Posts in category Gulliver


Business and financeGulliver

Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts would have serious implications for travellers

THREE months into his presidency, Donald Trump has engendered little but despair among among travel-industry types. Restrictions announced today on taking laptops and iPads aboard airlines originating from eight Middle Eastern countries are probably reasonable (see Gulliver). But an ill-considered attempt in January to ban travellers from seven mostly-Muslim countries seems to have affected visitor numbers. When that order was shot down by the courts, and a revised one proposed, it turned out that it might cause longer waits for foreigners leaving the country. Then last week in his budget blueprint, Mr Trump proposed big cuts to domestic spending to help fund the military. Several of the programmes on the chopping block have implications for business travellers.

One such is a call to privatise the country’s air traffic control system. The budget outline says privatisation would make air traffic control “more efficient and innovative while…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

IAG enters the low-cost, long-haul market

WILLIE WALSH has spent much of the past few years stripping the frills from British Airways planes, at least on short-haul routes. The boss of IAG, BA’s parent firm, seems keen to ape the success of Europe’s low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair. Hence, everything that once distinguished it as a “full-service” carrier—whether a complimentary sandwich, a free checked bag or to the right to choose your seat—has been deplaned. The strategy has proved a success. Despite the weak pound, British Airways posted an operating profit of £1.5bn in 2016—about 80% of IAG’s total.

When it comes to long-haul flights, however, Mr Walsh has had to contain his cost-cutting zeal. On such routes, BA must compete against carriers that boast sparkling amenities, particularly at the front of the plane, such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines. So although BA has managed to skimp a bit in the premium cabins (by, for example, reducing the food options and downsizing the washbag) it is also investing £400m to upgrade its posh Club World service.

On transatlantic flights, however, the full-service carriers are facing a new threat to their business: low-cost long-haul operators….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Free health cover for Britons in Europe is under threat

BUSINESS travellers face several uncertainties after Brexit. Will travelling to the European Union in future require a visa? Given the state of the pound, will companies start to crack down on expenses? And what happens if you get ill abroad?

This last question has perhaps been farthest from the front of road warriors’ minds—until this week. On March 15th, David Davis, the minister in charge of Brexit, told a parliamentary committee that it was “probably right” that once Britain leaves the EU British travellers would lose access to free or subsidised health care within the European Economic Area (EEA). Currently, British travellers are entitled to be treated as if they were a national of the EEA country (plus Switzerland) they are visiting if they have a European Health Insurance Card, or EHIC. Some 200,000 Brits received medical aid through the scheme while travelling last year, according to ABTA, a travel agents’ association. The card covers those who get ill or have an accident while abroad, or have a serious pre-existing condition that needs…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The Middle East’s once fast-expanding airlines are coming under pressure

LAST April, Etihad Airways, the flag-carrier of the emirate of Abu Dhabi, claimed that 2015 had been its fifth consecutive year in the black, with net profits of $103m. James Hogan, the firm’s chief executive, hailed the result as proof that Etihad is a “sustainably profitable airline”. Yet less than one year on, both Mr Hogan and his chief financial officer, James Rigney, have been eased out amid a “company-wide strategic review” to “improve cost efficiency, productivity and revenue”; reforms ill-befitting a healthy business. Just across the sand, Emirates, the flag-carrier of Dubai, has deferred orders for 12 double-decker Airbus A380s in response to a 75% drop in profits. Qatar Airways, the region’s other super-connector airline, has abandoned plans for a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia. After years of uninterrupted and speedy growth, the Gulf carriers are hitting turbulence.

Taken in isolation, falling profits and waning sales should be of no great concern to these industry goliaths. Low oil prices and jitters about terrorism may have sapped demand for business and leisure travel—particularly in their neighbourhood—but overall the global economy is holding up…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Leaked travel advice for spooks from the CIA

AMONG the trove of American intelligence agency documents released by Wikileaks this week is one that instructs the country’s spies on protocols to follow while travelling abroad. Some of these are quite specific to the CIA’s needs. (“Talk to CCIE/Engineering about your planned TDY timeline,” the document begins, adding such tidbits as “Breeze through German Customs because you have your cover-for-action story down pat.”) But others are just good common-sense business travel tips—for spies and corporate sales managers alike.

The first universal advice in the document, which appears to be designed for spooks visiting an operations base in Frankfurt, is this: “If you are using a personal credit card, be sure to call your credit card company and notify them of your travel to Germany.” That seems like sound guidance. Even better is the pithy advice on which airline to fly with:

Flying Lufthansa: Booze is free so enjoy (within reason)!

Flying United: My condolences, but at least you are earning a United leg towards a status increase.

Hardly…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

A clause in Donald Trump's new travel ban could cause problems for everyone

IF YOU are an Iraqi, or a Syrian refugee, President Donald Trump’s new travel ban will seem like an improvement over the old one. But a little-noticed clause in the measure could make travelling to America a much greater hassle, even for people carrying passports that spare them the toughest restrictions, such as Europe and Asia.

The major provisions of the updated executive order, which Mr Trump signed on March 6th, have been well publicised. The decree will once again face swift legal challenges but, if it survives, citizens of six majority-Muslim countries will still be barred from entering America for the next three months. Iraqis, though, will now be exempt from the ban and the indefinite exclusion on Syrian refugees has also been lifted, once a 120-day period has expired.

However, the Daily Beast spotted a provision on the collection of biometric data. The issue is not actually new. After the 9/11 attacks, Congress passed a law mandating the collection of such things as fingerprints and photos from…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why some airlines remove Israel from their online route maps

STARING at an airline’s route map can cause the heart to flutter. It seems to divide the world into two distinct groups, between memories and possibilities. But on some carriers’ maps, a third classification exists: the non-existent. 

Many airlines’ route maps show every country in the world, regardless of whether they fly there. Those that do not usually illustrate their network by showing only those cities and countries served by the airline. But a few are more selective still, omitting only a single country from their worldview: Israel.

A new paper*, which is currently under peer review, by Joel Waldfogel and Paul Vaaler, both of the University of Minnesota, looks into the phenomenon. The pair classified 111 of the world’s international airlines depending on how they treat Israel on their online route maps. Outside the Middle East, all dealt with it consistently: either Israel was shown as part of a comprehensive map, or it its inclusion was dependent on whether the airline served the country.

Not so for those based in the Middle East. Here, many airlines simply erase Israel’s name off otherwise comprehensive maps (this is often done by…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The European Parliament votes to reintroduce visas for Americans

EUROPE and America have been slowly drifting apart for millions of years. Tectonic shift means that the physical distance between the continents grows by about an inch every year. If only the political divergence were so languid. From NATO to Donald Trump’s travel ban to accusations of currency manipulation, the gap between once-strong allies on either side of the Atlantic has rarely felt as chasmic.

Relations may get frostier yet. On March 2nd, the European Parliament voted temporarily to suspend visa-free travel for Americans visiting the EU. The vote is not binding—it will be up to the European Commission, the body’s executive arm, to decide whether to implement the recommendation. Nonetheless, the decision marks a sad state of affairs.

The main reason for the vote is the way that travellers from some EU countries are treated by America. While most citizens of EU countries can travel to the United States without a visa, those from Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania must still obtain one. Because the EU demands equal treatment of all its citizens in such matters, it says it is legally obliged to fight back. 

Some media outlets, including…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Air passengers rail against allowing mobile-phone calls on planes

ONE by one, airline passengers’ privileges have been taken away: free checked bags, free carry-ons, complimentary food and drink, on-board entertainment. Now, with the advent of “basic economy” class, some flyers are even losing the ability to choose their seats, sit with family members and accrue qualifying miles toward elite status. So it is rather interesting that when passengers are offered the chance of a new privilege, their response seems to be an overwhelmingly “no thank-you”.

The issue at hand is the use of cell phones on planes. The U.S. Transportation Department recently sought public comment on whether it should continue to ban calls from mobiles in the air. More than 8,000 people weighed in before the deadline in February. And in an era when it’s hard to achieve public consensus on just about anything, this issue seems to unite people to an uncommon degree.

Of the last 100 public comments submitted, for example, just one was in favour of calls on planes—and only if airlines agreed to strict regulations and imposed “no-call periods” during takeoff, landing…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Are airlines’ new “last class” fares just a bait-and-switch?

THIS week, United Airlines introduced the change that no flyers were eagerly awaiting: “basic economy” class. You might think that some budget-conscious travellers would welcome the arrival of the new no-frills designation, which offers the lowest fares but strips away flyers’ ability to select their seats, bring full-size carry-on bags onto the plane and earn elite qualifying miles. They might, except basic economy doesn’t actually bring lower fares than the ones already available.

Ben Schlappig was the first to note this on his popular “One Mile at a Time” blog. Mr Schlappig looked at fares on a Minneapolis-Denver route before and after the introduction of basic economy. (On February 22nd United began offering basic economy only between its seven American hubs and Minneapolis; other routes in the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean will follow.) Prior to the rollout, he found that standard economy fares on this route started at $173. When the “new” fares became available, the basic economy seats began…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

What to drink at 30,000 feet

THERE exists a genre of information which might be termed “little-known facts that everyone knows”. It is the sort of tidbit you expect to amaze your friends at a dinner party, but which is greeted with rolled eyes. Casinos don’t have clocks or windows. Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” contains no example of irony. The body exerts more calories digesting celery than is contained within the vegetable. (Except the last of these facts—and everyone knows this—is in fact untrue.)

Then there is Bloody Marys and aeroplanes. Have you ever wondered why the only time most people fancy gulping down vodka, tomato juice and Worcestershire sauce is when strapped into the seat of a passenger jet? It is a little-known fact (that everyone knows) that our taste buds are dampened by the low pressure and humidity in the cabin, as well as the white noise of the engines. This particularly affects flavours that are sweet and salty. The umami taste, however, remains prominent. Tomato juice is high in umami. Worcestershire sauce, meanwhile, is what one cook…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

The busiest airports in Europe

ANYONE who has tried to hold a conversation in a West London garden will wonder how it is possible to squeeze any more more flights into Heathrow Airport. On average, a chinwag is interrupted every minute or so by a Boeing or an Airbus rumbling overhead. 

And yet each year more people manage to pass through. The latest figures from Airports Council International (ACI), an industry group, show that in 2016 passenger numbers grew by 1% at Europe’s busiest hub, to 75.7m. Charles de Gaulle in Paris, Europe’s second busiest airport, lags way behind (see chart).

Heathrow’s two runways are currently running at the very limit of their capacity. That will change once a third runway opens, perhaps in 2026. But in the meantime the only way for the airport to continue to grow is to service bigger planes. This year Korean Air became the ninth airline to fly A380 superjumbos into the airport….Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Dubai is to test passenger-carrying drones

AT TIMES it can feel like we are living in an episode of “Travel Futurama”. This week: flying drone taxis.

Dubai, a city that sometimes seems to inhabit a time zone five years ahead of the rest of the planet, has embraced another improbable travel innovation, to go alongside its enthusiasm for hyperloop trains and long driverless metro lines. This week, the Emirati metropolis announced it is to test passenger-carrying drones in its skies by July.

The unpiloted drone taxis won’t exactly replace the traditional earthbound sort, since they will be able to carry only one passenger, who together with luggage cannot weigh more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds). And it will have a range of just 50 kilometres (31 miles), or half an hour of flying time. But if it works, the long-term implications are huge not only for Dubai, which has among the world’s Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

International visitors are already turning their back on Trump-era America

WHEN President Donald Trump announced his travel ban last month, affecting people from seven majority-Muslim countries, this blog wondered what effect it would have on tourism and business travel to America. “The direct impact to tourism of a travel ban from these countries will be small,” a fellow Gulliver noted, since “each sends a piddling number of visitors to America.” But there was a bigger concern: “Will the decree—easily interpreted as a deep hostility to the world beyond America’s shores—put off global travellers?”

Two weeks later, it has become clear that the answer is yes.

Last week, the travel ban was blocked temporarily by a federal judge and the suspension upheld by a panel of appeals court judges. But that hasn’t stopped Mr Trump’s executive order from having an effect on travel to the United States.

Hopper, a market research firm, looked at online searches for flights into America, comparing the final weeks of the Obama administration with the…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Business travellers are keener on the sharing economy than their employers

RIDE-HAILING apps and home-rental sites are fast becoming mainstays of the corporate travel world—but perhaps not quite as fast as many business travellers would like.

Two recent reports shed light on the rapid changes taking place within the industry. One comes from the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), which represents corporate travel managers. Its latest survey found that the number of businesses allowing their employees to use ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft has increased by nearly 15% since June. Over the same period, the share permitting workers to book lodging through Airbnb and similar services increased 20%. Yet despite that growth, half of corporate travel policies still don’t allow employees to use ride-hailing apps, and 70% prohibit home-rental services in favour of traditional hotels.

At first glance, those figures appear at odds with a survey released by Certify, which makes software that tracks business-travel expenses. It found…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Passengers like flying on planes not made by Boeing or Airbus

ONE statistic that never fails to amaze is the claim by Boeing that one of its 737-model planes lands or takes off somewhere in the world every two seconds. Airbus, the American planemaker’s bitter European rival, makes a similar assertion about its A320 series (although fewer have been built). So ubiquitous are these mid-sized, short-haul aircraft that if you are sat on a modern plane with 120-200 seats you are all but guaranteed to be on an A320 or a 737. That duopoly is nice for Boeing and Airbus, which have collectively delivered 16,800 of the two models. But, in Europe at least, passengers are getting a taste of what else might be.

Last July, Swiss International Air Lines became the first carrier in the world to fly the Bombardier CSeries on scheduled commercial operations. It currently deploys five CS100s (pictured) from Zurich to two dozen European cities. The 125-seat jets are borrowed from parent company Lufthansa, Germany’s flag-carrier, which has ordered 30 CSeries and expects to receive another 12 of the planes this year. More recently, Air Baltic, the flag-carrier of Latvia, became the first to fly the CS300, a larger variant which it has configured with 145…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Travel firms can afford to upset supporters of President Trump

WRITING a few weeks ago, Gulliver envisioned a close partnership between the then president-elect, Donald Trump, and the bosses of tech firms; one that could remove regulation and pave the way to a future of autonomous electric vehicles.

Since then politics has intervened. Specifically, Mr Trump signed an executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from travelling to America. Upon the announcement of the order, the transportation industry sprang into action. New York taxicab drivers staged a boycott of sorts, refusing to pick up passengers from John F Kennedy Airport to show solidarity with those affected by the ban. In response, Uber, a ride-hailing firm, sensed a business opportunity and dropped surge pricing for JFK pickups, effectively cutting the cost of hailing an Uber from the airport.

That proved to be a mistake. Progressives across America accused the firm of breaking the strike. Some noted that Travis Kalanick, Uber’s boss, had joined Mr Trump’s economic advisory council in December. A #DeleteUber campaign was launched. More than…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Why Marriott is turning some of its rooms into communal apartments

JUST as Airbnb has started to take on hotels at their own game, the tables seem to be turning. The short-term lodging rental site was once known for its un-hotel-like offerings. Hosts lived alongside their guests, who were often put up in quirkily decorated spare rooms. Nowadays it offers “business travel ready” listings, for properties that have Wi-Fi, 24-hour check-in and other basic amenities. Entire houses can now be rented, not only box bedrooms. And as cities crack down on illegal Airbnb listings, it has even starting to play by the rules. As a result, the number of business bookings through the site has rocketed.

Unsurprising, then, that some hotels are returning the favour and becoming a bit more like Airbnb. At a recent conference in Los Angeles, Marriott International unveiled a concept for a hotel room that could take on short-term rental firms. Under a row of tents on a city street, the hotel chain…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Thermostat controls in hotel rooms are often placebos

PLACEBOS are everywhere. Drugs firms sell red pills because customers are convinced that they are stronger than white ones. Pressing the button at some pedestrian crossings makes no difference to when the green man appears, but makes us feel proactive. And the “doors close” request in a lift serves no purpose other than to soothe the frustration of impatient riders.

Add another placebo to the list: thermostat controls in hotel rooms. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal has confirmed what many of us already knew deep down: “It’s not your imaginations. Hotel thermostats often aren’t under your control.”

The Journal reports:

The humble hotel wall thermostat, once just a mechanical temperature sensor and fan-speed switch,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Hotels are placing more emphasis on loyalty schemes

FREQUENT travellers can become obsessed by loyalty schemes. Road warriors search out “points gurus”, who pass on wisdom about how to wring out every last air mile and hotel upgrade from a programme, whether by signing up for a new credit card or booking a particular flight. The biggest airline scheme, American Airlines’ AAdvantage, has an estimated 100m elite members; the largest hotel programme, IHG’s Rewards Club, almost as many. But hotels and airlines have historically used such schemes in slightly different ways.

Air travel is often seen as a commodity. A flight is the miserable part of a trip that must be endured to reach somewhere exciting. True, there are degrees of torture. But carriers’ economy-class service is similar enough that it does not really matter whether a flyer boards a United or Delta plane. Hence the best way to ensure that a customer continues to patronise your airline, rather than an equally…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

Chaos at airports as America introduces a travel ban

BARELY a week into his presidency, Donald Trump has thrown global travel into tumult with his executive order barring travellers from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States. A fellow Gulliver has posted about the potential long-term implications of the ban for the travel industry. But in the short run, one thing is already clear: President Trump’s action has sown chaos in American airports.

Clear to everyone but Mr Trump himself, that is. In a series of tweets, he denied that his action had caused any disruption at airports, instead blaming a Delta Air Lines computer glitch, protesters, and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, whom he accused of producing “fake tears” in support of people denied entry to the country.

Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage,…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 30,…Continue reading

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Business and financeGulliver

How Donald Trump’s immigration edict will affect American tourism

THERE are many ways to look at Donald Trump’s decision to ban travellers from seven countries with predominantly Muslim populations. Whether Mr Trump’s order is legal, moral or self-defeating has been discussed at length elsewhere on this site. Here on Gulliver, however, we are mostly concerned with what the move means for the future of travel to America.

The executive order which the president signed on January 27th restricts immigration from Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Mr Trump says the aim of the edict is to thwart terrorism. It affects travellers on all types of visas (other than diplomatic and UN ones) and refugees and will be in force for 90 days (indefinitely in the case of Syrian refugees). It is still unclear exactly what it means for dual nationals or those with green cards, although Reince…Continue reading

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