Travel Extra’s Sunday Supplement: Flybe Ireland’s maybe moment and other strange stories from the weird & wonderful world of travel

Let’s get the bad news out of the way: Iberia unions announced 15 days of strikes: Feb 18 to 22, Mar 4 to 8, and Mar 18 to 22.

Jim French, Christophe Mueller and Michael O'Leary

Jim French, Christophe Mueller and Michael O’Leary

There is no mistaking the travel story of the week, Flybe Ireland, Michael O’Leary’s new big idea. After come documentation detailing the proposed new airline was distributed at the weekend it was merrily leaked by astonished recipients. Mullingar based aviation writer Fearghal O’Connor (maybe he drops into Michael O’Leary to borrow a cup of sugar) was first to break the story of the week on Monday afternoon.

The impact was immediate. All hell broke loose, or perhaps more accurately, all Herr broke loose. Aer Lingus rushed their results out on Wednesday, three weeks earlier than last year. The financials were impressive in an environment when so many major airlines are bleeding: profit of €69.1m (up 40.7pc since 2011), yield per passenger up 7pc to €120.15, ancillary revenue up 4pc to €176,466 (€18.28 per passenger), market share out of Ireland up 2pc to 43pc and a record 10.8m passengers carried in 2012, of which 9.563m were on Aer Lingus classic before Aer Lingus Regional and Washington-Madrid were included. For the consumer the news is not as good. Average fares were up 4pc in short-haul to €94.11 and up 9.6pc in long-haul to €350.82. The running story in Aer LIngus in the past year is the increase in transfer traffic, 23pc of long-haul passengers, up from 18.5pc in 2011. Business class remains about 22pc of long-haul passenger revenue.

But the focus of subsequent comment was on the newly conceived Flybe Ireland. Christophe Mueller let the PR façade slip a little on Morning Ireland when he described the Ryanair/Flybe cosy-up as a “shady deal,” and Flybe as “a weak almost-bankrupt carrier.” He told other media that the deal as a “very desperate” measure and then turned on BA for its part in helping to encircle his airline (although Ryanair will now transfer to BA all Aer Lingus’ Gatwick-to-Ireland routes instead of Heathrow routes as originally planned). Mueller told the Irish Independent that Aer Lingus rather than Ryanair will end up paying for Ryanair’s €694m of Aer Lingus.

Commentators largely agreed. The Centre of Aviation Policy website suggested that Aer Lingus could be Michael O’Leary’s epitaph. The London Telegraph warned Flybe it could be left on its own against a competitor which has the lowest cost base in the world. Ciaran Hancock commented that the EU Commission is being asked to take a large leap of faith that Ryanair/Flybe “will do the right thing by Irish consumer.”

Flybe hurriedly confirmed the deal but said it would have to be passed by its shareholders. By Thursday it was claimed that irrevocable acceptances had been received confirming the deal from 64pc of Flybe shareholders. Flybe CEO Jim French said the new Flybe Ireland will offer increased frequencies on a number of routes, offering more flights daily than Aer Lingus. French claimed that Flybe’s cost base was lower than Aer Lingus’s and the current Flybe average fare of €80 or €95 including ancillary fees put it closer to Ryanair. As Flybe share price rose, French suggested Mueller was a “bit cruel” in suggesting Flybe might fail.

The implications for Aer Arann of a successful takeover by Ryanair could also be serious, as Eoghan Corry warned on Raidio na Gaeltachta, as Flybe Ireland would be in line to take over the feeder services from provincial English airports. Aer Lingus signed a 10-year agreement with Aer Arann, a deal which involves investing in a company which leases Aer Arann’s new ATR aircraft (ATR confirmed it has orders for eight ATR72-600 aircraft for Aer Arann, plus options for four more). This was the week (co-incidentally?) Aer Arann’s web-site was remodelled as the Aer Lingus Regional web-site.

With delicious irony, Aer Lingus share price closed at €1.30, Ryanair’s pre-Christmas offer price and touched €1.41 on Friday. This was not related to the takeover, but based on market reaction to the airline’s results. It means if O’Leary is cleared to re-bid, his entry point is likely to be around €1.70.

Carole Carmody of One Stop Touring Shop, Margaret Reilly of Brendan Vacations and Sharon Jordan of One Stop Touring Shop at the launch of Boutique Journeys and (right) the brochure cover

Carole Carmody of One Stop Touring Shop, Margaret Reilly of Brendan Vacations and Sharon Jordan of One Stop Touring Shop at the launch of Boutique Journeys and (right) the brochure cover

Sharon Jordan’s One Stop Touring Shop joined with Catherine Reilly of Brendan Vacations in launching a fourth product added to the growing 1STS portfolio. Boutique Journeys offers exotic group travel to plush destinations such as Easter Island and South America. “For the discerning Irish traveller” Catherine said at the launch, “we will bring people to the most amazing places in the world, places not easy to get to, places not on the mass market itineraries.” In Europe Boutique Journeys have hooked up with the slow food organisation, “taking time to enjoy food, to know where it comes, to support the local artisans who produce it and go to the place it is sourced.” Catherine is due to visit Easter Island herself in Spring having toured the Galapagos twice. The brochures are out and the product is already on sale through agencies. The group already sells Uniworld river cruises, Insight Vacations escorted travel, Contiki tours (for under 35s), and is the marketing arm for Red Carnation hotels in Ireland.

Lowcostbeds USA (headed by Clem Walshe) was officially launched to American Travel Agents this week with hundreds of agents registered and the first bookings coming through. Having successfully set up the Irish operation, Clem is in charge of the Lowcostbeds start-up in America.

Following the closure of the Cyprus Tourism Office, Maria Slye has started her own business, The Tourist Office. The travel industry will be disappointed to hear of the departure in June or July of the man with the moustache, Jose Ramos of the Portuguese Tourist Board.

The funeral of travel writer John Coughlan (1943-2013) in Howth on Tuesday was a sad occasion, joined by travel writers past and present: Tony Barry, Gerry Benson, Muriel Bolger, Frank Byrne, Paddy Dignam, Michael Flood, Frank Khan, Gerry O’Hare, Dick O’Riordan, Mary O’Sulivan among travel trade friends Ian Bloomfield, Sara Rivero and John Spollen, and journalism colleagues such as Shay Healy, James Morrissey, Stephen Ryan, Sam Smyth and countless others. Vincent Browne was among those who joined the wake on Monday. The sadness was not without the hilarious stories of John’s travels. John’s colleague Pat Keenan collected some of the best for a tribute blog. Shay Healy in his obituary in the Sunday Independent said it was John who first came up for the idea for the Sunday World. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Skyscanner listed their top 10 most stylish cabin crew uniforms include: Aeroflot, AF, Alitalia, BA, Easyjet, Finnair, Flybe, Lufthansa, Ryanair and Turkish. Asiana Airlines stewardesses won their battle against a ban on trousers (reminder of the time in 1969 a stewardess turned up to Aer Lingus company premises wearing trousers, even though she was off duty, she was told: “Aer Lingus is not that type of company”)

Norwegian has leased replacement long-haul aircraft after being warned by Boeing that there could be a delay in the delivery of its first two 787 Dreamliners in April and June. TUI, the parent of Falcon Holidays, gets its first delivery in June. Deborah Hersman head of US Transportation Safety Board questioned the adequacy of tests that gave the green light for Boeing. Authorities grounded the Dreamliner worldwide on Jan 16, after a series of battery incidents, including a fire on board a parked 787 in Boston and an in-flight problem on another plane in Japan. The groundings have cost airlines tens of millions of dollars, with no end in sight.

Tripadvisor listed the 10 most romantic places in the world, Anastasis Apartments, Imerovigli in Greece (1); La Minerva, Capri (2); two in England’s Lake District: Cranleigh Boutique in Bowness-on-Windermere (2) and Cedar Manor, Windermere (4), two in Maldives Baros, North Male Atoll (5) and Veligandu Island Resort, North Ari Atoll (10), Casa del Mar in Langkawi (6), Bardessono, Yountville, California (7), Al Maha Desert Resort, Dubai, (8) and Layana Resort, Ko Lanta, Thailand (9). The Irish Times compiled an Irish tourism makeover top ten which included: Awesome Walls climbing centre in Finglas, Athlone Castle, Croke Park Skyline, Crumlin Road Gaol Belfast, Doolin/Hag’s Head coastal walk, Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, Titanic Centre, Tralee Bay Wetlands and Waterford medieval museum. The London Independent listed Cave Hill, Belfast among its best adventure playgrounds. London’s Daily Telegraph produced a hilarious list of ten countries with unusual laws.

Feathery tale (tail?) of the week: the parrot that robbed a tourist of NZ$1100 in Arthur’s Pass, New Zealand. Four years ago, another Scottish tourist in New Zealand had his passport stolen by a kea, described by zoologist Mark Cawardine as “a devilish mountain parrot feared by hire car companies.”

  • Aer Lingus said the new summer schedule triggered the strongest revenue bookings in the airline’s history for consecutive days in January 2013. The schedule was also proving attractive to partners and had caused “multiple code share/interline requests.”
  • Margaret Reilly of Brendan Tours says that inbound bookings are up again “Americans have discovered Ireland again.” Brian Stack of CIÉ Tours International said bookings were 40pc ahead of last year. The Notre-Dame v Navy match generated €3m in business for CIÉ Tours International.
  • The Dallas Morning News reported that US Airways CEO Doug Parker will be the CEO of the merged American/US Airways, while American CEO Tom Horton will become non-executive chairman when and if the mega-marger takes place.
  • Aer Lingus said they will fly an Airbus A330 aircraft during the next three winter seasons on behalf of a major European tour operator.
  • Air France has reduced the number of bidders for Cityjet from ten to two.
  • Storm Nemo affected Dublin flights to and from Boston and New York, 5,100 flights have been canceled in North Eastern USA since Thursday but trans-Atlantic was back to normal Saturday
  • Adrian McLaughlin new CEO of Gibson hotel, who spent seven years as CEO of the Merchant Hotel in Belfast, said revenues were up 25pc to €10m in 2012
  • Warsaw Modlin’s runway opening date has been moved back to Apr 30, meaning Ryanair flights continue to divert.
  • Irish visits to Thailand were 59,894 in 2012, a 1.61pc increase from 58,945 in 2011
  • The report into the February 2011 Manx 2 crash in Cork will not be published until April
  • Maastricht Airlines announced that they were going to launch in March 2013 in competition to Ryanair. Ryanair responded with a 22 sale to Maastricht, a warning shot perhaps?
  • Dublin City Creative Quarter and Ennis town centre both won Purple Flags for excellence in management of a town centre area between the hours of 5pm and 5am.
  • Travelport launched its new fare management tool Net Fare Manager. Sabre called IATA’s New Distribution Capability “an agreement among the airlines to withhold content by not publicly filing it.”
  • Air Asia X launched child free zones in its aircraft.
  • Qantas won the best overall wine cellar and three other awards in the Cellar of the Sky awards
  • At home there was a dispute over Bord Iascaigh Mhara’s claim that sea lice are NOT killing our Atlantic Salmon
  • Video of the week is of an unruly Jetblue passenger who was held by police after a mid-air outburst over an upgraded man who was seated next to her. And from the nostalgia Department those were the prays, Irish pilgrims fly to Lourdes in 1949.

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