The answer for angry UK air passengers

The Civil Aviation Authority has recently announced plans to create an independent ‘Aviation Ombudsman’ for UK air passengers to vent their anger and resolve disputes with many airlines. Continue reading…

Heathrow Airport, a return to the summit?

For the first time ever, Heathrow Airport passengers have recognised the airport as the ‘Best in Western Europe’ at the 2015 World Airport Awards. The airport’s award winning facilities were also recognised, as it went on to win the ‘Best Airport for Shopping’ for a sixth time, whilst also picking up an award for the best Terminal; Terminal 5 has now won this award for the fourth year running.

All of this might be as a result of a pretty impressive year for the airport; when Terminal 2 was opened last year Heathrow became the only airport in the world to have a personal shopping lounge, two restaurants created by Michelin starred chefs and a John Lewis shop.

February 2015 was a record breaking month for Heathrow, with 4.95 million passengers travelling through the airport, a 1.1% increase on the previous year and a huge supporting argument for the airport to get Britain’s new runway.

After an £11bn investment since 2003 and major improvements such as introducing a dedicated travel team who can speak 38 languages, the award is most definitely deserved in the eyes of the airport. The big question is however, what actions will Heathrow take to regain their title of being the busiest airport in the world (in terms of international passengers) after being surpassed by Dubai? Or will this come naturally should they get the new runway?

Heathrow airport parking can now be compared on a mobile app

From autumn 2014 users of smartphones and tablets can compare real-time prices and availability of airport parking at 30 leading airports across the UK, available from 8 car parking providers.

Speaking of the app, Paul Maunders, the director and co-founder of Fubra Limited, said "The free Airport Parking Shop app is an exciting extension of our existing website, which has been a trusted booking companion for over a decade to many leisure and business travellers”.

The move follows the upward trend of smartphone and tablet users accessing the Airport Parking Shop website. The company forecasts that smartphone and tablet users are set to exceed 50% of all visitors to the site in January 2015.

Passengers travelling from Heathrow and wishing to park at the airport can download the app for Android or iPhone/iPad for free, and benefit from the 60% savings.

Heathrow to Swansea western rail link could be completed by 2021

Network Rail revealed on February 5 that it had developed plans for a new rail link between Reading and Slough on the Great Western Main Line to London Heathrow airport.

The Western Rail Access to Heathrow study was undertaken in response to a request from the government in which they expressed support for the plan in July 2012.

Heathrow Express train on similar lines to Swansea

Network Rail had taken into consideration four separate plans before opting for a junction between Langley and Iver stations as well as a 5 km tunnel to Terminal 5 at the airport.

A steering group consisting of Network Rail, the Department for Transport, Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Slough Borough Council and Heathrow Airport is now working to develop the scheme.

The new link will make it possible for businesses to connect directly with Heathrow, which would open up fresh opportunities for trade abroad and make it considerably faster and easier for leisure travellers to catch flights.

It also will mean that passengers in Cardiff and Swansea could have their travel time to Heathrow decrease by up to 45 minutes and 53 minutes respectively to get to Heathrow.

Travellers originating in Reading could possibly have as much as 27 minutes shaved off their journey. Subject to a satisfactory business case and agreement of terms with the aviation industry, planning authorisation could be sought.

If granted, Network Rail would most likely begin rail construction at the end of 2016, with construction of the 5km tunnel beginning in early 2018. The project could tentatively be completed in 2021.

Watch this space but it looks like getting from Heathrow to Swansea is going to get easier and easier!

League table for airline noise revealed today

Noise levels near airports are a headache for local residents and also one of the biggest factors in the controversy of whether Heathrow should get a third runway.

This summer the Fly Quiet survey tested noise levels from fifty airlines using Heathrow over the period July to September, with a view to naming and shaming the worst offenders. The ignominy of noisiest airline went to the Polish carrier LOT, with Israel’s El Al and Thai Airways coming close behind. The accolade of quietest carrier went to BA (short haul) with Virgin Atlantic’s Little Red service (domestic flights) and the Irish carrier Aer Lingus in second and third places respectively.

It seems that the age of the plane is significant in determining how noisy it will be, as well as the way in which it is flown. For instance, a steep descent is less noisy than a long steady descent because it needs less engine thrust and also keeps the plane higher in the sky for longer. Forty out of the fifty airlines surveyed met the airport’s minimum noise regulations with forty-seven satisfying five out of the six criteria.

The full report was available on Heathrow’s official website and it was easy to see by means of a “traffic light” system used in the league table just who are the offenders and in which areas. For instance, BA (long haul), Cathay Pacific and Vueling get the thumbs down for unscheduled landings before 6 a.m.

A spokesperson for HACAN (Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise) has hailed the league table as a “constructive move to improve the noise climate”.

Can Couriers really be cheaper than checking-in luggage?

Louis Vitton hand luggage for checking-in at Heathrow Airport

If you are happy to travel light there are some great bargain airfares to be found with the budget airlines and you avoid checking-in luggage. However, if you are travelling as a family, or have sports equipment that you need at your destination, it is sometimes just not possible to avoid checking luggage into the hold and that is where the charges start to add up.

With some airlines charging passengers £35 to check-in a suitcase and an eye-watering £500 to carry a bag of golf clubs weighing up to 30kg, it should perhaps come as no surprise that it is often cheaper to use a courier service.

Crazy though it sounds, passengers can save hundreds of pounds by using services such as FetchMy or MyParcelDelivery to transport their baggage to their holiday destination.

At the weekend the press found various examples of the savings that could be made on travelling with and checking-in luggage, taken from research carried out by Which? magazine.

For instance, a golfer travelling on Ryanair from London to Malaga could pay as little as £140 using a courier, as compared to the £500 charged by the airline. If the passenger were flying with FlyBe the saving would be £196.

Savings of various amounts would also be made if travelling with Jet2, Monarch or Thomson.

Looking at suitcases, the savings are less. A passenger travelling to Rome would save £12 (£23 by courier as opposed to the £35 charged by Ryanair).

The downside of using a courier service is that it will normally take at least three working days for the baggage to arrive and not all hotels will be able or willing to accept delivery.

Heathrow looks at rural Buckinghamshire for new airport

Heathrow is looking at areas in rural Buckinghamshire and Berkshire for possible expansion of its west London base.

Having faced strong opposition to expansion of the existing site over aircraft noise, the airport is doubtless looking for a softer target, a fact that will be seen as a major victory by activists.

However residents’ indignation is likely to run equally high, say councillors representing the two proposed areas. It comes as no surprise that building an international airport in a quiet rural area would run into local opposition, perhaps even more so as the plans impinge on the Chilterns, an area designated as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) since 1965.

The news comes as a blow to Boris Johnson who is urging ministers to scrap Heathrow expansion of any kind. Touting the future of his proposed hub in the Thames estuary, nicknamed ‘Boris Island’, the mayor says West London residents have enough noise pollution to deal with already and nobody wants more.

Justine Greening, the former Transport Secretary who was removed from her post last year amidst her vocal opposition to Heathrow expansion, also warns against the proposed move. Miss Greening, Zac Goldsmith and Boris will show their faces at an upcoming mega-rally against the airports expansion.

The trio also opposes the building of a third runway or turning the existing two runways to mixed-use. Currently, one runway is designated for take-offs and the other for landing; they then switch roles in the middle of the day. Switching to mixed-use would allow both to be simultaneously used for take-off and landing, heaping unprecedented levels of noise pollution onto local residents.

Whatever the decision, it seems Heathrow would be foolish to imagine they would not run into equal or even greater opposition with a Buckinghamshire or a Berkshire hub.

Heathrow passenger numbers up in 2012

In 2012, 70 million passengers passed through Heathrow Airport, a figure that was 0.9% higher than in 2011. In the UK as a whole, 221 million passengers used the airports, a 0.6% increase compared to the preceding year, according to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Part of the reason for the rise in passenger numbers, at Heathrow at least, is being put down to the Olympics. Many athletes and other visitors arrived in London for the event, and this is likely to have boosted traveller numbers.

The amount of passengers travelling on scheduled flights in the UK during the year rose by 1.5%, but passengers on charter flights fell by 8%. Numbers of travellers using Gatwick also went up by 1.7%, and at London City Airport the rise was of 0.8%.

Despite the impressive figures, the number of people travelling through the UK’s airports is still below the 2007 figure of 240 million, and the regulatory policy director of the CAA, Iain Osborne, said that “there are still significant challenges ahead”.

Heathrow has also continued to see higher passenger numbers this year. In February 4.85 million passengers flew to or from the airport, which was 1% more than the same month a year earlier and 4.6% more when adjusted due to the fact that 2012 was a leap year.

Travellers to and from China saw a rise of 30%, European flights were up 4.4%, and the number of travellers to and from the Middle East increased by 6.2%, although traffic to the Americas saw a slight fall.

Olympic terminal opened at Heathrow

Work on a new terminal at Heathrow has been completed in time for the Olympic Games. The terminal has been designed exclusively for athletes and officials of the Games, the majority of whom will be returning during a three-day window from August 12 to August 15, in order to take the pressure off the airport and reduce passenger congestion.

Heathrow officials have claimed that they will need to deal with an extra 10,000 passengers during this period, and an extra 37,000 bags. The new temporary terminal will provide a means to divert the excess traffic.

The terminal has been constructed in a staff car park and will be taken down immediately after the Olympic rush has ended. It comprises 31 check-in desks and seven security lanes, and took five months to get up and running from the design stage.

No flights will leave from the terminal, but instead it will be used for check-in and security purposes. Once passengers have passed through the security they will then be taken by bus to their departure terminals. BAA says that it will take about 30 minutes for passengers to pass through.

Heathrow is planning for its busiest ever day on August 13 when officials are expecting to process a total of 138,000 passengers and over 200,000 bags.

Nick Cole from Heathrow said that the new terminal will mean that the other terminals will just feel “like a busy summer day” so that “passengers will receive their normal high levels of service”.