In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
Delta-Virgin Atlantic deal: Few immediate changes for fliers
Delta Air Lines is buying a stake in London-based Virgin Atlantic, the airline founded and majority-owned by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson.
The 49% stake — the maximum that can be owned by non-EU entities under British law — currently is owned by Singapore Airlines (SIA). The deal still must be approved by both U.S. and EU regulators.
For customers, however, the deal (if approved) will have little immediate impact. Branson will continue to own a majority 51% stake in Virgin Atlantic, and each airline will continue to operate separately under their own brands, just as Virgin Atlantic and SIA currently do. British laws preclude Delta from taking a controlling stake in Virgin Atlantic.
The deal would allow Delta to implement broad passenger-sharing agreements with Virgin Atlantic. Frequent-fliers also would get reciprocal mileage benefits on either carrier, something that could take effect as early as next year.
Perhaps more significantly, Delta and Virgin Atlantic will apply for antitrust immunity on trans-Atlantic routes, a move that, if approved, could dramatically expand Delta’s presence at London Heathrow by allowing it to coordinate and cooperate with Virgin Atlantic on London flight schedules.
American Airlines and British Airways have a similar “joint venture” that provides them antitrust immunity on trans-Atlantic flights, allowing the carriers to cooperate on sales and scheduling on flights between London and the USA.
Capacity-controlled London Heathrow is one of the most difficult airports in the world for airlines to expand in. “Slots,” or takeoff and landing rights at the airport, are among the most coveted on the planet and only infrequently become available. When they do, they often fetch a high price from carriers wishing to add Heathrow flights.
With its Virgin Atlantic deal, though, Delta aims to expand its Heathrow presence by cooperating with Virgin Atlantic via flight schedules and passenger-sharing “codeshare” deals, something Delta CEO Richard Anderson alluded to as a “seamless network” between the two carriers.
Air rage on the rise in China
As airlines launch more domestic services in the country – with 70 per cent more flights operating today than in 2003 and 270 million passengers flying domestic routes last year – delays are expected to become more common due to airspace being crowded.
The way passengers deal with delays is less common however. One reaction to a hold-up at Shanghai’s main international airport this year caused a further 16-hour delay in itself, when 20 angry passengers invaded the runway and came within 200 metres of an oncoming plane from the United Arab Emirates.
In another example, reported by the news agency Reuters, two passengers pulled open an emergency exit door on their plane after being refused compensation for a delay. This action too resulted in a further disruption to the service.
In October, a mob of passengers held an Australian pilot hostage for six hours when their flight was diverted from Beijing to Shanghai because of bad weather.
They surrounded a Jetstar crew in a section of the arrivals area and refused to let them leave, fearing they would be left to find their own way home from Shanghai, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“In the past, only ‘first class’ people had the privilege to travel by plane so the average Chinese has very high expectations for services,” Li Yuliang, an independent civil aviation commentator told Reuters. “But when they actually fly, they find the services are not as good, especially when there is a delay, and these disappointed passengers make a lot of trouble.”
Avalanche safety: Winter’s hidden depths
An avalanche safety course will teach you how to deal with the dangers of off-piste skiing, as Kate Pettifer discovers in the Austrian Alps.
“You can hear everything going on around you, but you cannot move and no one can hear you.” A tall, bespectacled Austrian mountain guide, Stefan Rössler, is describing what it’s like to be trapped inside an avalanche, to a classroom full of students. As a teenager, Stefan was buried in an avalanche and rescued by his father. He is a walking, talking testament to the importance of knowing about mountain safety, and the perfect man to lead our two-day Snow and Avalanche Awareness Camp (Saac).
The risks are very real: in the past week skiers have been rescued from avalanches in Tignes in France and the Swiss resort of Verbier. Heavy recent snowfall means that avalanche warnings are in place throughout the Alps.
Around 30 weekend Saac courses are run in mountain resorts across the Austrian Tirol throughout the winter season. Places are open to anyone who wants to learn how to reduce their chances of triggering, or being caught in, an avalanche. My friends and I have come to Kühtai – a high valley in the Stübai Alps, 45 minutes from Innsbruck airport – to experience one of the first courses to be run in English rather than German. This season, there is a course in English the first weekend in February, to be held in the resort of Füssener Jöchle Grän (alternatively, English-speaking instructors can be booked to help you follow the courses that are run in German).
Sponsored in part by the Tirol tourist board, plus companies such as BMW, Vaude and K2, the courses are free: “The fewer the number of people who die in avalanches in the Tirol, the better it is for everyone – including the tourist industry,” says Irene Walser, of Saac. But the desire to educate free-riders goes deeper than that: Saac founders Flow Daniaux (a snowboarder) and Klaus Kranebitter (a mountain guide) organised the first camp in Innsbruck as a one-off, 13 winters ago, in part to redress snowboarding’s reputation as a reckless sport with irresponsible riders. To achieve their goal, they needed to target cash-strapped young snowboarders. With the help of international pro riders from the Burton/Red team, they rolled out the free camps across the region, not only engaging with young snowboarders but making avalanche awareness “cool” in the process.
Life – and death – in the skies
The vast majority of flights will pass uneventfully. But for some, what happens in the skies will stay with them forever.
While uncommon, some passengers have witnessed death – and birth – in the skies, revealing all in a survey by Wego.com.
The most common reports of deaths on planes were due to heart attacks – including a newlywed who suffered a heart attack at the same time the entire crew were battling a stomach bug, leaving another passenger to administer oxygen for five hours.
Another traveller said she was so devastated at watching a woman in front of her pass away on a plane that she had to postpone her honeymoon for six years until she recovered from the shock.
Meanwhile, a family experienced a surprise when they received their grandmother’s postcards detailing her travels after she had passed away on her flight home.
Singapore Airlines is reportedly the only airline to have a “corpse cupboard” on board its A340-500 aircraft. Most airlines would instead move a deceased person to a spare row of seats, covered by a blanket.
But at the other end of the cycle of life, mid-air births are much more common.
Airlines have varying regulations for flying at different stages of pregnancy, but some babies just can’t wait for touchdown before they greet the world.
One passenger told Wego her flight from Darwin to Sydney had to be diverted when a woman went into labour, and another saw the miracle of life take place in an aisle.