Easyjet extends online check-in to hold luggage

No-frills airline Easyjet has launched a free online check-in facility for passengers with suitcases as well as hand luggage.

Europe’s second largest low cost carrier has offered online check-in to passengers with hand luggage for some time now. But from today (November 30), passengers with suitcases will be able to make use of new airport baggage drop-offs.

Passengers with hold luggage can check-in via Easyjet’s website up to 60 days in advance (for both outbound and return journeys) and then take their cases to a drop-off point along with the printed boarding card.

The airline said it would continue to offer standard, manned desks at its airports with no fees for online or traditional check-in.

Online check-in is now available at 94 of Easyjet’s 112 airports. A further 18, including Dusselsdorf, Stockholm, Tel Aviv and Vienna will follow.

Visit easyjet.com for more information.

Report by Andrew Gough

‘Please pack less’ say baggage handlers

Next time you struggle to lift your suitcase on to the bathroom scales, spare a thought for airport baggage handlers.

According to the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), luggage handlers are more likely to suffer injury as the use of mechanical aids and lifting positions is not always possible in cramped conditions such as aircraft holds.

To get this message across, ETF has launched a joint campaign with the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) directly targeting passengers and calling on governments and airlines to impose new “realistic” weight limits.

Should the campaign be successful, passengers could one day find themselves limited to 15kg of luggage, easing the strain on baggage handlers, check-in staff and cabin crew.

The ‘Stop Injuries! Pack less’ campaign will also attempt to raise public awareness of airport working conditions with 100,000 leaflets distributed across 35 airports throughout Europe.

The leaflet (pictured below) claims that handlers often have to load luggage “while working on their knees” due to cramped working conditions.

According to the ITF and ETF, airline luggage is exempt from health and safety regulations which would normally protect the wellbeing of both airport workers and cabin crew.

“Every day hugely heavy loads that would be rejected in just about any other workplace are being handled by check-in staff and baggage handlers,” said Enrique Carmona, president of the ETF’s ground staff committee.

ETF ITF Pack Less“The result is too often injuries that can last a lifetime. That’s why we are asking travellers to think of the people who help them on their way.”

The two federations are campaigning for a maximum weight limit of 23kg with immediate effect, followed by a phased reduction to 15kg. Hand luggage would also be limited to 6kg per bag.

ETF and ITF said lighter bags would avoid excess baggage fees, improve safety for airport workers and help the environment with lighter aircraft equaling lower fuel consumption.

For more information visit packless.org, etf-europe.org, itfglobal.org.

Report by Andrew Gough

How Ryanair makes money (cont…)

Ryanair has announced that it is to launch a new Mastercard
prepayment card on 1 December, and a month later will start to charge for the Visa
Electron card.

From 1 January 2010, the Visa Electron payment card will attract
a €5 administration charge while MasterCard Prepaid will become the sole free
from of payment on www.ryanair.com.

The airline says that “The MasterCard Prepaid card is much more widely available
than Visa Electron and can be picked up from financial institutions/ card
issuers throughout Europe (including Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands and
Portugal) and online. MasterCard Prepaid cards will not only provide savings on
Ryanair flights but can also be used to withdraw money from ATMs and make
retail purchases in shops and online.”

Garuda suspends daily service to Ho Chi Minh City

Garuda Indonesia has indefinitely suspended its daily service between Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta via Singapore, with the carrier offering refunds to customers who booked flights during the suspension period.

“We suspended the aircraft (for the flight to and from Ho Chi Minh City) because we have higher demand in the domestic market. So, we are using the aircrafts for the domestic sector,” said Syamsul Adnan, general manager, Garuda Indonesia in Vietnam

Adnan expects the airline to resume service to Ho Chi Minh City in 2010, when the airline receives more aircrafts from Boeing.

Meanwhile, other carriers such as AirAsia and Trans Air have announced air services to Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang respectively this December.

Effective December 3, AirAsia will launch direct daily flights between Ho Chi Minh City and Phuket. Flight FD 3964 from Phuket leaves at 1920 with arrival at Ho Chi Minh City at 2110. The return flight FD 3965 leaves 2140 and arrives in Phuket at 2335.

Also this coming month, Taiwan-based Trans Air will start operating a twice-weekly Taipei-Da Nang service, using an Airbus A321.Trans Air becomes the second foreign carrier to operate at Da Nang International Airport. Currently, SilkAir runs three flights a week to Da Nang.

For more information, visit www.garuda-indonesia.com

Jarrel Tan

Le Meridien adds to Qingdao hotel inventory

Le Meridien Qingdao has opened, joining the parade of branded hotel chains entering one of northern China’s emerging manufacturing and IT hubs. The growing list of accommodation providers includes InterContinental, Shangri-La, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Best Western and Copthorne.

Qingdao is also known as the home of the Tsingtao Brewery, founded by German settlers in 1903.

Part of the Wanda Plaza owned by the Dalian Wanda Group, which also consists of a retail and dining component, cinema, offices and residences, Le Meridien Qingdao is close to landmarks like Beer Street, the Olympic Sailing Centre and the beachfront. It has a total of 348 guestrooms, measuring a minimum of 40sqm and equipped with the expected corporate tools of high-speed internet and spacious bathroom. Guests can expect to enjoy the chain’s recently introduced enhancements such as the Le Meridien Signature Bed, the transitional portal (usually the lobby entrance featuring unique artwork, signalling the arrival into Le Meridien’s world) and the Unlock Art programme among others. “Such aspects are intended to introduce the cosmopolitan lifestyle to Qingdao,” remarked hotel general manager Thomas Hansen.

Three signature restaurants are found on the premises, serving Chinese and local specialties as well as Japanese, which should go down well with the sizable Japanese community – Japan and South Korea are two of the biggest investors in Qingdao. Meeting planners can create events in the pillarless ballroom that is divisible by three and seven multifunction rooms.

Le Meridien is set on expanding its footprint in China. Previous to this opening, it launched properties in Hongkong, Shanghai, She Shan (a golf resort), Shimei Bay and in December, it will be Chonqing Nan’an and next year in Xiamen and Xian.

For more details on the hotel, visit www.lemeridien.com

Margie T Logarta

New food guides to Hongkong now available

Gourmets and just plain “foodies” know Hongkong is a glutton’s paradise, and three new guides are available in the market to help them navigate the bewildering array of menus and choices.

Michelin Hong Kong Macau 2010

The 100-year-old Michelin Guide, Europe’s best known food and accommodation guide, is released annually in 23 countries. Each of the local versions feature an extensive list of restaurants and places to stay approved by Michelin inspectors. In 2007, Tokyo became the first Asian city to be reviewed by Michelin, yielding more star-rated restaurants than even France itself. Hongkong followed in 2008.

The latest Hongkong edition features a total of 245 establishments and another 53 from Macau, with two Hongkong restaurants receiving a three-star rating, the highest honour that Michelin bestows, with the rest being awarded one or two stars.

According to Jean-Luc Naret, director of the Michelin Guides, more than 60 percent of the featured eateries in the red booklet are Chinese cuisine from the various regions, including Shanghainese, Cantonese, Beijing and Sichuan. A surprise awardee was Tim Ho Wan, a simple eatery but renowned for its dim sum, which earned a one-star rating.

The guide also features 50 Bib Gourmand restaurants, which Michelin inspectors have tagged as good food priced HK$300 (US$39) and below. Here, you can now find many cha chan tings and dai pai dongs (literally from Cantonese, tea houses and signboard stalls), the lifeblood of Hongkong’s dining scene.

Price: HK$168 (US$22)

Where to buy: Leading Hongkong bookstores. For more details, visit www.michelinguide.com/us/index.html

WOM Guide 2010 for foodies

On its fifth edition the WOM (Word of Mouth) Guide 2010 continues to take pride in being a food guide “for the locals, by the locals”.

Reviewers are “Wommers”, generally Hongkong residents, who register themselves at WOM’s website and post their reviews online. About 5,000 individuals helped bring the 2009 edition into print. There is no rating system and relies solely on personal opinions and tastes.

The WOM guide classifies Hongkong’s cuisine in typical and original categories, ranging from “Western”, to “Asian”, or “For The Look” and “For The Fun”. Restaurants recommended are generally along the higher-end of the price tag.

Price: HK$160 (US$21) per print copy

Where to buy: Leading Hongkong bookstores and from the guide’s website at www.womguide.com

• Miele Food Guide 2009/2010

Also released annually, the Miele Food Guide features not just the Hongkong and Macau’s dining scene but Asia’s as well. On top of listing a total of 450 restaurants in 16 Asian countries, the guide also highlights a “Top 5” for each country.

The two-year-old Singapore-based publication conducts four rounds of voting to narrow down the choices. Voters consist of invited food critics around Asia, the in-house Miele team and the online public. Meanwhile, individuals register to take part in the voting process.

Price: HK$139 (US18) per print copy (when bought in Hongkong)

Where to buy: All major bookstores across Asia and from the guide’s website at www.mieleguide.com

Liu Hongzuo

Ireland aims to boost tourism with new campaign

Tourism Ireland has launched a new strategy to attract visitors from Great Britain over the course of the New Year. Launched at this year’s World Travel Market, the promotional campaign focuses on portraying both Northern and Southern Ireland as “serious destinations for leisure, short breaks or business leisure.”

Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland, revealed that the aim is to transform the St Patrick’s Day celebrations (on March 17) into the “biggest consumer event of the first quarter of 2010,” with emphasis placed on the ease with which British tourists can “experience Irish culture first hand.” Group organisers, coach operators, wholesalers and specialists will also be involved in the push to raise the event’s profile, and are to take part in a series of workshops to strengthen links with Tourism Ireland. Later in 2010 it is hoped that the opening of the Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre and the new Titanic Centenary in Belfast will result in an additional increase in tourist figures.

The business branch of the promotions scheme will highlight improvements being made to the island’s infrastructure and corporate facilities. Tourism Ireland plans to exploit the faltering MICE market, branding Ireland as a hosting solution to problems buyers are likely to face in the next three to four years. Large suites have been installed in the city’s new Aviva Stadium (providing spaces that can hold 800 people) and September 2010 will see the opening of the purpose-built Dublin Convention Centre, which will be able to cater for up to 8,000 delegates attending conferences. Rooms at both venues will be installed with the latest technology, including plasma screens, AV conferencing facilities and wifi.

A new Terminal 2 at Dublin airport is also set to open fully in November 2010, catering to both short and long haul passengers. With an expanded departures lounge and a total of 58 check-in desks, it will be home to transatlantic and intercontinental carriers (including Aer Lingus) and will also be one of only two terminals in Europe that allows passengers to clear US customs and immigration (see online news September 15 for more details)

Both sectors of the island’s tourism industry have suffered in the last twelve months as a result of the turbulent economic climate and fluctuating exchange rates. It is hoped that this new drive will reignite interest in Ireland at the start of the 2010 season. With services in such close proximity to mainland Britain, but with an entirely different cultural feel, Tourism Ireland intends to market the island as a high quality international business destination that offers value for money, an abundance of corporate event solutions and unbeatable hospitality.

For more information visit tourismireland.com.

Report by Alison Rowley

Virgin Atlantic positive about post-recovery Asian potential

Virgin Atlantic sees great growth opportunities in Asia but the next 12 months will be focused on consolidation, the airline’s chief financial officer Julie Southern told Business Traveller Asia Pacific.

The carrier, which flies to London and Sydney out of Hongkong and from London to Delhi, Shanghai and Tokyo, will renew its fleet with the arrival of Airbus A330s and Boeing 787 aircraft between 2011 and 2013, and will use much of 2010 to work on perfecting the new products.

“We do see a stronger market and Virgin Atlantic reacted quickly to the economic crisis. We do plan to reinstate the second Hongkong-London service when the market recovers but for the next 12 months our focus is on keeping things relatively stable. In 2010, we will be preparing for the arrival of our new planes. Although we’re obviously disappointed that the Boeing aircraft have been as delayed as they have.”

Southern said Virgin Atlantic’s longer term challenge for Asia was the capacity of its London Heathrow home base.

“Our biggest obstacle for expanding Asian routes will be getting slots at Heathrow, but it makes sense as East Asia and India are the most likely spots of growth in the world economy,” she said.

While there are currently no plans to create an Asian Virgin offshoot, as has happened in Australia with Virgin Blue and V Australia, Southern said: “At Virgin, you learn never to say never.”

Likewise the airline has no plans to join any of the major alliances but Southern said that its success was that it was “50 percent of the way there”, with successful partnerships with airlines in the big networks, especially the Star Alliance, but Virgin Atlantic was happy to be a “niche player”.

Southern said that the airline’s premium-economy class category had proven resilient at a time when many business travellers have had to trim budgets and downgrade their travel programmes.

“The success of the product is obvious. Virgin Atlantic invented the premium economy category and look at how many airlines have copied it. We have also shown business travellers that although the Virgin brand is different and funky, we have a serious business product too and we are increasing our share of business travellers as a result. For example, our new Upper Class Wing at Heathrow Terminal 3 means you can be dropped off and be through our private security channel and in the lounge in ten minutes.

“There has to be substance in the product too, not just the brand,” Southern said.

www.virgin-atlantic.com

Kenny Coyle

Special report: Easyjet CEO proposes tough steps to achieve greener aviation

Andrew Harrison, chief executive of Easyjet is demanding more fuel-efficient aircraft and for air passenger duty (APD) to be reformed, if the aviation industry is to successfully tackle the problem of global warming.

“Climate change is a clear and present danger. It’s happening and human activity is almost certainly a contributor to it. Aviation needs to play its role and be seen to be playing its role in tackling it,” Harrison says.

With the December 7-18 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) approaching fast, low-cost carrier Easyjet has outlined a number of measures it considers to be vital to the reduction of CO2 emissions – and paying for carbon offsetting at the time of booking your flight is not one of them.

Easyjet, which has a 3.5 year-old fleet on average, says that the best way of reducing emissions is by flying more fuel-efficient, cleaner planes. This would be achieved by invoking UK government legislation that sets emission standards for aircraft, which would then force aircraft manufacturers to ensure a 40 per cent reduction in CO2 for the next generation of planes.

Harrison says: “The government must introduce minimum standards of efficiency otherwise aviation wont be able to play its part in the global problem of solving climate change.”

Easyjet suggests the standards be introduced in three steps:

1) By 2015, all aircraft certified after this date would need to have a 40 per cent reduction in emissions.

2) By 2024, airlines would not be able to add any aircraft to its fleet that did not meet these standards.

3) From 2030, to ban carriers from using any aircraft that did not meet the standards.

Looking at the problem of climate change on a global scale, one of the greatest concerns is the rate at which emerging markets are developing, and consequently emitting pollutants. Harrison says: “We need to control emissions at the source. China, for example, buys mostly Airbus and Boeing planes, so the best way we can help deliver environmental efficiency is to set minimum standards for everyone. That way, the aircraft delivered to China in 20 years will be more fuel efficient.”

In addition to demanding legislation for cleaner aircraft, Easyjet is also campaigning for a reform of air passenger duty (APD) – a tax that Harrison deems to be “perverse from an environmental perspective”. The reason for this, as Harrison explains, is that “at the moment we pay £11 APD on short-haul flights in Europe per person. So the fuller the aircraft, the more tax we pay. Older aircraft pay no extra tax and there is no tax on cargo.

“We need to use the current technology as efficiently as possible – [and one way of doing this is] by flying full aircraft. Airlines should be encouraged to do this, not discouraged. Charging more tax for full planes is not an incentive. The government should stop trying to dress it up as an environmental tax – it actually does more damage than good.” He adds: “APD is a tax that raises £3 billion of revenue for the government – that is why it exists.”

So what part does the role of the individual traveller have to play in all this? Harrison says: “Having a social conscience is good. We have got to learn how to weigh up the economic benefits with the environmental benefits. Should individual passengers be thinking about how many flights to take a year? No. The problem of climate change will not be solved by individuals changing their behaviour. People who pay for carbon offsetting will help a bit at the margins but it won’t make much difference. The most effective way to deal with things is through regulation.”

For more information visit easyjet.com.

Jenny Southan

Peninsula sets new standards for in-room technology

In-room technology has undoubtedly come on leaps and bounds in recent years. From high speed wifi access to flatscreen televisions, no other aspect of the hotel stay has changed so quickly.

In the November 2009 issue of Business Traveller, we looked at the current state of play, particularly with regards to the provision of free internet access, but for a glimpse of the future, you could do worse than tour the rooms at the new Peninsula Shanghai.

The city is a suitable place for looking to the future, not least because in a few months it will play host to the 2010 World Expo, and because a quick way of getting into town from the astonishing Pudong International Airport is by the world-beating Maglev train which travels at a maximum normal operating speed of 268mph, albeit only to Metro station Longyang Lu on Line 2.

It is on Shanghai’s Bund, however, that the big changes are taking place. Not only is the flyover that once blighted this area now a thing of the past, demolished and replaced by a soon-to-open tunnel along the Bund, but a new hotel – the first to be unveiled in over 80 years – has just come on line.

The style of the hotel is described as “a homage to Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s”, and the exterior has art deco detailing, but really is only attractive at night, courtesy of some lovely golden horizontal strip lighting. The interior, however, is much more impressive, the result of a collaboration between New York-based architect David Beer, formerly of BBG/Architects, and Paris-based interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon of PYR.

There are a total of 235 rooms (including 44 suites), and with a typical Deluxe Guestroom measuring 55 sqm they are the among the largest in the city. Exotic woods, imported stones, black lacquer, carved glass and colour schemes in either celadon (pale green) or cerulean blue and ivory make the rooms not only great to look at, but convey an unmistakeable sense of luxury.

Business travellers aren’t averse to luxury, especially if the company travel policy allows it, but what they will be particularly impressed with is the technology in the rooms. There is complimentary high speed wifi, something you might expect in a five-star hotel, but which more often than not is an added extra, and there is a three-in-one fax/printer/photocopier machine allowing you to print out valuable documents, or just your boarding pass for the journey home.

As well as dual voltage outlets (110V/220V), by the side of the large lacquer working desk is an international internet radio, weather panel, iPod docking station, a USB slot enabling guests to use the large 46 inch LCD television for viewing documents, pictures or movies from your laptop or other compatible device, and an IP phone allowing you to make free international phone calls.  

Assuming you ever make it over to the bed, on the side table is a bedside technology panel which as well as operating everything from the temperature, the TV and the CD and DVD player, allows you to lower the blackout curtains to cover the triple-glazed windows which no noise from the traffic on the Bund will penetrate. The bedside panel dims when not in use, but is motion sensitive, so if you wake in the night simply moving your hand close to it will illuminate the panel allowing you to see all the different buttons.

Each room has a dressing room and walk-in closet including a seated dressing table, and the signature Peninsula valet box (which allows you to place your shoes in the box so they can be picked up for polishing without any disturbance) has now been enlarged so you can add laundry and dry-cleaning, all with a six-hour minimum guarantee of being returned. There is a large electronic safe (with plug inside for continued charging), a luggage rack for two suitcases, controls for the internet radio with its own weather display panel and a “nail dryer” built into the wall.

The technology continues in the bathroom, which has a hands-free telephone function allowing you to simply answer incoming calls by pressing either “Line 1” or “Line 2″ on a panel by the bath, with the microphone embedded in the ceiling. The moment you do this, any music or audio you were listening to is immediately silenced. The panel also allows you to create a spa-like atmosphere at the push of a single button, with the lights dimmed, relaxing music playing and the “Do not disturb” button being illuminated outside.

All of this technology has been devised by Pensinsula’s 26-strong in-house team of technology experts, which is impressive considering the chain only has nine hotels, and so presumably doesn’t enjoy many economies of scale. Ingvar Herland , the General Manager for Research and Technology at Peninsula says that they regularly receive inquiries from other hotel groups for access to the technology, but there are refused because “the technology is one of the differentiators for the group.” But Herland also points out that buying in outside systems is also very expensive, and they frequently have faults or are expensive to maintain.

Herland stays in the hotel rooms and travels widely, and says “Like everyone else I get annoyed when the bedside panel allows you to turn off half of the lights in the room, but then for the other half you have to walk around turning them off individually.”

“We make things that work well, and are tested, and if there is a problem then we have trained staff in each hotel who have been involved in every aspect of the development of the in-room technology, and who can help sort out any potential problem.”

This feedback also comes from senior management at Peninsula, and the Chairman of the Peninsula’s holding company, Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Sir Michael Kadoorie. Herland says that Sir Michael “can call me on a Saturday morning and start discussing technology. He is very sharp on the details and makes a big contribution.”

Since Sir Michael is in his late sixties, there’s clearly no excuse for the rest of us in getting confused with the new technology in hotel rooms. If in Shanghai, it would be a good time to take a look at the rooms at the Peninsula, particularly since the hotel is currently going through a “soft” opening period, and the rates are considerably lower than they will be next year, when Shanghai is host city for the World Expo.”

For more information visit peninsula.com.

Report by Tom Otley