Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 15.05.2012

In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel

‘Hello, I’m on a plane…’ Phones are cleared for take-off

The Independent

Virgin plans to be first British airline to allow mobile calls – just what you need at 35,000 feet.

The relative peace of transatlantic travel came a step closer to being shattered yesterday as Virgin Atlantic announced plans to permit calls on board flights. Its long-haul journeys across the Atlantic could soon be accompanied by the irritating sound of ringtones and passengers bellowing their whereabouts to a caller at 35,000 feet.

The carrier becomes the first British airline to offer the service, joining a growing number of commercial fleets that have trialled technology with varying success. It was first unveiled by Emirates in 2006.

Virgin passengers flying between London and New York on the airline’s new A330 Airbus will also be able to send and receive text messages, emails and have web access. However, only 10 people at a time will be able to use the facility because of the limited bandwidth. In-flight calls will also cost £1 a minute and texts 20p.

The service will not be permitted during take-off or landing and will also have to be switched off 250 miles before the aeroplane enters US airspace because of American laws.

Steve Griffiths, the chief operating officer at Virgin Atlantic, told the Daily Mail: “Many people will have experienced that moment when you’re about to take off on a 10-hour flight and you need to send an important message to the office, or even remind a family member to feed the cat.

“It’s also quite fun to call home and say ‘Guess where I am’ – not many people would think you’re travelling at 35,000ft above the Atlantic Ocean.”

Calls will eventually be allowed on Virgin’s fleet of Boeing 747s, which is having a £50m refurbishment. The company estimates that by the end of the year nearly 20 aircraft will provide the service.

In 2009, Ryanair became the first European airline to allow passengers to use mobiles in-flight, charging them £3 a minute. The service used a complicated satellite system and expensive receiver equipment rather than the traditional mobile network.

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Number of English beaches gaining Blue Flag awards rises

The Guardian

More beaches judged good for cleanliness, but tougher standards mean fewer are likely to make the grade next year.

The number of England’s beaches gaining Blue Flag awards for cleanliness has increased in 2012. But about 30% of the beaches might not reach tougher water quality standards being introduced next year, said Blue Flag scheme organisers Keep Britain Tidy.

For 2012, a total of 79 English beaches have received blue flag awards– nine more than in the previous year.

The total puts England in the world’s top 10 countries for having the most Blue Flag beaches, out of the 46 countries taking part in the scheme.

The area with the most Blue Flags in 2012 is Thanet in Kent, with nine, followed by Torbay in Devon with five and Cornwall, also with five.

New awards for 2012 included Herne Bay in Kent, Seaton Carew Centre in Tyne and Wear, and Bridlington North and Bridlington South in East Yorkshire.

Among the 2011 winners losing their Blue Flags this year are Southend on Sea in Essex, Southwold Pier in Suffolk and Woolacombe Sands in Devon.

In addition, 99 beaches have received Keep Britain Tidy’s Quality Coast Awards (QCA) – nine fewer than in 2011 – with the Isle of Wight beaches getting 11 awards.

A total of 36 beaches got Blue Flag and QCA awards.

Keep Britain Tidy said the tougher water quality standard being introduced in 2013 under the new EU Bathing Water Directive was estimated to be twice as stringent as the current Blue Flag water quality standards.

“We estimate that around 30% of current Blue Flag beaches might not reach the necessary standard,” said a spokesman for Keep Britain Tidy.

Also, in England, Blue Flag beaches will next year need to provide warnings to beach users when nearby combined sewer overflows discharge, if that discharge could temporarily affect the bathing water quality.

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Virgin Atlantic installs music studio for rock stars at Heathrow airport

The Telegraph

Virgin Atlantic has installed an industry standard recording studio in its swankiest airport lounge at London Heathrow.

Ever find yourself at the airport, humming a chart-worthy melody that you forget by the time you land, forgoing your chance of penning a sure-fire pop hit?

Such an experience may be a thing of the past for musicians flying from Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.

The carrier has installed an industry standard recording studio in its swankiest airport lounge, the Clubhouse, a space that already offers eyebrow tinting, hot stone therapy and retro video games.

Virgin claims its services from London to New York and Los Angeles are well-used by members of the entertainment industry, hence the idea to provide equipment for musicians to record tracks while they wait to board a flight.

A short scan through musical history throws up a number of famous songs that have been written while waiting for a train, bus or plane.

The studio forms part of the Clubhouse, the carrier’s £11m flagship lounge, which is designed to feel like a private members’ club. The compact suite offers the digital editing and mixing system Pro Tools, and allows users to email or upload the track directly to the record company, broadcaster or producer.

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Is Paramount movie studio getting into the hotel business?

USA Today

Bloomberg News reports that Viacom’s Paramount Pictures is lending its name to a group of hotel investors who hope to open Hollywood- and California-themed luxury hotels around the world.

No hotel has yet been signed.

“We will offer something unique,” Paramount Hotels & Resorts CEO Thomas Van Vliet told Bloomberg at the company’s Dubai headquarters. “In addition to luxury and services, our hotels will add Paramount entertainment and technology as well as elements of the California lifestyle.”

Echoing a trend that’s been spreading lately especially in the boutique hotel sector, Paramount hotels would each contain a mini-movie-theater, as well as as library of Paramount films.

Hotels with movie theaters of varying sizes include the Wit, a Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Chicago; the W Leicester Square and 45 Park Lane in London, and the Crosby Street Hotel in New York’s Soho neighborhood.

Paramount Hotels would operate the hotels, though not own them. The company hopes to open as many as 50 properties.

Chairman Ghassan Aridi signed a deal with Paramount for the licensing rights earlier this year, the story says.

Who owns Paramount Hotels? Bloomberg doesn’t name names, but says it’s “owned by a group of investors from the U.S., U.K., Russia and the Middle East.”

Don’t expect a Paramount Hotel to open in the USA anytime soon – if ever.

On the company’s radar screen, according to the article, are destinations far away from the Hollywood Hills: Brazil, the U.K., the Caribbean, Russia, Qatar, Oman, South Africa and Indonesia. Van Vliet says Paramount’s logo – the mountain and 22 stars – has been seen by about 5 billion people and is a powerful symbol.

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