Travel Editor Stephen Scourfield looks at another "topsy-turvy" week in travel, taking the good with the not-so-good
Pandemic and pounding rain — it’s been a horror combination for airlines and travellers. More than 200 flights into and out of Perth Airport have been cancelled since the start of the school holidays. And in the week to last Sunday, Virgin Australia was forced to cancel a staggering 14.7 per cent of domestic flights, with only 43 per cent on time. Qantas cancelled 6.7 per cent, with only 44 per cent on time. Having been through the biggest shutdown in its history, the aviation industry is now facing big demand (particularly during the school holidays, and particularly with people visiting friends and relatives) and staff shortages due to illness. As we go to press, it is estimated by the Australian Government that 314,000 people currently have coronavirus in Australia. If you haven’t got a full flight crew, you can’t fly — aviation laws are as simple as that. The situation has been compounded by extreme weather and heavy rain on the east coast, particularly in NSW. They are reportedly the main reasons for delays and cancellations.
By comparison, it is reported that Emirates will operate 24,000 flights to 129 airports during the busy July and August travel season. Dubai International Airport has reclaimed its position as world’s busiest, according to travel data provider OAG. Four million passengers are expected to pass through the airport during the month. An increase of 28 per cent in passenger flight seats this month is expected, compared with June. The second busiest is London Heathrow, followed by Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt International.
Another Middle East airline, Qatar, has been named World’s Best Airline by airlineratings.com.au, as you will see on page 5. Geoffrey Thomas, our aviation editor, and also editor-in-chief of Airline Ratings, is on his way to the Farnborough Airshow in England. He’ll be reporting from there next week in these pages. One of the world’s biggest aerospace events, the organisers say: “It is an unprecedented opportunity to reconnect, as businesses from across the globe come together to embark on groundbreaking collaboration and partnership”. The big change for 2022 is the absence of the weekend public days — it’s an industry-only affair, but with an emphasis on getting 16 to 25-year-olds along, to entice them into the aviation industry (which is short of staff, too). There will be exhibitors from more than 50 countries.
STOP THE FLOP
… which brings me to a new travel neck pillow — the J-Pillow. It’s more of a chin support than a pillow, and is designed to fill the gap between the head and shoulders and stop your head falling forwards. Buy online.
One travel agent tells me every day at the moment is full of “grenades”. While they are trying to help travellers with bookings, they are then bowled a bouncer from those already out and about. Flights are cancelled, rearrangements have to be made. One airline’s automated response to travel agents is “we will get back to you within 45 days” — which isn’t much help when you’ve got a client stuck somewhere. I understand there doesn’t appear to be a spare Qantas business class seat coming back from South America to Australia over the next month, which creates the need for a big work-around for anyone whose flight is delayed or cancelled. But the most distressing aspect for this travel agent is, I think, the anger, shouting and rudeness coming down the phone.
Noting our story on Qatar’s 10th anniversary of flying between Doha and Perth, reader Robert Ward writes: “What I would like to know is, now with the closure of the Qantas lounge in Terminal 1, why Qatar has not made other arrangements to provide lounge access for business and first-class passengers. I have tried to discuss this with Qatar, who I would have to say are totally unhelpful, with absolutely no success. They have not responded to any of my emails and when calling the ticket line, I am informed that they know nothing. I was at one point told that passengers can use the Aspire lounge as indicted on the One World website, but on further investigation it only lists Cathay Pacific as being eligible. Qatar is not offering any alternative nor any compensation and I find this totally unsatisfactory.”
I’m flying with Emirates to Nice next month, leading our Travel Club Tour on the rivers of southern France, in partnership with Viking, which brings me to an email from friend and former colleague at The West, Peter Jeanes. He was prompted by last week’s story by Steve McKenna, Hemingway in Paris. Peter says: “We followed the Hemingway trail with Paris Walks, which provides themed walks such as the French Revolution, nazi occupation and the history of Paris (paris-walks.com). Walkers meet outside a suitably located metro stop. We found all their tours low-key, educational and excellent. We picked up the Hemingway theme again in Pamplona where we stayed at his favourite, the Gran Hotel La Perla and went next door for a drink at Cafe Iruna where he used to hold court. There is a statue of him outside the bull ring”. Peter adds: “Pamplona, renowned for the running of the bulls, is perhaps surprisingly sophisticated”.
And, to go back to the start of this column, the world does indeed seem to have been rather turned on its head. But Tudor Ispas has turned that into a positive. Tudor is the architect at Brambura Adventure Park, in the foothills of the Fagaras Mountains, in Avrig, Romania. And Brambura has just added a new attraction — an upside down house. Even the smallest details have been turned on their head (right down, rather disturbingly, to the toilet). Tudor says: “The purpose is to lose the horizontal line, to lose all the points of stability and to get this sensation of dizziness, it’s incredible. When you are inside, you can feel it very good”.
By the time you read this, I'll have returned from Albany with colleagues Will Yeoman, Christine Sutherland and Chiara Veaudry for West Travel Club’s weekend on the south coast. Will and I were doing PhotoWalks with Phones and Saturday night was our Albany Maritime Festival Gala Dinner. Guest chef Costa Simatos cooked up a storm with local produce, and composer and musician Steve Richter provided musical accompaniment. It was nice to have brought our events to regional WA.