In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Heathrow airport passes 70m passenger milestone
UK’s busiest airport sees 70 million passengers pass through its terminals in a 12-month period for the first time.
Britain’s biggest airport has hit a new milestone with more than 70 million passengers filing through in the space of 12 months – althoughHeathrow’s owner admits the increase in its record-breaking year is largely down to Easter.
While BAA has pointed to fuller planes and the airport’s “resilience”, the variation in the Christian calendar means that the Easter bulge in traffic has occurred twice in the last 12 months, this March and in April 2011.
The Easter factor generated almost 7% more passengers in March 2012 compared with the previous year, with 5.7 million people passing through Heathrow’s terminals last month. The load factor, or proportion of plane seats filled by passengers, was also up by 4.2% for the month, which BAA says continues an upward trend.
However, Heathrow rise underlines Stansted’s ongoing decline, with traffic down 4.7% from the previous year.
BAA’s chief executive, Colin Matthews, said: “Reaching 70 million passengers at Heathrow is a major milestone, demonstrating the resilience of the airport in an otherwise challenging economic environment.”
Matthews again attacked the “constraints” that BAA claims is hurting it and the British economy – an argument that appears to have been gaining traction in government recently, with George Osborne and others pledging to re-examine airport capacity in the south-east. He said: “Heathrow continues to operate at 99.2% capacity – placing constraints on airlines’ ability to introduce new flights to the emerging economies which are so vital to UK economic growth.”
Travelling responsibly in Burma
The political situation in Burma makes the question of tourism a difficult one.
Few people had high expectations when the old military regime handed power to a nominally civilian–led – but still military–backed – government in March of 2011. Yet recent developments have persuaded many that the new leadership, under the presidency of a former general, Thein Sein, is serious about reform. If you do decide to go to Burma, here are a few trips for travelling responsibly.
Why have travellers stayed away?
In the past, the Burmese opposition (the National League for Democracy, or NLD) has argued that a visit to Burma amounts to an endorsement of the regime and puts money in the government’s pockets. There’s evidence that some tourism developments have been built with forced labour, and that villages have been cleared to make way for high-end hotels. A drive to increase tourist numbers by the Burmese government in the 1990s was met with a boycott from many travellers, although some argued that this added to the isolation of ordinary Burmese people.
What are the reasons to go now?
The NLD’s Aung San Su Kyi now suggests that responsible travellers can help to change Burma. Other pro-boycott activists, including Burma Campaign UK, have also reversed their position on the issue in recent times. Burmese people invariably welcome visitors and, with a little thought, it’s possible to ensure much of the money you spend goes to the private sector rather than the government.
How can I maximise the amount of money that goes directly to local people?
All visitors to Burma have to pay a visa fee and a tax on purchases, which goes to the government. Some visitors choose to avoid government-run attractions – for a full list, download the free Should I Go to Burma? chapter from Lonely Planet. It can help to spread the money you spend across a range of smaller businesses where it’s less likely the regime is taking a cut. Be sure to make any charitable donations in person.
Small city charms in Guimarães, Europe’s Capital of Culture
I’m standing level with the sinking sun, amid the tallest turrets of the 1,000-year-old Guimarães Castle in northern Portugal. The sky darkens into inky blue-black and the city lights begin to glitter. The high peak offers the perfect vantage point from which to observe Guimarães. By day, the peaks and troughs of the city’s ancient granite rock formations are visible, for Guimarães is in a valley surrounded by hills: to the north is Senhora Hill and to the south lies Penha hill, where cable cars slowly glide between green mountains. By night, the lights of the luxurious pousadas and the fairy lights strung around windows and lamp posts shimmer in the lanes below.
Situated an hour’s drive from Portugal’s second city, Porto, and filled with medieval architecture, cobbled streets and about 50,000 inhabitants, Guimarães has been declared European Capital of Culture 2012, along with Maribor in Slovenia. I’m here to find out if this little-known city can really compete with former capitals of culture, such as Paris, Istanbul and Prague.
I arrive on an evening when the 10th anniversary of Guimarães’s inauguration as a Unesco World Heritage Site is being commemorated through enthusiastic communal celebrations. Hundreds of candles flicker in the darkness of Largo da Oliveira, a square in the historic quarter. Several legends are told about “miracles” that have taken place here, including a withered olive tree springing back to life. It’s a miracle, too, that hundreds of people have gathered in the square, despite the rain, for orchestra and choir performances.
An evening meal at the Historico by Papaboa restaurant (Rue de Valdonas, no 4), a short walk from the central plaza, is a perfect way to get a real flavour of Portugal. The seafood is wholesome and delicious; cream cod, or bacalhau com natas, is the local speciality. The crowd is young and its atmosphere lively; indeed, 50 per cent of the city’s inhabitants are under 30.
The 10 best airlines you’ve never flown
There aren’t many airlines nobody has flown — those don’t last very long. But quite a few aren’t well-known stateside, and others are known only in a small market. Here are our picks.
Home base and hubs: Primary hub Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Seattle; secondary hubs at Portland (Oregon),Los Angeles, and San Jose.
Market area: Blankets the West Coast, Alaska to Mexico, plus Hawaii and 16 important destinations in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
Alliances and partners: No alliances, but has partnerships with 15 lines, including Air France/KLM,American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Korean Air, LAN Airlines, Qantas, and several smaller lines.
What’s special: Bigger than you think: Alaska has outgrown its regional name and now resembles the late, lamented Western Airlines. It is the “smallest big line,” operating hub-and-spoke schedules, two classes, and a full-featured frequent-flyer program. It generally earns good marks in traveler surveys for both performance and cabin service.
Downside: Very poor frequent-flyer program for leisure travelers looking to escape the cattle car. Plus, mileage upgrades are limited to full-fare coach tickets, and scoring low-mileage-level first-class seats is virtually impossible.
Home base and hubs: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
Market area: Large Canadian cities from Thunder Bay to St John’s, plus six important business and vacation destinations in the eastern U.S.
Alliances and partners: None.
What’s special: Almost all Porter Airlines flights operate to, from, and through Toronto’s ultrafriendly, close-in lakefront airport on Toronto Island, just two miles from downtown. Also, its all-coach seating (34-inch pitch) and cabin service have earned it excellent marks in international traveler surveys, and it joins JetBlue Airways as the only North American lines with four-star Skytrax ratings.