Trade Nectar Points for flights at Gatwick

Beginning on March 22 2011, Nectar Card holders will be able to trade their points for flights at Gatwick, Bristol, Manchester, and any other UK airport served by easyJet.

Nectar, whose slogan is “you deserve it”, rewards shoppers for spending cash at particular supermarkets, websites, and high street outlets.

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Will water bottles to be allowed on flights again?

EU approval has been granted for a new X-Ray airport scanner that is sophisticated enough to tell the difference between water and liquid explosives.

The machine, which has been both researched and developed in Britain, could soon be set for EU-wide usage, leaving airport passengers once again free to take water bottles on flights.

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‘Unprofitable’ Varna gets the boot

Flag-carrying airline, British Airways (BA), is to axe a flight between London and Varna in Bulgaria.

The route, which operates via the Hungarian capital, Budapest, has “proved unprofitable,” according to BA’s boss in the Balkans, Emil Delibashev, and the decision to cancel all future flights to Varna was “purely commercial.”

BA has been flying to Varna, the largest seaside resort on the Black Sea, for the past four years. However, the carrier’s commitment to the city has been slowly reduced, from four flights a week in 2006, to just two weekly trips in 2010.

Passengers who had been hoping to travel to the popular ‘sun and sea’ destination this winter will now have the option of catching a BA flight from Gatwick to Budapest, and then hopping on a Malév Hungarian Airlines flight to Varna.

News of the cancellation should not come as a surprise to anybody who has been keeping an eye on BA’s affairs over the past few months.

BA committed itself to a restructuring operation in October, increasing the number of flights to the Caribbean from Gatwick, and adding a new route from Heathrow to Haneda Airport in Tokyo. BA has also downsized its operations in Orlando, Florida.

The airline’s monumental battle with cabin crew union, Unite, is likely the impetus for BA’s enthusiastic reshuffling, as months of industrial action will have blown a hole in the carrier’s piggy bank, forcing bosses to pinch pennies wherever possible.

Expanding into new markets, whilst simultaneously cutting back on unpopular destinations, should help the premium airline shore up its finances over the difficult winter season.

Although, there are warnings that profits can, of course, suffer due to heavy snow and fog plays havoc with the aviation industry, as it did in winter 2009/10.

Flights between all London airports and the cities of Izmir and Antalya in Turkey have also been cancelled by BA.

Gatwick scales ‘inaccurate’

Most people would like to believe that their bathroom scales are broken, but it’s a different case if those scales belong to the airport.

We all rely on airport scales to measure our luggage before it goes in the hold… but what if it’s getting it wrong?

Gatwick Airport Scales

According to Trading Standards, 75 of a total 330 weighing scales at Gatwick Airport were inaccurate or broken for up to three years, resulting in “millions” of passengers being overcharged for their luggage.

The investigation, which is the second of its kind since 2008, was launched after a traveller complained that the scales used to weigh her luggage displayed 5kg even when there was no weight on the machine.

She was informed by airport staff that her suitcase was 3kg over the 20kg limit, despite an actual weight of 18kg.

Travel magazine, Which? Holiday, was unimpressed with the news – “If airlines are going to charge then they have a responsibility to ensure their scales are correct. Excess baggage charges can add a significant amount of money to the cost of a holiday.”

In a related investigation, Trading Standards polled 200 holidaymakers who had recently flown from Gatwick, and found that 8% of them were concerned about overcharging at the West Sussex airport.

However, as weighing scales are managed by baggage handling firms such as Servisair, which are in turn hired by airlines, culpability lay with particular companies, rather than Gatwick’s management, Global Infrastructure Partners.

A similar investigation in 2008 revealed an almost identical problem, with 62 of 321 scales (around 1 in 5) having faults. “One airline in particular,” the Telegraph reported, had problems with more than half of its weighing machines.

If that particular airline had been easyJet or UK flag-carrier, British Airways, the affected passengers could have been charged £10 and £30, respectively, for every kilo of excess weight that they were carrying.

Gatwick Airport handles around 64m people every year, making it the second largest airport in the UK, behind London Heathrow.

Four new Ryanair routes from Gatwick

We may all love to moan about Ryanair, with its plans to charge for using the on-board toilets and its hefty charges for checked-in baggage, on-board food and almost everything else you can think of. But recently the budget airline has been attracting some good press coverage.

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Easyjet worse than Air Zimbabwe

Despite enjoying sustained financial success, Easyjet has been forced to re-evaluate following a recent review.

Easyjet’s staffing policy after Gatwick airport released data which suggested that in June, fewer than 50% of the airline’s flights took off on time.

With Air Zimbabwe managing to achieve 50% punctual departures during the same time, Easyjet is fully aware that it must improve its service whilst maintaining its no frills approach if it is to continue to lead the way for budget airlines.

Seats on a Gatwick Flight

With the figures suggesting that it is the company, rather than anything else, that is to blame, Easyjet have responded by suggesting that strikes in Europe have affected their performance, with a spokesperson for Easyjet noting that:

“There have been 40 strikes so far this year. We are disproportionately hit because most of our flights go over the affected airspace, late-arriving aircraft meant knock-on effects on the schedule.”

In spite of this argument, Easyjet will be bucking the trend and looking to recruit more staff in order to improve its performance, with Easyjet’s staffing decision coming while BA continue to endure a long running dispute with the Unite union over job cuts.

Should this attempt to improve its performance fail, the company may start to come under increasing pressure from other low cost airlines such as Ryanair, the likes of which will not hesitate to point out poor performance figures.

With this year being particularly difficult for all the major airlines with the ash cloud as well as the continuing recession affecting passenger numbers, Easyjet won’t be alone in hoping for a more successful year in 2011.

‘Tweet your concerns,’ says Gatwick

Gatwick Airport has stepped into the digital age with its second website design in as many months, and a new initiative that encourages travellers to ‘tweet’ their concerns to the @gatwick_airport Twitter address.

The scheme is a pilot (no pun intended), and part of the airport’s £1bn renovation plans, which will see the Sussex hub transformed over the next few years.

Gatwick’s Twitter address will be advertised around the airport, with the slogan, ‘are you on Twitter? Get in touch, and let us know about your experience at Gatwick today.’

Bosses claim that its new social networking initiative will provide customers with a more ‘human and personal’ experience, and allow service staff to respond to complaints ‘there and then.’

A quick glance at the @gatwick_airport page reveals that staff are answering questions regarding a number of issues, including directions to the airport, security, and future expansion plans.

The website is also encouraging frequent flyers to register with its IRIS rapid arrivals system, which scans the unique patterns in travellers’ eyes.

Complaints are common, though rarely more serious than a broken air conditioning unit, or a particularly miserable EasyJet team. The airport has pledged to monitor the web page 24hrs a day, referring to it as a ‘response tool.’

A recent press release on Gatwick’s website suggests that officials are pursuing greater integration with social networks, possibly extending to Facebook or even smartphone applications in the future.

Of course, if the Crawley hub’s experiment with Twitter is a failure, then bosses may have to look at other ways to address customer concerns.

Smuggler snared by eBorders Security at Gatwick

40-year old Lithuanian man was prevented from crossing the border at Gatwick Airport earlier this month after a hi-tech security scanner identified him as a convicted drug smuggler.

The device, which is called eBorders, is capable of checking the passport of a traveller against a criminal and terrorist ‘watch list’, helping security officials capture crooks before they enter the country.

The man, who had just arrived from the city of Vilnius in south-eastern Lithuania, held a previous conviction for a cocaine trafficking offence in 1998. He was eventually deported from the UK four years later.

The government made sweeping changes to airport security over the next eight years, and in 2009 his details were transferred to the National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC).

Despite its relatively young age, the NBTC is an integral part of eBorders, checking more than 250 million passenger movements per year. The information collected by eBorders is quickly sent to the NBTC to be filtered.

Innocent citizens are allowed to pass through security freely, but villains are immediately apprehended by border officials.

The eBorders system has helped police catch 5,400 dangerous criminals since it was introduced.

Gatwick boss Nick Crouch was impressed with eBorders. He said the fact that they could identify a convicted drug smuggler before he could enter the country "clearly demonstrates the value of eBorders".

He added that it would help them to "capture known criminals, while gathering evidence against smugglers and people traffickers".

The eBorders device also incorporates facial recognition software.

The Home Office does not expect eBorders to become a cornerstone of airport security until 2014.

Gatwick monorail ready to go

A monorail linking Gatwick’s North and South terminals will reopen in July, just 10 months after it was closed for refurbishment.

The £45 million refit is designed to slash the duration of journeys between the two buildings, and will introduce two new hi-tech trains.

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New Gatwick Airport owners to sell stake

GIP (Global Infrastructure Partners), which recently bought Gatwick Airport, has now announced that it will be selling a stake in the company sometime next year. However, it is still planning to keep control of the airport following any sale that takes place.

Gatwick Airport was sold for £1.51 billion when the Competition Commission forced BAA to break up its dominance of the market.

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