotel Manzana.

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    Image by Joan GGK from Wikimedia Commons

    Hiking holidays for vegans

    about 2 months ago

    Decided it’s time to go vegan? The team at “Casa Ana”, a guest house in the Andalucian village of Ferreirola has organised two vegan walking weeks for this year. They’ll even give guests a discount if they order vegan walking boots from Ethical Wares, based in Ceredigion, west Wales. The walks are in the surrounding Alpujarra – excellent hiking country on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada – where farmers still use the Moorish system of irrigation channels called acequias. With 4 – 6 hours of walking a day and altitude gains of around 900 feet, guests need a reasonable fitness level. The holidays run from 9-15 May and 17- 23 October. Prices are €1095 per person sharing or €1295 for single accommodation (€100 off if your book the May holiday before 15 February or the October trip before 1 May).. That covers meals (including picnics or lunches) wines, excursions, local transport and guides – but not flights or airport transfers. There’s also a discount if guests order vegan walking boots from Ethical Wares, based in Ceredigion, west Wales.

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    Istanbul: image by Şinasi Müldür from Pixabay

    Turkey drops visa requirement

    about 2 months ago

    Turkey is to suspend the need for UK tourists to apply for visas. The move will take effect on 2 March. The country’s Foreign Ministry said the exemption for visitors staying 90 days or less would also apply to citizens of Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain and Poland. Steve Heapy, CEO of and Jet2holidays has said: “The removal of Turkish visa charges is fantastic news for British holidaymakers, as it means more money in their pockets. Turkey is one of our most popular destinations, and this news makes it much easier for hard-working British families to enjoy a well-deserved holiday to this beautiful country."

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    Gateway of India by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

    Mumbai flights set for Stansted take off

    about 2 months ago

    Flights between London’s Stansted Airport and Mumbai are set to take off for the first time tomorrow. Air India will operate non stop, three times a week from 21 February, using Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. But, curiously, there is still no confirmation that the service will run beyond the end of the current winter season. in March. The launch comes three months after the airline began flying from Stansted to Amritsar, in the Punjab.

  • Jla

    “Ultimate” Latin America Journey launched

    about 2 months ago

    Specialist tour operator Journey Latin America has launched what it describes as the ultimate trip to the continent. In celebration of the company’s fortieth anniversary it will last 40 days, taking in Rio de Janeiro and the Panatanal in Brazil, Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires and El Calafate in Argentina, Torres del Paine, Santiago and the Atacama Desert in Chile, Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima in Peru and finally Oaxaca and the Pacific Coast beach at Huatulco in Mexico. The firm suggest departing from the UK on 28 September – in time for the Mexican Day of the Dead. But the trip is available throughout this year. It’ll make a serious dent in the savings though, with prices starting at £21,200. And that doesn’t cover international flights.

  • The quays hotel

    Canal basin hotel opens in Sheffield

    about 2 months ago

    Tourism to Sheffield is set for a boost with the opening of a hotel in the developing Canal Basin area. The four star Quays Hotel, formerly a Hilton, is on Furnival Road, at Victoria Quays, where a £5.8m scheme to improve the city’s access links is due to be completed soon. Legacy Hotels and Resorts runs the property on behalf of owners Stakis. The company also manages – or plans to manage – properties in the UK, Spain and Scandinavia. The Quays has 128 bedrooms, a spa and a gym.

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    Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

    Cape Town return for Virgin

    about 2 months ago

    Virgin Atlantic will fly from London to Cape Town this winter after an absence of six years. The airline, which axed the route in 2014, will operate a daily, seasonal service from 25 October, using Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. Outbound flights wil depart from Heathrow at 4.20pm, arriving at 5.55am. London bound services will leave at 8am, arriving at 6pm. Reservations open tomorrow (February18). And – from 10 January – British Airways will operate two extra flights to the city.

  • Off piste

    Image courtesy Bluebird Backcountry ©Doug McLennan

    Colorado: off piste ski area opens for trials

    about 2 months ago

    A new ski area without lifts – with unpisted slopes for experienced and first time powder snow skiers – is set to open for trials in Colorado this weekend. Visitors will have to scale the slopes on touring skis fitted with skins to enjoy what the Americans call back country skiing. Whitely Peak, which is just over 10,000ft at its summit, is 20 miles north of the town of Kremmling and about 40 minutes by road southeast of the well known, conventional resort of Steamboat Springs. Its slopes include wide open meadows and descents between aspen trees. The area has been leased by “Bluebirdbackcountry”:https//, which promises professionals will monitor snow conditions to minimise the risk of avalanches, though all visitors will be required to carry emergency location transceivers and shovels. But much of the terrain within the area boundary “is at an angle that is fun to ski yet has a low probability of hazard”, say the operator. A ski patrol will be on hand inc case of accidents and other problems. Introductory lessons will be on offer to those unfamiliar with powder. Visitors will also be able to hire guides. Only 300 skiers a day will be allowed on the slopes. The area will be open on 15 days between tomorrow and 15 March.

  • Hand sanitiser

    Sanitisers such as this can combat infection

    Use hand sanitiser to combat virus says travel health expert

    about 2 months ago

    Air travellers in transit – particularly through Asian airports such as Singapore’s Changi – should carry a hand sanitiser to protect themselves against contact with the coronavirus. That’s the advice from travel health expert Dr Richard Dawood. “I don’t see any real value in wearing masks”, he says. “Most masks are for single use. They are difficult to use because you have to get a really good fit. And secondly, they are designed to filter out causes of infection so they become potentially contaminated on the outside. So (after wearing them) you need to clean them before handling them.” Travellers can make risky contact at airports. “You hold on to hand rails, handle the tray at security for example. Then when you get back on the aircraft and breathe a sigh of relief you may be offered some peanuts and touch your mouth, nose or eyes. That’s when you can be vulnerable. I would recommend using a simple sanitiser first.” In fact, he advises, it’s also a good idea to use one after travelling on public transport in your home city. Dr Dawood was one of the first doctors in the UK to establish travel medicine as a distinct speciality. He established the Fleet Street Clinic in London, which includes travel assistance such as vaccinations in its practice. His book Travellers’ Health was first published in 1986. It has some 70 contributors and is available from Amazon.