Category : Latest News

UK Election: What Does it Mean for Airport Expansion?

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

The election is almost upon us. If the pundits are right it’s set to be the most unpredictable general election for a generation, and the confusing mix ‘n’ match of speculation, rhetoric and counter claims is about to come to a head. So what effect will the elected party or parties have on the ongoing and highly controversial issue of airport expansion in the UK?

polling station

UK Election – Thursday 7th May

What does the Department for Transport say about expanding airports?

The DoT forecasts annual passenger numbers will reach 445 million by 2050, almost double the 2011 figure. But they also feel a maturing market and an end to the long trend for cheap air fares could mean growth actually slows to 1 – 3% a year compared to the past four decades’ dramatic 5% annual rise.

They also think the bulk of increased demand will come from London and the south east of England, where hubs will be under a lot of pressure by 2030. Heathrow airport is allegedly already operating at 98% capacity (or is it? More on the subject later), with regular delays and cancellations in bad weather. And many people who disagree with an extra runway at Heathrow think the nation could relieve the pressure by making more intelligent use of its existing airport capacity.

David Metz, a former chief scientist at the Department for Transport, insists there’s no way to accurately predict demand. He says London’s public transport infrastructure has already benefited from seriously limited road capacity, and believes limiting new runway capacity might force the UK’s aviation industry to get creative about meeting a big hike in demand, assuming one ever arises.

Unanswered environmental questions

Since almost everyone who matters now acknowledges that climate change is human-driven and is already beginning to bite, answers to the environmental questions behind extra capacity for air travel are still absolutely vital for the decision making process.

The Aviation Environment Federation says a full environmental analysis, promised by the the Airports Commission, still isn’t finished and won’t be ready in time for the election. Local air quality modelling hasn’t been completed and there are still a lot of unknowns around the impact on the UK’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Ed Miliband - Nicola Sturgeon - Nick Clegg

Ed Miliband – Nicola Sturgeon – Nick Clegg

What about the political side of the airport expansion debate?

What about the political side of the debate? We thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the five major parties’ views on expanding British airports to cope with the predicted increase in demand.

What if we vote in another hung parliament?

The financial giant KPMG believes expansion plans at Heathrow and Gatwick airports could be derailed if we end up with another coalition government. They warned recently that the report by the Davies Commission into expanding airport capacity in the south east could die a death if any ‘minor’ party gets to hold the all-important balance of power, with consensus unlikely. On the other hand it’s nothing new, since there has been absolutely no consensus so far anyway.

The final official recommendation is due this summer, taking into account 3 options: a new runway at Gatwick airport, a third runway at Heathrow airport or an extension of the exiting northern runway at Heathrow. Whatever the final decision turns out to be, we can probably expect years of protests, delays and changes of mind, as local people fight their corner against more noise, more pollution and more disruption.

The Conservative party’s view of the future of air travel

In 2010 David Cameron announced, “No ifs, no buts, there’ll be no third runway at Heathrow.” But in summer 2015, the UK’s Airports Commission is set to either recommend a new runway at Heathrow, one at Gatwick or an extension of Heathrow’s northern runway at Heathrow. Contrary to his promises, a new Heathrow runway is still very much on the cards. Might we see a serious political U-turn if he takes power again?

Analysis reveals UK demand for business flights has been steadily declining for almost ten years. Another runway at Heathrow would have a big impact on air quality and noise pollution in West London, affecting roads and railways far an wide. And the airport already subjects more people to unhealthy levels of noise pollution than any other airport, anywhere, according to Zac Goldsmith, Richmond Park & North Kingston’s current Conservative MP. It looks like mixed messages from the Tories.

The Lib Dems’ attitude to airport expansion

In October 2014 Liberal Democrat members defied attempts by their leaders to change the party’s policy of “no net increase in runways across the UK” and also refused to give in to demands to give party members a choice to support a new runway at Gatwick. It looks as though the Lib Dems have a green hat on as far as airport expansion is concerned, with grass roots members continuing to refuse support for expansion.

What the Labour party thinks about the future of air travel

Ed Miliband publicly opposed airport expansion when he was Environment Secretary, and did the same during his bid for party leadership. Having scoured the internet for Labour’s current views it’s clear they, like most of the other political parties, are unwilling to make airport expansion into an election issue. On the other hand the party has promised to make a quick decision about expanding airport capacity in London if it takes power.

UKIP’s views about expanding Britain’s airports

UKIP’s Manifesto clearly states the party wants to, “campaign to re-open Manston airport to address the lack of airport capacity in the South East”. With no mention of any other airport, we can only assume they reject plans for expansion at Heathrow and Gatwick.

UKIP Leader - Nigel Farage

UKIP Leader – Nigel Farage

The Green party’s take on air travel

The Green Party makes things reasonably clear. They “don’t want to see any new runways across the south east”, maintaining the same position they have always taken.

The Greens feel the debate has had the wrong focus so far. Instead of looking at where to expand, they believe it makes more sense to decide, first, whether expansion really is necessary, full top. And they don’t think the arguments stack up. They believe Britain does not have an air travel capacity crisis. In fact, according to them, every airport in Britain except Heathrow is currently underused. Which, if true, calls a whole host of other statistics justifying expansion into question. Who can we believe?

At the moment 90% of the most popular flights from Heathrow are short haul, easily replaceable by cheaper, cleaner rail travel. Because trains generate ten times less pollution than planes, it makes environmental sense.

More interesting still, recent research by the Aviation Environment Federation reveals that giving the south east a new runway would mean we overshoot the nation’s CO2 emissions target, even if every regional airport in the country was restricted in an effort to keep things under control. Plus, it appears the frequent claims that airport expansion creates thousands of new jobs are simply not reliable.

London Air Transport

London Air Transport

The big aviation scandal

Did you realise that while EU businesses pay 48 cents in tax per litre of fuel whenever they fill up their vehicles, EU-based commercial airlines don’t pay a single penny in fuel tax? The exemptions add up to a shameful 43 billion Euros every year.

In Britain 15% of us account for 70% of flights. The more affluent you are, the more often you fly. In 2013, 55% of us didn’t fly at all. So who, exactly, is all this frantic expansion planning meant to benefit? It clearly doesn’t benefit local people, the environment or the EU taxpayer, and the reasoning behind it seems to be pretty suspect in many ways.

Quite a few commentators believe airport expansion could finally be killed off for good by this election. If, indeed, we don’t need the extra capacity, that can only be a good thing. As Wikipedia says:

The environmental impact of aviation occurs because aircraft engines emit heat, noise, particulates and gases which contribute to climate change and global dimming. Despite emission reductions from automobiles and more fuel-efficient and less polluting turbofan and turboprop engines, the rapid growth of air travel in recent years contributes to an increase in total pollution attributable to aviation. In the European Union, greenhouse gas emissions from aviation increased by 87% between 1990 and 2006.
There is an ongoing debate about possible taxation of air travel and the inclusion of aviation in an emissions trading scheme, with a view to ensuring that the total external costs of aviation are taken into account.

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What’s your opinion?

Do you welcome airport expansion plans or do you think it’s all smoke and mirrors. We’d love to know how you feel about this long-running and spectacularly contentious issue.

Airport News: Soaring Passenger Numbers at UK Airports

Wednesday, April 15th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

With several major UK airports reporting massive hikes in passenger numbers in recent weeks, it’s clear our appetite for air travel hasn’t been affected by recent air crash tragedies. Flying is more popular than ever and it makes more sense than ever, in view of all those madding crowds, to make your airport experience as pleasurable and hassle-free as you can.

Heathrow Airport Terminal 4

Heathrow Airport Terminal 4

Smooth transitions are the way to do it. Get the best airport parking deals through us and you’ll sail through the often-nightmarish first phase of your journey with speed and ease. Grab yourself a seat in a smart airport lounge and you’ll leave all the concourse chaos behind, boarding your flight chilled and calm instead of a frazzled, crowd-battered mess.

Increasing passenger numbers signal flying is more popular than ever

The latest airport news reveals increasing passenger numbers, which in turen means busier airports, especially when the increase is hundreds of thousands, not just a few extra thousand. Rival airports Heathrow and Gatwick, for example, have both reported record passenger numbers during March 2015. Gatwick processed 3 million in the month, 250,000 more people representing just over 9% more than the same time last year. Heathrow airport reported a record 5.95 million passengers in March, 3.4% more than March 2014.

Huge Gatwick airport passenger increases

Gatwick expects to see more than 40 million passengers in 2016, mostly generated through more flights and bigger planes. Long-haul at Gatwick airport increased by 7.4% and Dubai saw the biggest growth, with 14.7% more passengers. European flights increased by just over 12%, with Barcelona and Geneva the most popular destinations.

Massive Heathrow airport passenger increases

Heathrow reported a 26.5% rise in people flying to Mexico in March as well as dramatic rises in demand for flights to China, up 20.2%, the Middle East & Central Asia, up 7.6%, and North America, up 6% on March 2014.

Big airport news – Passenger increases at Manchester airport

Congratulations to Manchester Airport, which has just smashed its own record with 22.32 million passengers in the 2013-14 financial year, the most it has ever serviced in its 77 year history. And Easter Friday 2015 was particularly busy too, with 65,000 people passing through on the day.

manchester airport

Manchester Airport from the air

Manchester is the UK’s third largest airport with growth of 7.5% year on year. But March 2015 saw a particularly dramatic passenger number hike of almost 10%. It and Heathrow are the only British airports with two full length runways, and it hoovers up vast numbers of air travellers from all around the north of England.

Long haul growth at Manchester is mostly down to Cathay Pacific which has launched a Hong Kong flight, making Manchester the only non-London hub offering direct, non-stop flights to China. Virgin Atlantic and Delta have collaborated to improve capacity to Atlanta, USA, and Delta is also adding more flights from Manchester to New York from May this year. It’s also the only British hub offering direct flights to Miami. And the main Gulf carriers at Manchester have boosted their frequency and capacity to destinations in the Middle East.

Stansted airport services more travellers than ever

Stansted airport serviced almost a million extra passengers in the first quarter of 2015 compared to 2014. It’s already the UK’s fastest-growing airport and so far 2015 has seen a 16.3% increase in people passing through. Between March 2014 and March an astonishing 20.9 million of us travelled through the airport.

In March this year Stansted serviced 1.67 million people, 24% more than March 2014. And it’s more than a blip. It’s a trend, being the tenth consecutive month of double digit growth.

As Andrew Harrison, Stansted’s managing director, said: “Growth in domestic traffic has been particularly strong with passenger numbers up 40 per cent over last year due to new Scottish flights from Ryanair plus the arrival of Flybe to serve Newcastle and Isle of Man with a Newquay service joining later this year.”

Luton airport sees a dramatic passenger number rise

London Luton Airport has also confirmed a surge in passenger numbers, good news since it has committed to a £100m expansion project. They’ve seen 18.6% more people pass through during March 2015, a whopping 840,820 of us. They’re also experiencing steady growth and again, this isn’t a blip. The announcement marks their 12th consecutive month of growth.

The airport’s redevelopment should increase their annual capacity from 12 million to 18 million a year by 2026, improving the terminal and transport links. They say their growth is down to their wide choice of destinations and easy access to London.

Belfast airport benefit from extra EasyJet services

More flights and more destinations means more people, and EasyJet is expanding in a major way at Belfast airport. The airline confirmed expansion of all of its Belfast to London routes plus 125,000 extra seats to Gatwick, Luton and Stansted added to its winter schedule. EasyJet is also set to increase seats to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, bringing the total new seats to an impressive 160,000.

Exeter airport busier than ever this Easter

Growth in traveller numbers isn’t restricted to the big boys. The regionals are at it, too. Easter alone saw Exeter airport service more than 16,500 people, boosted by the re-introduction of Flybe flights to Alicante, Malaga and Faro and resulting in a 15% plus increase on Easter 2014.

Exeter Airport managing director Matt Roach said: “It was the first Easter for our twice daily London City flights which proved popular as did the seasonal start-up of Skybus flights to the Isles of Scilly. We are confident that with the continuing investment in the airport facilities – most notably the recently opened new Executive Lounge and Fast Track Security lane, coupled with the opening of the new approach road, that passengers will continue to see the benefit of using their local airport in great numbers.”

Kent’s Manston airport plans highlights extra demand

You don’t bother campaigning for an airport to re-open unless there’s a very good financial reason for it. It’s clear there’s plenty of demand for Manston airport in Kent to re-open almost a year after its closure.

raf manston catering van 1953

RAF Manston – Catering Facilities in 1953

The airport closed in May 2014, having been bought by the Stagecoach Group co-founder Ann Gloag, who then sold a majority stake to a Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave for redevelopment. But the Commons Transport Select Committee have since questioned their ownership. The resulting five point plan includes the site’s compulsory purchase.

RiverOak, the American business interested in buying and running the airport, says they’re “absolutely committed to reviving Manston as an operational airport”. If you live in Kent, keep your fingers crossed and you might eventually have a convenient local airport you can call your own.

Ryanair expands its winter schedule

Improved scheduling is another sign that demand is high, and Leeds-Bradford airport is doing exactly that courtesy of Ryanair. They’re planning to expand their winter schedule a month earlier than in 2014, covering ten routes with extra flights to Alicante, Gdansk and Malaga for 2015-16 as well as their usual services to Dublin, Lanzarote and Malta. More than 835,000 customers a year will benefit.

How are Scottish airports faring?

Last year Edinburgh passed the 10 million passenger mark, the first Scottish airport to do so. In 2014 they serviced 20% more passengers. Overall Scotland saw passenger traffic growth of just under 4% in 2014. Aberdeen airport reported an impressive 31% growth, but Glasgow reported a 12% fall and Glasgow Prestwick passenger numbers are down 62%, below one million for the first time since the millennium.

What about the big Scottish four in 2015? Edinburgh’s traffic has increased by a little over 7%, Glasgow’s is up12%, partly because of Ryanair’s decision to open a second Glasgow base in October 2014, which is what has adversely affected Prestwick. Aberdeen’s traffic is flat-lining but the 5th biggest Scottish airport, Inverness, saw passenger numbers grow by about a quarter.

Get airport parking and airport lounge deals – Avoid the worst of the crowds

If you’d like to make the most of your journey while spending less, we have some excellent airpork parking and airport lounge deals for you.

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Support Your Regional Airport

Wednesday, March 25th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

Not so long ago travellers had very few airport choices, just the major hubs. Now we have a much better choice, including lots of smaller airports dotted around the country.

uk regional airports

UK Regional Airports

Many were originally built before and during World War Two, lay fallow for years afterwards and were then re-purposed as domestic airports to cater for the ever-increasing demand for convenient domestic and international flights close to home.

While the recession knocked passenger numbers for six across the nation, things are starting to turn around and regional hub development is back on the agenda. So we thought it’d be useful to take a fresh look at Britain’s regional airports.

What is a regional airport?

According to Wikipedia:

A regional airport is an airport serving traffic within a relatively small or lightly populated geographical area. A regional airport usually does not have customs and immigration facilities to process traffic between countries. In Canada regional airports usually service connections within Canada and some flights to the United States. A few U.S. regional airports, some of which actually call themselves international airports, may have customs and immigration facilities staffed on an as-needed basis, but the vast majority serve domestic traffic only.

Aircraft using these airports tend to be smaller business jets, private aircraft and regional airliners of both turboprop propelled or regional jetliner varieties. These flights usually go a shorter distance to a larger regional hub. These airports usually have shorter runways, which exclude heavy planes with much fuel.

About Britain’s regional airports

Britain’s local airports are usually close to cities and large towns, for example Bristol, Durham Tees Valley and Blackpool. And they’re getting bigger, offering more airlines, flights and routes as time goes by. Take Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, which originally offered a mere handful of flights but now provides routes to as many as 60 international destinations.

John Lennon Airport

John Lennon Airport – Liverppol – From Liverpoolecho.co.uk

Since we focus on airport parking, it’s also worth saying the parking at regional airports is usually very good, too. But check each airport’s  official website for full, up to date information. While an increasing number of them actively discourage travel by car, instead promoting their excellent local public transport links, there’s always somewhere safe to leave your car.

Why use a local airport?

Regional airports have enjoyed a dramatic renaissance in recent years. A massive 95 million of us used one last year while growth at major hubs like Heathrow experienced lower growth, possibly because more travellers chose to fly from closer to home. It’s no surprise when it’s faster and costs less to travel shorter distances to somewhere smaller and easier to navigate, with fewer crowds.

Regional hubs are also known for friendly, personalised service. And for many travellers they’re the greenest option, often easy to access by public transport and a lot closer to home than the closest major hub.

On the downside the facilities tend to be more basic than the big boys… but on the other hand most of us don’t want to hang around the airport for any longer than necessary. We don’t want to be forced by boredom and frustration to engage in  unnecessary shopping, we just want to get going!

Durham Tees Valley airport seeks local business opinions

Set in the north east’s industrial heartland, Durham Tees Valley airport offers international flights via KLM, bmibaby and RyanAir. Its top destinations include Amsterdam, Cork, Dublin, Jersey, Paris, Venice and Verona, Turkey, Tenerife and Tunisia.

Durham Tees Valley Airport

Durham Tees Valley Airport

Having struggled to beat the recession, the airport is taking firm steps towards a brighter future. Rather than guess what travellers want Durham Tees Valley Airport has taken the marketing high ground,  asking local companies for their views about how they can improve. A major Business Travel Survey is collecting local business’ opinions on a wide range of factors aimed at understanding how the airport can better meet business needs. Watch this space to see what improvements the airport decides to mke.

Cardiff Airport introduces 11 new routes

Cardiff Airport

Cardiff Airport – Wales

It’s great news for local travellers. FlyBe are due to open up shop at Cardiff airport, the latest in a run of positive moves since the Welsh Government bought the airport for £52m. It represents a significant vote of confidence in the hub, which was on its last legs not so long ago. FlyBe’s chief executive Saad Hammad said he wanted to see at least 400,000 passengers flying out of Cardiff every year to enjoy the airline’s 11 new routes, which include flights to Munich, Paris and Milan.

Bristol Airport gets going on £150 million expansion

Five years after Bristol airport was given the go ahead to expand, work has finally begun on increasing the size of the terminal. The news follows a long planning permission battle and means the hub could eventually service an impressive ten million passengers a year, four million more than the current number. The delays were down to the worldwide economic slump and associated drops in passenger levels.

The existing building is just fifteen years old but it’s already maxed out, with no wriggle room for expansion. The improved building will  provide much-needed extra space plus more shops and eateries. The work should be complete by summer 2015, in time for the holiday season. The airport is offering a dazzling summer 2015 schedule to match, with flights from Balkan Holidays, First Choice, Just Sunshine, Thomson, Thomas Cook, Red Sea Holidays and more.

Ashford Lydd Airport’s strong, loyal local business travel market

Tiny Kent-based Ashford Lydd is a well-loved business travel alternative to the congestion of London’s major hubs with fast access to the south east and the capital plus daily flights to Le Touquet in France. The M20 is on the doorstep and the high speed rail link from Ashford International zooms you to London, St. Pancras in 37 minutes.

Lydd Airport

Lydd Airport

According to the BBC:

Lydd Airport bosses want a new terminal building and an extended runway to take up to half a million passengers a year. Opponents said safety fears about the nearby Dungeness nuclear plant had not been addressed. Shepway District Council gave permission for the expansion plans in 2010 but the government called for a public inquiry.

The £25m project, also known as London Ashford Airport, includes a runway extension of almost 300m (328yds). Hani Mutlaq, the airport’s executive manager, said the government’s decision was “a victory for common sense and for the people of Romney Marsh”. The approval is subject to environmental, noise and traffic conditions.”Once all these have been addressed, we hope to begin the runway construction work as soon as possible,” Mr Mutlaq said.

Cambridge City Airport, internal and international routes

Cambridge City airport lies just three miles from the city centre and fourteen miles from Newmarket, the world famous horse racing venue. It provides a comfortable departure and arrival experience with short check-in times, convenient airport car parking, passenger and VIP lounges, Costa coffee, snacks plus – most important of all – really fast immigration procedures and a single-point UK Border and customs area. They provide flights to a range of exciting destinations including the Channel Islands, the Alps, Verona, the Italian Lakes and South Tyrol.

Cambridge-Terminal-UK

Cambridge International Airport

In early March they announced another new route: SUN-AIR flights to Sweden’s second biggest city, Gothenburg.

What about the future?

It looks like local airports have a bright future. The UK government is keen to expand local hubs, partly because adding extra runways to the big nationals like Gatwick and Heathrow is proving so tricky, with plans put back years, even decades, and local people and conservationists up in arms. During the past five years more than twenty local airports have submitted expansion plans, illustrating their popularity and potential.

Expanding local air flight opportunities mean more local jobs as well as more choice for travellers. And as regional airports become more popular, big businesses are stepping in to take advantage of the trend. Several regionals are currently involved in big-money deals, attracting investment capital to fund improved facilities.

If you’re a frequent traveller or live a long way from a major hub and want convenience plus great value for money,  going regional might be the best choice. And the more of us use them, the more likely ticket prices are to drop, according to the basic economic theory of supply and demand.

Are you flying regional this year?

Are you planning to ditch the big hubs and fly from a local hub this year? Maybe you do it regularly. What are your experiences? We’d love to hear them, so feel free to comment.

Do You Want a Fighter Jet Escort When You Fly?

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

Air travel safety is big news this week. If you’re feeling a bit uncertain about flying these days, you’re not alone. You’d be forgiven for thinking that air travel is becoming less safe by the minute.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Eurofighter Typhoon

Air travel safety – Is it safe to fly?

We’re told that in the UK, flying is a great deal safer than driving. But at least a car crash doesn’t leave you falling out of the sky with no chance of survival, your vehicle damaged beyond repair.

Two planes nosedived into the ocean last year, for mostly still-unclarified reasons, and in 2014 the MH17 crash over Ukraine horrified the world. Now a bomb hoax has led to a passenger jet, flight QR23 from Doha, being escorted to safety at Manchester airport by a fighter plane. How scary must that have been for those on board?

‘There is a bomb on board this plane’

An RAF Typhoon fighter jet was sent to escort Airbus flight QR23 safely to Manchester Airport, where armed police stormed the craft to arrest a man over what turned out to be a bomb hoax. The man had apparently handed a note to cabin crew saying there was a bomb on board.

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As a result nine incoming flights to Manchester were re-routed. Which was no doubt extremely annoying for the travellers concerned, but nowhere near as terrifying as the incident itself. Imagine how frightened you’d be to look out of the window of your plane to see a  military aircraft hovering close by, absolutely bristling with weaponry.

The fact that it was a hoax doesn’t make the incident any less terrifying for the passengers involved. If it was me it would probably put me off flying for life, especially given today’s climate of regular terror threats and awful random attacks.

The airport was shut down as the police and the military initiated full-scale emergency plans, which could have included shooting the plane down. You get on an ordinary, everyday flight. Someone makes a bomb threat. And, if it turns out to be a genuine threat, your plane could be shot down by the military? It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence, knowing your life could so easily be sacrificed.

Here’s a link to a video showing the fighter plane and featuring interviews with passengers.

The airport has now returned to normal and a 47 year old man has been detained. But it inevitably leaves people wondering: is it really safe to fly these days, was it more or less dangerous forty years ago and is it still worth the risk?

Air travel safety stats – Then and now

We thought it’d be interesting to look at some flight safety stats. Here are details of fatal airliner accidents and the number of passengers killed worldwide by year, for the past 5 years and for 5 years during the ’70s.

These figures don’t include corporate jet and military transport accidents and only look at incidents where more than 14 people were killed.

  • 2014 – 20 accidents, 692 deaths
  • 2013 – 29 accidents, 265 deaths
  • 2012 – 23 incidents, 475 deaths
  • 2011 – 26 accidents, 524 deaths
  • 2010 – 32 accidents, 943 deaths

What about the 1970s? Was it safer to fly back then?

  • 1970 – 78 accidents, 1475 deaths
  • 1971 – 51 accidents, 1437 deaths
  • 1972 – 72 accidents, 2373 deaths
  • 1973 – 67 accidents, 2023 deaths
  • 1974 – 68 accidents, 1995 deaths

The stats are clear: it’s safer to fly now than it was then, especially when you bear in mind there are so many more flights these days, which in turn means the proportion of accidents is also much lower. On the other hand the 1970s was not plagued by the same levels of terrorism.

Aircraft Safety Message

Aircraft Safety Message

Increasing terror-related incidents

While the machines we fly in might be safer than they were in the 1970s, it certainly feels like the threat of terrorism has got a lot worse. Take the recent incident in Cairo, when a commercial Libyan flight en route to Istanbul was forced to return to Tripoli after Egypt banned overflying in its airspace.

Egypt actually launched a series of air strikes earlier this week in an effort to destroy suspected ISIS targets in Libya, and insisted that the plane did not ask for permission to overfly. It’s yet another indication of just how jumpy some countries have become about ISIS and how aircraft safety rests on a hair trigger, depending on the people in power staying calm, getting all the facts before reacting and steering clear of snap decisions.

Can you trust governments, the military and their advisers to get it right first time, every time and keep you safe? Or might their actions or over-reactions prove the death of you? It’s all very alarming.

Are you safe at the airport itself?

You don’t need to be on a plane to be in danger from terror threats and other political craziness. Take poor Ukraine, a nation whose supposed cease fire has resulted in heated airport-related arguments. Both sides in the conflict are accusing the other of shelling Donetsk airport, which is currently being held by Russian rebels. It looks like the situation there is deteriorating fast, leaving air travel to the country a very dangerous matter indeed. Would you risk it?

What can you do to stay safe from air flight terror?

The only real answer is not to fly, full stop. On the other hand you might think twice about flying to or from a country where ISIS has a stranglehold or avoid flying to or from nations who have vowed to fight the terrorists and made themselves into prime targets. You could travel to Europe by train via the Channel Tunnel, a slower but safer-feeling journey if you’re worried about flying. The EU’s train network is superb – you just have to factor in more travel time.

The positive side of alternative travel

There are more plus points to travelling by land or sea. Imagine how nice it would be NOT to have to spend hours hanging around in an airport. Or NOT spending hours on the edge of your seat just in case your plane falls out of the sky. You never know, you might even get hooked on air travel alternatives, actively enjoying the process of getting there instead of being desperate for it to be over with and dreading the return flight. There is, after all, more to life than getting from A to B quickly.

If you love to fly, you’ll probably stick with it. Just grit your teeth, cross your fingers and hope the terror lottery doesn’t mean your flight gets in trouble. Happy travelling!

Driverless Cars and Parking Congestion

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

The UK car industry is hoping for a whopping £19m government investment to help fund new innovations. A host of regular car manufacturers are joining the race, all revealing their own designs. Google has been testing their own revolutionary driverless vehicle technology for some time. They’ve collected data about literally hundreds of thousands of miles of driverless test drives so far.

Google Self Driving Car

Google Self Driving Car

Germany, traditionally the EU’s greenest nation, is determined to lead the way in driverless car implementation and is already looking at how the associated laws, rules and regulations might work. Now the British government has also confirmed  its intention to dominate the driverless car market.

What are the ecological implications of driverless cars, are they safe, what will it mean for parking and how long will it be before we actually see them on our roads?

Driverless cars – Tapping into a future market worth £900 billion

It looks like the race is on, as the UK government lays plans to support the nation’s designers in taking the lead on driverless vehicle technology. The future market is estimated to grow and grow, set to be worth at least £900bn by 2025 if the pundits have got it right.

It’s obviously well worth getting involved from a financial perspective. And the initiative is already moving fast. There’s a special shuttle being tested in Greenwich plus a so-called ‘electric pod’ which’ll be tested on closed roads and pedestrian areas in Coventry and Milton Keynes. At the same time Bristol will host a trial to establish public reaction, explore legal issues and assess how motor insurance policies might need to change.

As Vince Cable confirmed, we’re at the ‘cutting edge’ of automotive technology. The nation’s latest driverless vehicle tech accolades include all-electric cars built in Sunderland and our world-class Midlands-based Formula One expertise. Cable has also launched a competition to research and develop driverless cars, and the country’s leaders have already confirmed that there aren’t any legal barriers to prevent testing the vehicles on public roads.

Mercedes Driverless Car

Mercedes Driverless Car

Are driverless cars dangerous?

Human-driven cars are pretty dangerous, as borne out by the country’s RTA stats. The driver-free shuttles already being tested in the UK include special sensors designed to avoid danger, detecting moving objects close by and slowing down when pedestrians get anywhere near. If someone gets too close the car comes to a safe stop in good time.

Google’s goal is to relieve as much as 90% of traffic congestion while cutting accidents – 90% of which are caused by human error – equally dramatically. As you can imagine, many experts think the driverless option will, in fact, be much safer, with new tech resulting in fewer road accidents compared to notoriously error-prone human drivers. But to be on the safe side, UK trials all involve cars that can easily be taken over by a qualified driver if something goes wrong.

The motor insurance bit

The trend has implications for motor insurers, too. And there are a lot of questions to answer, including who will be responsible if something goes wrong. Will it be the maker of the car, the ‘driver’ or owner, or the clever geeky type who programmed the car’s software?

Things get even more complex when you start thinking about the fact that most of the new vehicles won’t be 100% driverless all the time. The fact that people can intercept the system and take over adds more layers of potential complexity to both insurance and the law.

Driverless Vehicle Technology

Driverless Vehicle Technology

Will driverless technologies save time and money?

In this country the jury is out, but research by Morgan Stanley in the USA reveals a set of bold predictions about how much money driverless tech will save the States:

  • Savings from avoiding collisions – $488 billion
  • Productivity gains from saved driver time – $507 billion
  • Fuel savings – $158 billion
  • Productivity gains from less congestion – $138 billion
  • Fuel savings from less congestion – $11 billion

The ecological implications of going driverless

Just because a car doesn’t need a driver, it doesn’t mean it is necessarily any greener. But the way people drive has a dramatic effect on how much fuel they use and therefore how much CO2 their cars emit. Presumably driverless vehicles will be programmed to drive in the most fuel efficient way possible, which means they’ll be greener by nature. But there’s more, and it affects the very future of the planning process. As Green Home Builder magazine says:

“The very act of decoupling parking requirements from obtaining project approvals will have an enormous impact on how we design office buildings, retail centers, high-density multi-family projects and even the traditional single-family home.”

What effect will it have on the way traffic currently works in the UK?

Inevitably there’s a level of panic from some. There always is when new tech raises its head. In the case of driverless technologies, some feel they’ll more or less wipe out the minicab industry. Others are more sanguine. After all radio didn’t kill the theatre, TV didn’t kill radio, video didn’t kill the cinema and – so far – the web hasn’t killed the high street. Most of the time new developments add to our choices rather than reducing them. A common sense view might be that as well as traditionally-driven cars and cabs we’ll also have the choice of driverless ones.

What about driverless cars and parking?

There’s no reason why a driverless car should takeup less room than an ordinary one. There doesn’t seem to be a logical reason why driverlessness should result in fewer or more parking issues per se. The problem remains the same: there are too many cars in Britain full stop, and most of our towns and cities are old, not designed or built with car ownership in mind.

Parking Congestion

Parking Congestion

But there are changes afoot. As Mark Pack, the UK Liberal Democrat commentator and public relations expert says:

With automated vehicles will come far greater sharing of vehicles as people just summon a vehicle via their smartphone when they need it, and hence a massive fall in the need for huge acres of parking spaces outside developments. But if, as is also very likely, these cars are also nearly all electric, it will also need a very different pattern of electricity supply. Fewer open spaces of prime land given over to slabs of concrete to hold expensive assets being left unused and instead more demands for electricity to charging points in dispersed locations.

Will airport parking be affected?

What will driverless cars will mean for car parking challenges in densely parked areas like airports? Again, it’s difficult to imagine how the mere fact of not needing a human driver will affect airport parking in any way at all. People will still get into their cars to be taken to the airport, and leave their vehicles parked until they get home. Or will they…?

What about car ownership?

Obviously cars would still need to be stashed somewhere or other. So there are land use issues. But here’s an interesting thought. You don’t need to drive a driverless car. So does that mean you still need to actually own one?

Will the driverless model change the way we see car ownership, with people simply summoning a car from a public repository of some kind whenever they need one instead of having their own car parked at home?  It might sound weird at first but once you start thinking about it, wouldn’t it be lovely? Our children could play safely in the streets again, the way they did before cars killed everyone’s fun. Our neighbourhoods would look attractive again, green and leafy instead of stuffed full of tons of ugly metal. Fewer of our beloved pets would be run over… the list goes on.

Will you still need to learn to drive? Perhaps not. Will people who can’t drive regular cars for medical reasons be able to enjoy road travel for the first time? Let’s hope so. Will it cut the number of young drivers – notoriously dangerous people – killed on the roads and prevent them from killing other people? Probably.

In your own bubble…

The completely autonomous F015 concept car from Mercedes highlights another potential issue: because the F015’s futuristic design protects its driver in a cocoon of luxury, there’s no real need for the occupants to interact with the outside world in any way at all. Would it be a shame if automation totally isolated riders from the places they travel through? Would it really make any difference to the way we already sail through villages, towns, cities and landscapes without a second thought, as though they’re computer-generated? And does it actually matter?

A genuine revolution

Very few innovations lead to a genuine revolution in the way the human race does its thing. Driverless cars are an exception. This really is revolutionary stuff, and it’s set to change the way we travel forever. Right now it’s a few years off – there’s a lot of rigorous testing ahead before driver-free travel becomes an everyday reality. But change is on the wind.

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We’d love to know what you think. Feel free to leave a comment.

Jan 2015 UK Airport News – The Latest Air Travel Tales

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

The festive dust has well and truly cleared, the world is back to normal and there’s plenty of strange, weird, wonderful airport news flying around about the UK’s airports.

UK Airports

UK Airports

Top UK airport news stories for January 2015

Here are a few of the best, including some sensible and useful stories as well as the stuff of pure entertainment.

Heathrow Airport Expansion – News update

Last week Heathrow airport announced record passenger numbers for 2014, up 1.4% on 2013 at a massive 73.4 million people. That’s an awful lot of passengers. Air cargo was also up, this time 5.3% on 2013, at 1.5 million tonnes. It’s no surprise really, since passenger numbers have been steadily increasing since 2010 and experts estimate Heathrow airport could potentially handle a mind-blowing 90 million passengers a year under their current capacity.

A month earlier the All Party Parliamentary Group on Heathrow and the Wider Economy released its report into Noise from Heathrow Airport. The report reveals how the government and aviation sector have ‘seriously’ underestimated the impact of noise from the airport, both present and future. It also examined the impact of a third runway.

London Heathrow

London Heathrow – from ecopolitology.org

The report contains calls for those responsible for expansion to measure  noise properly using the WHO’s formula as well as a series of demands regarding the need for full information about future flight paths, respite periods, estimates of the number of people affected, population growth in affected areas and cuts in night flights. At the same time, apparently, Heathrow Airport’s CEO has confirmed that a successful third runway would open the doors to a fourth.

Both the West Windsor Residents Association and the Old Windsor Residents Association held Open Public Meetings on 20th January at Windsor Racecourse, to highlight the potentially disastrous effects of a third runway at Heathrow. The meeting featured presentations from local experts on noise, housing, transport and health, looking into the repercussions of an estimated 50% more flights, some flying over places that were previously fairly quiet and unspoiled by airport noise. Expansion may also mean 70,000 more homes for the predicted extra 112,000 employees and their families, but the region is already having difficulties coping with existing demand for more homes, schools, hospitals, doctors and improvements to transport links.

Heathrow expansion headlines this week also include damning reports about how an extra runway could ‘destroy’ Windsor and create homes ‘turmoil’. On balance it looks as though a decision to expand Heathrow is causing more disapproval and difficulty than positive reactions. If you lived near the airport, how would you feel?

Cool new routes and flight frequencies announced by UK airports

Airport expansion is in a constant state of flux. It looks like it’ll probably stay that way. But airlines are busy increasing their routes to meet public and business demand. Here are a few of the new and expanded routes on offer soon at an airport near you.

  1. If you regularly fly to Scotland from the south east you’ll be pleased to hear that Ryanair will be flying between London and Edinburgh more often, four times a day from winter 2015 onwards. It will particularly please the 25% of Ryanair customers who regularly travel the route on business.
  2. A new Glasgow/Berlin route, again from Ryanair, is set to delight travellers as the airline expands with a focus on Scotland. Flights are set to increase to five times a week, quickly expanding to daily flights between the cities. The Glasgow to Stansted route will benefit from more Ryanair flights, too.
  3. Ryanair also plans new routes between Edinburgh and Alicante, Frankfurt, Krakow, Malaga and Tenerife, all from autumn 2015. And the airline will be providing even more exciting new routes from Scotland as soon as a bunch of shiny new planes on order arrives from the manufacturer, Boeing.
  4. At the same time EasyJet, Ryanair’s arch-rival, is cutting its Gatwick to Moscow service from 13 times a week to 11 times a week, reducing the service further to daily flights from March 29th onwards.
  5. Leeds Bradford Airport is introducing 9 new holiday destinations for Summer 2015 through seven operators. Jet2.com and Jet2holidays are running new routes to Malta, Tunisia, Greece and Turkey. Monarch and Cosmos are offering direct flights to Naples and adding Alicante to their summer flights portfolio. Thomson and First Choice have added all-inclusive packages to Crete. Omega has kicked off a new service to Friedrichshafen and Ryanair have resurrected flights to Riga.
  6. New direct flights from the north east of England direct to the USA are due to be trialled before rolling out, courtesy of Newcastle Airport and United Airlines. What can passengers expect? As the Northern Echo says:

“You can take a train from (Newark Liberty International) airport and be at Penn Station within 25 minutes and then you have the centre of New York at your fingertips. As a destination for business and leisure travel it is pretty much peerless. The fact that it is non-stop is a key selling point. It means you can arrive in New York at lunchtime. There is no messing about with connections.

It also means that passengers from the North-East will be able to make 300 connections from New York, 100 of them non-stop to US cities such as Las Vegas, Houston, as well as destinations in Central and South America and the Caribbean.

The flights, on Boeing 757-200 aircraft, will start on Saturday, May 23 until September 7, and run daily, except Wednesday and Thursday, to the States, and Tuesday and Wednesday back across the Atlantic, with the outbound flight leaving Newcastle at 9.10am heading for Newark airport, near New York.”

Airport Departures

Airport Departures – from dailymail.co.uk

Airport news – Thomas Cook flight diverted when passenger hit on head by falling shoe

A  poorly pensioner, who was hit on the head by a shoe, forced a crowded plane bound for Birmingham airport, UK, to make an emergency landing. Hilda Holland was taken to hospital in Portugal, taken off theThomas Cook flight from Fuerteventura by stretcher. The flat shoe hit Hilda on the head when a fellow passenger opened a locker above her seat and it fell out. The plane diverted to Lisbon, where the OAP and her husband were taken to hospital and she was treated for shock.

Grubby 1st class conditions shock former BBC TV reporter

1st class isn’t always what you get. Or so found the ex-BBC TV reporter Owen Thomas, who was so disgusted by the muck on a first class British Airways flight to St Lucia that he actually committed it to film. He’d saved up for ages to enjoy his trip of a lifetime, with first class tickets to the island costing a whopping  £9,000 in the peak holiday season. Even the Purser on board admitted levels of cleanliness were ‘pretty bad’.

First Class Air Travel

First Class Air Travel – from foxbusiness.com

Great news for north eastern plane-spotters

If you love plane-spotting, you’ll adore the new bar at Newcastle airport, with its splendid runway views. The bar is called Cabin and it’s designed to deliver a premium passenger experience, with its stunning island bar-inspired décor and atmospheric lighting.

If you’re feeling posh it’s perfect, partnered with big brands like Champagne Lanson, Peroni and Corney & Barrow to deliver an outstanding and truly diverse drinks list. The food sounds pretty darned good too, including salted cod croquettes, special Cabin pate, Mezze, charcuterie from a local farm and fab cheeses from Pong.

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More next week…

Come back next week for more news, views and comment about everything to do with airports, from airport parking developments to new routes, gossip and crazy air travel-inspired news items.

Gatwick Airport Expansion: Latest Developments

Thursday, January 8th, 2015 by Kate Goldstone

Airport expansion is inevitably a sticky issue. So what’s going on right now as regards building a new runway at Gatwick airport, one of the biggest and busiest in the nation with two terminals but just one runway? Here’s a summary of the situation as the New Year gathers momentum.

London Gatwick Airport

London Gatwick Airport

The current situation at Gatwick – Expansion news

In a binding agreement dating back to 1979, West Sussex County Council prevents Gatwick from expanding via a second runway until 2019. It obviously doesn’t mean the airport can’t make plans in advance of the date. But things are moving very slowly indeed. As Wikipedia says:

“In 1979, an agreement was reached with West Sussex County Council not to build a second runway before 2019. In its original consultation document published on 23 July 2002 the Government decided to expand Stansted and Heathrow, but not Gatwick.

However, Medway Council, Kent County Council and Essex County Council sought a judicial review of this decision. The judge reviewing the lawfulness of the Government’s decision ruled that excluding Gatwick from the original consultation was irrational and/or unfair.

Following the judge’s ruling and the Secretary of State for Transport’s decision not to appeal, BAA published new consultation documents. These included an option of a possible second runway at Gatwick to the south of the existing airport boundary, leaving the villages Charlwood and Hookwood to the north of the airport intact. This led to protests about increased noise and pollution, demolition of houses and destruction of villages.”

The Airports Commission released an interim report on London Airport expansion choices in December 2013 and short listed Gatwick Airport as a potential site. In early April last year Gatwick Airport published three options for public consultation. The Commission will deliver its final report to the British government during 2015.

Gatwick Airport Runway

Gatwick Airport Runway

Gatwick airport expansion – The objections

Willie Walsh, the CEO of the British Airways’ parent company, has already ruled out supporting a second runway at Gatwick airport because, as he sees it, there isn’t a decent business case to support it. At the same time the Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust is worried about the idea because of the detrimental impact it’ll have on wildlife and our precious green spaces.

Local people are divided: some support a second runway at Gatwick because of the perceived economic and employment benefits, others are against Gatwick expansion because of the extra noise, pollution and congestion it’s likely to bring.

Then there’s the biggest argument of all: is expansion appropriate full stop, in times when human-led climate change is already having an effect and continuing to harness fossil fuels is less of a sensible option than ever. Many of the aircraft in the skies today are thirty, forty, fifty years old, engineered before green considerations came to the fore and they’re often heavy CO2 emitters.

New technologies, on the other hand, are making things better. Take jet biofuels, for example, created from oilseed crops. Carbon offsetting schemes are becoming more popular. New ‘green’ departures and are being achieved through continuous rates of climb. And greener minimum thrust, continuous descents and approaches have been put in place at some airports, by some airlines, to help reduce carbon emissions.

3 options for a second runway at Gatwick

Here are the three options suggested by the airport for public consultation:

  • Option 1 – A 3.4km runway 585m parallel to / south of the current runway

Under this option there’d be a runway for take-offs and another for landings. The inevitable hike in passenger numbers would be catered for by expanding the existing north terminal in a southerly direction to make a new remote pier to the west. It’d also mean a new short term multi-storey car park for both the north and south terminal, something we’re obviously interested in as airport parking specialists.

This one’s also the least expensive and the choice that requires the least land, estimated at another  388 hectares. It causes the lest extra noise but on the downside for the airport, it comes with less capacity than the other options.  The maximum capacity increases airport traffic by a whopping 24 million travellers per year, peaking at 70 aeroplane movements an hour: 389,000 a year.

  • Option 2 – A 3.4km runway 1045m parallel / to the south of the current runway

This option takes passenger growth under consideration by building a third terminal between the two runways, near to the rail link with its own access roads from the M23 and A23. In this case there’d be three new short term multi-storey car parks and the plan would require 573 hectares of extra land, which would mean demolishing the commercial buildings on Lowfield Heath. The shuttle would be extended too, linking the three terminals closely via extra carriages and more frequent services.

This choice is more expensive and is bad news for people who live in North Crawley, North Horsham and East Grinstead. It also means flights would pass directly over the pretty village of Rusper, just  6km from the  new runway’s westerly take off and landing points.

Again, we’d have one runway dedicated to taking off and another to landing. Passenger traffic under this option is predicted to rise to 40 million per year, peaking at 85 aircraft movements an hour, 483,000 flights per year.

  • Option 3 – Similar to option 2 but…

We’re looking at the same infrastructure as option 2 here, but option 3 comes with an extra short-term multi-storey car park. Plus both runways would be used for take-offs and landings.

This is the noisiest option. Simultaneously using two runways a mile apart for take-offs affects a much bigger chunk of land than the other choices. On the brighter side, 76% of the time prevailing westerlies mean take-off and landing go from east to west, in other words into the wind and over less populated areas.

The people who live in these less populated areas would bear the brunt of the extra noise. And the plans also more than doubles the number of people already using Gatwick airport, peaking at 47 million travellers every year. It would mean 95 aircraft movements per hour, which stacks up to 513,000 a year. Let’s face it, that’s an awful lot of noise and disruption.

Gatwick Airport Directions

Gatwick Airport Directions

What’s the most likely outcome?

There might be no outcome at all. Agreeing the best option is only the beginning of  a very long and complex process, with plenty of opportunities for anti-expansion campaigners and local people to delay matters. And with climate change high on the political agenda at last, there’s also the chance that any and all airport expansion may eventually be vetoed for the good of the planet and the benefit of our children’s future.

On 5th January 2015 a poll of 1,036 Londoners revealed that, when given a choice of where to build a new runway, 45% chose Gatwick compared to 39% for Heathrow.  The Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin believes Britain should increase its capacity to compete internationally. So do various other politicians, business leaders and aviation experts. But others are convinced there isn’t a case for expansion at Gatwick or anywhere else, including the Aviation Environment Federation, which says that, contrary to some reports, the UK is definitely not suffering an airport capacity crisis.

Many conservationists, including those at Friends of the Earth, are certain the business case isn’t convincing, as well as being far from compatible with climate change targets. And the opposition group Airport Watch says the UK is perfectly capable of making the most of its existing capacity instead of expanding.

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Whatever happens, it’s unlikely we’ll see work starting any time soon. Which is a relief for some and a disappointment for others. In the meantime, there’s no real way of telling how the Gatwick airport expansion plan will pan out… if at all.

How would you feel if you had to put up with 70-90 planes an hour flying over your home or place of work?

The Gift of Travel – Cool Travel Gift Ideas

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 by Kate Goldstone

Some of us love nothing better than staying at home, holidaying within the British Isles. Others are born travellers, willing to drop everything and head for exotic places whenever the opportunity arises. Some say travel broadens the mind, others say it only broadens the mind if you’re already broad minded. But one thing’s for sure – most of us enjoy travelling to one extent or another… and even if we don’t enjoy the actual travel bit, the process of getting from A to B, we love it once we get there!

Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gifts

Christmas travel gift ideas

Travel industry tradition dictates that as soon as the festive season is over, the telly fills up with travel agency and destination adverts and millions of us start thinking about booking our main holidays. Which means travel-related Christmas gifts are an easy win if you have a travel-obsessed friend or relative. Here are some travel-inspired Christmas gifts that are guaranteed to thrill.

Ryanair travel vouchers

Travel vouchers are brilliant because they leave the ultimate choice to the person you give them to. Take Ryanair, whose travel voucher system lets you buy vouchers worth £25 to £200. They give your loved one the choice of 1600 flights every day, connecting a whopping 183 destinations across 30 European countries. You can buy them online and they’ll be emailed to the recipient, who can redeem them via the Ryanair website.

Virgin experience days flying vouchers

Gravity? Who needs it? Virgin Experiences offer a brilliant range of flying lessons and flight-based treats. You can learn to fly in a light aircraft, a helicopter or even a stunning vintage Tiger Moth, a truly legendary flying machine.

If your family member would rather not drive the craft themselves but prefer sitting back and letting someone else do the hard work, you can book them on a helicopter flight over either London or Portsmouth. Remarkable views, a unique perspective and a magical flying experience await you.

Virgin Experience Days

Virgin Experience Days – from virginexperiencedays.co.uk

If you love the idea of flying but feel a bit farty about actually getting airborne, you can still get the full flavour at ground level. How? Via a multi-million pound flight Boeing 737 Flight Simulator. Now that’s what we call a flying lesson gift experience to remember!

Virgin also offers a host more crazy flight-inspired experiences packed with adrenaline.  How about parachuting, skydiving, hot air balloon trips, gliding or flying in a microlight? Not for the faint hearted but huge fun for dedicated adrenaline monsters.

Random fun gift ideas for travellers

The Not On The High Street website lets you shop by personality, which is seriously handy for the jet setter in your life.

How about a classy pair of map location cufflinks, which you can personalise? Or a scratch-off map poster, a personalised travel notebook, a compact mirror with a map printed on the lid or an extremely posh real leather luggage  tag? There’s even a beautiful handmade vintage map lampshade. As we write they have a cool  115 travel related gifts to choose from.

Funkyleisure.co.uk is Britain’s top festival and backpacking shop, home of masses of useful and quirky gifts for youngsters off on their gap year travels during 2015. Everything from backpacker travel card games to travel phone chargers, solar inflatable lights, temporary door locks, body and chest wallets, shewees, eye masks and travelling water purifier kits.

Avios air miles travel cards

How about Airmiles? In 2011 they changed their name to Avios, but they still offer the same thing: when you shop with certian retilers and fly with certain airlines you can collect airmiles and when you’ve collected enough, you can fly somewhere new and exciting for free.

Avios Travel Card

Avios Travel Card – from avios.com

You can collect Avios from household names like Tesco, Shell, BA, Iberia and many more collection partners. Then you can redeem them against flights, Eurostar journeys, cruises, wine clubs and various cool holiday extras including car hire, hotels, travel insurance and leisure experiences. Perhaps you could apply for an airmiles card for someone you love?

Travel books on Amazon

Amazon has a massive collection of beautiful and useful travel books. Take The Travel Book, a journey through every country in the world from Lonely Planet Travel Books. It contains information about 229 countries and destinations plus more than 800 stunning images to inspire the travel-obsessed, even if they’re just keen armchair travellers. The Amazon Kindle store is also full of excellent travel and related ebooks.

The perfect travel gift for 2015, Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015: The Best Trends, Destinations, Journeys & Experiences for the Year Ahead is an exceptional book, packed with the best places to go and things to do all around the world. It draws inspiration from the knowledge and passion of the organisation’s staff, seasoned travel authors and the online community. And every destination featured has been through a strict selection process to win a place in the book.

  • The top 10 countries, regions and cities to visit in 2015
  • The best travel experiences on the cards for the coming year
  • 16 top travel lists to explore
  • More than 35 particularly spectacular and thrilling events, detailed month by month
Travel Around the World

Travel Around the World

If someone you know has always wanted to just drop everything and go… but doesn’t know where to start and how to get it sorted, you might buy them How to Drop Everything And Travel Around The World – How to Do It, Where to Go & Why It’s Cheaper Than You Think. Here are the chapter headings to whet your appetite:

  • Are You Ready? Let’s Go On An Adventure!
  • Making Up Your Mind to Travel
  • Getting Your Sh*t Together Before You Leave
  • The Essential Guide to Packing
  • Where Are You Going? Let’s See Some Ideas!
  • Worldwide Travel Tips: Where to Go, Sleep, And Eat
  • Tackling Issues On The Road (Where Would We Be Without Surprises?)
  • Staying Sane Abroad
  • Let’s Cut To The Chase: How Much Will It Cost Me? (Hint: It’s Cheaper Than You Think)
  • What Are You Doing Here? Bon Boyage!
  • BONUS CHAPTER from “Productivity NOW! The Ultimate Guide to Get Explosive Results, Maximize Your Productivity & Erase Procrastination Forever!”
  • Much, much more!

SafariQuip for the finest tried and tested travel & adventure gear

Being properly equipped is half the battle. If you want to buy top quality travel related gifts from a company run by people who are totally passionate about travel and adore adventures, SafariQuip have been selling the finest equipment to fellow travellers and outdoor enthusiasts since the 1980s.

Rolling in cash? Buy a plane…

For all we know you’re loaded, rolling in it, on the rich list. If so, why not buy a plane and take control of your own travelling life? Cessna has a great choice of beautiful, reliable flying machines, everything from their famously luxurious Citation business jets to Caravan turboprops and single engine light aircraft.  As they say on-site:

“For more than eight decades, we have been innovating aircraft engineering to lead the world of aviation. Continuing that tradition of pioneering in aviation technology, we are driven by ingenuity. We have been reinventing the way you fly for more than 85 years. Our aeronautical engineers have imagined hundreds of original aircraft concepts into clean sheet designs advancing to the latest computer-enhanced technology and flight-simulation tools and, finally, to prototype. Because it takes years for a new aircraft to reach its maiden flight, we are always designing for tomorrow’s world.”

Here’s wishing you a splendid Christmas

Whatever you buy, wherever you go, whatever you do, here’s wishing all our lovely customers a very happy festive season and a thrillingly adventurous 2015.

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Computer Fail Flight Disruptions – What’s Next?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 by Kate Goldstone

We talked about flight delays, flight disruptions and cancellations a couple of weeks ago, mentioning how easily it can happen in a seasonal context. Then, on 12th December, passengers faced widespread flight disruption after a computer failure at Britain’s air traffic control centre, NATS. We couldn’t have predicted it. Nobody could. So what was it all about? And could it happen again?

Computer System Failure

System Failure

Computer glitches ‘r’ us – Airport woes

When National Air Traffic Services encounters a technical fault, everything grinds to a halt. It has to, otherwise lives would be put at serious risk. This particular glitch caused issues at airports throughout Britain, including the major hubs Heathrow airport and Gatwick airport. And it happened only a year after a dramatic telephone system fail at the NATs control room in Swanwick, Hampshire, just one of several crises since the centre started life in 2002.

A total of 84 flights out of 1300 or so were cancelled at Heathrow on the Friday. Gatwick suffered flight delays of up to 90 minutes with 19 cancellations. And there were cancellations and delays at numerous other airports including Stansted, London City, Newcastle, Luton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Southampton, amongst others.

The government became embroiled more or less instantly, saying the disruption was not acceptable and asking for a full explanation. Labour called for ministers to “get a grip” and the Labour chairwoman of the transport select committee, Louise Ellman, insisted it was “vital that we establish what happened”. So what, exactly, went wrong?

UK Daily Air Traffic

UK Daily Air Traffic – from independent.co.uk

Flight disruptions in December – What went wrong at NATs this time?

Apparently a single dodgy line of code in one of NATs’ 50 or more computer systems – a mistake hidden amongst literally millions of lines of code – caused the problem. But the issue runs much deeper than a simple one-off failure. It appears some parts of the NATs computer system are ‘elderly’ and as such they pose an ongoing challenge.

How come? Imagine you set up a computer system ten years or more ago. It worked perfectly at the time, but as the years pass you need to upgrade and update it to cope with extra flights, new technologies, new safety measures, security and so on.

Do you replace the whole system every time? It’s probably too expensive and, at least at first, unnecessary. So you bolt extra functionality onto the legacy system and carry on as normal. It works for a while. But eventually the whole thing begins to fall over. You need to start from fresh. But the cost is overwhelming.

That’s how it often happens. And NATS isn’t alone. Banks have suffered from the same kind of thing, where old, complex computer systems are less and less able to cope with the contemporary demands made on them. As a result they crash every now and again, leaving millions of us unable to get into our bank accounts.

Heathrow Terminal

Heathrow Terminal – from techweekeurope.co.uk

Can they fix it?

The Swanwick system is made up of fifty different sub-systems, containing a total of around four million lines of code. NATs are spending a whopping extra £575 million over the next five years to update the systems, but they can’t just switch everything off to carry out repairs. They have to do the work while the system’s running.

Swanwick controls an enormous 200,000 square miles of airspace above England and Wales. It handles more than 5000 flights every day. And it’s no stranger to software issues, technical problems and computer glitches. One of the reasons is the simple fact that the system runs at “full pelt” all the time, so when something small goes awry it has a profound effect. Add the fact that NATs is facing cost-cutting as well as redundancies and you get the picture.

Thankfully the system was up and running again pretty quickly and by the Saturday, things were more or less back to normal.

Vintage Computer Room

Vintage Computers – from blogto.com

Will it happen again?

There’s always a risk one computer system or other might fall over. Then there are other kinds of delays. Extreme weather,  communications problems, technical issues, long immigration queues, re-fuelling, air traffic congestion, politics, airport staff strikes and embargoes, volcanic eruptions, terrorist attacks, security problems, illness and even drunk and disorderly passengers have all led to air travel nightmares in the past.

Wherever you’re flying to or from, at whatever time of year, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for delays, just in case. We’ve written an airport survival guide to help you cope.

How do you know if flight delays are imminent?

The Flightstats website includes a real time flight tracker and airport delays service, where you can look up the status of flights and get the information you need to plan ahead effectively, checking your journey either by flight, by airport or by route.

What about delays on the way there? You can punt the details of your journey into the BBC travel website and it delivers real-time advice about delays on the roads and railways.

Can I claim compensation for delayed flights?

The Money Saving Expert website contains everything you need to know about claiming compensation for flight delays, including a suite of helpful template letters to save you time and hassle, plus a handy table revealing how much you should be able to claim. Here’s a quick summary of the rules:

  • Whatever happens, you must be delayed for more than 3 hours to claim. The length of the delay drives how much you can claim. If you’re delayed more than three hours or your flight is cancelled, you might be eligible to claim anything between £100 and £470 in compensation.
  • Compensation is paid per person.
  • The rules only apply to EU-regulated flights, where your plane left from an  EU airport, including Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
  • It doesn’t matter which airline you’re booked with or which EU airport your flight landed at. Here’s an example: your flight from Manchester to Miami is delayed. You qualify for compensation no matter which airline. But if you fly Miami to Manchester you can claim for flying with an EU airline but not with a non-EU airline like Air India. And yes, it is confusing!
  • You can claim for delays as long ago as February 2005, but claiming for delays pre-2008 gets tricky. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you can only claim for delays over the past 6 years. And it’s only 5 years for Scotland, under Scottish Law.
  • You can only claim if the delay was within the airline’s control, which includes staffing issues and under-booking. Things like political troubles and terrible weather don’t count.
  • In England and Wales you can claim when a technical fault has not been caused by ‘extraordinary’ circumstances.
  • If the crew turned up late you can claim depending on the reasons for their lateness. It’s done on a case-by-case basis.
  • If your plane arrives late from its previous destination, things get murky. The law doesn’t make it 100% clear whether or not you can claim, but it might be worth trying.
  • What if your plane was diverted to a different airport? If you arrived at your final destination more than three hours late you might be able to claim. It depends what caused the diversion.
  • If you missed your connection, whether or not you can claim depends on the cause of the disruption.
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Getting the airport car parking bit sorted

There’s one thing you can be reasonably sure of. We’ve had a good hunt around the wonderful interweb and can’t find a single story about airport parking going horribly wrong. Arrange it through us, sit back and relax in the knowledge that the parking side of thing is highly unlikely to go pear-shaped!

What Can UK Air Travellers Expect This Christmas?

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 by Kate Goldstone

What can you expect this Christmas if you’re travelling by air? Who knows? Anything could happen, the British weather being what it is. Take last year, where travel chaos reigned on Christmas eve. Here’s our take on surviving potential delays at the UK’s airports this festive season.

Gatwick Airport Christmas 2013

Gatwick Airport Christmas 2013 – from skift.com

Christmas air travel chaos – Could it happen again?

Gatwick Airport on Christmas Eve 2013, and it’s total chaos. The airport’s departures were transferred to the south terminal after flooding caused a massive power failure on Christmas Eve. Thousands of passengers were stranded, some for as long as twelve hours, and dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed.

No trains ran to or from the airport for most of the day, since fallen trees had disrupted the entire network. And as a result of the delays, most local hotels were full to bursting point. Thankfully the airport provided food and bedding.

Of course it wasn’t the airport’s fault – there wasn’t a lot they could do in the face of such extraordinary weather conditions and they don’t control the National Grid. But in April this year a report by MPs called it a “wake-up call for airports across the UK”.

The main problem was the lack of information, which really took its toll. The House of Commons Transport Committee report highlighted a lack of toilets and drinking water too, and the fact that people weren’t given accurate, timely updates. They also said there was a lack of clarity about who was in charge.

Will delays and cancellations screw up people’s Christmas air travel plans this year? Is there any sensible advice about coping with airport delays? And what’s the weather going to be like this Christmas?

Christmas Travel Chaos

Christmas Travel Chaos – from dailymail.co.uk

Improved airport procedures and protocols for Christmas 2014

This year Gatwick airport has set aside a £30m resilience fund to help fund solutions to future delays. And they say they’ll be better able to get the “operational resilience issues” side of things under control, too. This means making “well-drilled plans” that “put passenger interests first”.

As a spokesperson said, “extensive work has already been undertaken to improve contingency plans and passenger welfare in times of disruption.” It isn’t just Gatwick, either. Apparently other British airports are putting similar measures in place, just in case.

An earlier review by Gatwick itself into the crisis said it’d be good to have a “passenger champion” at every terminal to support travellers and answer their questions. Gatwick has also kicked off a series of new flood defences designed to protect it from flooding in future, a wise move since climate change experts predict Britain’s weather is set to get wetter.

Gatwick Airport Travel

Gatwick Airport Travel – from gable-end.com

The MPs’ report recommended the Civil Aviation Authority bring forward improvements in passenger information so people know their rights when facing disruptions to their travel plans, not least about compensation. The Committee’s chairman Louise Ellman also said people should be reimbursed quickly for the extra money they spend because of air travel disruption. A spokesman for the CAA said:

“Both Gatwick and Heathrow are required to have their contingency plans in place by October and, once published, we will regularly review them – taking action where necessary if we feel the plans are not sufficient to protect passengers during disruption.”

Flooding isn’t the only threat to airports this Christmas

Flooding is one thing. But delays at airports can be caused by snow and fog too, and by very high winds. Then there’s the ever-present terrorist threat, which can lock an airport down instantly. Your destination airport might be closed for one reason or another, which will also cause issues. Again, there’s nothing airports can do about any of it after the fact, except do their best to look after passengers and keep them properly informed.

What is the weather forecast for Christmas 2014?

It’s impossible to know what the Christmas weather’s going to be like until a few days before the festivities begin. But TheWeatherOutlook website provides updates based on the latest medium and long range meteorological data.

As we write, on 3rd December, the weather on Christmas Day looks like this:

  • The south – Too mild for snow
  • Wales – Cold, perhaps with some snow or rain
  • The Midlands – Cold and dry
  • The north – too mild for snow
  • Scotland – too mild for snow
  • Northern Ireland and the Republic or Ireland – too mild for snow

Other forecasters believe it could get a fair bit colder towards the end of this month. It’s a lottery, which means checking the forecast nearer the time is your best bet if you want to be prepared. You can’t beat the BBC weather website for accuracy and trustworthiness.

UK Winter Weather

UK Winter Weather

What do airport websites say about their own policy on delays?

Taking a look at a few major British airport websites including Heathrow airport, Stansted airport and Luton airport, there’s no sign of their official policy on delays. The information doesn’t appear on-site, even when searching internally for ‘delays and cancellations policy’. Or does it? If you know where to find the information, let us know by leaving a comment. Then we can share the information with our readers.

 Airport SMS update services

Luckily most big airports provide an SMS update service, for example Heathrow’s SMS update service, where you get real time tracking and updated information about flight times, delays and cancellations over your mobile phone.

15 tips for Christmas air travel delay survival

So you’ve checked the BBC weather website or wherever for the latest Christmas forecast. And it’s absolutely dreadful. With the best will in the world, you might face delays. Here’s some common sense advice about surviving the experience with your sanity intact:

  1. Check with your airline before setting off for the airport
  2. Check with the airport itself, via their website
  3. Sign up for the airport’s SMS update service for real time information
  4. If you can, take some bottled drinking water with you just in case
  5. If you’re travelling by public transport, check for delays and start off earlier if you need to
  6. If you’re driving, check for jam and congestion so you can do your best to avoid it
  7. If the airport doesn’t give you regular updates, keep the pressure on. The more passengers insist on proper information, the more likely you are to get it
  8. Take plenty of DIY entertainment with you, whether it’s your smartphone, laptop, tablet, Kindle or a real book
  9. Check what you’re not allowed to take in your luggage so you don’t get delayed even further
  10. The same goes for hand luggage – the rules are complicated and change frequently
  11. Head for the airline counter as soon as you know there’s a delay or cancellation. If you’re quick enough you might just be able to snag a seat on the next flight out
  12. Ask airline staff I they’re offering vouchers for overnight stays, food and alternative flight tickets
  13. Be polite to airport staff– you’re much more likely to get the help and support you need if you’re nice. After all, it isn’t their fault you’re delayed
  14. You might have a report to write, a book you’ve been dying to read, a loved one to whom you owe a long email or a family Skype conversation that’s long overdue.  Make the best of a bad situation
  15. Stay positive! Scientific research proves the more negative you are, the worse the entire experience will feel. Stay positive and it won’t feel anywhere near as bad. It’s under your control

Nobody knows what the long range weather forecast holds in store this Xmas. But last year’s issues at Gatwick airport have driven some profound changes in the way airports handle disruptions, delays and cancellations.

With a bit of luck air travel delays for Christmas 2014, if there are any, will be a lot less painful than last year.  The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Let’s just hope we don’t have to eat it in 2014!

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