Valentines cruise reunites couple with the ship they met on 26 years ago

Looking to relive some of their fondest memories, Vanessa and Cliff Ellams will celebrate their 25th Wedding Anniversary on board Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) cruise ship, Astor, this year.

While it may not seem unusual to celebrate such an anniversary on board a cruise ship, in Vanessa and Cliff’s case things are ‘just a little different’, the British cruise line, CMV, says in its release.

On February 2, 1987, Cliff and Vanessa met for the first time on the day that the Astor set off on its maiden voyage around the world, departing from Southampton. Cliff was the chief engineer on board and Vanessa was a nurse.

Their first chance meetings were far from romantic. Cliff first saw Vanessa in the engineer’s accommodation giving out condoms to engineers preparing to go ashore. The second meeting was in the corridor to the Nurses accommodation, where Cliff was talking to the first engineer as he tried to clear a blockage in the toilet’s vacuum system.

Destiny, and their responsibilities on board, brought them together again. Vanessa’s many duties included checking potable water was safe to drink and to satisfy Port Health Authorities. Then, some few months after working together, the chef de cuisine arranged for the couple to join a group of the crew to go ashore for dinner in Istanbul, but it turned out to be just the two of them, with the chef playing cupid.

The success of that first dinner date led to them going ashore together again in Venice. They both regarded their meeting on board as a ‘shipboard romance’, but by the time, they were preparing to leave the ship they had decided to stay together and were married 25 years ago, in 1989.

One of Vanessa’s most wonderful memories comes from the night when Cliff invited her to walk on the Astor decks with him. It was a lovely night with stars hanging close to the sea and the moon shimmering on the glass-like ocean. To her surprise, Cliff then took out a notebook and pen and asked Vanessa, who was anticipating a romantic stroll, to count the number of bulbs for a fresh order; he was checking lights that needed replacement on board.

Even so, the couple enjoyed life on board and made many friends around the world, two of whom are godparents to their two boys, John (23 yrs) and George (21 yrs).

Cliff and Vanessa are now looking forward to cruising on the Astor once more and reliving some fond memories. Their favourite public areas are the Hanse Bar on Bridge Deck and the Ubersee Club on the Boat Deck.

‘Astor was such a friendly ship, because of its relatively small size. You can get to know everyone and go to places where other ships are too large to enter,’ they told CMV.

Birmingham Airport registers significant rise in traffic, Flybe plans Birmingham expansion

Birmingham Airport in the UK has reported a 10.6 percent passenger increase for January, compared to a year ago, as holidaymakers took the opportunity to escape the wet and windy January weather for sunny shores.

This is the first time that the airport has experienced double digit growth since December 2005. In total, 549,489 travellers passed through the airport in January, and long-haul traffic saw a major rise of 23.8 percent compared to January 2013.

Several of the scheduled short-haul services registered significant growth; Chambery at 233.6 percent, Fuerteventura at 175.6 percent, Waterford at 127.9 percent, Arrecife at 123.2 percent, Madeira at 113.3 percent, Stuttgart at 106.9 percent, and Milan at 73.8 percent.

The charter flights that experienced double digit growth in January were Barbados (55.1 percent) and Mexico (17.9 percent).

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport’s chief executive, said: ‘These January figures show that more and more people are realising the benefits of using Birmingham as an alternative to other airports to fly for business and leisure.

‘This is a great start to 2014 and we look forward to offering even more choice this year as several new routes are launched and extra capacity is made available on key routes.’

The split between scheduled and charter flights in January was 88.6 percent scheduled and 11.4 percent charter.

The report comes as Flybe, a UK-based regional airline, unveiled a major expansion of its operations at Birmingham Airport with the announcement of ‘Magnificent Seven’ new routes and an extra three jet aircraft, with over 1.7 million seats on sale for the summer.

The seven new routes includes a six times weekly service to Florence, a new destination for the airport; daily flights to Cologne; a six times a week service to Toulouse; a five times a week service to Alicante and four times a week to Bordeaux, Palma Mallorca and Porto.

To support the ‘Magnificent Seven’ routes, Flybe is also bringing three of its Embraer 175 jets to the airport, thereby creating its biggest ever regional base with 12 aircraft, as well as creating more than 50 new Flybe jobs.

easyJet launches new Luton – Venice service

easyJet, a UK-based airline and the largest operator at London Luton Airport, has launched the inaugural flight of its services to Venice from Luton on Thursday, February 13.

To mark the occasion, the aircraft was flanked by giant Venetian masks in commemoration of the city’s famous ‘Carnivale’ and masquerade balls. Gavin Shuker, member of parliament for Luton South, joined the celebration as an honorary cabin crew member to welcome passengers aboard.

Launched just in time for Valentine’s Day, the new flights to the romantic city of Venice make it easyJet’s fifth Italian destination from London Luton Airport, along with Catania, Milan, Olbia and Pisa.

Sophie Dekkers, easyJet’s UK market director, said: ‘We’re thrilled to be launching our new services to Venice, easyJet’s 39th destination from London Luton Airport. easyJet flies over 4.5 million passengers in and out of Luton each year and we’re pleased to be expanding the choice and variety of our destinations from the airport.

‘This uniquely beautiful city offers something for everyone and we’re sure our easy and affordable services will be very popular.’

MP, Gavin Shuker, said: ‘It’s been great to join easyJet’s crew and passengers and celebrate the launch of the new Venice flights. easyJet and London Luton Airport are two of Luton and the region’s largest employers and it was fantastic to see this in action today.’

Annually, over 50,000 passengers are expected to use the new services between London Luton and Venice, which depart each Monday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Fares are available from GBP31.83 one way, including taxes.

Ryanair adds extra flights for Cheltenham festival, Easter

Ryanair has announced record Cheltenham 2014 bookings, with over 14,000 Irish racing fans set to fly to the UK’s premier jump racing festival in March.

The Irish budget airline is the official airline of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival. It has added over 50 extra flights to Birmingham, Bristol and East Midlands airports during the four-day festival, beginning on March 11, with the highlight being the £275,000 Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday, March 13, one of the most valuable races at Cheltenham 2014.

Ryanair’s Robin Kiely said: ‘Ryanair is under starter’s orders with only one month to go until the 2014 Cheltenham National Hunt Festival and it’s shaping up to be a classic.

Ryanair’s low fares, best customer service and biggest route network in Europe prove you’ll never beat the Irish – and we’ll be hoping for more Irish winners at Cheltenham this year, in particular at the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday, 13th March, which we’re sure will be another festival highlight.’

Also, to meet the increased demand during Easter, Ryanair has added extra flights on four Cork routes to Lanzarote, Liverpool, Palma and Tenerife, along with extra flights on four Dublin routes to Kaunas, Lanzarote, Malaga and Tenerife.

Ryanair’s Maria Macken said: ‘Ryanair is pleased to announce extra Easter flights from both Cork and Dublin airports, following strong demand for Ryanair’s low fares this April and May.

To celebrate our extra Easter flights from Cork and Dublin, we are releasing 100,000 seats on sale at fares from just €19.99 for travel in March and April, which are available for booking until midnight Thursday (13 Feb). Since these low prices will be snapped up quickly, we urge passengers to book them now on www.ryanair.com.’

To celebrate Cheltenham, Ryanair will be giving away tickets and flights on its Twitter account, @Ryanair, in the build-up to the festival. Racing fans may also book their seats for Cheltenham on the www.ryanair.com website.

London Gatwick celebrates £40 million retail transformation

An additional ten new and refreshed retail stores have now opened at London Gatwick to complete the transformation of the shopping experience at South Terminal departure lounge, the airport said.

The new stores, Superdry, Fat Face, Snow+Rock, Ted Baker, Zara, Best of the Best, London News, Mango, Joules and Victoria’s Secret, have been selected based on passenger feedback, for a more premium offering of both national and international brands. A survey by the airport revealed that 56 percent of passengers wanted more high street and international brands, 38 percent wanted a premium department store and 22 percent wanted more designer brands.

Shoppers will now also be able to enjoy a 4,500 sq. ft. Zara outlet, the largest UK airport store to date, a 1,000 sq. ft. Ted Baker store and another airport first, a 1,000 sq. ft. Snow+Rock, offering a wide range of footwear, accessories and clothing.

Spencer Sheen, head of retail at London Gatwick said: ‘We are very proud of the completion of the South Terminal International Departure Lounge, which takes airport shopping and the passenger experience to a whole new level.

Our new retail space not only demonstrates our forward thinking but also our desire to deliver on what our passengers ask for, be it a luxury department store or a high-street favourite. And the results we have seen so far speak for themselves as more than 80% of our passengers have rated as ‘excellent’ and ‘good’ the selection of retail outlets available at the airport3.’

These new openings mark the final phase of an extensive GBP40 million South Terminal departure lounge project that is intended to deliver a state-of-the-art retail journey for passengers.

The first phase, completed in August 2013, saw the opening of eleven new and refreshed stores including two airport firsts, Aspinal of London and Ernest Jones, and a 6,500 square foot flagship Harrods store, focusing on fashion and accessories.

The range of brands and products now available in the South Terminal ensures the shopping experience provided at London Gatwick truly reflects passenger needs, the airport said.

Cardiff Airport adds extra flights to winter 2014 schedule

Cardiff Airport has added extra flights to Barbados and Jamaica, as well as a special flight to visit the Northern Lights, offering holiday makers in Wales more options for their winter 2014 breaks.

Following huge demand on the existing flights, two more chartered flights have been added from Cardiff to the P&O Cruises Winter 2014 Caribbean fly-cruise schedule.

The new flights depart from Cardiff for 14 nights on December 6th and February 28th. After joining the cruise ships in Barbados passengers will visit Grenada, St Lucia, Dominica, St Kitts, St Maarten, Tortola, Curacao and Bonaire, before catching their direct flight home to Cardiff. Prices begin at £1,399.

Additionally, holiday makers will be able to join Thomson Cruises’ platinum ship, Thomson Dream, in its new home port of Montego Bay in Jamaica, directly from Cardiff. Thomson’s Winter 2014/2015 schedule offers a selection of itineraries in destinations including Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica. The 14-night Thomson cruises begin at £1,619 per person, based on two adults sharing. The first flight from Cardiff departs on December 23rd.

The Northern Lights flight departs from Cardiff on November 19th and costs GBP199.95 per person. From the plane’s vantage point above the clouds and north of the Shetland Isles, passengers will be hoping to witness the light show, which could range from a gentle glow to dramatic curtaining effects, and is one of nature’s most sought after wonders.

Jon Horne, Cardiff Airport’s chief executive, said: ‘One of our priorities is to ensure we’re offering our customers a wide variety of destinations so we’re pleased to add these very different options to those available direct from Cardiff. Our aim is to cater for everyone, whether your preferred holiday is a fortnight away in the sun or an adventure in search of something as exciting as the Northern Lights.’

Gatwick Airport plans to create integrated customer management system

Gatwick Airport has announced plans to create a management system for passengers travelling through the airport, Computer World has reported online, citing an online tender.

The move is intended to better understand customer behaviour and identify new opportunities for growth.

According to the online tender, the airport is looking for a supplier to provide data management services that support the ‘application of value-adding customer insight strategies’. The contract will be effective for a minimum of three years, and suppliers interested in participating in the tender process have until March 10 to submit their information.

‘Gatwick Airport is seeking to better understand its customers and use insight from passenger data to identify opportunities for growth,’ the tender notice said.

‘The purpose of this project is to begin the process of creating a single source of customer data by creating a membership management system for a new passenger engagement programme,’ it added.

Gatwick Airport, the UK’s second largest hub, has been focusing on IT investment in recent months, particularly on cloud-based systems. Gatwick said that it would be the first airport to move its central operational database to cloud as part of wider plans to consolidate its data centre estate.

In addition, it has also given its 2,500 employees access to Box, a cloud-based collaboration tool, in a bid to strengthen employee productivity.

In January, the airport updated its biometric-based automated passenger verification system with additional functionality. The new technology, from UK-based Human Recognition Systems, is claimed to enable the airport to make informed gate control and alert decisions based on accurate passenger movement information, ensuring operational efficiencies.

Gatwick Airport served 2.2 million passengers in January, an increase of 6.6 percent compared with 2.09 million passengers served during the corresponding period in 2013.

Virgin Atlantic set to commence Google Glass pilot scheme

As part of its efforts to improve customer service, Virgin Atlantic is set to launch a Google Glass and wearable technology pilot among its Upper Class staff, according to a report by The Telegraph.

In an industry first, concierge staff in the airline’s Upper Class Wing, which serves business class passengers, will be using Google Glass and other wearable technology to start the check-in process. The pilot scheme is expected to run for six weeks.

Google Glass is intended to help staff to update passengers on their latest flight information, weather and local events at their destination, and translate any foreign language information. The new technology is also intended to advise airline staff of their passengers’ dietary and refreshment preferences in the future.

Dave Bulman, director of IT, Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘While it’s fantastic that more people can now fly than ever before, the fact that air travel has become so accessible has led to some of the sheen being lost for many passengers.

‘By being the first in the industry to test how Google Glass and other wearable technology can improve customer experience, we are upholding Virgin Atlantic’s long tradition of shaking things up and putting innovation at the heart of the flying experience.’

The company will also test iBeacon with its Upper Class passengers at Heathrow. This is a new, low-powered Bluetooth transmitter that will update iOS users with regard to nearby services, discounts and updates on their flight boarding schedules.

Virgin Atlantic has previously introduced a number of technological innovations, becoming the first airline to allow mobile connectivity and SMS texting on board in 2011. 3G is now available on all 10 of Virgin Atlantic’s A330 aircraft, and Wi-Fi is currently being trialled on three of these. All 16 of Virgin Atlantic’s 787s will have the latest 4G technology available on board, the report noted.

The company was also among first airlines to offer individual TVs to its business class passengers in the late 1980s.

Thomson Cruises offers new shore excursions for summer

Thomson Cruises has launched the sale of its new summer 2014 Shore Excursion programme.

This summer season will see the launch of several new tours, including the chauffeur-driven Tuk Tuk Amsterdam Adventure through Holland’s cosmopolitan capital.

The Summer Dog Sledding on Wheels fly-by tour in Longyearbyen, Norway offers guests the chance to be pulled through the Arctic Tundra by a pack of huskies. For eco-tourists, the Eden Project offers a walking tour of the largest domed greenhouse in the world, located in the heart of Cornish mining country.

The cruise line will also be re-visiting Italy this summer, offering guests the ‘Rome All in One Day’ excursion, taking in the most famous city landmarks, including the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, and the Colosseum. The ‘Athens and the Acropolis’ tour remains on the Thomson Celebration programme, showcasing the city’s historical sites. From Norway, Thomson Spirit cruisers on an ex-UK itinerary can again choose a trip skywards on the Flam Railway Adventure, one of the most spectacular train journeys in the world.

In addition to the usual favourites, Thomson Cruises says that it is looking to offer something different, from Sea-trek R.I.B Adventures in Stornoway and riding Segways in Rome, to Touring Riga by a Retro Tram and relaxing boat rides to the Isle of Mozia and Marsala from Trapani, Sicily.

Helen Caron, managing director of Thomson Cruises, said, ‘As with all of our excursions, we’ve hand-picked some new additions to the summer 2014 programme, which we’re confident our customers will enjoy. Our excursions are very popular and often sell out, so allowing customers to plan ahead and book their excursions before they’ve even left home ensures they get to experience everything on their ‘must-see’ list for their cruise.’

Customers can now browse and book excursions online, with advance bookings offering savings on the on-board price. They can also amend excursion bookings up to 24 hours before the tour departs, offering extra flexibility.

The re-launch of the Thomson and First Choice websites has resulted in record visits in January, over 17.9 million visits were made to the new websites, and 50 percent of all bookings were made online, the holiday company said.

Brits choose less traditional romantic destinations for Valentine’s getaway

Gatwick Airport passengers have selected less traditional romantic locations for a Valentine’s break, with destinations like Barcelona, Tenerife and Dublin leading the list of the top ten favourites for this year, the airport said in a release.

Passenger numbers for Barcelona have grown by 42 percent since last year, as couples seek romantic mini-breaks in sunnier climes away from wet and windy Britain. The airport is expecting around 450,000 passengers to pass through its two terminals between February 13 and 17.

Additionally, parts of the British Isles remain popular with lovers as they choose to getaway to the Celtic cities of Dublin, Belfast and Edinburgh.

Nick Henderson, terminal operations, Gatwick Airport, said: ‘Barcelona is definitely the hot destination for star-crossed lovers this year. Couples are certainly taking the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the sun over the Valentine’s weekend and with Gatwick serving more destinations than any other UK airport, it is proving a great starting point for any romantic weekend away.’

The top ten popular destinations, selected by Gatwick passengers, in order are Geneva, Barcelona, Dublin, Tenerife, Amsterdam, Belfast, Dubai, Edinburgh, Malaga and Copenhagen.

For an extra special Valentine’s getaway experience, London Gatwick Airport is also organising Valentine’s music and entertainment in the departure lounges of the North and South terminals, from classical guitarists and the band ‘The Valentines’, to a dressed up King and Queen of hearts. Gatwick staff will also be handing out chocolate treats to passengers.

For those wishing to wine and dine, Gatwick offers a range of options to choose from, including the Caviar House and Prunier Seafood Bar, or Jamie’s Italian and Union Jack’s for a special treat before the travel. Stress-free shopping is also on offer with Gatwick’s Shop Fly Collect service allowing passengers to leave their purchases at the airport free of charge and collect them on their return.

Travellers can also pre-book lounges, including the No.1 Traveller Lounge, where they can relax with complimentary food and drink, free Wi-Fi, a games room, spa and mini cinema.