Posts Tagged ‘travel’

If you’re flying from Heathrow next week, be aware – members of the RMT are planning to walk out at 3am on April 29th for 48 hours. It’s all down to a fight between the London Underground and the RMT over a so-called ‘toxic’ reorganisation of the workforce, (ie, replacing humans with MACHINES) which could threaten 953 jobs – 200 of which concern Heathrow Express staff.

heathrow express All aboard for a 48 hour strike on the Heathrow Express

Heathrow Express are trying to resolve the dispute, but if RMT staff walk out, they reckon they have what it takes to deal with staff shortages and keep trains running. Trying to keep the panic out of his press release, Heathrow Express MD Keith Greenfield said:

‘A strike is not the answer. It will increase costs when we are trying to reduce them, taking us further away from what we need to do to secure our business for the future. However… we have a robust contingency plan that will enable us to run regular trains for as long as any industrial action lasts.’

Meanwhile, the RMT have confirmed a five day tube strike, starting on April 28th until April 30th, then again between May 5th and May 8th.

So if you’re Heathrow bound, you could take the risk that the trains are running. Or you might want to reconsider your plans, or bring a sturdy pair walking boots. Or a skateboard. Or a jetpack. Or just stay in bed until the middle of May – which would be easier.

Michael O Leary Ry 1208663i 300x276 Finally, a professor works out the Ryanair websiteThe mysterious algorithms that govern the Ryanair website have long baffled scholars, scientists and people trying to book a holiday. Not even Alan Turing could have cracked it.

But now, a new hero has emerged who can help us save money on our cheapo flights. His name is Claudio Piga, an economics professor from Keele University, and he’s devoted his life (well, some of it, anyway) to working out what the **** is going on with Ryanair’s ever changing prices.

Once it was thought that if there was an Easterly wind, you could get a return to Barcelona El Prat for £32.99. But if it blew from the West, they were £89.99. However, Piga has found an actual pattern, and has discovered that tickets are cheaper exactly TEN DAYS before your journey.

He also said that fares were bumped up by a shocking 50-75% in the last few days before departure, making last minute ‘bargains’ an impossibility. Planning ahead is a waste of time, too. If you book seven weeks in advance, you’ll pay more.

Of course Ryanair know that you might either want to book your holiday in good time, or do it on a whim at the last minute. But nobody has ever bothered to work out that low cost airline prices form ‘a U-shaped temporal profile.’ Until now.

Piga will present his findings – which are basically scientific proof that Ryanair are rip-off merchants – at the Royal Economic Society in Manchester this week. A Ryanair spokesman, of course, came out and said that the findings were ‘hopelessly inaccurate’ and that they sold tickets on a first come, first served basis.

Hmm. But who is more likely to be telling the truth? A learned professor of economics, or Michael O’Leary?

train The trains are going to get better, according to Network RailLong suffering train passengers, good news! Network Rail have announced a 5 year investment plan which means you’ll get more trains, more seats, less congestion and bigger, nicer train stations. What do you mean you’ll believe it when you see it?

Network Rail will be spending a whopping £38bn on rail infrastructure, which also includes new tracks and an upgrade of existing lines. How they’ll manage to keep our trains on time while doing track work is another matter.

Obviously, this hasn’t come about out of the goodness of anyone’s heart. Network Rail are looking at a £70m fine for delays over the past few years.

In a statement, chief exec of Network Rail, Mark Carne, said: “Passenger numbers in recent years have grown far beyond even our own industry’s predictions, so it’s vital that this investment over the next five years helps meet the continuing increase in demand for rail travel.”

“Bigger, better stations, more tracks and longer platforms, electric-powered trains, reopened railway lines and fewer level crossings – all will help deliver more frequent, more comfortable, more reliable journeys and a safer, better-value railway for everyone.”

The plans show that there will be (up to) 700 more trains a day between major northern cities, a 20% increase in the capacity of London’s commuter trains, electrifying 850 miles of track, an east-west project which will connect Oxford and Milton Keynes and a facelift for Birmingham New Street and Manchester Victoria. £13bn has been put aside to sort out old tracks, points, platforms and fencing.

Carne also noted that Network Rail will be making provisions to make sure our trains can cope with extreme weather: “Over the next five years we will work tirelessly to improve the resilience of our railway, targeting investment in areas we know are vulnerable to nature’s impact and reducing the likelihood of damage and disruption.”

Thomas Cook cabin crew are NOT happy

March 28th, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

If you’ve booked a Thomas Cook holiday this summer, you might want to take out some extra travel insurance for potentially cancelled flights.
thomas cook strike Thomas Cook cabin crew are NOT happy

A row has broken out between the holiday firm and cabin crew on flights scheduled by Thomas Cook. Why? Because TC wants to reduce the number of cabin crew to the bare minimum to cut costs. Stewards are saying that they’re already pushed to breaking point as it is, opening small tins of Bloody Mary mix and yelling ‘CHICKEN OR FISH?’ into the lugholes of pissed up holidaymakers.

Their union, Unite, is holding a ballot proposing industrial action as a result, which could threaten flights with the holiday company this summer.

Cabin crew numbers vary depending on how many people are on board, with a plane of 235 passengers requiring 5 stewards. Thomas Cook want to operate their flights with one less. They say that from a safety point of view, it’s in line with Civil Aviation Authority rules. But Unite aren’t having any of it.

A union spokesman said: ‘Cabin crew at Thomas Cook are already exhausted and stressed out. Not only do they have a duty of care and do an incredibly important job to keep passengers safe but they are also expected to sell on-board products during flights. But now the company wants to cut crew levels even further which threatens to push the crew past breaking point.’

To avoid strike action, perhaps Thomas Cook could advise their customers not to repeatedly ask for gin and tonics, extra napkins and kosher meals, keep their tray tables up and their seatbelts on, and try not to lock themselves in the toilet during take off and landing?

You know what it’s like – you’re a train guard and you think ‘I know, I’ll just go to Sainsbury’s for a can of Rubicon and a bag of Mini Cheddars’ just as rush hour hits.

southeastern trains Rush hour passengers left stranded because guard went to the shops

That’s what one Southeastern Trains employee did yesterday, leaving passengers on the 19.53 to Hastings high and dry for an hour while he went on his break. Passengers were told over the tannoy that the reason for the delay was because ‘the guard could not be found.’

Soon afterwards, he was spotted in Sainsbury’s. He driver relayed that news to the passengers, who were understandably delighted. The delay caused the train to be cancelled and passengers had to be shunted onto another train.

When that train eventually left, it contained three train loads of delayed and harassed commuters who wanted to KILL HIM.

It’s the latest in a catalogue of disasters for Southeastern Trains, who came second from last in a recent Which! customer service poll. Furious customers have called them ‘a rip off’ and denounced them for their ‘poor service’.

Southeastern blabbed: ‘The shift timing was thrown out of place because of a knock-on effect of earlier delays, and we didn’t have a standby conductor available to work the train in his place.’

But Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings, took a dim view, and said: ‘It has been a very disappointing experience. Southeastern must up their game if they want to get their franchise renewed.’

DEATHWATCH?

Before you book your summer holiday, it might be a good idea to acquaint yourself with the latest online travel scams – of which there are many.

summer holiday 300x293 Were all going on a (non existent) holiday...

According to a new report from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, travel-related internet scams are diddling customers out of about £7 million a year, and last year there were 5000 reported cases of holiday fraud.

So what should we be looking out for? Well, fake ads for apartments and villas are very popular amongst Internet fraudsters. 3 out of 10 victims fell for imaginary accommodation advertised on Facebook, so before you get the credit card out, it’s a good idea to check that your dream destination actually exists, and isn’t just a stock photo of some random guy’s house in Tenerife.

21% of cases involve people falling for airline ticket fraud, where people pay for tickets in advance, with the promise of a booking, and the booking is never made. And because these ‘companies’ rely on paperless ticketing, fraud is rife – particularly on flights to Africa.

The solution? Check, check and double check. ABTA says you should do a thorough background check of any holiday company before you book, and read all customer reviews in case there are any grievances or evidence that other victims that have been scammed.

Anyway. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Ryanair promise €10 New York flights

February 27th, 2014 7 Comments By Mof Gimmers

ryanairvsign Ryanair promise €10 New York flightsRyanair’s CEO – the notorious Michael O’Leary – has announced plans to offer $10 flights from New York to Europe, just as soon “as he could get enough planes”.

The airline are also planning to offer €10 flights to Boston and New York and $10 return seats as Ryanair “would fly from 12-14 major European cities to 12-14 major US destinations and a full service would begin within six months of Ryanair getting the aircraft to do so.”

However, this won’t be happening for another “four to five years”, but O’Leary assured that the company had a business plan in place for these scandalously cheap transatlantic flights. They say that the only thing holding the flights up is that the Arab states are buying up the supply of aircraft needed.

O’Leary says: “We can make money on 99 cent fares in Europe – not every seat will be €10 of course, there will also need to be a very high number of business or premium seats.”

Of course, there’s a lot of things to be sceptical about, but if they pull this off and you don’t mind the inevitable faff that comes with travelling with Ryanair, this could be a seriously wonderful thing if you’ve never been able to afford to visit The States before.

Which! airport train service is the worst?

February 25th, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

Getting a train from the airport to a nearby city is usually an expensive business, but it’s over to everyone’s favourite consumer gods, Which! to tell us which one sucks the most.

gatwick express 300x300 Which! airport train service is the worst?

And the accolade for the crappiest airport train service goes to…THE GATWICK EXPRESS, which scored 60/100. Why? Because, as anyone who has ever been on it can testify, out of all the airport train services, it’s bad value for money at an always shocking £19.90 each way for a journey that lasts about half an hour. And they don’t even put on nice shiny trains.

The Heathrow and Stansted Express also scored low for value for money – but while the Stansted Express is a terrifying £23.40 each way, it scored higher marks for luggage space and comfort.

The best, easiest and cheapest London journey by far was the Docklands Light Railway from London City Airport. (And the DLR is also good because you can sit in the front seat and pretend to drive it.) But then, only business class types and golden gods can afford to fly from City airport.

Outside of London, regional airports scored highly for their train services, with the top spot occupied by Virgin Trains, whose cheap as chips and highly efficient rail service from Birmingham costs only £2.40.

Which! say that passengers need to complain more about the standard of train services from the big London airports, otherwise we’ll continue to be fleeced. Ricardo Lloyd spat:

‘There are unacceptably wide differences in the levels of customer satisfaction for airport trains, with many people especially unhappy about the high cost of some express services. Train companies must do more to listen to travellers’ views, which is why we’ve launched a campaign to Get Trains on Track, calling for a better response to complaints.’

Another Which! campaign. Don’t these people ever SLEEP?

Do you know how to apply for a rail refund?

February 21st, 2014 3 Comments By Lucy Sweet

Most of us have no idea what our rights are when it comes to applying for a refund after a cancelled or delayed train journey. Do we get compensation? Is it worth bothering to fill in a million forms only to be given a £5 voucher for your next soul-destroying adventure?

train 287x300 Do you know how to apply for a rail refund?

A report from the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) found that 75% of us know ‘not very much at all’ about the refund process or what compensation – if any – we’re entitled to. It also found that 74% of passengers felt that train companies do bugger all to provide information about compensation.

Passengers suggested a poster campaign and more prominently displayed information about compensation on websites, somewhat naively thinking that the rail companies might have our best interests at heart. At the moment, half of the 1000 passengers surveyed said they wouldn’t know where to find information on compensation even if they looked for it.

The ORR are now planning to develop a code of practice on clearer and more freely available information about rail compensation by the end of 2014, saying that passengers are ‘at the heart’ of the rail industry and are ‘crucial to its growth.’

Whether that will make rail companies treat us more like human beings rather than doomed pigs on the way to the abbatoir remains to be seen. But you never know – furious customers demanding compensation might be just the ticket to get trains running on time.

Which!!! have conducted their third annual train satisfaction survey and it is pretty obvious what the outcome is, considering that our train services are pretty lousy and, more pertinently, everyone loves moaning about trains.

The results showed that we have a very low level of satisfaction with most of the train companies. Which!!! came up with a score for each operator based on overall satisfaction and whether or not those polled would recommend it to a friend.

11 of the 19 companies looked at had a score of 50% or lower. Merseyrail trounced the opposition with a score of 70%, subsequently becoming the first train company to be a Which!!! Recommended Provider.

Here is a graphic containing the results.

2014 Magazine train satisfaction table best and worst 401x500 Which!!! announce that everyones not happy with the trains

They survey also found:

  • Nearly one in five (16%) of all passengers experienced a delay on their last journey (this rose to 26% for commuters)
  • One in five (21%) of commuters said they were likely to have stood on their last journey
  • One in ten (11%) said toilets were not in good working order – this rose to 20% for London Midland Trains, 19% for Southeastern and 17% on First Capital Connect
  • One in ten passengers (11%) told us they had cause to complain about the last journey they had taken, but three-quarters (75%) didn’t officially complain. Of those who did complain, more than half (55%) were dissatisfied with how it was handled.

Which!!! are now encouraging you lot to formally complain to train operators and share your findings with them on their website, so they can present their own findings to the train companies also.

Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, said: “It’s disappointing to see some train companies consistently falling down on the basics of customer service, with dirty and overcrowded carriages and toilets that don’t work. Seven rail franchises end in the next two years and we want to see passengers’ experiences put right at the heart of the tender process so companies respond to consumer expectations and can be held to account if they don’t.”

Have a look at the dedicated Which!!! site where you can gripe about trains by clicking here.

virgin glass 300x171 Virgin Atlantic staff: now probably filming you with Google GlassThe concierge staff for Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class are promising to upgrade the passenger experience at Heathrow by donning wearable technology – notably, Google Glass and a Sony Smartwatch 2.

This six-week pilot scheme promises that the technology will allow staff to “deliver the industry’s most high tech and personalised customer service yet”.

Staff will use a purpose-built dispatch app built by SITA and the Virgin Atlantic passenger service system, in a bid to make everything more efficient and give customers more information when needed, provided you find yourself in the Upper Class Wing.

Dave Bulman, director of IT, Virgin Atlantic, said: “Our wearable technology pilot with SITA makes us the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve the customer experience. We are upholding Virgin Atlantic’s long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience.”

It also seems like staff will be able to walk around filming customers with Glass too and that all that lovely information about who is flying could be used for marketing gains and whatnot. If you see one of these concierges, be sure to ask them if they’re recording you at all.

Soon we might not have to fill out loads of forms and go into a photo booth for a snapshot of us looking half dead, then pay 80 quid for the privilege of British passport.

stink ‘No need for a passport – we’ll just sniff your pits.’

No – in the future, a machine dubbed an ‘electronic bloodhound’ might be able to smell us to find out whether we are who we say we are.

Researchers in Madrid have been working on a new electronic sniffing identification system that at the moment is 85% accurate, which is a higher success rate than the current facial recognition software.

They explained: ‘There are recognizable patterns of each person’s body odor that remain steady. Therefore, every person has his/hers own odour and this would allow his/her identification within a group of people at an accurate rate higher than 85%.

This result leads the way to improve personal identification that is less aggressive than other biometric techniques being used today.’

The sniffer machine would be installed in airports, and would get a good noseful of us as we walked through. Some people smell of turnips and Lynx Africa, others smell of fry-ups and disappointment, and the machine should be able to ID them all.

And our unique whiff is apparently easier to match than our faces on a photo – which as anyone at the arse end of a 10 year passport will tell you, can be pretty unreliable.

The researchers got the idea by observing the techniques of police trained bloodhounds, who can identify and track down a person from a sample of their body odour.

But question is – how is the machine going to get our smell off us in the first place? Instead of passport photos are we going to have to send a sweaty hanky to Her Majesty’s Passport Office? Or do it through the Post Office’s new ‘Scratch, Sniff and Send’ service?

Could your laptop battery blow up a plane?

February 4th, 2014 4 Comments By Lucy Sweet

airplane Could your laptop battery blow up a plane? Well, it might sound a bit over the top, but the Civil Aviation Authority think that lithium batteries can pose a ’significant fire risk’ when taken on an aircraft.

What’s more, everyone from the nun in seat 7A to the girl who likes her coffee just like her men has got a laptop or a tablet with a potential explosive device inside it.

On the average flight there can be 500 lithium batteries on board –inside laptops, phones, or even watches. But it’s not official batteries bought from respectable sources that pose a risk – it’s cheap knock offs, from what the CAA call ‘questionable sources.’

The CAA are working with their US counterparts the Federal Aviation Authority to highlight the problem and make sure that cabin crew are trained in dealing with temperamental batteries on aircraft. A film is being made to alert (terrify) cabin crew and passengers to the risks, and as lithium batteries can melt, cause small fires, and fly 5 metres in the air if they explode, it’s probably a good idea.

There have been several incidents of smoking bags and exploding gadgets on American flights already, and although it’s very rare – so rare that there won’t be an actual ban on lithium batteries on planes – you should probably think twice about checking in that hooky PiePhone you bought off eBay.

After all, you wouldn’t want it to cause the grizzly deaths of hundreds of people at 30,000 feet, would you?

London buses: no longer accepting cash

February 3rd, 2014 22 Comments By Mof Gimmers

oyster swipe London buses: no longer accepting cashLondon bus drivers won’t be accepting cash fares from passengers as soon as this summer, according to Transport for London (TfL). This news comes on the back of only one third of people polled being supportive of the idea.

Soon, if you want to ride the bus, you will only be able to do so with an Oyster Card or with contactless debit or credit card payments. With other cities, like Manchester, moving toward similar systems to Oyster Cards, this could be rolling out across the country in the next couple of years.

The TfL say that only 1% of journeys are paid for with cash, so this isn’t going to affect many people and that it will provide millions in savings for the transport service.

Leon Daniels, managing director for TfL’s Surface Transport said: “The decision to stop accepting cash fares on London buses reflects the changing way that people pay for goods and services in our city, including journeys on the bus network.”

The great news for the people of London is that they will now be able to travel in complete silence and avoid talking to anyone at all from now on, which is something they seem to glumly revel in.

(Discounted) hotel rooms! Celebrate!

January 31st, 2014 3 Comments By Lucy Sweet

The Office of Fair Trading has managed to secure online hotel bookers a nice little deal, after 2 online travel agents agreed to offer discounts on room rates – following their investigation into competition practices. The deal involves Booking.com and Expedia, alongside Intercontinental Hotels.

hotel 300x300 (Discounted) hotel rooms! Celebrate!

However, there are 2 things you need to know first before you dive in and book that dirty weekend in Paris. First you need to have signed up to booking.com and Expedia, (or Intercontinental Hotels) and you will need to have booked one UNDISCOUNTED hotel room before you can be part of the scheme.

After that, you will be eligible for discounts. Hurray!

The move comes after the OFT investigated Expedia and Booking.com for entering into separate deals with Intercontinental Hotels, which restricted their ability to discount room only rates.

Said Ann Pope from the OFT: ‘The travel industry, fuelled by the internet, has seen significant changes in recent years, and we want to ensure those changes continue to work in consumers’ interests.
That is why we are pleased to have secured this outcome which, by allowing online travel agents and hotels to offer discounts, which should increase competition and mean travellers across Europe can benefit from reductions on hotel accommodation throughout the UK.’

Yeah, yeah, whatever. We can’t hear you over the sound of going on holiday.