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Review of 2007: Business travel

  • Story Highlights
  • New airlines in 2007 included Virgin America and Silverjet
  • The A380 superjumbo commenced service
  • New high-speed rail link between London and Europe opened
  • Open skies agreement signed
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by Emma Clarke
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(CNN) -- It has been a year of promising news for the globe-trotting business traveler. Yes, there have been all the woes of increased airport security, packed planes, heaving hotels and bursting business-class lounges, but some of the headlines have brought encouragement for a better future.

Boeing and Airbus battled it out for sales of their new aircraft throughout 2007.

There was the U.S./E.U. agreement to open the skies across the Atlantic to competition; a new high-speed rail link between London and Paris; plans for larger, better airports; oh and something about a super-size jet plane.

The year began with the launch of yet another business-class-only airline, but the first to be carbon neutral. Silverjet started its first operations between London Luton and Newark International Airport in January. Later in the year the network expanded with flights between London and Dubai.

A new British ticket tax took effect on February 1 which meant that passengers flying into or through London airports pay new taxes and fees or face being barred from flights.

In March -- amid stories about further delays, departures of senior staff and budget over-runs -- good news came for Airbus when cities around the world finally got their first glimpse of the world's largest passenger jet plane, the A380.

This was part of a 12-day commercial route proving mission, performed in conjunction with Lufthansa for two of Airbus' superjumbos traveling between New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Hong Kong, France and Munich.

March also saw the signing of the "open skies" pact between E.U. nations and the U.S. This allows any airline -- European or American -- to fly any route between any city in Europe and any city in America.

The disintegration of a 25-year-old agreement signaled a shake-up for the industry. Later in the year, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic announced plans to operate flights out of other European capitals. For other airlines it meant the end of the stranglehold that carriers such as BA and Virgin had on transatlantic flights from Heathrow. If they can secure the runway space, BMI, Continental Airlines and Northwest Airlines all look set to launch direct transatlantic flights from Heathrow in 2008.

The Virgin Group expanded its ever-growing empire in May with the launch of Virgin America Airlines. The airline, that promised to make U.S. domestic flights more enjoyable with features such as ambient lighting and plugs at every seat, now flies from seven U.S. cities.

Eyes were on Boeing on 8 July when it unveiled its new 787 Dreamliner. Boeing had sold 642 of the new planes before the first one had even been assembled, with much of the anticipation over its new lightweight material and innovative cabin.

Compared to the trials and setbacks of the Airbus A380, the 787 was having an easy ride in its development until news came in October that it was, after all, going to be delivered six months late.

Singapore Airlines was named Airline of the Year in SkyTrax's World Airline Awards in July as well as the world's best business class airline. Emirates won the award for best in-flight entertainment; Qatar Airways for best first class; and Virgin Atlantic for best business class lounge for its Clubhouse lounge at London's Heathrow Airport.

One of the more bizarre stories that month was about a young woman who was told to leave a Southwest Airlines flight for dressing too provocatively. The young woman was eventually allowed to complete her trip after covering up. On the return flight, wearing the same outfit, she encountered no problems.

Tougher security measures introduced at UK airports were deemed a failure in protecting passengers in an International Air Transport Association (IATA) report that was published in July. It criticized the UK's "unique screening policies," which it said "inconvenienced passengers with no improvement in security." London's Heathrow Airport also came under attack for suffering from excessive delays and an ineffective setup.

It was bad month for British Airways in August when the airline was hit with an almost £270 million ($547 million) fine after reaching settlements with U.S. and UK authorities for price fixing on fuel surcharges.

Arch rival Virgin Atlantic blew the whistle on BA in 2006 after individuals at the two carriers discussed proposed changes to fuel surcharges for long flights. Virgin won immunity in the UK, but the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) fined BA the biggest-ever civil penalty.

New legislation was announced in August that required visitors to the United States to register their travel plans 48 hours before departing for the U.S. In the same month IATA, which represents over 240 airlines, placed its final order for paper tickets.

Two years late and billions of dollars over budget, on October 25, the Singapore Airline-owned A380 completed its maiden passenger journey between Singapore and Sydney.

On board were nearly 500 passengers who had bid thousands of dollars for the historical experience. A lucky few got to trial the new luxury first class suites that feature flat double beds. But no sex allowed, said the airline.

On November 14, the new high-speed rail link from London to the Channel Tunnel opened. Eurostar trains now depart the UK capital from St Pancras station that was restored and extended at a cost of $1.6 billion. The high-speed link will cut journey times between Paris and London by 20 minutes.

The British government set out proposals on November 23 to add a third runway and sixth terminal at Heathrow. Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said the expansion was needed to help the economic growth and that it would meet tough environmental standards. Local residents were not so positive.

JetBlue Airways became the first U.S. airline to offer e-mail and instant messaging on one of its flights in December with signs that online Internet, after a history of stops and starts, is finally ready for take-off. Other carriers, including Virgin America, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Qantas Airways and Lufthansa have all announced plans to launch or test in-flight connectivity during 2008.

Some hope, perhaps, that 2008 could be another year of improvements in business travel. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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