Grown-up Travel Guide News Update – 23.02.2012

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

Pilots admit they ‘nod off’ – and their hours are set to soar

The Independent

The lives of air passengers could be put at risk by tired pilots falling asleep or making an error as a result of new European rules increasing their working hours, MPs were warned yesterday.

The pilots’ union, Balpa, said that even under the present system, which limits the amount of time they can spend in the air after waking, nearly half of its members admitted nodding off in the cockpit.

Giving evidence to the Transport Select Committee, the union’s head of safety, Dr Rob Hunter, said the real figure was likely to be much higher because of under-reporting by pilots who were often unaware they’d been asleep.

Balpa is opposing the harmonisation of rules between Britain and the rest of Europe which it said could lead to some pilots working for up to 22 hours at a stretch. Current safety laws limit this period to 16 and a half hours.

The union said human error caused up to 80 per cent of crashes and that the the new standards from the European Aviation Safety Agency meant pilots would be “more tired more often”, and thus more likely to make a mistake.

“Compared to the UK’s domestic rules, the EU proposals would see pilots [flying] further – as far as California – with no back-up crew and, contrary to scientific advice, allow pilots to do up to seven early starts in a row, which is desperately fatiguing,” said Balpa’s general secretary, Jim McAuslan.

In a survey of 500 pilots Balpa found that 43 per cent had involuntarily fallen asleep while flying. Of these a third said they had woken to find their co-pilot slumbering as well. Even under the present system the union estimated that pilots could be landing when they had a one in five chance of falling asleep – meaning their reactions would be those of a pilot with a blood-alcohol level four times the current legal limit for flying. Balpa said the new rules would make the situation “much worse”.

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Advice to British travellers in Greece ‘alarmist’

The Telegraph

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, has been criticised for urging holidaymakers in Greece to register with the British consulate in case of civil unrest in the country.

The Association of Independent Tour Operators (AITO) dismissed the advice as “alarmist” and “far from reality”.

Derek Moore, the AITO chairman, said: “Our specialist holiday companies are unanimously reporting that there is no problem, except in two very small, highly-contained areas – firstly, around Syntagma Square, by the Greek Parliament in Athens, and, secondly, in central Thessaloniki, Greece’s next largest city. This is nothing new – it’s exactly the same situation as the past three years.”

He added: “Very few holidaymakers fly into Athens or Thessaloniki. To claim that Britons living in Greece or visiting on holiday are likely to need emergency evacuation is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The riots in London, Manchester and Birmingham last summer were on a significantly bigger scale than anything in Greece – yet did the Home Secretary, Theresa May, advise people against visiting the Cotswolds or the Lake District?”

Mr Hague’s comments were made in an interview with Andrew Marr on Sunday. He said that contingency plans were in place in case Britons needed to be evacuated, and suggested that visitors should register with the consulate.

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BAA makes a loss as debt payments mount

The Guardian

Rising interest payments on BAA’s debts turned the operating profit of £572m into a pre-tax loss of £256m – a £60m improvement on its 2010 losses.

The airport operator BAA has announced a pre-tax loss of £256m for 2011, despite record traffic at Heathrow and a leap in revenues.

BAA said it had delivered a strong operational year with continued significant investment that would ultimately see it turn a profit, although interest payments on its £10bn debt continued to drag its annual accounts into the red.

Colin Matthews, chief executive of BAA, stressed a continuing improvement in customer satisfaction. He said: “Passengers say Heathrow is getting better. Our punctuality is the best in a decade, passenger ratings are up in total, and particularly for transfers and on security waiting time.

“And we had more passengers, who spent more freely in our retail and car parks.”

He said BAA had made almost £900m of investment in Heathrow over the year, mainly in the building of Terminal 2, which will handle 20 million passengers a year after it opens in 2014.

At BAA’s second London airport, Stansted, passenger numbers continued to fall even on the disappointing 2010 figures, down to 18.0 million from 18.6 million.

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Loot confiscated by TSA turns into revenue for states

USA Today

From samurai swords to hatchets to snow globes, the Transportation Security Administration collects tons of unusual objects each year that passengers try to carry onto planes.

The objects are what the TSA deems weapons or other threats to flight security. They’re surrendered at checkpoints by forgetful or harried passengers who would rather give them up than miss a flight or return to the check-in counter and pay extra to put them in a checked bag.

Among the most common: Swiss Army knives or similarly sharp multiuse pocket tools, though the gamut runs to swords or even fuzzy handcuffs that are more for bedroom use than law enforcement.

And despite cynical suggestions from angry travelers that security officers keep the items for themselves, the TSA turns over the property to state agencies and commercial vendors, which cart it away to sell. Although public auctions yield a fraction of retail prices, dozens of states have found some revenue in the contraband.

“It’s kind of amazing what people will try to take on board,” says Troy Thompson, spokesman for Pennsylvania’s Department of General Services, which takes some of the contraband. “To them (passengers), it’s an item that’s not threatening, but in these days and times it is threatening.”

Pennsylvania collects truckloads of items from airports, including New York City’s John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty. The state has raised $700,000 from selling them since 2004, Thompson says.

The most sought-after items by buyers are among the most often left behind: pocket knives, scissors and corkscrews, which are typically sold in boxes of 100. Occasionally, machetes, samurai swords and even an African spear are trucked to the state warehouse in Harrisburg, he says.

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