Traveller's world While airlines based in Europe are closing down routes to stave off the recession, the number of routes offered by UAE carriers is expanding.
New routes open to India
While airlines based in Europe are closing down routes to stave off the recession, the number of routes offered by UAE carriers is expanding. The new budget airline, Flydubai, has been introducing a new route on an almost weekly basis (Beirut, Amman, Damascus, Alexandria and Aleppo) and is now about to open up India. Monday sees the inaugural flight to Lucknow; Tuesday, Coimbatore and, in just under two weeks time, it's the turn of Chandigarh.
Nor is it only the budget airlines that are expanding. Kingfisher Airlines, India's only airline to be given a five-star rating by Skytrax, the travel research company, has announced its entry into the Middle East by connecting India and the UAE. Its daily direct flight from Dubai to Bangalore, on Airbus A320s, is the airline's fifth international destination after London, Columbo, Bangkok and Dhaka. The airline flies to 69 domestic destinations meaning that its passengers can connect to practically anywhere in India. The promotional rate to celebrate the launch is US$340 (Dh1,250) return, including taxes, to any city in southern India (www.flykingfisher.com).
I've never really understood the point of having a personal butler at a hotel. While the dedicated service sounds very grand and such butlers are all smiley with an "I am here for whatever you want" attitude, the trouble is that I can never think of what I want. Maybe an ironing board or a different sort of pillow, perhaps, but I'm happier just ringing housekeeping for that. I guess you can ask a butler to unpack, but however discreet he or she is, you don't want a stranger sorting out your underwear.
Emirates Palace hotel, however, has finally introduced a butler service that I would use. An "IT butler" is available to guests 24/7 and, they promise, will come to your room in a matter of minutes from your first distress call. He or she will connect you to your company's VPN (I actually don't have a clue what that is), or home or office network, give advice about IT applications and answer technical queries. Given that so many bookings are now done online, the IT butler will also be available for such nuisances as restaurant bookings, air tickets, concerts and - as Abu Dhabi's most opulent hotel neatly puts it - "for arranging private jets". So, I now know what to do when I can't fix my laptop - I'll book into the Emirates Palace for the night.
On the subject of useful innovations, Etihad Airways has come up with good one in the shape of airport nannies. Stressed parents travelling premium class departing from or transiting through Abu Dhabi's Terminal 3 can call on the services of a professionally trained nanny. He, or more likely she, will meet the children at the entrance to the premium lounge and take them to the family room to play with toys, read books, watch telly or make new friends. There is also some cheer for economy passengers. With this summer likely to be the airline's busiest ever time since they launched - or so the airline hopes - they are introducing family-only check-in desks to curtail the wait at Terminal 3.
The fine line between holidays being a wonderful indulgence or yet another source of stress was brought into focus by events at London's Luton airport last week. Frustration levels, always high, peaked with the introduction of a new traffic management scheme last Monday. Drivers are now being charged to drop off passengers and their luggage at a "priority set-down point" near the departures terminal - the fee is £1 (Dh6) if you move on within 10 minutes and £50 (Dh80) if you go even a minute over.
The result on the first few days of the scheme was complete mayhem. With a tailback stretching more than three kilometres beyond the airport perimeter, hysteria started to set in as passengers feared they would miss their flights. Several abandoned the journey and took to hiking uphill to the terminal with suitcases and pushchairs in tow. Even those using car parks and public transport found themselves caught up in the chaos. Not a good way to start your summer holidays.
With the world transfixed by the miraculous tale of 14-year-old Bahia Bakari, the sole survivor of the Yemenia air crash that killed 152 people off the Comoros islands, I've been speculating on the effect that the accident may have on its fortunes. Before the crash few of us knew very much about the Indian Ocean archipelago, which despite fabulous sandy beaches, remains largely unvisited. In the deep water around each island, there are coral reefs plus freshwater streams and shoreline springs, which provide natural habitats for marine life - and the perfect setting for that fad of the moment: ecotourism. Perhaps its sad day in the spotlight will attract investment and change a few lives for the better.
And for the rest of us, controversy over whether the Airbus A310 should ever have taken off in the first place, may end in tighter regulation. The European Commission currently names and shames airlines, which it says fail to meet safety standards, on a blacklist published on its website: ec.europa.eu/transport/air-ban/list_en.htm. The airlines listed - including many from Africa and Indonesia - are not allowed to operate in European airspace. This list is due to be updated, however. It's worrying that Yemenia, already banned from landing in France because of safety concerns, is not currently on it.