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June 2015 Newsletter

Editorial

On the line

The Lufthansa’s Group (Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss and Brussels Airlines) recent announcement that it will, from September, start to charge extra fees if bookings are not made directly on its own website has far reaching implications for all travellers, though not necessarily in the most expected areas.

For people that travel on a leisure basis between two points where little or no competition exists, then a simple one stop shop booking and where no changes are likely mean that the cheapest booking option can always be taken. Many people though will need options that they can mull over and indeed bookings that have a degree of flexibility in them. Just for the record, some 75% of all flight tickets that HRG Bulgaria issue, are changed at least once between the moment information is or an enquiry made, until the point they are actually ticketed. The reasons can be many: the dates or times of a meeting changes, the venue or location changes, the participants or travellers change: you name it. For any company that tries to do all this online then the end cost of going cheap might suddenly become an expensive rude awakening. This is also ignoring the fact that anything booked directly online omits the Duty of Care obligations that many large companies have to their employees through security tracking and MI handoff. Going cheap is not so easy, yet as a company, we like others have to give our clients the best deal and let them make that choice. That’s our professional duty.

Allied to this move by the Lufthansa Group, a move incidentally that all other major airlines will no doubt follow very shortly and after public and trade hostility has died down, is a not dis-similar move in the USA by Delta Air Lines who have quietly started to dictate who they will and who they wont distribute their fares through. This has even more profound implications to that area of the travel industry that has boomed in past years; the OTA’s i.e. the Online Travel Agencies.

The US media boldly announced that Delta had declared war on ‘’online travel agencies’ and whilst this may be a slight exaggeration, it may only be ‘”slight’ however! Delta’s argument, which in real terms is hard to deny, is that they can sell what they want and through whom they want. This has resulted them cutting off their supply of data to several major online sellers including to Tripadvisor and Skyscanner. There are however massive potential impacts to the man on the street with this, as all reports thus far suggest that continued restrictions by airlines of airline information – prices and schedules – substantially reduces the travellers ability to shop and compare fares.

What the airlines will never admit to is that the real objective of all these moves behind the scenes is to intentionally reduce the ability to shop and thus compare fares. By driving travellers repeatedly to their own sites, airlines are able to up sell and add on numerous other sales. In effect they not only become the supplier of a service but they also become the intermediary except they only steer towards their own products.

Imagine wanting to buy a tin of baked beans! Supermarket A and B may sell them at different prices but the buyer has the ability to shop where he wants to. Imagine if the seller of baked beans now only sold direct i.e. you had to order directly from him! Absurd this may sound but many airlines utopia of selling everything direct in the same way that Easyjet and Ryanair have largely been able to do, has just moved one step closer.

 

Mark Thomas

Managing Director

HRG Bulgaria

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Hope for Sunny Beach yet!

Benidorm in Spain, who for anyone that doesn’t know too much about it, is akin to Sunny Beach but a hundred times bigger and brasher than the new kid on the Black Sea, plans to apply for UNESCO World Heritage Status. If successful, the resort will stand alongside other famous Spanish sites such as the Alhambra in Granada and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Tourism chiefs from the resort say its ticks six out of the ten criteria required for such a status with only one criteria actually being needed for actual application.

If one thinks about Sunny Beach and all that goes with it and, one would hardly use the quote that Benidorm bosses are using to describe itself which is that the resort is ‘’a masterpiece of human creative genius’”. Really!

 

The road to nowhere

The USA has cracked down on foreign flagged cruises that go to ‘nowhere”. These are typically party cruises that depart a US port and sail for a couple of nights in open international waters before returning to the same port.

In the land of the ‘free’’ it’s hard to understand how authorities can dictate what and where a cruise line can and cannot sail to. One justification for this move is that it enables ‘authorities to screen ships in and out of the USA’”.

As if!

 

New Canadian Visa

Canada is to follow the American system by introducing electronic travel authorisations (visa) for citizens of those countries that currently do not need travel authorization (visas).This move will affect citizens of some 60 countries although Bulgarians will still need the old fashioned visa.

 

Hacked off

The media has, for some time now, dipped its toes into the water with reports on the possibility that an airplanes technology can be hacked using the simple logic that aviation today is totally dependent on technology to drive it. This applies to planes not just in the air but also to the operational logistics on the ground. One has only to think how ‘”air traffic control’ works to realise how dependent we all are on computers.

Indeed, several of the best conspiracy theories surround the missing Malaysian Airlines plane work on the theory that the planes operations were ‘”seized’” from the ground. What no airline has really ever admitted is that their own operations have been hacked. That is until now: LOT Polish Airlines announced on the 21st June that several of its flights were grounded after hackers broke into the airlines ‘”sophisticated’ computer systems that issued flight plans.

The issue prevailed for 5 hours resulting in around 10 flights being cancelled and many others delayed.

Without wishing to tempt fate, just think of the mayhem that hackers will one day create. Social hackers are annoying but think what terrorists might cause!

 

Cheap and not so cheap cities

The lists of the most expensive and the cheapest cities to live in (as an ex pat) have just been released for 2015 and once again it brings some surprises.

Top 10 Most Expensive Cities

  1. Luanda, Angola 6 Shanghai, China
  2. Hong Kong 7. Beijing, china
  3. Zurich, Switzerland 8. Seoul, South Korea
  4. Singapore      9. Bern, Switzerland
  5. Geneva, Switzerland 10. NDjamena, Chad’

 

Top 10 Cheapest Cities

  1. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan 6, Banjul, Gambia
  2. Windhoek, Namibia 7. Minsk, Belarus
  3. Karachi, Pakistan 8. Cape Town, South Africa
  4. Tunis, Tunisia 9. Managua, Nicaragua
  5. Skopje, Macedonia 10. Tbilisi, Georgia

 

Sniff and the dogs

Security in and around airports has mainly been focused on stopping children and grandparents taking bottles of water and nail scissors on board aircraft in their hand luggage. The positive side of this is that it reduces the unemployment numbers by employing people to do nothing of real value. Sometimes though a security risk lies elsewhere and not with children or grandparents.

In the USA, police at Los Angeles Airport who were conducting security training, lost a stick of dynamite that was being used to train sniffer dogs. The stick was eventually found four days later under an old aircraft.

That somehow doesn’t sound comforting from an overhaul security angle does it?

 

Italian’s change bed mates

Alitalia will cease its partnership and joint venture arrangements with Air France/KLM from 2017. This comes after the Italian carrier became the new bed mate of Middle East operator Etihad who took a 49% interest in Alitalia in 2014.

Alitalia clearly now looking east for their future.

 

Divide and rule….or divide and charge?

‘Your safety is our prime concern’ is an oft and indeed over emphasised comment by airlines across the globe when they are referring to their passengers safety. Tell that to US carrier Delta. A father was allocated seats 11 rows away from his 4 year daughter despite trying to book adjacent seats. When we pointed this out at check in he was told he would have to pay 88 USD if he wanted to sit next to her.

One wonders what the person or persons sat next to the little girl thought and what would have happened in an emergency situation.

No doubt Delta staff will be exonerated.

 

Suspended due to nuts

The Korean Air executive at the centre of the infamous ’nut rage’ incident has been freed from gaol after an appeals court amended the sentence to a suspended one.

A lower court had originally sentenced her to a year in gaol.

Still, for her, the damage to her personal reputation is done.

 

Economy Gourmet at BA

British Airways Economy passengers can now book and pre pay for ‘enhanced meals’ when travelling to numerous destinations in the USA as well as Mexico City.

The meals, labeled ‘’Gourmet Dining, Taste of Britain, Great British Breakfast, Healthy Choice and Vegetarian Kitchen” cost between 15 – 18 GBP to book. Meals must be pre –ordered at least 24 hours before departure.

 

Airlines Wifi scam

The never ending search by airlines to take more and more money indirectly from travellers hit another ‘amusing’ level recently when a US woman took out a class action suit against United Airlines for deceiving passengers about in-flight wi fi.

The woman paid 7.99 USD to access wifi on board a flight from Puerto Rico to New York only to find the wifi worked when the plane was over dry land; which in this particular case was for about 10 minutes!

The airline claimed it advised passengers this; but still obviously didn’t hesitate in taking their cash!