31 July 2008

Americans get a new passport card

The U.S. authorities have started distributing their new wallet-sized Passport Card designed for use on land and sea journeys between the United States and Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and Bermuda. It is not valid for international travel by air, for which Americans will still need their blue booklet passport.

The card, which they can start using in June 2009, has an RFID chip that can be scanned by DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, to retrieve photographs and other biographical information stored in secure government databases before the traveller reaches the inspection booth so that inspection can bespeeded up. For privacy protection, no personal information is stored on the electronic chip itself. The chip will have only a unique number pointing to a stored record contained in secure government databases.

No doubt our government will start creating & highlighting similar travel benefits into Europe for the dreaded ID card as they try to persuade us to take it up, and then force the resistant remainder to have one by changing the law and making it compulsory. (Then you can look forward to the future moments when your local friendly parking attendant and other petty officials demand your ID card.)

According to the Home Office's website "he exact format of an ID cardisn ’t yet decided but it’s likely that it will be a credit card-sized plastic card featuring the holder’s photograph and a computer chip storing basic personal information".

Which is very similar to the format of the new British biometric e-passport, which "features a new design and additional security features, including a chip containing a scanned image of the passport holder's unique features and personal details".

Spotted the difference yet...between us and the Americans?

That's right, our details will be carried on the card itself, encrypted in a 'secure' chip.

And we can all guess how secure that will be! Probably as secure as the triple-armor-plated, never-will-be-cracked, secure embedded chip used on the Oyster card and many other security cards these days.... which was hacked with great ease by a team of researchers at the Raboud University in Holland in April. (By the way, a fortnight ago a Dutch court backed their intention to publish the details of their hack on the Internet!)

It makes you want to weep!

29 July 2008

Virgin Galactic is NOT a travel story

Virgin's mastery of PR, packaging and presentation have, as usual, overwhelmed the media. So you cannot get away from the news today that Sir Richard and Bert Rutan have unveiled their 'mothership' Eve - which is the first part of their spaceship combo.

I've written about this before. I'm uncomfortable about the repetitive use of "space tourism" and "space tourists". This has nothing, conceptually, to do with tourism. This is not a journey with a 'destination' where you can get out and meet the locals or take a weekend break. I think broadcast channels, newspapers and websites tend to file this story under 'travel' because of Sir Richard's associations with the travel industry, but this is at best a 'transport' story. To my mind it is actually a 'science' story.

And that is the project's most intriguing and inspiring aspect. Forget taking thrill riders into space. That's the job of Alton Towers, Disneyland, et al. This project should be concentrating on freight - delivering small packages into space.

If we are going to develop our capabilities and expand our knowledge in space we need to be sending lots of probes off to explore our local planets, and preparing for permanent or semi-permanent manned colonies...on the moon first and then Mars. To do that we need a cheap, quick and easy way of delivering stuff into orbit.

We should be mass-producing small semi-automated freight pods for Sir Richard to put into space. Hundreds of little boxes than can carry building materials, food, equipment and other supplies to a point on the Moon and Mars so they are already there when manned expeditions arrive.

That's the role for Virgin Galaxy.

So Virgin, stop sending me press releases as a travel editor and distributing them through Travmedia.co.uk - this has nothing to do with travel!

'All Business Class' not dead

Titan Airways Boeing 737-300QCThe "All Business Class" airlines may have died (Maxjet, Eos, Silverjet) but that doesn't mean the end of all business class flights....or the demand for them

Titan Airways, a Stansted-based charter airline presented its newly configured 44-seat all-business class Boeing 737-300QC to some air charter brokers last week and say the response was unanimously positive.

Apparantly the aircraft has been in the Titan fleet for a year, but flying in a single class 130-seat layout. Now, after a three month reconfiguration, it features just 44 seats in a spacious business class layout.

The new layout is designed with corporate charters in mind - incentives, product launches, music tours and football charters. (One well known premiership team has already flown on the aircraft, they say.) It features two club-four seat arrangements at the front, with a coffee table that can convert to a full working/dining table for each club-four setting. A fixed divider separates these seats from the rest of the cabin, which has 36 forward facing seats with a seat pitch of approximately 62 inches – almost twice that of your average 737.

Each leather seat has a moveable headrest and footrest, ample recline and in-seat power connectivity for laptops, electrical equipment or inflight entertainment. Titan uses Mezzo hand held multi-channel units which play include a selection of films, short features and documentaries.

However, here's the clever twist... technically speaking, the aircraft is not exclusively Business Class.

It turns out, all the seats are palletised on a roller track and are removed inside one hour enabling the aircraft to undertake night flights for the Royal Mail. Clever eh? The seats are kept safe overnight in one of Titan’s hangars.

28 July 2008

It's 'Airline Consolidation Week'

Well, as fuel prices soar and the economic black clouds gather, everybody in the aviation industry has been talking about a period of airline mergers - with those smaller airlines who fail to find a partner, being left out in the cold to wither and die.

So this observation is far from newsworthy, but I'm struck with the sychronicity of news items this Monday morning...

  • BA has completed its purchase of the French regional airline, L'Avion. (Travel Daily)

  • China Eastern Airlines and Shanghai Airways are rumoured to be about to merge (Travel Daily & numerous Asian news outlets)

  • Austrian Airlines has been advised by management consultants it needs to be taken over by Lufthansa in order to survive (Expatica)

  • Ryanair shares nosedived this morning, knocking a fifth off the value of the airline, when they revealed a €90.5m loss for the first quarter of this year. (Telegraph)

  • The new and outgoing chief executives of Australian airline Qantas predicted today that soaring fuel prices will help spur a new wave of airline mergers, including for their own carrier. (AFP)

  • The European Commission has set a deadline (6 Aug) to speed up its inquiry into U.S.-based Delta Air Lines's proposed merger with Northwest Airlines. (Forbes)

---- Postscript Tues 29 July, 2008 ----

Ah, ok.... we can now add to that list British Airways and Iberia. So Airline Consolidation Week is well underway!

24 July 2008

Oh, that's quite clever...

Two Oh That's Quite Clever ideas I spotted today...

To get around the continuing security restrictions on liquids, Austrian Airlines have started handing all long-haul passengers their personal 0.5 litre bottle of Austrian Vöslauer spring water as they step on board.


Ocado - the Waitrose grocery delivery people - sent me an email today suggesting that if we were going on a self-catering holiday this summer in the UK, we could save a lot of effort by pre-ordering food & essentials and having them delivered to our holiday address.

Last weekend we were camping with 3,000 other people at the Larmertree music festival in Dorset. Now if Ocado could dream up a way to deliver to our tent, THAT would have been really clever!

23 July 2008

"Because the world is not flat"

power assisted luggage

... that's the sales strapline for the world's first power-assisted luggage.

I thought it was a joke when I first read about it, but apparantly not!

Still, I suppose at £700 each they won't have find too many 'challenged' travellers with deep pockets.

09 July 2008

Adventures in the Far East - you heard it here first

I went to the AITO summer press party last night (usually an outdoor BBQ at a London hotel, with the option to quickly move indoors if needed - and surprisingly, given our horrible weather at the moment, it wasn't needed!) and met up with several friends and aquaintances from both sides of the fence; travel journos & tour operators.

As a result I've got two 'tip-offs' for you this morning.

Inside Japan Tours (who specialise in just one thing - guess what! You can listen to their director, Simon King, talking to me a couple of years ago about how the company got started...here) are developing their 'Responsible Tourism' programme and are planning to offer working farm holidays on a Japanese farm in the rural south. It's not in their brochure yet, or even on a press release, but if you are interested you should give them a call.


KE Adventure Travel, (rated by the National Geographic's Adventure Magazine as the Best Trekking Operator On Earth) who operate small group trekking, climbing, family & biking tours in the mountainous regions of the world (over 40 countries), will be adding trips to the mountains of Taiwan next year, and winter activities on Lake Baikal in Russia. Again no detailed info. It won't appear in the brochure till October.

07 July 2008

Holidays more important to Brits than home ownership

I was talking to some friends on Sat evening about the state of the world in general (as yer do) and the economic downturn in particular.

"How is the travel business fairing?" they asked.

"Pretty well" I said. "I know a couple of tour operators who are very happy with bookings last month - well up on the same period last year."

Confused looks. This was not the answer they were expecting.

"No, really!" I said, "People always assume that one of the first things that families cut back on is holidays...when in fact it is one of the last".

A couple of my mates clearly still didn't quite believe it.

How I wish I had had to hand the survey stats that Travel Daily alerted me to this morning (though it turns out I could have had them. The survey that Travel Daily says was published "today", was actually published in May!).

The survey into 'Summer Travel Trends' was conducted by the travel search engine Kayak.co.uk. The sample numbers are frankly too small to give it any kind of serious consideration, but the general trend is easy enough to discern...

Q. Is taking a holiday at least once a year essential for your overall state of wellbeing/happiness?

A. 100% say 'yes'.

Q. Out of the following, which 5 things do you consider most important for your wellbeing?

Drinking /eating out once a week 61%
Being in a romantic relationship 58%
Having the latest gadgets 2%
Having private healthcare/pension 22%
Owning my own car 15%
Affording a hobby (eg gym membership) 76%
Shopping for clothes 44%
Having children 22%
Taking a holiday at least once a year 95%

Well that's pretty clear isn't it!

03 July 2008

Lederhosen in Singapore

This sounds a little surreal...

Wait... this sounds a lot surreal!

Singapore's Changi Airport PR have emailed to say that they and Lufthansa are promoting a new service to Munich by setting up a beer tent in the terminal.

At the Bavarian themed blue & white tent passengers can dress up in Bavarian costume and take part in a 'merriest passenger photo contest' (the prize is an economy ticket to Munich), all with the aid of a complimentary "cup" of beer, a pretzel, and performances of traditional German music and dances...plus a chance to play Oktoberfest themed games like Slide-A-Beer Mug and Toss-A-Pretzel.

The "Munich@Changi" celebrations run every evening between 5.00pm - 9.00pm till 15th July.