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Travel

Heathrow Airport is being 'repurposed' for medical supplies

Heathrow Airport set to be ‘repurposed’ as part of the wartime effort against coronavirus, with hub switching priority to cargo flights carrying medical supplies

  • Airport to overhaul operations this week and prioritise incoming medical goods 
  • Almost half of Britain’s medical supplies set to be shipped in via the airport
  • Medicines, vaccines, respirators and testing kits included in supplies 
  • Aviation bosses have warned that airports will close unless help is given
  • Airports are said to be weeks from closing as passenger numbers plummet
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

Heathrow Airport is being ‘repurposed’ as part of a wartime effort to keep vital medical supplies flowing into the country.

Britain’s biggest airport will overhaul its operations this week to prioritise cargo flights carrying pharmaceutical products.

Almost half of Britain’s medical supplies will be shipped in via the West London airport, including medicines, vaccines and respirators.

Heathrow Airport is being ‘repurposed’ as part of a wartime effort to keep vital medical supplies flowing into the country

Logistics companies have already begun importing thousands of coronavirus testing kits in preparation for increased demand.

Passenger numbers have flatlined in recent weeks as commercial flights grind to a near-total halt.

This has allowed Heathrow to increase its cargo movements by 53 per cent compared to the normal weekly average.

In 2019, over 12,000 tonnes of medical supplies such as medicines, vaccines, sanitisers, syringes and respirators travelled through Heathrow.

This year the airport is expecting that number to rise dramatically.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: ‘This is an unprecedented time for the international community, with Covid-19 requiring us all to work together, adapt and adopt extraordinary measures to quell the spread of this virus.

‘For the first time in a decade our airport has additional capacity in its schedule, capacity which we’ve begun to see used to help push vital supplies across the globe to help support frontline teams in the battle against this pandemic.

‘We stand ready to support the country through this crisis. We intend to remain open at all times to serve those passenger flights that will continue to operate. And as the UK’s biggest port, we will temporarily increase the number of dedicated cargo flights.

‘These will bring in vital supplies of food and medical equipment to help Britain weather this storm.’

The news comes as aviation bosses warn ministers that airports will close within weeks because they have received ‘little to no support’ from the Government.

Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: ‘This is an unprecedented time for the international community, with Covid-19 requiring us all to work together, adapt and adopt extraordinary measures to quell the spread of this virus’

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) trade body has told the Treasury it is ‘extremely disappointed’ with Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s handling of the crisis.

In a strongly-worded letter sent on Thursday, it warned that more than 50 airports across the UK will shut down within weeks unless ministers step in to provide urgent support.

The disastrous state of the industry was underlined on Wednesday when one of the UK’s biggest airports – London City – said it would close until the end of April at the earliest.

London City is the UK’s 12th-busiest airport and carries 5.1million passengers a year.

Plummeting passenger numbers have already forced Newquay Airport, Carlisle Lake District Airport and Teesside International to cease all passenger operations.

Other airports are said to be weeks from closing as passenger numbers approach close to zero.

Many were already struggling before the pandemic following the collapse of Flybe.

An industry source told the Daily Mail: ‘Most airports are planning to go right down to the bone with a skeleton staff and only small parts of terminals open or closing to passengers and only operating things like freight, and see how long that is feasible.’  

Last week, the Chancellor said he was preparing a support package to help the aviation industry deal with the biggest challenge in its history.

He was rumoured to be finalising a multi-billion rescue deal for the industry, which could have seen the Government purchase stakes in the hardest-hit airlines.

However, the Chancellor told industry leaders that the Treasury will only provide support ‘as a last resort’ on a case-by-case basis – and only if individual companies have ‘exhausted other options’.

The AOA, which represents UK airports, has accused the Government of abandoning the sector and said the decision amounted to a U-turn.

In its letter the AOA said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that the Government has decided to row back on its vital commitment on 17 March to stand by the aviation industry. It is important to recognise that aviation has been at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Long before other UK sectors felt the impacts, aviation was already being affected by travel restrictions and passengers voluntarily choosing not to travel – indeed, it contributed to the collapse of Flybe. It is for this reason that UK airports were asking for urgent support.’

The AOA wanted a support package that included measures such as relaxing regulations relating to mandatory training requirements, extending business rate relief to airports and deferring all aviation taxes for the duration of global flight restrictions.

A Treasury spokesman said: ‘The aviation sector is important to the UK economy, and will be able to draw upon the unprecedented package of measures announced by the Chancellor in recent days, including a Bank of England scheme for firms to raise capital, Time to Pay flexibilities with tax bills, financial support for employees and VAT deferrals.

‘We are continuing to work closely with the sector and are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, so long as all other government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors.’  

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Travel

Coronavirus Covid 19 has closed Disneyland, but millions are visiting virtually

For anyone planning a family holiday to Disneyland, the past few months have been an emotional roller-coaster.

Walt Disney’s parks were some of the first attractions to close their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

On March 12, the day after the WHO announcement, the two US theme parks, and their international counterparts declared they would shut to visitors for the foreseeable future.

While the park has been offering rebookings for cancelled holidays as soon as June 1 and pledged to pay suspended park workers until April 18, as of last Friday the park has admitted that “an opening date has not been identified.”

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Cruises

ASTA touts advocacy work coronavirus rescue bill

Not long before President Trump signed the $2 trillion
Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act into law on Friday,
ASTA executives detailed the Society’s work to get travel advisors included in
the bill’s relief measures.

ASTA held a webinar talking about the multiple provisions of
the Cares Act that could benefit members, ranging from new loans to unemployment
benefits for independent contractors.

President and CEO Zane Kerby called ASTA’s advocacy campaign
leading up to the act’s introduction “unprecedented.” 

“This is what we are built for,” Kerby said. “No one could
have predicted today’s pandemic, but this crisis underscores the need for
collective action, to speak with one voice. For anyone who sells or dispenses
travel advice for a living, your voice is ASTA, bar none.”

Eben Peck, the Society’s executive vice president of
advocacy, said the road to travel advisor relief under the Cares Act was new
territory for ASTA. The trade group had no playbook but launched a
multi-faceted campaign to reach lawmakers.

It started on March 10, when Jay Ellenby, president of Safe
Harbors Business Travel in Maryland and a former ASTA board chairman, testified
before
the House Committee on Small Business. He talked about how badly hurt travel
retailers have been by the coronavirus outbreak.

“In normal times, this would have been the highlight of our
year, having a member testify before Congress,” Peck said. “The last time this
happened, I’m told, is 2002. But in this case, it was really just the beginning
of our work.”

Peck and ASTA staff members worked “around the clock” to
meet with members of Congress and their staff, he said, until Capitol Hill
closed down to the public on the afternoon of March 12 (Peck said he and
director of advocacy Genevieve Strand may have been one of the last in-person
meetings seen on the Hill).

After that, they shifted to making phone calls to
legislators.

Simultaneously, ASTA launched a grassroots campaign that
“shattered every record in the books,” Peck said.

ASTA set up an online portal to send messages and make calls
to legislators. Since March 13, it has facilitated 28,604 messages.

Before the coronavirus crisis, the record number of messages
sent through the portal was 2,998, when ASTA lobbied to have advisors exempted
from a new worker-classification law in California
last year.

Peck also credited ASTA members who have attended its annual
Capitol Hill fly-in, Legislative Day, in recent years. The connections they
made then ensured someone picked up the phone when they called about
coronavirus relief.

ASTA also leaned on allies within the travel industry. Its
request for relief was endorsed by the Global Business Travel Association, Association
of Corporate Travel Executives, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, National
Tour Association, Student & Youth Travel Association and U.S. Tour
Operators Association.

ASTA’s objectives were two-fold, Peck said: If Congress gave
the travel industry targeted relief, travel agencies had to be included, and
the Society wanted to get as many options for relief as possible for members.
He believes the Society was successful on both fronts.

“There are long days ahead,” Kerby said. “It’s going to take
more than an all-clear from the CDC and WHO to restore confidence in the travel
system. We also have to stay vigilant in reminding suppliers that there is and
will be life after Covid-19, and they need to treat our members, and by
extension the traveling public, fairly. We are all in this together.”

ASTA is creating a members-only page featuring analysis of
the bill at asta.org/covid19member. 

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Categories
Cruises

In a Quarantined World, What Should Travel Advisors Be Doing Right Now?

For many travel advisors, what they should be doing once they’ve finished the seemingly endless task of taking care of clients affected by the coronavirus is arguably not top of mind—at least not currently.

“Priority No. 1 right now is on guests and making sure we are getting them canceled or rebooked to later dates,” said Hannah Nowicki of Sunset Travel & Cruise. “But when that dust settles, I believe we will be looking to the future.”

For Nowicki, marketing strategies will be a prime focus.

“Marketing will be big because we want to remind clients—both past, present and prospective—that we are still here, ready to book when they are. Because of what we have seen with online travel agencies (OTA) during this time, and the mess that it has been, I think we will see a much larger group flocking to local travel agents.”

She added, “We want to be ready for them when they do seek us out. This means continuing to have our name/brand out there. We will need to be easy to find when the time comes for people to start looking again. Taking advantage of marketing now will be the key to that.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Doncsecz of VIP Vacations Inc. said the agency is hoping to offer a ‘Top 5 Favorite Thing’ campaign “about specific hotels we have traveled to recently [with] honest, quick, easy and visually appealing reviews we can post places—but also use for potential clients who may be interested in that specific hotel.”

For advisors who are proficient at video posting, “now might be a great time to [create] some future pieces you could share with your clients on social media,” Doncsecz said.

On a similar note, Trish Gastineau of Simply Customized Travel said she has noticed “that people are much more open to new ways of social networking, [including] the use of video chats, group virtual cocktail parties and virtual dance parties.”

For her part, Claire Schoeder of Elevations Travel is taking the opportunity to touch base—voice to voice and through email—with her customers.

“I am reaching out to clients to simply chat. We have spoken about family, self-quarantine and our future travel plans,” she said. “We have shared our concerns as well as some laughter about our efforts at keeping entertained while housebound. Travel is about relationships, and visiting with my clients by email or phone helps our relationship remain strong.”

Similarly, Nowicki noted that Sunset Travel & Cruise would continue to conduct client outreach.

“This is a difficult time for everyone in general. So taking the opportunity to simply reach out to past and present clients (whether or not they have canceled, rebooked or whatever) is important—not only as travel advisors but as human beings,” she said. “We are all in the same turbulent boat. Reaching out and showing we care could make all the difference, not only now, but well into the future as well.”

Travel advisors and suppliers are also continuing to support one another.

“Travel advisors and travel partners are doing their best to encourage each other and check on each other’s mental and physical well being,” Gastineau said. “That is a beautiful thing. I see people going out of their way for each other. I see the travel community bonding even more.”

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Travel

Nakheel pledges financial support to customers

Master developer Nakheel has announced an AED230 million economic relief package for customers in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The initiative is in line with the economic stimulus launched under the direction of sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai.

The Nakheel economic relief package aims to help reduce the financial burdens faced by businesses and individuals during the current global challenges.

Nakheel customers include property owners, retail and hospitality tenants and small business operators.

The package includes free rental periods for retail and hospitality partners who operate within the Nakheel Malls portfolio.

This will take effect when the malls, which are currently closed under government directives, reopen.

Small retail business owners who lease space at master communities will also receive a rental holiday.

Nakheel is also waiving administration charges across various services for three months, and, as per government directives, reducing district cooling charges by ten per cent for three months for commercial and residential customers. 

Mohammed Ibrahim Al-Shaibani, chairman of Nakheel, said: “Every business and individual in Dubai – and across the globe – is affected in some way by Covid-19.

“As a leading, responsible developer, we must support and work with our loyal customers and business partners who are facing economic challenges during these unprecedented times.”

Nakheel is contacting eligible business partners with details of how the stimulus package will specifically apply to them.

Coronavirus

For all the latest from Breaking Travel News on the coronavirus pandemic, take a look here.

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Categories
Travel

Holidays: Should you buy back pounds? Exchange rate experts issue travel money warning

Holidays have been cancelled or postponed for the near future as coronavirus sweeps the globe. Many Britons may now be left with travel money they purchased that now has no use. It is possible to exchange this back into pounds at this time?

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Express.co.uk spoke to experts to find out what Britons should do about their euros or other leftover currency.

Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of Equals (formerly known as FairFX), said: “We’ve found that on average people return from holiday with around £177 worth of leftover currency.”

However, he warned that Britons need to be careful about buy-back rates.

“Those with cash, whether leftover from a holiday or because travel plans were cancelled due to coronavirus, can change their currency back to sterling, but this will leave them at the mercy of buy-back rates, which have been hit by the falling pound over the last few weeks,” he said.

The best way to counter this problem is to shop around first.

“Savvy consumers should shop around before they change currency back to make sure they’re getting the best offer available and not losing too much money in the process,” Strafford-Taylor detailed.

However, given the closure of many bureau de changes and suspension and cash services it may actually be best to hold on to the travel money.

“If they can, holidaymakers might want to keep hold of their currency until their next trip and use it then,” said Strafford-Taylor.

“For those using prepaid currency cards, they can spend their money back in the UK online or in stores, keep it for their next trip, or change it to a different currency altogether.”

Sacha Zackariya, CEO, Change Group International Plc, also agreed exchanging money may not be wise right now.

“Along with all other bureaus de change and banks, we have now closed all branches,” Zackariya told Express.co.uk.

“We actually made the decision to close them before government restrictions to protect our staff and customers.

READ MORE

  • Flights: The unlikely item you should disinfect while travelling

“Due to this, unfortunately, there is no easy solution to change your foreign currency at this point.

“I would, therefore, recommend holding on to this leftover currency until your next holiday or if it is somewhere you are unlikely to travel again then exchange it at a later date.

“As international travel restrictions are updated and government policies change we recommend checking our website for updates on this situation.”

Sterling’s biggest low this week came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered an announcement on Tuesday night that saw the UK forced into full lockdown.

The measures included the closure of many “non-essential” shops and businesses which saw the pound plummet.

However, Michael Brown, Currency Expert at Caxton FX, said: “Sterling continued to gain ground against the euro on Thursday, as a broad-based improvement in risk appetite helped to push the pound to its best levels in a week, back above the 1.10 handle.”

The boost came as the Bank of England decided to keep interest rates at a steady 0.1 percent on Thursday.

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Cruises

Cruise: The luxurious new trend of spa cabins – but is it really worth the price?

As the modern traveller begins to change, cruise lines have followed suit and began to broaden their offering. No longer are cruises just for one age bracket, but with different companies adding new features from technology to entertainment, there is something for everyone.

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One of the latest upgrades to make its way into several cruise lines is the introduction of luxury spa accommodation.

This may make you envision bubbling jacuzzi at the foot of your bed, or your own personal mud bath.

However, that isn’t quite the case, though they do certainly promise elevated relaxation for your trip.

Kerry Spencer, Editor of Cruise Critic spoke to Express.co.uk to explain exactly why this new form of stateroom is on offer and how much travellers will need to stretch the budget to bag one.

She explained: “Spa cabins generally include special in-cabin amenities, such as specialist toiletries; closer proximity to the onboard spa and VIP privileges within the spa itself.

“In addition, some lines also offer additional perks such as free speciality dining or free beverage packages.”

If you’re someone who frequents the spa on a regular basis throughout your holiday, they could well be worth the extra cost.

“Spa cabins are typically near the ship’s spa since easy access is one of the perks of choosing a spa cabin,” says Kerry.

“They range from inside cabins to suites, and are often the same layout as standard cabins in their class, but with added amenities and a higher price tag.”

Several big-name cruise lines are now offering this pamper-filled package to guests, including MSC, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Costa, Norwegian and Seabourn, though the perks for each cruise line vary.

For example, Royal Caribbean transformed rooms on its Radiance, Voyager, Freedom, Oasis, Quantum and Quantum Ultra Class at the end of 2019 in a bid to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind stay.

The new spa stateroom is described by the cruise holiday provider as “your private retreat for relaxing and recharging”.

The spa Stateroom will include a range of “calming in-room amenities” including specialist, down-feather bedding and “upgraded toiletries”.

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Passengers staying in a spa room will also benefit from 50 percent off one spa treatment, priority spa reservations, a welcome basket of fresh fruit and daily coffee and tea deliveries.

These rooms will be available for journeys beginning in 2021.

Kerry says they will provide “passengers with priority boarding and a relaxing retreat complete with several exclusive perks, such as a welcome gift of fresh fruit in their cabins and a nightly selection of refreshments including bottled water, tea and coffee; plush bedding; upgraded toiletries; slippers and a robe; and a balcony with cushioned furniture.”

Meanwhile, Celebrity Cruises already offer their specialist “AquaClass” cabins.

“Of the ones currently found on major cruise lines, Celebrity’s AquaClass spa cabins offer the most included perks, such as upgraded bathroom amenities, specialist bedding, exclusive access to speciality restaurant Blu, as well as the spa concierge, unlimited access to the AquaSpa Relaxation room, the Persian Garden or SEA thermal suite,” Kerry continues.

Furthermore, some boast unique features you might not expect.

“Costa Cruises’ Samsara Spa cabins, for example, have direct access to the Samsara Spa via a glass elevator surrounded by a waterfall,” adds Kerry.

“Seabourn’s penthouse spa suites are also located directly above the Spa and have direct access to and from the spa via a spiral staircase located in the spa’s lobby.

“In the evening, Seabourn spa penthouse passengers can also choose a calming fragrance from a selection of four by L’Occitane to be diffused throughout the suite.”

READ MORE

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However, with the added experience unsurprisingly comes an added price tag, and that varies depending on who you cruise with.

Kerry says: “The cost of a spa cabin varies significantly based on the cruise line, ship and itinerary. The general guideline is that a spa cabin will cost more than a regular cabin in a specific category, but not as much as the next category up.

“A spa oceanview stateroom, for example, will cost more than a regular oceanview, but not as much as a balcony cabin.”

If you do want to enhance your cruise experience, then they may be worth the cost.

It largely comes down to how much you plan on using the spa.

“A spa cabin can certainly enhance your holiday experience if you are going on a cruise for some all-out pampering, and plan on spending a lot of time in the spa,” says Kerry.

“The perks you can enjoy include free thermal suite access, free fitness classes and great discounts on and priority access to spa treatments.

“If all you want are just a few onboard spa days, then the additional cost of a special spa cabin will probably not be worth paying a premium for.”

For passengers hoping to book spa treatments, they should do so quickly. If treatments become fully booked guests could miss out on their favourite experience, even if they’ve paid the extra cost.

“Don’t forget to book spa treatments in advance – ideally, as soon as you book, but definitely before you get onboard – since they can get booked up quickly, and can be more expensive onboard,” warns Kerry.

On the flip side, it is vital customers do their research as they may be disappointed.

Kerry explains: “When it comes to specialist spa accommodations, cruise line offerings vary significantly, so it is worth doing your homework to see if you are really going to gain from the upgrade.

“Work out how much time you also really want to spend in the spa, especially if you are on a port-intensive cruise or are excited about experiencing all the other onboard activities and entertainment programmes on offer.

“You don’t want to be beholden to your spa if it means missing out on other activities or being unsociable with new friends.”

Ultimately, holidaymakers should consider the purpose of their trip before purchasing spa accommodation.

“If you want your onboard experience to be all about pampering, then a spa cabin might be the perfect way to ensure you get the VIP treatment you deserve,” concludes Kerry.

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Travel

Covid 19 coronavirus: New Zealanders from cruise ship anxious to get home

By RNZ

New Zealanders being repatriated from a cruise ship off Western Australia were escorted by police to their flight.

Yesterday, after two weeks on board the cruise ship without disembarking once, the 108 New Zealanders were finally allowed on solid ground in Fremantle in Western Australia overnight.

They are expected to arrive in Auckland this afternoon.

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Categories
Transport

Southwest Airlines Offers Voluntary Leave in Lieu of Stimulus Package

With the COVID-19 pandemic stunting travel, some airlines have been receiving private funding packages to keep afloat. However, Southwest Airlines has recently offered voluntary leave with partial pay to flight attendants, despite the U.S. Senate approving a $50 billion stimulus package for the industry this past Wednesday.

By accepting federal aid, airlines must agree to several conditions, which include restrictions on dividends and share buybacks, requirements to keep employment levels stable through September and limits on executive pay. Two national unions believe that Southwest may reject any stimulus package due to these conditions.

The airline offered flight attendants voluntary paid time off for May and June at “50 percent of the minimum line value.” While the offer protects benefits, flight attendants would still need to complete paid training requirements.

Southwest flight attendants have been advised by Transport Workers Union Local 556 not to accept voluntary leave, as the congressional approval could guarantee full pay through any upcoming travel bans.

“The company created this emergency time off program blindly, quickly, and with complete disregard for what is being negotiated and approved by Congress,” TWU Local 556 said in a letter to members. “Southwest Airlines also claims that they ‘retain the right to reject government funding and the strings that come with it.’”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Southwest’s CEO Gary Kelly spent weeks in Washington advocating for the stimulus package, confident that the bill will help the airline avoid layoffs. However, Southwest has made little mention of the bill since senators closed the deal over the weekend.

In the version of the bill passed by the Senate Wednesday night, airlines would receive $25 billion in loans and $25 billion in grants for “the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries, and benefits.”

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Categories
Transport

American Cuts Service Due to Record-Low Customer Demand

American Airlines announced Friday the record-low customer demand caused by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak had forced the carrier to continuing cutting capacity in April and May.

Due to social distancing and travel restrictions, officials from American revealed it would suspend 60 percent of its capacity in April and up to 80 percent of its capacity in May, both compared to the same periods in 2019.

In addition, the airline’s international flights have now been cut by 80-90 percent for April and May, with April’s new service schedule available for booking Sunday and May’s being loaded by April 5.

Federal Aviation Administration officials recently granted carriers additional flexibility in slot-use policies at U.S. airports, allowing American to “better align capacity with demand in light of adjustments to the flight schedule.”

The most significant change for the airline is its service to Hawaii, with flights into Kona, Lihue and Maui all being suspended. American will continue to operate one daily flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

As a result of the altered flight schedule, the carrier is extending its offer to waive change fees for customers who purchase tickets through April 15.

In a report from ABCNews.com, American CEO Doug Parker says the company is eligible for about $12 billion of the $50 billion in grants and loans set aside for airlines in the $2 trillion stimulus bill.

The bill also includes assistance for travel advisors and agents impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

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