BAA spends half a million on snowploughs

In the UK, the past two winters have caused chaos at airports, on motorways, and just about everywhere else, as heavy snows and freezing temperatures descended on the country in December, January, and February. In short, we all hate it when the weather disrupts flight from Heathrow.

This year, despite the lessons of previous winters, Britain is still strangely unable to cope with snow and ice.

Snowplough working through the weather disruption at Heathrow

The exception to the rule is perhaps London’s first airport, Heathrow. The hub recently spent £500,000 on ‘winter-proofing’ the runway. The shopping spree, which included the purchase of snowploughs and de-icing machines, is a response to snow-related closures in the winter of 2008.

Heathrow now has 69 vehicles on its Snow Team (including the new Heathrow Snowploughs), with 500,000 litres of de-icing fluid at their disposal.

The team appears to be an enhanced maintenance crew, enjoying mundane duties, such as cleaning debris from the runway, as well as specialist winter tasks, like scrubbing snow from the apron.

David Whittington, chief of airside operations at the London airport, noted that runways are always cleared first, followed by taxiways. “We’ve got up to 200 aircraft coming toward Heathrow at any one time, so we have to make sure that we have a platform for them to land on."

Aircraft are also employed to clear snow from the runway. The engines of departing planes produce a great deal of heat, which can melt icy patches in seconds.

However, planes will not normally be allowed to take off if weather conditions present a serious threat to life and wing, ensuring that this tactic can only be used in minor flurries.

Plane stopped by the weather disruptions at Heathrow

Heathrow claims to be the only UK hub not to experience closures in winter 2009, and the airport is still performing admirably against Mother Nature, surviving the recent snowstorm without closing its doors.

However, with 3 months of winter still waiting on the other side of the calendar, the Snow Team is likely to have its mettle tested on more than one occasion before the daffodils reappear in the spring.


Heathrow bags ‘drenched in sewage’

Disembarking your flight to discover that your suitcase has been sent to an airport in Moldova is arguably the worst thing that can happen to an air traveller, unless you were at Heathrow Airport on November 7.

Hundreds of suitcases and rucksacks were destroyed at the hub’s Terminal 1, after a sewage pipe burst. “It was a nightmare,” one witness said. “Gallons of raw sewage came spewing out. The stench was appalling.”

The incident is one of many luggage ‘mishaps’ to have occurred over the years at London’s first airport.

In March 2008, British Airways cancelled 34 flights from the newly opened, Terminal 5, after the baggage reclaim system stopped working. Just over a year later, in July 2009, another broken machine caused “chaos” at the airport, preventing the airport from checking in luggage, and stranding 5,000 passengers.

Also, in 2007, an American traveller lost the equivalent of £1245, when baggage handlers at Heathrow left his suitcase out on the airport taxiway in the rain. The man, who only discovered the state of his bag when it was returned to him seven days late, said he was “overwhelmed” by the smell of mould coming from his luggage.

Returning to the present, a spokesperson for the British Airports Authority (BAA), owner of Heathrow and five other UK hubs, said that the aviation firm is “extremely sorry,” for the burst pipe, which destroyed an estimated 240 items of luggage.

The BAA rushed a hygiene firm into the hub to clean up the swamp of (presumably) human waste, but most items were “so contaminated they were not salvageable," according to witnesses. The authority has since pledged to reimburse travellers for their lost items, spending up to £1,000 in many cases.


Ears could provide new security measure

Listen to this! Ears could be the new front-runners in identification at Heathrow Airport Security…

We have all heard of finger printing and iris recognition being used instead of the good old passport photo to combat security threats and illegal immigration problems at British airports.

Three different ears as identification with the new Heathrow Airport scanners

Now scientists at Southampton University’s school of electronics and computer science have suggested that our ears may provide an even more reliable means of ID, with an accuracy rate of 99.6%.

Each one of us has a uniquely shaped ear and it is now possible to scan them accurately and compare them with a database of images.

The technology works by mapping features of the ear such as wrinkles, curves, cartilage, and lobes using something called "image ray transform".

Various ears being used as practice on the new Heathrow Airport Scanners

All UK passports now have enough space to hold biometric information, so it would be possible to add details of holders’ ears if this method were to be introduced. Stansted airport has been conducting trials of facial recognition and retina scanning over the last two years but has encountered several problems.

Technology cannot cope with facial expressions or even, in some instances, make up, whilst crow’s feet can also be a major problem.

Ears on the other hand (and no pun is intended here) apparently “age gracefully”. Your ears stay the same shape from birth, apart from the fact that they grow proportionately as you age and the lobes elongate slightly.

Whilst Professor Mark Nixon of Southampton University is very excited about the discovery, the Home Office is being a little more cautious, saying that whilst they welcome new and innovative technology, there are no set plans at the moment to pursue the idea at British airports.


BAA chairman: Heathrow a ‘second-tier airport’

Heathrow airport always seems to be in the news lately!

Much of the recent news comes down to the dispute over the highly contentious third runway that has been rejected by the government.

Now the chairman of BAA, Sir Nigel Rudd, has added his two cents worth by saying that the Conservative Party’s policy on the airport to refuse a third runway will see Heathrow become a “second-tier airport” in the future.

There is no room for ambiguity with this description, and Sir Nigel Rudd added that London will become “less competitive” as a result of the decision to keep Heathrow operating with just two runways.

The remarks were made in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, where he said that the decision of the government “is sadly based on small-town politics of the ballot box rather than strategic needs of the nation".

Rudd is just starting his second term as the chairman of BAA, and clearly his comments have been designed to create an impact as he kicks off his second three-year stint.

He is absolutely adamant that Heathrow needs to expand, claiming that the UK as a whole will receive fewer international passengers as a result of the decision whilst other international airports in Europe continue to expand.

The proposed third runway at Heathrow divided the nation with fierce opponents and equally fierce supporters fighting it out on both sides.

The opponents claim that with the government taking global warming seriously it cannot possibly expand airports like Heathrow because this is not going to do the environment any favours.

Although the decision has been made, it seems that this is an argument that is going to be around for a long time to come.


BA to debut Japan flight

Flying BA from London Heathrow can now take you even further…

British Airways (BA) has expanded its list of global destinations from Heathrow to include the city of Tokyo in Japan. The route, which begins at Heathrow Airport on February 19 2011, travels to Haneda Airport in Ōta, a special municipality of Tokyo.

Tokyo viewing platform for the skyscrapers
Continue reading…


Kelkoo apologises to BAA

Shopping website Kelkoo has been forced to apologise to the British Airports Authority (BAA), after a survey sponsored by the retailer was found to contain inaccuracies. The report, which appears to have been removed from Kelkoo’s website, was conducted an independent company, the Centre for Retail Research (CRR).

Kelkoo’s survey focussed on the difference in price between high-street retailers, online stores and ‘tax-free shops’ at Europe’s airports.

The findings placed Lyon St. Exupery Airport at the top of the discount league, closely followed by French comrade Charles de Gaulle; both hubs offered a 12% reduction on luxury items and electronics. Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport came third with a miserable 4.6% discount, whilst poor old Heathrow Airport came last with 3.1%, or 3p in every pound.

However, BAA, which owns the London airport, was not happy with Kelkoo, and issued a press release condemning the survey.

The aviation firm claimed that its prices were not only better than those offered by online retailers such as Amazon and Comet, especially with regard to technology items, but that the discount available was closer to 15%, making it the cheapest airport in Europe.

BAA went on to express its “extreme disappointment” with the survey, with a news item on Heathrow’s website explaining that it was "perplexed as to how Kelkoo reached these conclusions,” adding that “their data is based on inaccurate prices, and includes products Heathrow does not sell.”

Kelkoo has claimed ignorance, and blamed the CRR for all “inaccurate statements” found in the report. The retailer noted that as the research firm is an independent entity, and the survey was conducted without the supervision of Kelkoo, the shopping website had “no way of knowing” that the CRR’s report was unfairly biased against Heathrow Airport.

The BAA has accepted Kelkoo’s apology.


Heathrow ‘worst for tax-free discounts’

Travellers who have become accustomed to low prices at airport duty-free stores could be in for a shock when they next visit their local hub, after a survey by online retailer, Kelkoo, revealed that the average price of goods at European airports was just 6% lower than on the high street.

Kelkoo’s survey also found that the public’s perception of airport prices was wildly incorrect, with 59% (or almost 6 in 10) of interviewees expecting to find bargains of up to 20% at airport duty-frees.

Heathrow, arguably the busiest airport in the world, claimed the wooden spoon, offering the ‘worst tax-free discounts’ in Europe, with a rate of just 3.1%. To put that figure into perspective, a bottle of water that costs 75p on the high street would cost around 72p at the London airport – hardly a steal.

Berlin-Schönefeld Airport offers a discount of 4.6%, whilst Lyon St. Exupery and Charles de Gaulle in France knock 11.9% and 11.5% off their prices, respectively. The two French airports topped Kelkoo’s survey, with the best duty free prices in Europe. Gatwick Airport, on the other hand, offers a meagre 5% off a bag of jelly babies or a hairdryer.

Strangely, the value of goods fluctuates enormously between airports, especially with regard to luxury goods, such as handbags and perfume, and electronics. At Heathrow, for example, a designer Dolce and Gabanna handbag will set you back £1,020, whereas the same bag at Rome Airport costs £696, around a third less.

Kelkoo boss, Bruce Fair, noted that airport stores could no longer compete with online shops, which routinely offer discounts of around 12% – “higher overheads, decreased competition, and less choice mean that ‘tax free’ shops are not always the best place to find bargains.”

The survey highlights an ongoing trend of poor deals at UK airports; just a few weeks ago, the Post Office discovered that passengers were being fleeced out of their holiday money by airport bureaux de change, losing £16 for every £286 converted from sterling to Euros.


Heathrow hotel bans vuvuzelas

A hotel chain at Heathrow Airport has banned all vuvuzelas from the premises, after a resident manager was kept awake by the plastic horns. The firm, Premier Inn, plans to enforce the ban until the end of the World Cup, regardless of whether England is ejected before the tournament’s climax.

The hotel chain was initially unable to stop its guests from playing vuvuzelas, as the firm has no policy regarding the horn, but the hotel’s rules were immediately revised following England’s disappointing clash with Algeria on the 18 June. ‘Guests who bring the horns into our bars will be asked to take them back to their rooms,’ a spokesperson for the chain explained.

A hotel in the northeast was similarly affected during England’s qualifying campaign. Football fans created a trail of noise between Newcastle’s Premier Inn, and pubs and clubs in the centre of the city.

In the space of just a few weeks, vuvuzelas have risen from obscurity to dominate the headlines. The instrument, which was originally used to announce community events in rural Africa, has become a hallmark of the 2010 World Cup, featuring prominently in South African football stadiums.

Very few people have fallen in love with the vuvuzela, however, and supporters and commentators alike have taken umbrage with the horn’s incessant parping. The sound produced by a vuvuzela has been compared to that of a chainsaw – 127 decibels – a full 27 decibels more than the human ear can stand.

Neil van Schalkwyk, the original creator of the plastic horn – or at least, the first person to produce them on such an enormous scale – has now begun selling earplugs to football fans, in a bid to protect tourists from hearing loss. The earplugs, known as ‘vuvuzela unplugged,’ are being sold as the official companion to the instrument.


Watchdog says parking charges "ridiculously high"

Consumer publication Which? has branded airport parking charges at Heathrow Airport as “ridiculously high”, following a survey carried out by Which Car?

multi-storey car park at Heathrow Airport

The survey looked into parking charges for seven days at a variety of on and off-site car parks at 15 major terminals in the UK and also looked at the parking which is often included when staying at an airport hotel and at the meet-and-greet services.

A huge variation in price was uncovered with Heathrow’s on-site parking coming out as the priciest option at £88.70. If Heathrow travellers are willing to put up with a little inconvenience and park off-site then it is possible to reduce this by £35, using Purple Parking. Compare your parking charges with us, and see what you can save.

If you think it might be economical to stay overnight at one of Heathrow’s hotels and take advantage of their parking, then make sure you do your homework carefully. A night at the Sofitel Heathrow works out at just under £200 to include a week’s parking. Better rates are to be found at the Comfort Inn.

The parking charges at Heathrow are being brought more and more into the spotlight, being seen as overpriced by the public, and now a national surveying authority.

If you are keen to cut costs, then regional airports turn out to be far more reasonable in their parking charges. For just under £20 you can’t beat Purple Parking’s off-site facilities at Manchester airport. Good bargains are also to be had at Belfast, Liverpool and Bristol, all coming in at less than £30 for on-site parking and under £25 for off-site.

If you have ever been tempted to splash out on the luxury meet-and-greet services offered at many airports you may be disappointed to know that horror tales abound of drivers returning to a flat battery, clocked-up mileage and the wrong keys.

Explore your parking options and prices with us, and find out how much money we can save you on your airport parking.


BA reports ‘good start’ to strike

British Airways
(BA) was forced to cancel 200 flights on Tuesday, as a strike by the airline’s cabin crew team entered its second day. Willie Walsh, boss at BA, claims that contingency plans are holding strong, and 60% of its long haul flights are flying as normal.

British Airways Logo

Walsh has begun rebranding BA’s planes with the words ‘keep the flag flying,’ in a bid to raise support for the airline, but there are signs that the Irishman’s perseverance could be about to pay dividends: Unite, and its associated cabin crew branch, BASSA, are being torn apart by infighting.

Speaking out about the BA strike to The Times newspaper, an as-yet unnamed member of BASSA’s management team said,

‘Walsh will win. How can he not? To be honest, he has already done it. He has already destroyed the union.’ The informant went on to state that BASSA’s ‘uncontrollable’ managers were jeopardising negotiations between Unite and BA.

BASSA is a part of Unite, but the branch operates from within BA, helping to ease disputes between the airline and its crew.

Walsh intimated that relations had soured between BASSA and Unite on 19 May, describing the former as the ‘tail that is wagging the dog.’ The union is apparently powerless to prevent BASSA overruling peace talks with BA.

Unite continues to press for negotiations, but Duncan Holley, secretary of BASSA, believes that talks would progress faster if Willie Walsh was encouraged to ‘step aside.’

The branch hopes that Keith Williams, BA’s financial officer, will prove to be less stubborn than Walsh is, and help stop the dispute becoming a farce.

The current strike at Heathrow Airport will last for two more days. Two more pickets are expected on the 30 May and 5 June.

Unite claims that 473 members of BA’s cabin crew team failed to turn up for work on Tuesday. BA managed to find enough workers to get 60,000 people in the air, however, roughly 70% of its usual May traffic.

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