In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Please exit the plane by the forward forklift
Passengers on a Qantas jet have been evacuated using a cage and forklift after an emergency landing at a tiny rural airport.
The Boeing 767 carrying more than 160 passengers was flying from Darwin to Brisbane when the crew smelt fumes.
The plane made the forced landing at the remote mining town of Mount Isa and had to use the forklift because there were no stairs that would fit.
“A two-tonne forklift and a cage – five passengers at a time,” passenger Carl Hannin told the ABC of the evacuation.
“I must say though the ground crew have done a terrific job to organise it so quickly.
“I think we sat there for an hour and then they realised they didn’t have air stairs that would fit the aircraft, so they improvised with a fork lift.”
New website lets hotels bid for your business
A new hotel-booking site, BackBid, turns hotel shopping on its head: As a potential guest, you become the pursued rather than the pursuer.
Taking a lot of the hassle out of online searching and comparing of hotel rates, Montreal-based BackBid lets you post an existing hotel reservation made on another hotel or online travel agency website, then sit back as competing hotels bid for your business.
Unlike “opaque” discounting sites such as Priceline and Hotwire, with BackBid you know the identities of the hotels upfront.
BackBid, which operates in 16 U.S. markets, launched in beta in November. Here’s how it works: You create a free profile and can include your rewards programs and AAA membership, as well as your preferred amenities, such as valet parking, Wi-Fi and hotel spa.
You then enter information about a hotel reservation you’ve made elsewhere, including check-in and checkout dates, your confirmation number and where you booked the property. Finally, you e-mail the reservation to email@example.com.
I did this one evening for upcoming stays at the Holiday Inn Chicago-Midway Airport, Hotel Vintage Park in Seattle and the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.
By dawn the next morning, I’d received e-mail notifications from BackBid indicating there were seven bids from Chicago hotels, ranging from the Hyatt Regency Chicago to the Embassy Suites Chicago Downtown to the Dana Hotel & Spa.
Among the seven hotels trying to woo me: the Holiday Inn Chicago-Midway Airport, the original hotel that I had reserved on HolidayInn.com. The hotel was offering me a $120 rate instead of the $159 I had reserved.
Tourism gold? Olympics set to lose Britain billions
Organisers accused of scaring off visitors by creating damaging spike in hotel rates.
Unwanted hotel rooms needlessly reserved for dignitaries by Olympic organisers will be a key factor in a tourism slump set to cost Britain billions this summer, top travel industry figures have warned.
The organising committee for the London 2012 Games, Locog, revealed yesterday that it had over-estimated by a quarter the number of rooms needed by officials, media and sponsors. It has now handed back 120,000 of the total 600,000 nights booked for the sporting event.
The large-scale reservation of rooms in early preparation for the Games has caused increased prices across the capital and has put many regular tourists off visiting this summer.
Tour operators warned last night that a sudden flood of vacant rooms would be too late to boost visitor numbers. Analysis for The Independent suggests up to one million beds will now go unsold over the Olympic period, hitting hoteliers and others working in the tourism industry. One trade association estimated income could slump by up to £3.5bn during July and August.
Premium Tours, a leading sightseeing operator based in London, expects business to decline by one-third this year. Neil Wootton, the managing director, said: “Prices have been so high that tourists are moving elsewhere. Overseas wholesalers who traditionally push London have switched to other cities this year. If the Parisian and Italian hoteliers do their job then the tours may never return to London.”
On the Spot: Airline seating
Question: Why won’t some airlines allow me to select my seat in advance?
Answer: Money and power.
That’s the answer to lots of questions, including this one, which I’ve received several times of late in various forms.
If you’re traveling steerage on some airlines, you often can’t select your seat more than 24 hours in advance without paying to do so. That gives the airline an opportunity to prey upon your worst-case-scenario fears. (Mine is being stuck in a nonreclining middle seat near the restroom on an 11-hour flight from Honolulu to Sydney. I would rather have a root canal — without Novocain — than ever do that again.)
If you want to ensure that you’re not going to be a captive audience, so to speak, you’ll fork over additional cash to get the seat you want. This is, said Jami Counter, a senior director of SeatGuru, “one more revenue stream,” adding, “Customers will pay for what they deem ‘value,'” said Counter, whose company helps you select the best seat by providing “maps” to hundreds of aircraft. (By way of example, if you’re on anAmerican Airlines 737-800 to Austin, Texas, you might want to reconsider all the seats in rows 26, 27 and 28; SeatGuru says they have “some drawbacks.”)
Some smaller carriers hold seats for their best customers, a perk in this day of increasingly perkless travel. This sometimes means the “elite” customer who has a zillion frequent-flier miles. If it’s a really small carrier, the “elite” customer sometimes means friends, family or airline execs, which isn’t a bad idea for interpersonal relationships or job security but not so good for the customer. But that’s not what this is about.