Twin-jets to fly the North Pole route

Aviation authorities in the US have relaxed rules to allow twin-jet aircraft to fly over the North Pole, twin-jets include Boeing’s 737, 777 and Dreamliner, and Airbus’s A320 and A330. This not only allows some airlines to save on fuel costs because of more direct routes, it opens up the prospect of flying to new destinations or existing ones in a shorter time.

Finnair has expressed approval for the new rule. “The ability to fly across the North Pole gives Finnair a great competitive advantage as the geographical location of Helsinki enables short routes to key Asian destinations,” said a spokesperson from the Finnish carrier. Although Finnair claims they can benefit from this new routing, the fastest route between Europe and North Asia would in fact be over Siberia, Russia, Mongolia and mainland China.

“In the days before the Russians granted over-flying rights to the Western carriers, airlines routed their Europe-Japan/Korea flights via the Pole. The journey time via Alaska was around 15 hours. Today, the London-Tokyo flights take around 12 hours non-stop eastbound, and 13 hours westbound,” said Business Traveller consumer editor, Alex McWhirter.

Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are also open to utilising the route.

An SIA spokesperson said other than one flight to New York other Singapore Airlines flights do not fly across the North Pole. “We are constantly exploring potential new routes and will announce them at the appropriate time.”

“Cathay Pacific is already flying the polar routes to/from New York/Toronto and Chicago. What this (Santa’s shortcut) means for us is that there will be less reliance on some of the more remote airfields from a planning perspective,” said a spokesperson from Cathay Pacific. 

“The rule change enables flights to be planned on routes that are either further away from the current en-route diversion airports, or along the current routes but without dependency on some of the current en-route diversion airports,” the spokesperson added. 

However, not all airlines contacted deem the route useful to their network, “JAL does not foresee the newly approved ‘Santa’s shortcut’ over the North Pole to make significant difference to our existing operations. Currently, our longest route is between Tokyo and New York, and we are already utilising the most efficient flight path,” said JAL’s spokesperson. 

Tiffany Sandrasageran 

Sofitel launches flagship property in India

Sofitel Luxury Hotels welcomed its first hotel in India on December 26 with the opening of the Sofitel Mumbai BKC. 

The 302-room hotel is strategically located at Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC), the new financial district in Mumbai with easy access to the Bandra-Worli sealink, which connects Bandra with Mumbai’s city centre. The immediate area around the hotel consists of offices of many multinational corporations including BNP Paribas as well as the National Stock Exchange and the world’s largest diamond trading centre, the Bharat Diamond Bourse. 

All rooms, including 31 suites feature Sofitel’s MyBed concept, a pillow menu, custom-designed furnishings and L’Occitane and Hermès room amenities.

SofitelMumbaiBKC

Plus, there is a floor dedicated to India’s first So SPA by Sofitel, which will feature original music and signature treatments, with products from French brands such as Cinq Mondes and Gemology. In addition, the property has a total of six dining destinations.

Sofitel has plans for two more hotels in the city: Sofitel Mumbai Mulund and Sofitel So Mumbai, both set to open in 2014. 

For more information, click here.

Tiffany Sandrasageran 

Three Centara properties in Thailand to undergo name change

Three Centra hotels in Thailand will undergo name changes after the end of the 25-year long agreement between Accor and Centara (see story here). 

Sofitel Centara Grand Bangkok will become Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok. Sofitel Centara Grand Resort & Villas Hua Hin will be known as Centara Grand Beach Resort & Villas Hua Hin, while Novotel Hat Yai Centara will become Centara Hotel Hat Yai.

All staff at the three hotels will remain unchanged.

As part of the rebranding, the Centara Grand at Central Plaza Ladprao Bangkok has undertaken a complete renovation .The other two properties have undergone a major renovation programme. 

Currently, there are five brands within the Centara group – the premium Centara Grand, 4-star Centara Hotels & Resorts, the Centara Boutique Collection, Centara Residences & Suites and mid-range Centara Hotels.

For more information, visit www.centarahotelsresorts.com 

Tiffany Sandrasageran 

Singapore Airlines makes capacity adjustments

Singapore Airlines will be adjusting frequencies to selected routes across its network from March 25, 2012 to October 27, 2012.

Flight additions will be made for services to parts of Australia, India, Maldives and South Korea.

In Australia, Adelaide services will increase from seven to 10 times per week. Brisbane and Perth will both be served 21 times per week, up from 19 and 18 times respectively in the last schedule.

For Seoul, an additional service will be introduced, increasing the frequency to four flights per day. This includes one flight that will continue from Seoul to San Francisco.

As for West Asia, Mumbai services will increase from 17 to 19 per week. Flights to Male, the capital of Maldives, will increase to 14 flights per as opposed to the previous 10 flights per week. The route will be served twice daily, with a total of seven daytime flights and seven nighttime flights per week.

Aside from beefing up frequencies, Singapore Airlines is also making reductions in select markets.

The Singapore – Moscow – Houston service will be reduced to a five times weekly service from a daily one, while the Singapore – Munich – Manchester service will be reduced to a six times weekly one. Flights to Taipei from Singapore will be down from 18 to 14 flights per week. For Middle East, Abu Dhabi will be served three times a week, down from seven.

The changes are being introduced to meet forecasted demand said the airline.

Flight schedules for the services are as follows:

Frequency Increases:

Route

New Frequency (per week)

Current Frequency(per week)

Effective Date

Singapore – Adelaide

10

7

July 2, 2012

Singapore – Brisbane

21

19

March 25, 2012

Singapore – Perth

21

18

Singapore – Seoul

28

21

Singapore – Mumbai

19

17

Singapore – Male

14

10

Frequency reductions:

Route

New Frequency (per week)

Current Frequency(per week)

Effective Date

Singapore – Moscow – Houston

5

7

March 25, 2012

Singapore – Munich – Manchester

6

7

Singapore – Taipei

14

18

Singapore – Abu Dhabi

3

7

 

For more information, visit www.singaporeair.com

Tiffany Sandrasageran

Eat casual in Paris

L’Alsace lalsace

At almost 2am on a rainy night, I found myself left with not many options for a bite on Paris’ most famous street. So I was quite happy to come across this 24-hour restaurant. Only cold dishes such as seafood and oysters on ice and salads were available at the time I visited, and although the fresh catches looked very tempting (and fellow diners seemed to be enjoying them), all I wanted was a salad and a glass of wine. My salade Elysee (€10.70/US$14) with endive, walnuts and cheese, with a light sauce, did the trick and the glass of Alsatian pinot blanc (€5.80/US$7.6) was crisp and refreshing.

39 Avenue des Champs Eylsees; tel + 33 8 92 70 02 59; www.restaurantalsace.com

 

lecoqLe Coq

On recommendation by the concierge at Shangri-La Paris, I came to this restaurant – 10 minutes walk away – for a late lunch. I was told that it was a good people-watching spot, although most of the action would be at nighttime. The interior was more like a club, with iceberg-like decorations, but I chose the outdoor area with red cushioned seating. The macaroni with morels (€25/US$33) had a great texture and some hearty cheese that warmed me up on a chilly afternoon.

2 Place du Trocadero; tel +33 1 47 27 89 52

 

 

Hippopotamus Restaurant Grillhippo

This lively restaurant serves great food in American sizes, and quality is generally good. I didn’t realise how big the salade terre & mer would be until it came – and the big healthy chunks of salmon were very filling. But I still managed to throw in a burger with Roquefort, which was done just right.

20 Rue Quentin Bauchart; tel +33 1 47 20 30 14

 

lentrecoteL’Entrecote des Halles

This restaurant near Le Marais has a typical brasserie décor, and a decent outdoor seating area with checked tablecloths. But what really makes it stand out is the live butcher counter where you get to see from start to finish how a pork stew is made (if you are squeamish, sit further away). Both the French onion soup and beef bourguignon we had (part of a three-course lunch set, €16.90/US$22) were decent – the former with a good helping of cheese (and slightly burnt, just the way I liked it) and the latter tender and hearty. The carafe of Beaujolais was lacking in both body and flavour, but otherwise, it was a pleasant experience.

38 Rue St Denis; tel +33 1 42 21 99 16

 

L’Avenue

lavenue

This is a restaurant of both style and substance. All the waiters and waitresses look and dress like catwalk models, and posing also seems de rigueur while guests are waiting for their tables. The décor looks a little kitsch, but it just adds to the good fun. We asked what was so extraordinary about the “extraordinary snails” (€18/US$24) and the waitresses honestly said, “they were just snails”. The dishes were all well made though, including the Atlantic tuna “new style” (like a carpaccio; €23/US$30), white Alba truffle risotto (€64/US$84; cooked just right and al dente) and lobster and French fries (€36/US$47). Prices are steep, but it is an experience.

41 Avenue Montaigne; +33 1 40 70 14 91; www.avenue-restaurant.com

 

Reggie Ho

Guangzhou-Shenzhen high-speed rail service commences

The G6126 train left Shenzhen North Railway Station at 10.40am on December 26 to mark the opening of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. In the early phase of operation, the train will operate at 300km per hour, almost halving the commute time between China’s third largest city and the fast-developing Special Economic Zone across the border from Hong Kong.

Much of the station in Shenzhen is still under construction, with facilities such as shops and restaurants still in the works, and it is located further north in the Boa’an District ­­­­- a long way from all the popular checkpoints with Hong Kong. But the RMB4.3 billion (US$681 million) project is being developed as the future interchange station for the Express Rail Link, Xiamen-Shenzhen railway line and Shenzhen Metro lines 4 and 5.  

For now, the train runs from 7am daily, with the last departure set at 10pm. There three stops between the two cities, but the journey still takes just 35 minutes – about 30 minutes less than by the old train between Guangzhou East Station and Shenzhen Railway Station. But according to Shenzhen Government Online (www.sz.gov.cn), travel time of this section will eventually be reduced to 25 minutes, as the train is designed to run at 380km per hour.

Ticket prices for the new express link between Guangzhou and Shenzhen are RMB100 (US$16) for first-class seats and RMB75 (US$12) for the regular cabin – even lower than the old train. Other than linking two major metropolises, the new link will also facilitate the industrial development between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, strengthening the city of Dongguan as the manufacturing hub.

From Guangzhou, the express link takes passengers to the Central China’s hub of Wuhan in as little as three hours and 33 minutes. A slower train that runs at 250km per hour is also available but the journey takes more than six hours. This section began operation exactly two years ago, with fares starting RMB220 (US$35) for the slow train and RMB465 (US$74) for the express service.

The Hong Kong section of the link is scheduled for completion in 2015. If all goes well, it will take only 15 minutes to travel to Shenzhen North Railway Station from West Kowloon in Hong Kong. When full integration with the mainland network is achieved, passengers will be able to reach Shanghai and Beijing from Hong Kong by rail in six and eight hours respectively.

The commencement of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen express rail service signified a major step forward for China’s high-speed rail development. But the journey has not been without setbacks. Construction of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen link has been marred by a series of accidents since March, including one earlier this month in which 16 workers were reportedly buried in a tunnel, resulting in two deaths and three seriously injured. On July 23, two high-speed trains travelling on the Yongtaiwen railway line collided on a viaduct in the suburbs of Wenzhou, in the Zhejiang Province of China. The accident prompted the public to question whether the country’s ambitious plans to develop high-speed railway were at the cost of compromised safety. Ridership has been hit by plummeting public confidence and the launch of slower services is also believed to be in response to the tragedy.

For ticketing information, the official webiste is www.12306.cn, although information is only available in Chinese. For assistance in travels in China, one of the best places to turn to is China Travel Service, which has offices in Hong Kong. Click here for information in English.

For more on Wuhan, see story here.

For more on Shenzhen, see story here.

Reggie Ho