A flight protection levy of up to 50p a passenger is part of planned changes to airline insolvency rules following the collapse of Monarch Airlines.
Passengers rather than the taxpayer are to shoulder the cost of repatriating stranded customers as part of government plans for dealing with future airline failures.
The proposal for a Flight Protection Scheme levy of “less than 50p” per person is part of a series of recommendations in the Department of Transport’s Airline Insolvency Review, which was commissioned following the collapse of Monarch Airlines in October 2017.
Monarch’s failure meant 85,000 passengers had to be repatriated by the Civil Aviation Authority in the largest peacetime operation of its kind. It also had to rescue XL Airways customers in 2008.
Lack of protection
Other recommendations include the use of an airline’s own aircraft to repatriate passengers should it fail. The review also wants to improve awareness and take up of safeguards which protect customers when airlines collapse.
Around 80% of passengers who book outbound flights from the UK have some form of protection enabling them to recover the money they paid for tickets that have subsequently become worthless because of airline failure.
However, only those 25% who have bought a travel product protected by the ATOL scheme are assured of being able to get home in a timely way at little or no extra cost. This leaves around 75% of passengers who would need to access and pay for alternative travel arrangements.
Industry rescue fares
Peter Bucks, chair of the Airline Insolvency Review, said: “We know passengers expect to be protected from being stranded overseas if their airline should collapse, but in practice, each year many people fly without any such protection.”
The moves, which are subject to consultation, have been criticised by the airline industry. The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK said the recent failure of WOW Air required no financial intervention from the CAA, with 13 airlines offering rescue fares under an industry voluntary agreement. It also questioned the cost and administration of the proposed levy.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, added: “50p may not sound much but airlines operate on wafer thin margins and passengers already pay over £3 billion each year to the Treasury in Air Passenger Duty. The chances of booking with an airline that goes bust remain extremely small.”
UK air traffic controllers have handled a record-breaking 9,000 flights in one day, highlighting the need to modernise UK airspace.
Congestion in the skies is as much a problem as it is on the ground, with UK airspace now typically handling 2.5 million flights a year or just over 7,000 a day.
This peaked at a peace-time record of 9,000 at the end of May, when flights to Madrid for the Champions League final added to traffic levels. It marked the end of a hectic month for NATS, the air traffic services provider, which published a series of visuals on Twitter showing the volume of Bank Holiday aircraft movements over London and the rest of the UK.
Last summer, NATS control centres at Swanwick in Hampshire and Prestwick in Ayrshire handled about a quarter of Europe’s peak of 37,000 flights-a-day.
More flight delays
While the NATS figures for delays were lower than elsewhere, 2018 still saw significant delays across Europe due to airspace capacity constraints and staff shortages.
Parts of UK airspace, particularly over the South East of England, are already restricted, which makes the rising number of aircraft movements particularly challenging.
As part of its Aviation 2050 review, the Government forecasts that by 2030 there will be 355 million passengers on 3.25 million flights. Without modernisation, it is thought that one in three flights will be delayed by half an hour or more by 2030.
NATS is a member of Our Future Skies, which unites organisations from the aviation industry to highlight the need for airspace modernisation and to make flying quicker, quieter and cleaner.
Air traffic controllers currently track planes via ground-based beacons, a system designed in the 1950s. With new technology, such as satellite-based navigation, it is now possible to make the best use of the full capability of modern aircraft.
Modernisation will make it easier for airports to manage how noise impacts local communities, while other potential benefits include an end to the stacking of planes — where aircraft queue in a circular pattern waiting to land. Analysis by NATS suggests airspace modernisation could deliver up to 20% of annual savings in fuel burn and CO2 emissions.
Lost luggage continues to be a challenge for airline industry, with almost 25 million bags mishandled in 2018.
Waiting at the baggage carousel remains a stressful part of any flight as passengers hope that their bag is not one of the 25 million or so lost or mishandled every year.
Based on the fact that airlines worldwide carried an estimated 4.3 billion bags last year, the chances of disruption are actually reasonably low — at 5.69 bags per thousand passengers.
Increased tracking of bags at key points in the airport journey — such as check-in, loading onto the aircraft and at onward connections — mean the scale of the problem has halved over the past decade. Even so, mishandled bags still cost airlines US$2.4 billion in compensation in 2018 and there are signs that the rate of improvement has plateaued recently.
Aviation technology company SITA said mistakes made during the transfer of baggage from one aircraft to another, or between airlines, accounted for 46% of all mishandled bags last year.
It urged airlines to consider the increased adoption of baggage tracking across all journey stages in order to drive greater efficiencies. Where this takes place at check-in and loading onto the aircraft, the rate of improvement ranged between 38% and 66%.
Tracking data will also enable airlines to provide more detailed information to passengers on the whereabouts of their baggage at each step in the journey.
Radio frequency chips
Some carriers have gone as far as inserting radio frequency chips into luggage tags so that it is possible to monitor baggage in real-time across the journey.
Results from Delta Airlines show that items tagged in this way were tracked at a 99.9% success rate, ensuring proper routing and loading for the 180 million bags it handles every year.
Baggage updates are then sent to the mobile phones of customers so that they have peace of mind before they reach the airport carousel.
Holidaymakers are looking out of Europe this summer, with Turkey, Tunisia and even short-stay jaunts across the Atlantic proving more popular.
Turkey has overtaken Greece as the second most popular destination for Thomas Cook holidaymakers as more Britons choose breaks outside the European Union.
The tour operator said 48% of its package holiday bookings for this summer were to non-EU destinations — a 10 percentage point rise on the same period a year ago — as prolonged Brexit uncertainty keeps the focus on the strength of the euro against the pound.
Bookings to Tunisia are also double what they were last year, with the North African country back on the map for UK holidaymakers after the terrorist attacks in 2015.
Spain remains the top destination for summer 2019, with the list of the five leading tourist spots in Thomas Cook’s 2019 UK Holiday Report also including the United States and Cyprus.
As well as being outside the EU, Turkey’s popularity has been driven by its reputation as a value for money location and home to sandy beaches, salt lakes and ancient ruins.
The peace of mind offered by all-inclusive holidays also remains important to Britons in the current economic climate, with 66% of package trips locking in costs on food and drink.
The report identifies a surge in holidaymakers choosing “bite-sized” breaks of less than a week to long-haul destinations such as the United States, Mexico and South Africa.
Savvy travellers are cutting costs on these long-haul short breaks by flying without hold luggage or finding cheaper flight-only deals. The report said that the number of travellers taking a three-night trip to Las Vegas was up 33%, with a 171% jump in popularity for five-nights in Mexico.
New fuel efficient planes such as the Airbus 380 and 787 Dreamliner are helping to push the travel boundaries, leading to a 350% surge in long-haul passengers over ten years.
British holidaymakers heading to Greece this summer have been warned to expect delays at the country’s airports.
Extra passport checks by Greek police are set to mean increased waiting times for Europeans travelling to and from certain destinations, including the UK.
The new security measures have been introduced by Greece under the 2017 Schengen Borders Code regulation, which will eventually be applied by all Schengen member states.
Travellers from non-Schengen countries, including the UK, have been urged to allow extra time to reach their departure gate so that police can carry out additional database checks.
As Britons make more than three million trips to Greece every year, the Foreign Office has recently updated its travel advice to highlight the potential for delays. It said: “You should ensure you arrive at the airport in good time.”
There are 26 countries in the Schengen area, making it the world’s largest visa free zone and allowing nationals from these places to travel free from border checks.
The 2017 directive recommends that member countries enhance their internal security by checking the details of EU citizens travelling from or to a non-Schengen country, including against databases such as Interpol’s list of stolen and lost travel documents.
The UK and Ireland do not participate in the borders and visas aspects of the Schengen agreement and continue to operate border controls with other EU member states.
British citizens can still travel across Europe visa-free for a maximum of 90 days, something that the European Union has said will continue after Brexit. This is based on there being a reciprocal agreement for EU citizens travelling without visas to the UK for short stays.
One impact of Brexit, however, is the need for Britons to ensure their passports are up to date in the case of a no-deal withdrawal from the EU. This means the document will need to be less than 10 years old and have at least six months on it before it expires.
Failure to ensure this will mean not being able to travel to most EU countries as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. A passport renewal usually takes three weeks.
A Venice tourist tax is being imposed on day-trippers as the famous Italian city battles to cope with overtourism.
Short-stay visitors to Venice will soon have to pay a “landing tax” of up to 10 euros in a move effectively creating an admission fee for entry to the floating city.
Authorities in Venice are introducing the charge this summer so that the income raised can help with clearing the rubbish left by an estimated 20 million tourists who visit each year.
The Venice tax move comes amid growing concern among Venetians about the impact that day-trippers from the many giant cruise ships moored in the lagoon are having on the city’s character. It is thought that only one visitor in every five stays in Venice overnight.
With the daily throng of tourists in Venice sometimes twice the number of residents, officials in the city have taken other measures in recent months to address overcrowding. This has included limiting entry to St Mark’s Square, such as during the Venetian carnival in February when the historic piazza was closed once the capacity of 23,000 had been reached.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee recently threatened to put the city on its danger list, having expressed “extreme concern” about the impact of tourism on Venice’s historical sites.
But the new tax, which will vary between 3 euros and 10 euros depending on peak times, has drawn criticism from some who say it will turn Venice into a fee-charging museum.
Thailand beach closure
Venice is not alone in facing overtourism, with other Italian cities including Florence expressing interest in adopting similar tax schemes.
Further afield, authorities in Thailand have closed Maya Beach after the location made famous by the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach sustained significant environmental damage as a result of visits from as many as 5,000 tourists a day.
And in Peru, the number of permits for visiting the Inca Trail is now limited to 500 a day, with 2,500 available for Machu Picchu.
With just 4% of people making their last journey to an airport by coach, a campaign has been launched to “break the stigma” around this form of travel.
The poor perception of airport coach travel has been blamed for preventing more passengers from using sustainable modes of transport when going to and from an airport.
Research by the independent watchdog Transport Focus said that one third of people believed that coaches were often uncomfortable, dirty or old. More than half described them as infrequent and often delayed by traffic or roadworks.
At a recent summit hosted by Heathrow airport, leaders from the transport industry including coach operators and the Department for Transport pledged to do more to make coach travel more appealing.
Sustainable travel option
Despite strong levels of passenger satisfaction among coach travellers, awareness of this option as a cost effective and reliable way to travel remains desperately low.
The five-point action plan includes the use of technology to boost the visibility of coach journey information, as well as publication of performance data to inform consumer choice.
More work will be done to promote coach travel as a value for money, sustainable option compared with other forms of long-distance travel. The coach industry will step up efforts to challenge current misconceptions, as well as work more closely with airports and airlines.
Coach travel perceptions
The research found that the majority of people travelled by car to the airport the last time they flew, with 35% parking at the airport, 18% being dropped off and 19% getting a taxi. Scheduled coach services accounted for just 4%, compared with 13% taking a train.
Perceptions of coach travel are frequently driven by isolated and long ago experiences, such as one off journeys or school trips and private coach hire.
Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “It’s time to break the stigma around coach travel and to promote this travel option as the savvy consumer choice.”
Aviation minister Liz Sugg added: “It is clear that misconceptions need to be overcome so that coach travel is seen as a genuine alternative to the car.”
A vision of the future for holidaymakers
Augmented reality glasses for use on city tours are the latest example of the immersive technologies helping to enhance the holiday experience.
An alternative to the umbrella-waving tour guide could soon see holidaymakers exploring cities and places of interest with the help of augmented reality glasses.
The specs, which are currently being tested by TUI customers in Palma de Mallorca, enable text, photographs, videos and 3D models to be displayed in front of what the user is looking at. The company said the technology offered holidaymakers “new, more exciting access” to historical facts and stories and took into account many tourists’ desire to explore on their own.
In the Palma trial, users have been able to learn more about an artist whose paintings they are viewing, or see an animation of the famous dragon that is said to have terrorised the city.
Try before you fly
TUI is one of the first travel providers in the world to offer the technology, which builds on recent developments revolutionising the holiday booking experience.
This has included Thomas Cook’s “try before you fly” virtual reality feature, which gives web and store visitors a closer look at destinations or the cabin of one of the company’s planes.
Hotels have been using similar technology to give their website visitors a better view of the rooms they have on offer. And once customers arrive at their destination, interactive maps have been providing an extra layer of information on local points of interest when viewed on a smartphone.
In the airline sector, easyJet is now using augmented reality technology to help customers know if their cabin bag is within the right dimensions before they set off for the airport. The company hopes the feature on its app will reduce unexpected baggage queries on arrival.
The scan provides an on-screen 3D box which when combined with a customer’s smartphone camera sizes the cabin bag and indicates whether it fits within the maximum dimensions.
Travelport’s Cormac Reilly, who helped develop the feature for easyJet, said: “Audiences are increasingly demanding digital solutions which improve their travel experience.”
How overseas holidays boost UK economy
Spending by UK travellers before a foreign trip is now higher than it is at their destination, a report on the impact of overseas tourism reveals.
The old argument that holidaying outside the UK is bad for the nation’s prosperity has been cast into doubt by new research examining the economic value of outbound travel.
According to travel association ABTA, the amount spent by residents before they set off on foreign travels reached £45.7 billion in 2017. This is 36% higher than in 2008 and now exceeds the amount spent by UK travellers in the overseas holiday destinations they visit.
The expenditure includes the cost of air travel and insurance services, as well as airport drinks and snacks, holiday clothes and shoes, and lotions and toiletries.
Once tax revenues, the industry’s direct economic impact and employment are taken into account, the report concludes that the outbound travel sector has an “important, and too often underappreciated, role to play within the UK’s tourism mix”.
The outbound travel sector directly sustains 220,700 full-time equivalent jobs, which ABTA says is higher than the UK’s iron and steel or electrical equipment manufacturing industries. Just as many jobs again are created through the supply chains supporting the industry.
The sector also generated £6.4 billion for the Exchequer in 2017, with the bulk of this coming from indirect taxes such as Air Passenger Duty.
The overall economic contribution to the UK totalled £37.1 billion in Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2017, amounting to around 1.8% of UK GDP and growth of 36% since 2014.
No tourism deficit
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer said: “Too often the contribution of the UK outbound travel industry is overlooked in favour of a myth that overseas travel creates a ‘tourism deficit’ with money going overseas which could be spent in the UK.
“The evidence is clear that this is not the case — the benefits of the outbound sector are being felt by the wider economy in terms of jobs, support for other businesses and tax contributions to the Treasury.
“In order to continue to grow and thrive, government needs to make sure the right tax and policy framework is in place.”
Stricter rules on travel ESTA permits for entry to the United States mean Britons heading across the Atlantic could be barred from boarding.
Passengers are being urged not to be caught out by a change in the fast-track scheme that allows tourists entry into the United States.
Authorities have revealed that last minute applications under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will no longer be accepted, with a minimum three days required before the departure date.
Failure to adhere to this time limit could mean those who have booked late travel deals or forgotten to fill in their online application will be unable to travel. While the rules have always advised applying 72 hours in advance, it has often been the case that travellers have been able to file applications as late as at the airport.
Visa Waiver Programme
Around 3.8 million Britons visit the United States every year, with tourists and certain types of business travellers able to use ESTA under the country’s Visa Waiver Programme.
Applying for and securing an ESTA, which costs US$14 and allows trips lasting up to 90 days, is a separate process to providing an airline with advance passenger information.
A note from US Customs and Border Protection on the ESTA application website advises travellers of the stricter time limit. It said: “Apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours before departing for the United States.
“Real-time approvals will no longer be available and arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding.”
US travel insurance
US-bound travellers also need to think carefully about their travel and medical insurance before they set off. They need to remember that policies including the US tend to be more expensive due to the cost of healthcare in the country.
Recent examples from the Association of British Insurers include a £233,000 medical bill for 15 days in hospital following a stroke and £185,000 for a 10-day hospital stay to treat a blood clot.