Monday, December 03, 2007
Off to meet Santa
The year is almost over but there are still some miles waiting to be racked up. I am writing this on board LH from Vilnius to Frankfurt and then on to London.

I have just spent a great couple of days in Vilnius. I was invited there to switch on the Christmas Lights as part of our show Quest for the Festive Spirit. It's the first time I have ever done such a thing – and the first time I have spoken to a crowd of a crowd of 25,000 (television doesn’t count – you can't shout back at me; well you can but I can't hear!!)

It was a lovely occasion, made warmer by the thermal underwear I bought. You really do have to invest in the right stuff to stay warm!

Tomorrow I head off to Lapland where we finish filming the show (another use for the thermals….don't worry will run them through the wash first.). I am off to see Santa Claus. Ok.. ….the Finns say he lives in Lapland. The Swedes believe it is in their country. Same for the Norwegians, Greenland, Iceland and Russia.

Who knew visiting Santa Claus could end up as a political hot potato?

Oh, yes, earlier in the week I flew back from the U.S. (American Airlines, with miles going into AAdvantage.) The planes across the Atlantic are full. Heaving. Choca-block. Which is hardly surprising given the dollars dismal level. I just hope everyone remembers their national customs limits for gifts. Oh allright so I am being miserable. But something tells me HM Revenue and Customs won’t be playing Santa Claus if I break the limit just because the dollar is downright weak.

In fact things are SOOOOO cheap in the U.S. that some airlines are planning to pack the planes in January with "bargain day" shoppers. Get the 0800 to NY. Be there at 11:30. Shop till you drop and then return on the last flight back, getting in the following morning. I can't say crossing the Atlantic there and back in a day is my idea of fun (yes I have done it once or twice when filming on board planes) but hey - if the savings are there, and let's face it a visit to NY is always electric. I can hear the NY Tourism people almost clapping with joy.

Ok. I am rambling. Which probably means I should leave it there this week. Will definitely post pictures of me and Santa later in the week.

Richard
Thursday, November 15, 2007
End of a trip
And so I have arrived home after six weeks on the road. A trip that has taken me to North America, South East Asia, India, Europe and back again. The mileage is somewhere around 58,000 and I have been keeping close track to make sure those miles are credited.

I have been through Changi Airport in Singapore at least three times, and I can easily see why it has won Business Traveller magazine's best airport award 20-odd times. To be sure HKIA is good, SYD is well managed, MUC is clean and efficient, but for my book, Changi in SIN just ticks all the right boxes.

From a decent smoking lounge (there are still some of us who like a quick drag before we fly), to the boiled sweets at immigration, this is one airport that is run with the passengers in mind. And not like the old joke: it would be a fine airport if it wasn’t for those pesky planes...

In East Timor I saw at first hand the work being done by the United Nations integrated team (you can see that in this month’s Quest for Peace). In Sydney of course it was the A380. Tokyo was Business Traveller, Japan Now! and so on.

I also enclose a picture that just about sums up why I love to travel. I took it a few hours ago as my Lufthansa plane made its way back from Delhi to Munich. We were over Afghanistan and I took the picture from the window of the A340-600. (By the way I saw the downstairs toilets on the LH A340-600 in economy. Interesting! First time I have seen airlines building into the hold for passenger use. So the 747 and A380 aren’t the only planes with stairs!)

This picture isn’t exceptional. It’s not even remarkable. It’s simply our world as I flew overhead. And for the chance to have seen it while enjoying the superb modern technology in the air (the plane, not the toilets), I am grateful.

This week takes me to Cairo. It will be my first trip to Egypt. Can you believe that? I am attending a conference. Watch me slip out and see the Pyramids. This is why we travel.

Richard Quest, CNN, over the English Channel
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Peninsula's latest
New Peninsula hotels don’t come along that often. While other chains are adding new sites by the dozen, Peninsula takes its time in deciding where and when to open one of its luxury hotels. The last was five years ago in Chicago and the latest, the Peninsula Tokyo, opened at the beginning of September. So when I got the chance to stay there, it was an opportunity too good to miss.

The hotel is small both in room numbers and in standing: a triangle in Ginza with stunning views of the Imperial Gardens. You can only see the palace roof in the distance, you won’t see the Emperor wandering about the garden.

The good

The rooms are exceptionally well furnished (as you’d expect). They have perfected the bedside control panel so it looks less like Mission Control and actually allows you to turn off the lights when requested, rather than opening the curtains, calling the valet or something else unintended. They have looked carefully and learned from other’s mistakes.
The bathrooms are a treat. I could have spent all day watching the automatic toilet seat raising and lowering itself. Or deciding which of the “specialised” nozzles I preferred – the lighting can be full, mood, or spa. The glass doors are a bit fierce in closing, and I suspect this will cause trouble in the future.
The dressing room was large, too large I think, you are apt to put things down and forget you have left them there.
All in all – the rooms are a delight.


The bad

The lobby and the lobby restaurant. You walk into the hotel and straight into the restaurant. Without walls, potted palms or nooks and crannies There is absolutely no privacy for anyone sitting here. Everyone coming in and out of the hotel will walk right past you. In some cases literally next to your table.
This wouldn’t be so bad if there was another, more private lounge to meet besides your room. But during the day, there really isn’t. In the country of the discrete, many top business people will shudder at the openness of this. It was a big negative for me.

The tests

I put the hotel to several tests. Firstly I asked The business center to scan documents and store them on my disc – and then left them to it. It was done correctly, quickly and efficiently. Top marks for this.
Second, as I left the hotel I asked the front desk to retrieve a shirt from my room and put it into the laundry. This was done, but they also put all the other dirty clothes into the laundry despite me asking for just the shirt.

Finally, I broke my shoes during the trip and asked them to have them repaired. The only reply I got was it would take three weeks and cost 20 thousand yen. Not a suggestion about where I might buy more, or did I need to borrow a pair to get me through my trip.

Interesting oddities

Look inside the atrium cavity opposite the lifts. This is “dead space” required by law. They have put the most amazing fibre optic sculptures (I thought they looked like long legs) and are a truly different.

The staff

Well-meaning, ultra-polite and usually rather inefficient. The hotel training needs to be more rigorous about “getting the job done” and not just “bowing and scraping.”


The food

Being the new kid on the block, this is the in-place where Tokyo’s Ladies do Lunch and Afternoon Tea. They often line up for more than an hour to get a table. It’s fun to watch. Guests don’t have to wait.

The restaurant on the roof is excellent and not too expensive. Stunning views over Tokyo. A bit soulless in atmosphere but that will change.

Room service was fast, efficient and extremely tasty. It was not cheap.

Peninsula Hotels are expensive and a cut above the rest. The Tokyo hotel is their new baby. It is still teething. In a year or so it will grow into a fine, strapping specimen … but at the moment, like all other toddlers, I would let someone else suffer the growing pains and stay somewhere else.

Richard Quest CNN Tokyo
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
An impressive beast
I have delayed for a few days blogging about the first flight of the A380 because I wanted to let my thoughts gestate rather than rushing to publish. I wanted to let it all sink in now I have seen it in operation.

It is an impressive beast. The sheer size and scale will keep newcomers open-jawed. Of course, what passengers experience will be up to the airlines not to Airbus, so in that sense the plane maker was lucky that the launch customer was Singapore Airlines who clearly decided they would raise the standards. Not since the days of the Pullman railway carriages have I seen anything quite like their First Class suites.

There are no bars, no gyms, or bowling alleys or indeed any other gimmicks on SQ’s A380s. And the CEO Chew Chen Sen makes no apology for this. I remember him telling me four years ago they wouldn’t have them. Instead their philosophy is to give the passenger more room. It works in Business and First where you almost need to MapQuest to find your way round. In Economy, well, it is economy and that’s that!

One thing stands out in my mind from the first flight. As I was interviewing the Captain, I asked him whether he had ever actually flown the plane before with so many real people on board. Without blushing or blinking he admitted the inaugural flight was the first time he had ever flown it with 455 people. All the previous flights were either in simulators, ferry flights or with fewer passengers.

Now, I know most pilots train in the sims and their first “real” flight is with passengers. The sims are exceptionally realistic. Even so, it did give me pause for thought. Think about it: the first time you do something you are doing it for real.


What everyone agreed upon was the new plane is quiet. Very quiet. At take off roll, several of us talked in normal tones across the aisles and could have conversation. This will be an eye-opener.


Boarding and disembarking (NOT deplaning … never deplaning) requires the three jetways: two to the main deck and one to the upper. So long as all three are working it will not be a problem. What worries me is when airports don’t maintain the infrastructure. The moment one jetway is out of use, then the whole thing will become badly delayed (take note LHR!)

So the new era has begun. From the China Clipper, to the Dakota, to the 707, to Concorde and the Jumbo Jet, this is the next stage in aviation. (Forgive me, I have missed out so much but space and your indulgence is limited.)

Oh and some facts that you can all argue about. Firstly, the A380 is not the first full double-decker plane. I am grateful to Richard Ch. for reminding me of the Deux Pont in the 1950s.

And anyway, which is the largest plane in the world? The Airbus A380? The Antanov 225? But it’s a military and cargo plane, so does it count? The Spruce Goose also had a wingspan greater than the superjumbo.

And besides the Wright brothers plane, which has been the single most important plane since powered flight began?

Let the arguing begin…
Monday, October 15, 2007
Off to Asia
So my long Asia trip is underway. I usually do one of these trips a year, and usually around this time of the year.

I left London about ten days ago – and headed via Los Angeles to Tokyo and onto Singapore.

I have been trying out some of your suggestions to keep my shirts neat and tidy. Hmmmmm. Well, you can judge for yourselves on the shows – but just in case you think I didn’t get to grips, I attach a photo.

I tried the various suggestions although, frankly, some of your instructions ranked alongside origami for complexity. Fold this sleeve over that shoulder and then tuck the etc. By the time I had finished I’d put more creases into the shirt than if I had just bundled it into a ball and shoved it in a shoe.

So my conclusion? Rolling the shirts works to a point but if there is anything pressing down on them from the lid of the suitcase, well they come out like a string vest. Not for me.

Now I am trying the “wrap them in tissue of dry cleaning plastic.” Results later in the week from Tokyo.

A quick mention to the men and women I met last week in East Timor (pictured). They are either with the United Nations as part of the integrated Mission there or the International Stabilisation Force (ISF) for which read Australia and New Zealand.

The full scope of our report can be seen in Quest for Peace in November. But I just wanted, through the blog to thank you for your help. Whatever people may think of why you are there, you are along way from home, for many months at a time and that in itself should be remembered.

And to anyone who is thinking of visiting East Timor for a holiday, you probably have a few years before the rest of the tourist world realizes its beaches are wonderful, its water is clear and cool and its people friendly. According to one knowledgeable person – The President himself the Timorese coffee might even have some “special” viagric qualities.

And yes, it is by and large safe. Very safe. Except from some especially nasty mossies who were determined to inflict bites in tricky places.

Richard Quest, CNN, sitting uncomfortably on board the plane.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Foolproof way of folding shirts?
Help! Can anyone suggest a foolproof way of folding men’s shirts so that they don’t come out of the suitcase looking crumpled.

You’d have thought I might have got the hang of it by now, after all the trips I have done – but I still can never really get the shirts looking good.

I fold them. I make sure they are either in the lid of the case or on the top. I make sure they are covered. And it matters not a jot. They always come out looking the worse for wear.

To be sure, I manage to get it right some of the time, and provided I keep my jacket on, I usually get away with it. But they never look at good as when they went in. There must be a way. There must be a way.

(The United Airlines rep at London Heathrow suggested covering them with tissue paper – which I haven’t got with me...)

OK, so as I go on the next few trips (see below) I am going to try out your suggestions and will report back. I promise – I will try them out.

Suggest away: The Foolproof Way of Folding Shirts…

Q

Sit back and think of the air miles
This is being written on board a flight from Geneva to New York.

It has been a miserable summer of travel. Absolutely horrible. But then I don’t need to tell you that – we have suffered along together. (Apologies for those of you in the southern hemisphere for whom it has been winter.)

Planes have been at record occupancy. I don’t think I have boarded an aircraft that wasn’t heaving at the doors – sometimes they couldn’t fit more passengers on except by strapping ‘em to the wings. Tempers have been frayed. Upgrades have been few and far between.

Hotels have been crowded and concierge lounges miserable. I think one of the low points was when some children were playing computer games on the only lounge computer even though there were several business guests anxious to login. It was a classic “we’ve paid for our room too” look on their faces as their kids hogged the machine.

I am afraid I don’t see the autumn being much better. With airlines reducing capacity by cutting flights or using small planes the “empty middle seat” is a thing of the past.

I am just about to start a marathon round of travel which will take me to Singapore and then around Asia for the best part of four weeks. People ask if I love doing this much travel and usually the answer is yes. Of course. Meeting new people, trying new foods, seeing how cities have changed. But I am not sure I relish the actual getting from A to B. Ah well. Let me paraphrase the Lady with the Lamp, Florence Nightingale – “Sit back and think of the air miles”.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Service gone to pot?
I am tired of hotels promising to go the extra mile only to have them refuse to go round the corner!

Hilton Hotels is the latest to fall foul of the “We will do anything for you” and then simply don't bother.

At 5.40 a.m I checked out of the Hilton Florence Metropole this morning. I was told there was no coffee available. But a quick walk to the breakfast room showed a continental breakfast was being served to airline staff who were crewing early departures. So I nipped in and got a cup of coffee.

“Oh you discovered the coffee," the night porter smugly commented. As if I had been Harry Potter delving into the Department of Mysteries.

I inquired why he could not have either pointed me in the direction or asked the concierge to get me a cup? A shrug of the shoulder and a “not allowed” followed.

So let’s boil this down to basics:

Firstly, Hilton, once coffee is made in the hotel, why don’t you provide some in the lobby for early departing guests?

Secondly, why don’t you tell your staff to use their initiative? There wasn’t a tour group of 100 checking out, only me!

This all comes down to common sense. Here we have an employee who is authorized to remove 360 Euros from my credit card but not authorized to get me a cup of coffee?

Remember Hilton, I have Marriott, Intercontinental, Hyatt and Wyndham cards in my wallet...

I am not angry. I am just disappointed that, once again, a hotel has tried to convince me it will move heaven and earth to ensure I am comfortable when, in reality, it won’t even pass me the coffee pot!

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A response from Hilton:

Having now spoken to the hotel, as promised an explanation regarding your experience at the Hilton Florence Metropole.

Breakfast at this hotel is served between 7 a.m and 10 a.m (11 a.m weekends); however should guests require an earlier breakfast, then we would normally request notice the evening before to allow us to prepare something for them.

Whilst we do provide an early breakfast service to airline crew, this is done through a special arrangement in which we provide a continental style breakfast for an agreed number of people. On that basis it is difficult to accommodate further ad hoc requests at that time in the morning as we simply haven't catered for additional people prior to the guest breakfast service commencing at 7 a.m.

Staff on duty were correct in saying that the normal breakfast service was not available (preparations for normal breakfast were just beginning), but it is clear that they could have and should have been more flexible by offering to organize refreshments and pastries for you. We will be briefing staff to be more flexible in their approach to ensure that ad hoc requests such as yours will be accommodated going forward.

Trust this helps clarify things.

Nicola McShane, Hilton Hotel
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
When is a bed not a bed?
There was a bit of good news for travellers recently when United Airlines, one of the world’s largest carriers, announced it would go fully flat-bed in business class. You could hear the cheer resounding from frequent flyers like me. This decision put paid, once and for all, to the rubbish that all beds on planes are equal.

A question: when is a bed not a bed? When it is angled lie-flat. My back hurts, my legs ache and my clothes are all rumpled - and all because the airline, which claimed to have a bed, actually offered up a torture machine which I prefer to call a slide.

You know the ones: when you put the “bed” into the full recline you end up on a steep angle. Over the next few hours you slowly, but inexorably, slide down until you are on the floor with your underpants under your armpits.

The trend of moving from seats to beds began in 1995 when British Airways became the first carrier to install fully-flat beds in business class. Its major British competitor, Virgin Atlantic, followed, and so began 'the battle of the beds.'

The problem became immediately clear: going fully flat meant taking up a lot of room on the plane (valuable real-estate in the language of the airlines). As a result, individual airlines have patented their own ways of doing this. BA has alternate rear-facing seats while Virgin adopted a fish-bone style, with seats off centre to the plane.

And then there were the airlines that decided not to bother spending the money and instead concocted a cheaper alternative: the dreaded angled lie-flat seat. Sure, the seat goes flat but it is not horizontal. You end up sleeping on a slope.

Airlines that should have known better (including Lufthansa and Swiss) went for this cheaper option. The airlines justify the angle by saying the plane flies at a slight incline so you are really flat after all. How many ways can I say that this is rubbish? Rot? Nonsense? Insulting to the intelligence?

Let’s be honest. These angled ‘beds’ are uncomfortable and almost never offer a good night’s sleep unless you are so tired you would sleep on the floor. If you doubt me, read the reviews on travellers’ websites. Almost no one likes angled lie-flat.

Thankfully, the days of the angled lie-flat are inevitably coming to an end. Last month’s decision by United Airlines to become the only US carrier to go “fully flat” almost certainly sounded the death knell for the horrible angled contraption in the years ahead.

If you are not sure what sort of bed you are about to suffer, let me give you some tips. First, ignore all the advertising the airlines put out on this. Do your own research and find out exactly what sort of bed is being offered. I always look at flatseats.com (run by the excellent Skytrax people, with detailed analysis of plane seats and reviews). It will tell you clearly what sort of seat it is and whether other passengers have found it comfortable.

If you do end up trapped in an angled lie-flat, fully recline the seat, THEN use the controls to “jog” or nudge the seat up again bit by bit till you get to the right position and the seat becomes more flat. That will give you support and protect your back and legs. Eventually you will get to a position you can live with for the flight. Just.

Swiss International has a whole set of instructions in the seat pocket dedicated to telling you how to jog their seat (perhaps the fact they have to put the instructions should have told them not to bother buying the seat in the first place…).

In the end, I would always go for a flat bed over angled lie-flat. It’s a simple choice. A good night’s sleep or a night spent sliding to the floor. Let’s get rid of the angled torture trap for business travellers once and for all.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Escape from Cleveland
After being stranded in Cleveland overnight because of storms in Chicago (see blog below), getting back to London has proved a real task. This is how things have gone so far:

OK, so I got to Cleveland airport to catch the 0619 flight, but found it delayed to 0725. No matter. I still have time to get to Washington for the Heathrow connection. Should have an hour or so to spare

UPDATE:

That hour evaporated. We still haven't boarded yet.

UPDATE:

Another hour gone! I am still in Cleveland.

UPDATE:

Pilot didn't put enough fuel on flight for long taxi at Cleveland. Returned to terminal for more.

No way I will get to Dulles International for my Heathrow flight. Having to go on red-eye tonight. I now have the delights and joys of eight hours in Dulles. Of all the airports, in all of the U.S. it is amongst the most miserable with poorest facilities while they rebuild it.

Today's challenge: Find something interesting to do in Dulles.

UPDATE:

Landed at Dulles, flight to London left an hour ago.

Now to see what misery they can inflict...
Stranded in Cleveland
Tonight I am in Cleveland. I didn’t expect to be here another night. I had rather hoped to be crossing the Atlantic, but the storms over Chicago had other ideas.

My flight from CLE to ORD to connect onto London was badly delayed, so badly that I would not have made my connection and all other flights were full. So I have decided to cut my losses and stay here again tonight.

It is the oldest adage in the traveller’s book. When things start going wrong, do one of two things: get out of Dodge as soon as you can, preferably when you first notice things are heading the wrong way, or resign yourself to rebooking and just “go with the flow.” I didn’t realise the bad weather was going to screw things up quite as badly as it did, so I was left with only the second option.

Not to worry – they may call Cleveland the ‘Mistake on the Lake,’ but I rather like it and there are some excellent downtown restaurants to enjoy a decent steak.

This is a rather fitting end to this latest trip, which is why I haven’t been blogging much. Let me give you the routing so far: London to Los Angeles then onto New York and down to Atlanta (to visit the Mothership of CNN – you must see the CNN Cente if you are down that way…)

In Atlanta I decided it was 'Quest Time', so I abandoned the plane. Instead, I drove from Atlanta to Knoxville to Nashville to Memphis. I reminded myself why air travel is only one part of the business traveller’s life. It is so liberating being on the road. Even if the temperatures are burning hot in the South at the moment. (I stood at Graceland for the 30th anniversary of Elvis’s death in 106-degree temperatures.)

But it matters not - what can beat pulling over to a truck stop on the highway where they serve real peach cobbler, with ice cream of course! And smokers unite – yes, you can still smoke! (OK I guess the boss will take this bit out – not terribly politically correct these days! But I am giving up. I am.)

Oh yes, a quick tip – if you are down Nashville way, you MUST take time to visit the Loveless Café. Their fried chicken and biscuits are famous. And there should be a law against the sweet potatoes in Caramel. It is at least 15 years since I last ate there, and even though the place has been gussied up (there’s no longer a Loveless motel, just chintzy stores) the food was every bit as good as I had remembered. Don’t go for Sunday lunch though – they tell me it’s a two-hour wait at times.

The moral of this tale? When work takes me to places I want to enjoy I will abandon the plane, take the car and take some time. I swat away questions about where and I am and what I am doing with an airy “Oh, on Blackberry”…

Little do most realise I mean Blackberry pie. And now, a night in Cleveland. Steak? Rather.

Monday, August 06, 2007
Who benefits from BA's big fines?

I have a problem with the huge fine levied against British Airways for its passenger and cargo price-fixing. Half a billion dollars is a serious amount of money.

Of course those involved in cartels should be punished, and as a frequent flyer I have suffered from BA's actions, but is fining the company such a huge sum a suitable punishment? It seems a remarkably unimaginative form of sanction.

Think about it. Why should the competition regulators -- the Office of Fair Trading (£121 million and the Department of Justice ($300 million) -- benefit from this windfall in their budgets? What will they do with the money? No doubt, they will investigate more cartels but that isn't going to improve my traveling lot much.

After all, who suffers from this fine? Well, BA management are certainly embarrassed but unless they were actually involved in the price-fixing and have been sacked, those that remain can say "not me guv'".

The shareholders will suffer because there will be lower profits and ultimately smaller dividends but the BA share price may actually end up rising because the uncertainty is over!

Nope! The ones who suffer are probably the passengers who will be traveling on an airline that now has half a billion dollars less to spend.

BA is being deprived of valuable capital which could and should be used to upgrade the airline.
The airline has already made some pretty swinging cuts. It's cost-cutting has bitten into the passenger experience hard: miserable sandwiches where there used to be a meal; poor industrial relations with its staff and suppliers because of lower budgets; moral so low, it's become legendary in the industry.

Instead, the regulators should have insisted BA spend half a billion dollars to improve the airline's products and services, both in the air and on the ground. Just think -- that money could have brought back food on some flights or refurbished aircraft. It could have reduced the under funded pension scheme and allowed some benefits to be restored to the suffering staff.
But -- some will say -- spending the money that way will give BA a competitive advantage, which is hardly the idea of the punishment. So what?

If you want to add a bit of pepper, force the airline to give away 1,000,000 tickets to charities around the world so they are flying planes which make less revenue. Force them to give World Offers at a further 15 per cent discount. These would all reduce shareholder value but benefit the passengers. Do anything but levy a thumping fine which improves nobody's lot.

Price fixing is a nasty, insidious crime with many victims. The sanction should be designed to punish the company's owners, benefit the company's customers and send a clear signal that the regulators will be as cunning as the crime.
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
When families go to play
I have been busy traveling lately to New York, Los Angeles, and Johannesburg and now on my way to Washington. It doesn't matter which airport I visit or airline I fly on, there is a horrible common thread. Families on vacation. Stressed parents, arms filled with rubbish. Children cluttering up the business lounges. And wherever I look, babies in business class!

Yup, it is the European holiday season and with more wealth and bumper air miles, families are going on vacation. Often in business class.

Now in my day - we were lucky if we got a week in Wales as a summer treat. Today if a continent isn’t being covered and an ocean crossed, well, it just isn't a proper vacation! So I want to address the knotty theme of how we can all keep good humour and still get on with our business travels.

It is tough. The urge to shout "get out of the way" can be overwhelming especially in overcrowded airports where security lines are getting longer because holidaymakers have brought literally everything - including the bucket and spade - with them.

If you are travelling in business class, do your very best to avoid the last row of the cabin. Why? Because behind you is the bulkhead of economy and that is where they put the families with babies using skycots attached to the wall. Beg, grovel and prostrate yourself to avoid that last row seat. You will be thankful later.

The business class lounge in the summer becomes a war zone. With so many alliance gold members able to bring in their children, what should be an oasis of calm has often become unpleasant. I know you want to shout and scream "Oi, shut up!" but the cool answer is: don't. You may just have to find a quieter part of the lounge or leave it altogether. This is summer travel, and it is nasty.

Once on board, if children are creating a nuisance it is tempting to solve the problem yourself. That would be a horrible mistake. Unless you have the diplomatic skills of the UN you will only make things worse. Fierce looks only annoy the parents and comments such as "do you mind!" add fuel to the fire. You are effectively saying to parents that they don't know how to do their job and they won't thank you for it. I have seen wholesale feuds break out on planes over such comments. Leave it to the staff. Gently ask them to sort it out for you. They won't like it. But it is their job to be the peacekeeping force.

There is one area where you can help yourself. If the child behind is kicking your chair repeatedly, then you can sympathetically turn to the parent and ask them to try and stop them. It's the one thing with which everyone can identify, since their chair is probably being kicked at that same moment.

Obviously ask for an emergency exit row if it is available. That way you will avoid children since they aren't allowed to sit in those seats! And don't be afraid before you board a plane to ask if there are any free seats elsewhere on the plane. The airlines seating computer often seems designed to put as many people in as many uncomfortable places as possible.

So, when you get to the gate, ask if there are any no-shows and may you please move seats to a less crowded part of the aircraft.

If you are a parent traveling with a family, spare a thought for the business traveler. Sure, you have paid for your ticket. And yes, maybe your child isn't the monster other people seem to think he is, but those business travelers are getting off the plane and having to go to work. You are heading for the beach. You will be putting your towel on a deckchair while I am sweltering in my suit!

Everyone needs to remember that we will be on both sides of this problem during the summer. The holidaymaker and the traveler.

I have just re-read this article. I know why I am being so reasonable... I upgraded myself to first class. I can only hear the children back in economy. I can’t see the anguished look on the faces of tired execs. Families? They should travel in the hold! Have a pleasant summer!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
A Swiss miss
Swiss get the award for honesty. Their new angled lie flat seat may be an instrument of torture, but at least they recognize that it is not as good as a flat bed.

After all, what else can justify the instructions on page 166 of their in-flight magazine about how to adjust the seat to actually sleep.

For instance it advises tall people (me) to extend the seat to “minimise pressure on your thighs…” You can say that again. I could barely move after a half hour snooze on this machine.

For those who sleep on their back it suggests extending the seat and using the “foot rest position to fine tune the setting.” Sleep on your side and you should jog the seat back with the take-off setting to flatten the seat. If you sleep on your stomach, then extend all the way.

What a palaver! I don’t remember BA, Virgin or any other carrier that has a proper flat bed having to give passengers such advice about how to get a good night’s sleep. With flat beds the instructions are simple. Push the button. Pull the duvet. Go to sleep on your back, front, side or all three.

Every airline which has invested in these miserable seats is going to regret it once the Open Skies agreement comes along and other carriers offering a flat product come onto the market. Swiss is only able to offer such a shoddy product because it doesn’t have a system-wide competitor at its hubs (it competes against various different carriers on individual routes). And its main competitor Lufthansa also owns it (incidentally the Lufthansa first class seat is wonderful for red eye sleep!)

Nope, Swiss goes to the top of my list for the most uncomfortable, miserable new business class seat that is guaranteed to give a pretty pathetic night’s sleep. Well done Swiss.

Thursday, June 28, 2007
Airport horror in the Sunshine State
I think I may just have discovered the worst airport experience in the US. It is not JFK or LAX (it is fashionable to rubbish them, yet I love them both).

No, this traveling horror goes by the three letters FLL: Fort Lauderdale - Hollywood International Airport in Florida.

I passed through FLL en route to the Bahamas last week for a filming trip. Let’s ignore the fact that all the flights were late (that is not the airport’s fault).

Let’s concentrate instead on a woefully inadequate immigration system that has people standing in lines for hours in hot rooms with not even a seat. The immigration room has an overflow for the overflow. When asking one of the assistants if this waiting and queuing was normal he cheerfully replied, “Oh, yes.”

The immigration staff themselves have a look when you stand in front of them that basically says “Ok, you’re up to no good… convince me why I should let you in the United States. “

This used to be the look experienced at JFK, LAX, SFO all the big gateways. These days the officers in those cities are pleasant, friendly and invariably say “Welcome” at the end of the process. I got the decided impression my officer was disappointed he could find no fault. His colleague made up for it by delaying my producer who then missed two flights and had to stay overnight.

Anyway, back to FLL. The signage is awful. Think I am wrong FLL? Pretend you don’t know the place, Mr. FLL Director, come out of customs and immigration and show me where there are decent signs telling you how to make your connection and which airline is where.

Getting from terminal to terminal either involves a bus, which is rarely seen, or a tram that shuttles around the multi-storey car park. The tram is a joke because your luggage has to go into the caboose all of which takes time and effort. The security staff were surly, the shopping miserable.

Oh, I don’t doubt you have your favourite “love to hate” but believe me it will be a very long time before I willingly subject myself to the FLL experience.

(For the record we have sent this blog to the Director of Aviation at FLL and have undertaken to publish the reply).
Monday, June 25, 2007
Playing the numbers game
I am on my way to New York (via Lufthansa with miles going into United Airlines Mileage Plus). I changed planes at Frankfurt – the airport works very well for Star Alliance interchanges, but I still think Frankfurt is an uninspiring place. You wouldn’t want to be delayed there for six hours…

Anyway, my BlackBerry has been buzzing all week with email announcements from Airbus and its PR agencies telling me about the latest plane orders. Every few moments; 20 of this or that plane type was being ordered by one or airline or another. To see the latest order book coming from the European planemaker you’d think they were rolling in orders, which, with the exception of the A320 family, they are not.

Airbus has played its little game again. Whether its Farnborough or Paris, the European planemaker stores up the orders and announces them at the airshow (they do it with even more gusto when the biennial show is in France).

Who do they think they are kidding? We know that these deals were done months before ad then held off for signing so they could trot them out in a glut to make the situation look rosy.

Also, it is almost comical the way the same plane orders will often appear several times in press releases, at different points in the process. Take for instance Emirates with its extra A380s. These were actually announced some months ago when the memorandum of understanding was signed. Then they are announced again when the order was signed without a word being said about the previous announcement.

I think the final total of press releases was over 25.

Boeing has always said it doesn’t play the orders game at the airshows, and they are usually more upfront about it. So why does Airbus bother? Do they think we are fooled by the repetition of orders throughout the process of Memorandum of Understanding, firm orders, rights to buy etc?

Sorry guys, I am not fooled. Give it a break and let my BlackBerry have a rest, too.

Monday, June 18, 2007
A web of problems
I have just had a miserable evening trying to get online at a London Heathrow airport hotel. Even though I live in London I had a late evening arrival and an early morning departure so decided to stay at the Park Inn at London Heathrow. The room (small and overheated, but comfortable) offered wi-fi connectivity. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer a LAN ethernet connection rather than all this through-the-air stuff. I just find wi-fi never works as well!

Anyway, the connection was slow and as more guests went online it became intermittent. Worst of all, it cost me £14 ($28). When I complained at check-out about the poor service no-one offered to refund the charge…

It reminded me of research I recently received from Silicon.com showing how many of us are dissatisfied with Internet connections that often fail to live up to promise. Apparently 67 percent of us have increasing problems getting online when on the road. And 89 percent of us feel hotels charge too much for Internet access. I proudly stand as a member of both groups!

I have lost count of the number of wi-fi companies with whom I have registered across the world. T-mobile, of course, Swisscom, Thisairportsown, Thatairportsown, WhatchamacallitHotel…on and on and on. Again and again, everyone uses a different wi-fi and everyone ends up getting their pound of flesh (or euro, dollar or yen).

To help things along, Silicon.com has a website called atlarge.com which is worth taking a look at. It’s a bulletin board of wi-fi experience around the world. It is a chance for us to see who is offering what and read other users comments about connectivity in airports and hotels. I don’t usually recommend these sorts of sites, since with rare exceptions (Tripadvisor etc) I am suspect of their content.

But this one could work – only, of course, if we all contribute our own experience. The more the merrier and the better the knowledge base.

So although I am not endorsing this site, in any way, I am asking you to have a look, and maybe add a comment or two of your own.

It won’t necessarily help you get on line any easier at the airport, but at least you won’t be disappointed and reduced to tears when the thing fails to live up to promise.

Oh and one final thing – why don’t we ask for our money back when wi-fi’s fail to work properly? We wouldn’t accept a restaurant justifying a burnt meal on the grounds that “it’s still food” so why put up with a load of rubbish from a wi-fi group?

Finally – if you have a travel announcement, a new gadget, a new idea, destination, travel related software that you would like to tell us about please send an email to our travellers’ desk at businesstraveller@cnn.com or leave me a comment.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Quest heads to new heights
We all know that it's rare for Richard Quest to take a break from blogging but in this instance his fingers will not be tapping away but holding on for dear life in Tibet.

High up in the Himalayas, Richard is filming for his other feature show "Quest", where he is on mission to discover what drives explorers and adventurers to risk their lives and boldly go where no-one would normally even dream of going!

Fear not, Richard is with Wong How Man, the President of the China Exploration and Research Society, who Time Magazine called China's most accomplished living explorer. On horseback, Richard will try and discover just how far one can go into relatively unknown territory.

Dramatic scenery, extraordinary sights and sore feet are guaranteed. So watch this space!

Posted by Ayesha Durgahee - Producer, CNN Business Traveller
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
Low cost is high hassle

This blog is being written from the departure lounge at London Stansted Airport where my easyJet flight to Munich has been delayed by two hours – our 08:05 is now not expected to leave before 10:00. Why am I flying EZ instead of BA or LH out of Heathrow? Simple - it was cheap. The legacy carriers wanted £300-400 for a day trip return ticket booked close in date….EasyJet only charged £180. I am regretting my decision.


The delay has just about destroyed my day filming trip in Munich. There is no-one from EasyJet on the airside of check-in to help with re-booking of flights, questions about cancellations, or indeed any question from EasyJet. You just get referred to a telephone.


If I want to call them up to discuss my options it’s a premium priced call at £1 ($2 per minute). Or I have to log in to the internet and pay another £10 for the wi-fi privilege.


This early morning departure from London to Munich is probably the closest this airline comes to a business flight. Looking around me, most of the passengers are suited and going on business and feeling as disgruntled as myself. If EasyJet wishes to cultivate the business passenger it is going to have to do more in terms of its airport service than this!


We know that some low cost carriers are a truly horrible experience, and I won’t subject myself or my staff to their rudeness, but EasyJet has never been in this category.


Since low cost carriers are now the dominant force in European aviation and an increasing part of business travel, they should recognise that those of us taking off on business need better support, help and advice when things go wrong. The low-cost airline that gets this truly right will beat the cheapest option every single time!

Friday, May 25, 2007
The brightest Star in the sky

Last week I was in Copenhagen at the tenth anniversary celebration of Star Alliance.

I remember when Star was announced in 1997, with the five original member planes parked in a star format at Frankfurt Airport (just in case you have forgotten, the original five were Lufthansa, United, Thai, Air Canada and SAS).

One of the first reasons for Star was to allow airlines to co-operate and offer seamless operations without having to go through cumbersome takeovers and mergers which back then seemed impossible because of treaties affecting nationality which could cause carriers to lose routes.

When I was asked to take part in Copenhagen, I did so readily. I wanted to meet the two men who were the driving force behind Star; Jan Stenberg was the Chief Executive of SAS and Jurgen Weber was head of Lufthansa at the time of the birth of star. I wanted to know whether the chiefs had any idea of what they were starting. For instance would oneworld and SkyTeam would ever have come about if Star Alliance hadn’t started the trend?

Jurgen’s view is that the other alliances would probably not have got together with the speed that they did after Star formed. It was an unseemly rush to build alliances before any decent airline was left outside. In the end this is a moot point; Star did form and the others followed.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Jan of SAS still believes that the alliances are still relevant even though airlines like KLM/Air France and Lufthansa/Swiss have found clever ways to merge without losing their routes. They point out there are still large parts of the world not covered by open skies agreements.

All of which brings me to whether as a business traveler I think the alliances are such a good thing. Today 47 airlines are full members of one alliance or another (17 for Star Alliance, 10 for oneworld and 10 for Skyteam).

There has to be a pretty compelling reason for you not to be on alliance metal; for instance my trip to Croatia next week, when the timings are just simply wrong or the failure of Star to have a non-stop between London and New York - scandalous for trans-Atlantic travelers (United sold the route to Delta and leased the slot to Air Canada last year).

But how many member airlines are too many ? Star says it’s not the United Nations of the airline world, although it’s starting to look rather like that, with so many members. Star believes there is geographical room to grow where the alliance is ill served, such as India or Latin America.

That may be true, but with more airlines come more members, more golds, and more competition for airmile tickets or upgrades. In other words, as Groucho Marx put it so wonderfully, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.”

If everyone is Star Gold, or OneWorld Emerald, is this a prize worth having ?

Anyway, in the end, which benefit do you most prize from your alliance?

For the record, I prize in the following order:

  • Earn and Burn on Star Alliance airlines.

  • Priority check-in.

  • Priority boarding (I can fill up the overhead before everyone else gets there).

    The rest – dedicated phone lines, wait-listing on sold out flights, supposed-recognition - frankly don’t add up to much once you are traveling away from your home carrier.

    Do join in. Use our poll and vote for your favorite benefit. And whichever alliance you are a member of, I think we can all toast the Star tenth anniversary celebration. It did re-write the rules on flying, and started something that frankly, is unstoppable. Happy Birthday, Star Alliance.

    (For the record and for my neutrality, CNN Standards and Practices forbids us from accepting fees for such engagements. I did not seek nor was I paid a fee to take part).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007
A step too far

Last weekend Quest to Build was broadcast. In it we looked at the world of the celebrity architect and their role in the designing the world about us.

Because of this show I have become hypersensitive to design and buildings around us (this always happens when I make a particular show – you immerse yourself in the subject and bingo, it suddenly becomes all consuming).

With this in mind, I was flying through Zurich (connecting to Swiss flight 015 to New York), when I visited the Swiss lounge at Zurich. I wondered “what was the architect thinking?”

Look at the picture. After you pass the front desk you are immediately confronted with a flight of steep stairs to get into the lounge.

Surely the designers must have known just about everyone entering here would have bags of one size or another? Wouldn’t you want to make access as easy as possible not akin to negotiating an obstacle course? (Yes there is a slow elevator, but most people groan at the wait, and then groan as they lug bags up the stairs).

The architect must have had a reason for putting so many steps in such a silly place of travel, but it’s not immediately clear to me.

Unless of course the answer is simpler: The architect didn’t travel very much so didn’t realize how heavy hand baggage is, or Swiss didn’t think about it.

Either is possible and both probably likely.

p.s. Since I am on about Zurich airport never say the Swiss don’t have a sense of humour. Take the subway train between terminal one and two and look closely out of the window. Pictures flash past the window. I have hardly travelled Swiss in the past five years, yet I have travelled with them several times across the Atlantic so far this year.

The reason is mainly cost, they seem to be very active in discounting in the wholesale market for their connecting flights through Zurich, plus being a Star Alliance carrier they are high on my list. I am not making any point here, just how its funny things go in phases.

Thursday, April 26, 2007
Stuck in the Windy City

This blog update should have been written in Singapore, but I am still in Chicago. The travel angels are not with me on this trip, at least not yet.

My plane from Chicago to Singapore via Hong Kong decided to throw a wobbly. Something to do with the fuel pump not working. Lots of revving of engines and mechanics, but the gist was the same. We ain’t going anywhere. Usual problems, that even if they managed to fix or replace the pump the crew would be out of flying hours so they cancelled the flight! Ironic really, since our last edition of Business Traveller looked at how airlines decide to cancel flights when things go wrong. Well, they are going wrong for me on this trip.

I have had to spend another night in Chicago, which I was rather pleased about, since it is one of my favourite cities. I think it is magnificent place. I especially love the way people actually live downtown. It gives a great feeling to the city.

Shame today it is more windy than warm. Oh, and that I don't have my suitcase. O'Hare airport was also having a bad day so it was going to be impossible to get our luggage back. Good old Macy's! Look out United, you’re getting a bill for underwear, a pair of socks and a clean T-shirt. (Well, would you want to sit next to me on a 15-hour flight when I'm wearing clothes I've sweated in for the previous 36 hours?)

My situation gets worse. I checked back into my hotel (thank you Park Hyatt, I do prefer green apples to red ones) and my laptop decided it would join the United fuel pump and refuse to work. The laptop has done sterling service having racked up well over a quarter of a million miles with me. Our tech guys response to my predicament sums up my feeling: "It had a good innings. I guess this is an appropriate answer in the baseball city of Chicago.

Anyway, I am now flying to Singapore via Tokyo Narita and doing my best to keep cheerful without laptop. So, poor me, I guess I will just have to watch movies, read a book, sleep and eat more food. I can tell the boss: “Honest guv'nor, I'd have worked much harder on the plane, but what could I do? My laptop died!” I know. Dreadful isn't it. Oooh, the canapés look tasty... I'll have another instead.

Richard Quest, CNN, stuck in Chicago, en route to Singapore, without my laptop.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Hot air powered by biofuels
Watch Richard's interview with Sir Richard Branson.

I am on the road again, this time in Chicago. I flew on the Virgin Atlantic Inaugural flight from LHR to ORD. On inaugural’s we are offered free tickets but CNN has very strict rules on this and at CNN we have a policy of paying our way, so we will be sending Sir Richard a cheque. I need to be able to say what I think, not what they think they have bought!

For instance despite the Virgin hot air, this flight wasn’t strictly speaking an inaugural at all because Virgin ran the route in the 1990s only stopping after the airline crises following 9/11. It was a Return to Service, but only a pedant would point that out.

So, Virgin is running the route in competition against United (who is based in Chicago) American and British Airways. Not that that will worry Richard Branson, he has made a career of going after the legacy carriers so I expect a good down and dirty fight, entirely appropriate to the Windy City with its history of political shenanigans.

Anyway, that’s not what’s on my mind. Today Virgin along with Boeing announced they are beginning experiments with biofuels for aircraft. Biofuels generate far less carbon dioxide emissions and are much better for the environment.

But can it be done? Some fuels like ethanol freeze above 15,000 feet – not a good idea for a jetliner cruising across an ocean. Others simply couldn’t be made in anything like the quantity necessary to fill thirsty plane tanks.

So they are looking at soya and other forms of agricultural products to see if they are more suitable.

Branson has offered to test a blend of these fuels on one of his Boeing 747-400’s. This could be an expensive experiment. The planes cost more than $140m. The engines cost at least $5m each!

Clearly this plane won’t be allowed to fly until they are pretty sure the fuel works and even then there won’t be passengers on board (although, if they are looking for volunteers then I will sign up to be one!) Sir Richard is always being bashed when he makes these environmental announcements. After all he’s the owner of an airline, so isn’t that a bit like Dracular popping into the blood bank to see how things are going? I have a lot of time for his standard response that we still have to travel so we are going to have to find the most effective and environmentally friendly way to do it.

I sympathize. Many of you have taken me to task for all the air travel I do, and the detrimental effect it must have on the environment. I try to be carbon neutral, I have tried offsetting, I take flights when necessary. But at the end of the day, I can’t make a television program about somewhere without actually going there. And if I am going to report on business travel issues that means getting on planes.

Sir Richard and I have had our differences in the past, and I don’t always like the way his airline has so many gimmicks that it forgets the business is getting from A to B. But he is trying to make a difference. Whether it’s starting grids to cut the emissions of taxiing planes, buying more fuel efficient aircraft (not that he had much choice – they are all going that way) donating the profits of the airline to environmental causes or instigating biofuel research, it is a start. And before we start bashing him over the head, let’s ask ourselves what the other carriers are doing?

Okay other carriers – here’s your free shot – respond to this blog or drop us an e-mail about your top five environmental measures you have initiated or taken and will put them up on this blog. Simple. Now over to you.

Monday, April 23, 2007
Virgin to reveal all
Richard Quest is up in the air flying across the Atlantic, so is unable to blog right now.

He joined other journalists at the Virgin Clubhouse early this morning as the airline added another feather to its cap with an inaugural flight to Chicago. Will the daily service be successful? Do other airlines have anything to fear? Are there more VS transatlantic routes in the pipeline but from other European destinations? Good thing Richard's on board to interrogate Branson.

Sir Richard is expected to make a big announcement at tomorrow's press conference in Chicago. Just about everybody is stumped but we all have our suspicions. So watch this space.

After Chicago, it's no rest for the wicked as the Business Traveller team has a long, hard week ahead.

They will be filming for two shows from four cities in five days.

Chicago-Singapore-Hong Kong-Vancouver-Chicago... a killer road trip.

Be prepared for the blogs that follow!

Ayesha Durgahee, Producer, CNN Business Traveller
Thursday, April 05, 2007
Not the way to start the day
I am officially outraged (again). How can any hotel charge a whopping €42, around $56, for breakfast? The hotel in question is the Westin in Rome (I have no problem with a “name and shame policy.”)

I stayed there last week and, with limited open cafés in the area in the early morning, popped into the main restaurant. I have always believed breakfast to be the best meal of the day, so wasn’t about to miss out on morning fuel for the day.

I was staggered. The continental breakfast cost €30 for an offering of juice, coffee, and bread rolls or Danish (I am not sure if cereals were allowed!) Read this again: €30 for basically a drink and a snack!

If you wanted the hot food they charged you another €12.

I have delayed writing this blog a few days to see if I am out of touch and if Westin’s pricing is fair – it is not. I have just stayed in the Radisson SAS in Nice, where the full breakfast with a buffet as good as the Westin’s came in at a more reasonable (but still expensive) €22.

It is time we said enough! Nothing can justify charging such a large sum of money for a meal that is eaten relatively quickly, and is purely fuel for the day. Westin are charging this horrible amount because they can get away with it. I want to know how on earth they justify charging such a vast amount.

If you are like me, and travel on a per diem, you are guaranteed to be out of pocket – our allowance for breakfast is $10 (ok, so CNN isn’t the most generous when it comes to allowances). This means even before I have set foot out of the door most of my daily allowance ($70) has been eaten up as breakfast.

Sure, the Westin selection was good, but nothing out of the ordinary! The only exceptional part was the hotel’s ability to charge the customer like a wounded bull! I want to know Westin, how do you justify more than $50 for breakfast?

So – what do you think is a fair amount to pay for breakfast?

p.s. I have a policy of not responding to the responses usually because I believe you have the right to say what you will about the blog – however several of you have asked questions or raised issues about the shower incident. I will answer them this weekend. And then normal service will be resumed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007
Alitalia responds ...
The response from Alitalia to my shower incident ... "We are deeply sorry for what happened at the JFK lounge. We are committed to widening and improving the range of services for our customers and we are also working to avoid similar events happening again. "
Monday, March 26, 2007
Trapped in the shower - again!
How is it possible to become trapped in the busy terminal of a major airport for nearly an hour with no-one knowing you are there? Easy. Take a shower in the Swiss/Alitalia lounge at JFK. Read on!


On Saturday night I checked in for the Swiss flight from NY to Zurich. I was tired and smelly so decided to shower in the business lounge - Swiss uses the Alitalia lounge in Terminal 1.

I was given the key to my dressing room, with the glass shower cubicle off to the side. I disrobed and showered. Switching the water off, I knew I was in trouble. The glass door had become stuck and I was trapped inside the shower. I pushed, pulled, tugged and heaved the vast door, but to no effect. It wouldn’t budge. And with last year’s shower accident still fresh in my mind (That occasion required 22 stitches!), I certainly wasn’t going to force the glass. There was no alarm button to push!

Wet, naked, shivering and with a plane to catch, what’s a man to do? Shout! For thirty minutes, I banged on the wall and shouted for help. I made as much noise as possible. Nothing. No one it seemed could hear me (even in the next door toilet, which was regularly being flushed).

Finally, the rising panic in my voice attracted attention and help arrived. But now problem number two. The lock to the dressing room door had also jammed. Help couldn’t get in. There was only one option. Take that door off its hinges. It took a further 20 minutes of hammering and bashing before the moment I had been dreading…

With the dressing room door gone, I was left in the shower cubicle, behind the glass, with no cover and a room rapidly filling up with strangers. They couldn’t even pass me a towel because the glass was floor to ceiling. Oh, the embarrassment.

It was another ten minutes or so before they could get the glass door open. And I was released. Time for me to get very angry and ponder my plight. At what point would the lounge staff have realised I hadn’t reappeared? Probably when they were about to close the plane door without Mr. Quest.

Most worrying and serious, where was that long red alarm cord you see in showers and toilets to summon help ? There was none!

What would have happened if I’d been an elderly passenger suffering a heart attack? Or any passenger who slipped, fell and injured themselves? It’s simple. Any distressed passenger would be out of luck and in deep trouble.

I have no doubt Alitalia will be apologetic and will take steps to put things right. If they don’t, I am sure Swiss will put pressure on them to do so.

But the fact that a passenger can be trapped for more than 30 minutes in the lounge of a major airport, shouting for help with no-one hearing or coming to their aid is deeply worrying.

Is there a word for an utterly rational fear of showers?

Thursday, March 15, 2007
Double whammy
Perhaps because I have been chided by my lack of writing (see "Five times a day?" below), I have decided to offer you up a “twofer” this week - two for one.

Last week I was traveling in Africa, in Cameroon to be precise. I flew around Cameroon, marveling at the splendor of the Congo rain forest, which you can see on this month’s “Quest” (hey, it’s my blog…I can promote my show if I want to).

Anyway, I was reminded that we are indeed very lucky in the standard of airports and service we enjoy in the West. Douala Airport is a pretty grim place to be stranded for any length of time. Whether it’s the overcrowded check-in, the lack of any decent toilet facilities or the overzealous souvenir salesmen that turn the departure lounge into a virtual bazaar, the place is only just about functioning as an airport. With one exception. Porters.

Uniformed, fast, friendly and remarkably efficient at getting me through checking and customs. And all for a fixed price… yup, we might be able to tell Douala how to run an airport, but they can also teach us a thing or two.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I also promised to keep you informed with the success of the Iris scan at Heathrow Airport for which I have registered. Many of you think these biometric readers rarely work. Coming in from Africa, (via Zurich) I found the machine rejected me several times until a fellow iris user told me to enter the booth keeping your hand baggage behind you. Got that? Behind you! Bingo! It worked a treat. So, Heathrow, you are four for four.

Now we just have to get countries to all use the same biometric parameters (iris, fingerprints, face recognition – I don’t care which), so that the true benefits of this can be realized by the traveling public as much as the security it offers. I will keep you informed.

Five times a day?

Firstly let me say a few words to Annika, who if you follow the previous blog takes me to task for not writing more, and points out the Swedish foreign minister blogs five times a day! I remember the days when people use to boast about being able to do something five times a night instead!

You’re right Annika, I should write more often and I will write more often… when I have something useful to say. I don’t hold with the blogging mentality that just because my brain has sputtered and come up with some thought, I ought to bore you with it ad nauseum. You are busy enough without reading my random meanderings on whether my boiled egg was suitably runny for the dippy soldiers this morning.

There is one other thought, and I know it’s a heresy to suggest anything bad about blogging, but here goes. Doesn’t anyone find it strange that the Swedish foreign minister has the time to blog five times a day? I mean, either the blog isn’t truly his (and is written by advisers) or he is spending so much time writing it that the Swedish people might legitimately say he should spend more time on foreign policy matters. Which is it?

Monday, March 12, 2007
Open skies

I have to blog about the proposed “open skies” agreement between the U.S. and EU – if you don’t know what I am talking about click here. If you don’t care about it then perhaps ignore this blog.


Substantially the arguments come down to this. Any European carrier will be able to fly from any European country to any city in the United States. And in return any U.S. carrier will be able to fly to any EU country.


And now the sticky bit. The U.S. carrier will be allowed to fly onto another EU country (effectively getting fifth freedom intermediate rights and thus behaving as an EU carrier), whereas European airlines won’t get the same rights in the U.S. So Europe becomes one big open market for the U.S. carriers, but the USA effectively remains “50 individual countries” that you can’t fly between.


The US already has “open skies” with at least 20 Europe countries, but of course, getting the right to fly around France is hardly worth a candle compared to being allowed to fly between the EU member states.


Not surprisingly, carriers like Aer Lingus, and Iberia are delighted – the agreement will give them new rights. BA and Virgin are fuming because they are based at London Heathrow, and this is what the whole deal is really all about.


The UK-U.S. routes account for 40 per cent of trans-Atlantic traffic and Heathrow is by far and away the most important airport (only BA, Virgin, United and American can fly between Britain and the USA from here). BA is said to make three quarters of its profits on the trans-Atlantic routes because of the premium traffic it generates.


From the UK business travelers’ point of view:


“Open skies” will be a big win. No doubt about it. Next week I am flying Business from London to New York –it is half price if I go via Paris, Frankfurt, or in my case Zurich than if I go direct. “Open skies” will give more competition.


But – and this is something often overlooked – at the back of the bus, in economy, the UK price is very cheap because there is so much capacity. The cheapie seats are sold off in the discount market as incremental revenue to the higher-yield business seats.


From British Airways' and Virgin's point of view:


You are right to oppose the agreement. BA stands to lose its crown jewels with nothing in return. Virgin has already been refused permission to fly in the U.S. on spurious ownership grounds. It is clear the U.S. is not about to open up its domestic market in real terms, and anyway, who wants to take on American, United and JetBlue on their home turf besides Sir Richard?


From the European regulators' point of view:


You have got the best deal you could, but it is not good enough. You are so desperate to get a deal before the U.S. presidential election gets in the way that you have sacrificed Europe’s biggest airport and the airline for whom America is the most important market, for the sake of everyone else. You will regret this when you are bailing out European carriers in the future.


From the Americans' point of view:


You can’t believe your luck. Europe has agreed to open up the continent, and you have given beads back in return. Your airlines may be basket cases today, but that won’t be forever. Nope. This is a winner takes all. And you have scooped the pot.


p.s. Don’t listen to the nonsense about how Heathrow is already full. It is full but that doesn’t mean any carrier that is determined can’t and won’t buy slots to start flying from there. Remember, American Airlines only started with a handful of slots when it began at Heathrow, but still managed to grow like a weed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007
"What a ridiculous form of locomotion flying is..."
I felt sorry for JetBlue passengers in the United States who were horribly delayed when the airline incompetently handled the recent dreadful weather in the North East USA. JetBlue failed to cancel flights, kept passengers imprisoned on planes for hours and all in all behaved like a low cost carrier!

It follows several other incidents where passengers have borne the brunt of bad airline management during bad weather. In Dallas, American Airlines kept passengers on board a grounded plane for eight hours when their flight was delayed. And at London Heathrow thousands of passengers were stranded at the airport because of fog!

These incidents reminded me of that magnificent film “The V.I.Ps” made in 1963. I watched it again to remind myself of how good air travel used to be. The film is the tale of high-profile passengers who are delayed because of fog at London Airport. One passenger has to be out the country by midnight for tax reasons, another (Elizabeth Taylor!) is eloping with her lover, while a businessman must get to New York to save his company.

It is the way airline, BOAC, supposedly handles the delay that amused me. They make proper lunch provision in the restaurant – no measly vouchers! Then when that becomes an overnight stay they make suitable hotel reservations for passengers. Imagine that! These days it is more likely to be a shrug of the shoulders and a snarling: “Weather delays, mate. Not our fault. You’re on your own!”

To its credit, JetBlue has done a mega mea culpa and issued a passengers’ Bill of Rights setting out how it will deal with bad delays in the future. The CEO David Neeleman must be congratulated for being open, honest in making his apology and for and making the first move. But it is not enough.

With passengers up in arms, the U.S. Congress seems ready to act with plans to get rid of the current voluntary code of conduct and legislate compensation for delays, denied boarding and lost luggage.

It will end in tears and no benefit to the passenger. Why?

Because in Europe there has been such a Bill of Rights setting out rules for delays and denied boarding since 2005. It has not been a great success. The get-out clause is that the airlines only have to pay if the delay is their fault or within their control or not as a result of “extraordinary circumstances” (bad weather, air traffic control delays, technical faults – whoops - extraordinary circumstances. Sorry, no compensation!)

The reality is that the airlines have behaved so shabbily in recent years that there is no sympathy for their (correct) plea that sometimes circumstances are outside their control, so why should they pay?

Pah! We want revenge for those hours spent sitting in lounges because they have overscheduled the airline. Or worse, time spent on planes waiting for arrival gates to become free. We are sick and tired of the “sorry, not our fault” attitude and we want the airline to suffer like we have had to! We have had enough.

I think the whole thing can be summed up by the words of the Duchess of Brighton in the “The V.I.Ps” movie: “What a ridiculous form of locomotion flying is. They tie you into your seat and tell you you’re going. Then they make hair raising noises with the engines. Then they untie you and tell you you’re not going at all. Can you imagine the Queen Mary behaving like that?”

Quite, your Grace, quite!
Monday, February 19, 2007
Postcard from Singapore

I am on vacation in Singapore, but thought I would just take a moment or two to keep you up to date with my travels.

I am still trying to decide if I think the A380 will be a success. I have read the views of the distinguished travel writer Malcolm Ginsberg in the last ABTN newsletter (if you don’t subscribe, you really should – it’s free).

Malcolm is as uncertain as the rest of us about whether the A380 will be a commercial success and if it is, when. The truth is none of us want to come off the fence on this one. We know the airlines like Singapore Airlines will need them as aviation travel grows faster than infrastructure can support. But will it grow fast enough to justify this cost? OK, OK, I am going round in circles again. Let me just use that horrible, miserable, cowardly journalistic get out clause “only time will tell.”

Having been through a whirlwind in the first two months of the year (far more travel than I ever intended) I didn’t realise how tired I was until I got to Singapore. Ironically, I’m here at the start of Chinese New Year, when the place is buzzing like a traditional firecracker. I know the criticisms of the place – many believing it is a little antiseptic, a little too regulated for its own good. But that has never been my experience of the place. There are marvellous restaurants here, good bars and clubs, and yes, even a bit of an underground culture. I always find this a splendid place to stop over, especially after a busy trip elsewhere. Anyway, it’s certainly a place you have to visit yourself to make up your own mind.

One final thought before I get back to my vacation. Never underestimate the ability of Airbus to shoot itself in the foot. The decision to do the first U.S. test flight of the A380 into New York JFK instead of Los Angeles International airport (which, so the story goes, had been promised the first visit).

Oh dear. LAX, which has spent so much money on construction ramping up preparations for the plane, will - truth be told - be the natural destination of the A380 because so many Pacific carriers have purchased the plane. Even European carriers like Lufhansa and Air France are more likely to use them to LA where they need capacity, rather than East Coast routes where they need frequency.

Now LAX is miffed. Strong words have been written. And Airbus has got itself into a totally unnecessary spat with a major airport.

“Oh,” I hear you say, “ you are writing this because you are in Singapore, which is first to fly the plane.” Nope! Singapore Airlines is intending to fly the plane to Sydney and London Heathrow not LAX. So there. I just feel sorry for LAX which seems to have been shafted.

Now excuse me, I must get back to my vacation.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
A Quest rest
I've been remiss with my blogging lately, I know, sorry. I've been incredibly busy, what with filming for Quest and the latest Business Traveller show - when I finally got to test out the Airbus A380 superjumbo for the first time. So a chap needs a bit of time off, a bit of R&R. Thanks for all your comments on airport lounges - keep them coming. I'll atone for my blogging sins with a proper posting later this week.
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