Friday 29 April 2016

Passenger Sent To Wrong Country

A Ghanaian man has taken a 3000-kilometre detour after getting a ticket for the wrong plane in South America.

Emmanuel Akomanyi was attempting to travel to Guyana to undertake a life-changing scholarship to study medicine.

All was going to plan when he safely made it from Ghana to Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

But it all went downhill from there as he tried to buy a ticket to Guyana.

He thought he correctly purchased a seat to the country on South America's Caribbean coast, but when he got off at the other end he was in the Brazilian city of Goiania - almost 3,000km away from where he needed to go.

He was forced to spend a week in his new destination, supported by strangers as he had no money.

The airline which flew him there eventually offered him a free ticket to Guyana.

You would think such incidents would be rare, but they were surprisingly common.

A United Kingdom couple boarded a plane which they thought was going to the southern Caribbean island of Grenada in 2014 - but instead they landed much sooner than they thought they should have, disembarking in the ancient city of Granada, Spain.

Remarkably, the same mix-up happened only a month earlier, except this time UK woman Lamenda Kingdon ended up on the 10-hour flight to Grenada instead of the short trip to Granada.

Other incidents include:

• A woman who wanted to travel to Dakar, Senegal, ended up in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

• An 85-year-old woman ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after she booked a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Myers, Florida because of an airline error.

• A VietJet airplane that took off from Hanoi landed at Da Lat airport, 140km away from Cam Ranh Airport, where it was supposed to be.

• A Southwest Airlines plane landed at a small airport in Taney County, Missouri, approximately 12km from where it was meant to land at Branson Airport. Taney County had a much shorter runway and the plane had to brake hard to stop before the end.

• A 21-year-old American student found himself on a plane to Auckland, when he just wanted to get to Oakland, California. According to the LA Times, he blamed it on the Kiwi accent: ""They didn't say Auckland. They said Oakland. They talk different."

Airline Sends Couple To Wrong Granada

Local dancers at Grand Anse Beach, Grenada.
US dentist Edward Gamson is suing British Airways after he booked first-class tickets to Granada in Spain, but ended up in Grenada, the Caribbean island.

According to the New York Daily, Gamson and his partner were still in the air seven hours after their plane was due to land in the Moorish capital of Spain, their intended destination, from London.

Instead, they landed approximately 6437 kilometres away in the Caribbean.

Gamson did not realise something was wrong until he checked the electronic map on the inflight entertainment system and realised their plane was heading due west out of London instead of south.

According to the legal complaint filed, he could not check details of the destination against the ticket as it did not contain the airport code, destination country or flight duration.

He told The Independent: "I made it absolutely clear to the booking agent I wanted to go to Granada in Spain. Why on earth would I want to go to Grenada in the Caribbean if I was flying back to America from Lisbon?"

The Independent reports that British Airways promised to fly them to Granada via Gatwick, London, but they never made it to Spain.

The airline also refused to refund them the £2650 (NZ$5180) tickets which is now the subject of a US$34,000 (NZ$39,135) damages claim before the US courts.

"It's just so sad. A trip we had been really looking forward to was ruined and ... BA won't do the decent thing," Gamson said.

It is alleged that the error originated from BA's American booking agents in Florida.

Those intending to head to either destination should check their airline ticket does not send them to Granada, Nicaragua, either, before boarding the plane.

USA: Man Urinates On American Airlines Flight From San Francisco To North Carolina

Jordan Gardner, 28, was arrested after urinating on on the floor of a plane on cross-country flight
Passengers on an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to North Carolina were left holding their noses after a man urinated on the floor.

Jordan Gardner, 28, was met by police on Sunday when his flight landed in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was arrested for "damaging a plane".

Mid-flight he pulled down his pants, arched his back and urinated on the floor, witnesses say.

Passengers notified a flight attendant, who promptly sent Gardner to the bathroom and then used soda water to clean the mess. Unfortunately the pungent smell remained and passengers had to put up with it for the rest of the flight, about four hours.

Gardner failed to return from the bathroom after 15 minutes and when a flight attendant opened the door, she found him lying on the floor of the bathroom.

Gardner told police he had had two double shots of vodka at the San Francisco Airport bar before the flight. But police said they could still smell alcohol on his breath 11 hours after the flight took off.

He told them the smell "may have been caused by the gum he was chewing," and that he did not remember urinating on the plane, passing out in the bathroom, or anything about the flight itself.

He now faces a criminal complaint of damaging an aircraft.

An American Airlines spokesman said they asked police to meet the flight on its arrival at Charlotte 'due to a disturbance on on the aircraft', but referred all questions to the FBI.

The FBI said Gardner had a multi-state criminal history, with charges and arrests for battery, trespassing, auto theft, passing bad checks, being under the influence, and vandalism.

Bathrooms Make Air Travel Hard For Passengers With Disabilities

Californians Barbara Ball and her husband have travelled extensively: Greece, France, Italy, the Bahamas and all over the United States, to name a few.

She feels fortunate to have visited so many places before a blood clot in her right leg led to its amputation five years ago.

Ball now has a prosthetic but spent a few months in a wheelchair during rehab. So it struck a chord when she heard about her friend's brother, a double amputee in a wheelchair living in South Carolina, who can't take a domestic flight top visit because he can't access the onboard bathrooms.

She wondered if disabled-accessibility rules weren't the same in the air as they are on the ground.

It's a good question.

Disabled accessibility on airplanes in the United States is not covered by the Disabilities Act, and there the Air Carrier Access Act, written 30 years ago, has limitations.

Washington resident Malcolm Cumming cares for his wife, Deborah Livesey, who has multiple sclerosis and has been in a wheelchair for two decades.

It was just two years ago that he accidentally broke his wife's arm trying to get her into a lavatory that was not disabled accessible during a flight to San Antonio.

Accessible lavatories are required only on aircraft with more than one aisle, but not on smaller aircraft used for domestic flights.

America's Department of Transportation reasoned that the larger aircraft are used for longer flights and transport the greatest number of people, so it is more likely a disabled passenger will need an accessible lavatory, said department spokeswoman Caitlin Harvey.

But Cumming said most domestic flights, even across the country, are in single-aisle aircraft and can last the better part of a day, depending on the number of stops. Furthermore, wheelchair users are the first ones on and the last ones off, adding about another hour to the onboard time.

It's unrealistic and unfair to expect a disabled passenger to refrain from using the rest room for that long, Cumming said.

Wheelchair user Barry Smith has been on flights lasting more than eight hours to Washington, DC, and 13 hours to Alaska; nearly all of them were on single-aisle aircraft.

Smith suffered a spinal cord injury from a diving accident as a teenager. He uses a catheter but said he could not access the lavatories if he needed to.

Smith is the executive director of the Disability Resource Agency for Independent Living in Modesto. He's helped clients prepare for air travel by sharing some of his experiences.

An onboard or aisle wheelchair is needed to board the plane because standard wheelchairs are too big to fit through the doors, down the aisle or in the bathrooms.

Smith describes such a chair as essentially a refrigerator dolly with a seat. The wheels are on the bottom so it cannot be operated by the person with the disability. Instead, the chair is pushed or pulled backward down the aisle by an airline employee after the passenger is strapped in like "a NASCAR driver," Smith said.

He said employees need to be better trained to operate the chair and help the person with the disability get into a seat. Smith's feet have dragged on the ground, he's bumped into things and he's been dropped on the chair's armrest.

He said he's never tried getting into a lavatory with the onboard wheelchair but can't imagine being able to fit in most circumstances.

Cumming said Livesey is not medically required to use a catheter and shouldn't be required to do so just to get on an airplane.

"Someone should not be forced to get a catheter to go on holiday," Cumming said. "The Air Carrier Access Act was not based on the idea that people would use catheters or dehydrate themselves or wear diapers (to get through the flight)," Cumming said. "That is not treating people equally."

Unlike disabled-accessible bathrooms in buildings, which must have a diameter of at least 60 inches, airplane lavatories do not have to meet specific dimension requirements.

Rather, the "lavatory shall permit a qualified individual with a disability to enter, manoeuvre within as necessary to use all lavatory facilities and leave, by means of the aircraft's on-board wheelchair," according to the act. They must also be equipped with grab bars and a call button.

"The language at the very beginning falls apart because the wheelchair cannot be operated by the person with the disability, only pushed by someone else," Cumming said.

Airline staff members are responsible for transporting a disabled passenger to and from the lavatory, but the passenger is on his or her own once inside.

Department of Transportation regulations do not require the accessible lavatory to be large enough to accommodate an attendant to help the person with the disability, Harvey said.

"If we could get into it, (Livesey) would be just facing a toilet she could not get to," Cumming said. "I would have to reach over the chair holding her out with my arms like a forklift. The bathrooms needs the space for an attendant."

More frustrating, Cumming said, airlines slap wheelchair-accessible signs on lavatories because they have grab bars in them, which actually serve only to narrow the space for the people who need help into a bathroom.

The lavatory on the flight to San Antonio had the symbol on the door, so he thought it would be safe to help Livesey in by holding her under her arms and pulling her in backward.

"With my arms wrapped under hers as I eased her in, the narrow entrance crimped her elbows inward until her arm bone cracked just below her shoulder," Cumming wrote in an article for the online news site Airlines Reporter.

The experience hasn't deterred the couple from travelling, but the lavatory layout is always a concern.

"If you are flying domestically, you are going to be in the world of single-aisle airplanes, and there is nothing to accommodate the fully disabled or nonambulatory person," Cumming said.

The Department of Transportation has recently announced its intention to establish a committee to negotiate proposed amendments to disability regulations, Harvey said. The committee will consider three issues, including whether to require an accessible lavatory on single-aisle aircraft over a certain size.

"The department has done so in recognition of the fact that a higher percentage of long-distance flights are now being conducted by single-aisle aircraft," Harvey said.

But what about New Zealand?

On its website Air New Zealand has a section dedicated to passengers who need "special assistance".

"We understand that the carriage of people with disabilities can present unique challenges for both passengers and staff.

"As a result we will make every effort to provide a consistently safe and dignified travel experience."

It goes on to state that staff are trained to assist those with disabilities, and airport and aircraft have "environments that facilitate appropriate levels of access", though it does not mention whether aircraft have disabled toilets.

The airline's Boeing 777, 767 and International Airbus A320 aircraft have onboard wheelchairs, so passenger can be taken to their seats or the toilet. But the chairs are available only for international flights, not domestic flights due to "limitations of space".

LIkewise, Jetstar says it provides assistance to passengers needing wheelchairs. However, on its website it states that those passengers must be able about to travel independently.

Advice for flying as a disabled person, from people with experience:

Call ahead to ask whether the airplane will have accessible lavatories. Cumming said airline employees can tell you "yes" or "no," but can't describe the type of barthroom or tell you how much room it will have.

Book flights on double-aisle planes, if possible, or prepare for longer flights by getting one with several stop-overs. It will make your travel longer but provide more opportunity to get off the plane and use bathrooms at the airport.

Remember that airline staff members will transport you via the aisle chair to the lavatory but will not assist within the lavatory. "Since you must be able to stand and walk, (but if taking) a few steps is difficult, you're better off choosing a seat near a lavatory rather than going through the humiliating hassle of being strapped into an aisle chair," Cumming said.

Always get the travel insurance. Cumming recommends this not just for disabled passengers but for everyone. He and his wife had travel insurance when she broke her arm on the way to San Antonio. It paid for a nurse to accompany them back Washington on the plane to assist with her medical needs.

Take all valuables off your wheelchair. Wheelchairs are stowed in the cargo area and can slide around and break. It's happened twice to Smith, who said he always takes off the electric hand controls (the most expensive part) and removes his seat pad to use on the plane to avoid getting pressure sores.

NEW ZEALAND: Airlines Under Prosecution Over Pricing Tactics

Airline "drip-pricing" is again under scrutiny in New Zealand after a ruling in Australia.

Drip-pricing, or adding on extra costs after a headline fare is selected, is common practice, particularly for low-cost carriers.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has forced Jetstar and Virgin to warn passengers booking online that there might be more fees to pay when a flight is selected.

They had previously been adding the fees at the end of the online booking process, without warning.

The ACCC recommended a $550,000 fine for Jetstar and a $200,000 fine for Virgin Australia. Jetstar has challenged the amount of the fine.

In New Zealand, Air New Zealand charges a card payment surcharge of at least $4 per passenger, added late in the purchase process.

Jetstar's app adds a booking fee on the page where credit card details are entered.

The Commerce Commission has already taken action against airlines' "opt-out" extras, such as insurance that was added on automatically unless the customer took it off.

The Commerce Commission had said it would not pursue an investigation into drip-pricing until the Australian case was decided.

A spokeswoman said the issue had been raised with the commission and was being assessed.

Lawyer Michael Wigley said the law required the airlines to be upfront with their customers, which was why the Australian regulator had taken action.

"Air New Zealand and Jetstar should be prosecuted based on allegations they are misleading their customers, largely for the reasons that court proceedings were successfully brought against Jetstar and virgin by the Australian equivalent of the Commerce Commission."

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline was not under investigation

"We are confident that we are upfront with our pricing."

GERMANY: Lufthansa Cancels Flights,Strike Hits Across Germany

Lufthansa has cancelled 895 flights scheduled for Wednesday from six German airports as government workers call short-term strikes in the run-up to wage discussions later this week.

The airline said Tuesday that its hubs in Munich and Frankfurt would see the most disruption. Some 87,000 passengers would be affected overall.

Public-sector workers doing ground handling and security checks were expected to walk off the job ahead of wage talks Thursday with the government. The ver.di union is looking for a 6 percent pay rise for its 2 million members,

Lufthansa, which is not part of the negotiations, deployed practices it has used during strikes by its own employees to prevent long lines and chaos at airports. It cancelled flights ahead of the start of the strike action and urged passengers to check their flight status on

Passengers with mobility limitations were cautioned that staff to assist them getting through the airport would be in short supply and that they should consider rebooking at no cost.

Of the cancelled flights, 545 were to or from Munich, where the strike was to last all day. All intercontinental flights to or from there were cancelled for Wednesday, the company said in its news release.

Most international flights would operate from Frankfurt, where the strike period was to be from 4.30am to 3 pm local time.Flights within Germany or Europe from Frankfurt were largely cancelled.

Other airports affected are Duesseldorf, Cologne-Bonn, Dortmund and Hannover.

Strikes are taking place Tuesday at places like kindergartens and swimming pools. Garbage pickup and street cleaning in Munich were also affected.

Action Against Scenic Tours Over European Cruise

David Moore and Janette Howell are leading a class action again Scenic Tours.
More than a thousand unhappy passengers who paid for a luxury European river cruise say what they got was more akin to a "backpackers' Contiki tour" and are demanding compensation.

A class action against leading Australian travel company Scenic Tours began in the NSW Supreme Court on Tuesday, with the 1265 plaintiffs claiming its "expensive, luxury river cruises" turned into "cheap, second-rate bus tours" because of extensive flooding in Europe.

The passengers travelled with Scenic Tours and Evergreen Tours in Europe between May 10, 2013 and June 14, 2013 on the promise of a "relaxing" and "once in a lifetime" experience on ships that are "luxury floating hotels".

Heavy rainfall in France and Germany in April and May 2013 caused extensive flooding and water levels on the Rhine, Saone, Rhone and Danube rivers rose so high that cruise boats were unable to operate as scheduled for about six weeks.

The 13 affected tours included Amsterdam to Budapest, Amsterdam to Basel and the rivers of southern France.

The plaintiffs' barrister, Alister Abadee, told Justice Peter Garling that on two of the tours, 11 out of 15 cruising days were lost. Other cruises lost between one and 10 cruising days.

Instead of visiting cities and sites via the river and spending nights in "five-star accommodation" on a boat, the passengers endured very long bus rides and in some cases stayed overnight at "low-budget hotels", Abadee said.

"The consumers did not pay for a backpackers' Contiki tour," he said.

Abadee said Scenic "later issued apologies to any passenger who complained saying circumstances had occurred beyond its control".

But he said internal documents show Scenic's then-general manager of operations, Justin Brown, was canvassing alternative options, including cancelling tours, during the critical period. He also gave "serious consideration" to cancelling tours already part-way through and providing a partial refund.

Gregory McNally the lawyer representing Scenic Tours admitted the "majority" of passengers were not given the option to cancel.

He said Scenic wanted passengers to experience as much as the planned tour as possible and made every effort to do so. He said had the 13 tours been cancelled, hundreds of passengers would have been "stranded in Europe".

Justice Garling asked McNally if the terms and conditions which allow ship travel to be replaced by coach or other method of transportation could in theory apply to the entire tour so that no cruising actually took place.

McNally said it could, if the alternative provided was a reasonable substitute.

The leading plaintiffs, Lake Macquarie school teacher David Moore and his partner, Janette Howell, spent their life savings – A$26,200 (NZ$29,200) – on what they expected to be a relaxing river cruise through the picturesque French and German countryside.

Instead, they spent hours on what they considered to be sub-standard coaches, including one without a working toilet and airconditioning.

Moore said he opted for a river cruise because spinal fusion surgery he had more than 20 years earlier meant he could not spend extended periods of time sitting down in a bus.

He said Scenic Tours did not give passengers any warning of the significant changes, disruption or delays to the itinerary necessitated by the weather.

In cross-examination McNally asked Mr Moore if he would have wanted the cruise to go ahead if he had been told, on the day of embarkation, that the first few days could proceed as planned but weather conditions meant the remainder could be affected.

Moore replied: "No. Because I'm not getting what I want from the cruise".

In a statement of claim, the group said Scenic Tours breached Australian Consumer Law by failing to cancel or delay the cruises, offer alternative tours, or warn of expected disruptions, particularly to passengers who travelled to Europe from Australia.

Scenic Tours is defending the case. It said the standard terms and conditions of the contract allowed it to make changes to itineraries, including due to road, river or weather conditions.

The company said it was not liable for any loss, cost or damage, including the failure to perform its obligations, because of a force majeure event such as high water levels.

Furthermore, it said the river cruises were not operated by it but by independent contractors, including Scenic Tours Europe AG, and any claim must be pursued against them.

But Abadee said the internal emails show it was Scenic's Australian general manager, Brown, and not someone from the contractors, who was canvassing its options, including cancellations and refunds.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation and/or personal injury damages for inconvenience, distress and disappointment and the lost opportunity to cancel.

If successful, the litigation lender will take its fees and a percentage of the settlement.

The hearing continues.

USA: Delta Airlines Plane Lands With Flat Tyre

An American plane was forced to make land with a flat tyre after it deflated on take off.

Authorities said the Delta Airlines jetliner landed safely at Los Angeles International Airport following a flight from Atlanta on Wednesday.

Airport police officer Rob Pedregon said the pilot of Flight 2355 reported a possible wheel problem before landing.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said inspections then found the Boeing 757's tyre was actually flat.

Pedregon said passengers were taken by bus to the gate. The aircraft, which was carrying 181 people, was towed in for inspection and maintenance.

NORWAY: Stranded Mother Mourns On Dock As Cruise Sails Away With Her Children

A mother dropped to her knees and begged for a cruise ship to stop as it sailed away with her children onboard.

The dramatic incident involving Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Breakaway as it left the dock in Nassau, Bahamas has been captured in videos posted to YouTube.

In one clip, her husband leaves the ship in a golf cart, trying to find his wife before it departs. In the next clip, the woman can be seen on the dock, crying and waving in a desperate attempt to capture the crew's attention.

Both end up being left behind as the ship sets off on its three-day journey back to home port in New York.

Norwegian Cruise Line said the woman had been late for the ship's boarding time, causing crew to go beyond normal protocol and delay departure by half an hour.

"The onboard team located her husband and children on board but the family was not able to reach her, nor did they know when she would be returning," spokesman Archie Pottinger said.

"When she had still not returned and following consultation with the family, it was decided that the husband would disembark with their travel documents to wait for his wife while the children would stay with their uncle and his family on the ship for the remainder of the voyage."

The company had offered travel and lodging assistance to the couple and made arrangements for them to reunite with the ship upon its return to New York.

The parents had at least two children on the ship, aged around nine and 12.

The children seemed "really upset" that their parents had missed the boat, he said.

USA: American Airlines Plane's Nose Damaged After Bird Strike

An American Airlines aircraft bound for Dallas, Texas, turned back mid-flight after bing struck by a bird, leaving a large dent in the plane's nose.

The plane, carrying 150 passengerss, took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Wednesday (local time), and landed safely back there a short time later, said officials.

A photo of the damaged aircraft showed the large indentation nearly centred on the plane's nose.

Looks like we hit some birds after takeoff. We're gonna need to go back and have the airplane looked at,' the pilot said over the radio to air traffic controllers, according to ABC News.

The airline apologised to passengers, and spokesman Ross Feinstein said a maintenance crew was evaluating the aircraft.

A spokesman for the Port of Seattle, which operates the airport, said it was unclear what type of bird it was, but bird samples were being sent to the Smithsonian Institute for analysis.

Bird strike is not that uncommon. A wayward bird ripped a large hole in the underbody of an Air Nimibia plane as it coming to land at Nambia's capital Windhoek in January. The plane landed safely, and was sent to South Africa for repair.

In March an EgyptAir plane suffered extensive damage after hitting a bird as it came into land at Heathrow. There were more than 70 passengers aboard the flight from Cairo, which managed to land safely despite the damage.

In May 2015, a bird, or flock of birds, did some serious damage to the nose of a Turkish Airlines plane on a domestic flight to Nevsehir. The Jet, carrying 125 passengers, landed safely and there were no reported injuries.

Customers Seek Compensation For $26k Shopping To Replace Lost Luggage

A couple who lost a suitcase full of expensive clothes on a flight to England have lost their argument that Air New Zealand should repay the $26,000 they paid to replace them.

The pair, referred to in court proceedings only as Mr and Mrs Green, flew to England in November 2015 to attend an important event and related social functions.

When they arrived, they discovered their suitcase was stuck in Los Angeles. They did not receive it for nine days.

The couple was told by staff that they could replace the missing items but should keep the receipts.

Mrs Green said she specifically asked whether the clothing could be replaced on a "like-for-like" basis and was told it could.

The couple spent more than $26,000 on replacing the items they had lost. They recovered $1900 from an insurer on a travel policy and sought the rest from Air New Zealand.

They brought a claim in the Disputes Tribunal for $15,000, the extent of the Tribunal's jurisdiction.

Air New Zealand did not argue that the clothes bought were similar to those lost but said the reimbursement was governed by the Montreal Convention, which covers airline's compensation payments, and limited to $2125.90.

But the Disputes Tribunal hearing found the Greens should be reimbursed the full amount because Air New Zealand had made a representation they relied on to their detriment.

Air New Zealand made an application for judicial review of that decision, heard in the High Court. It argued the case would set important issues of principle and precedent.

The judge in the Christchurch High Court found the Disputes Tribunal had made an error of law and set the claim aside.

Air New Zelaand will only have to pay the amount the $2125.90 specified in the convention.

AUSTRALIA: Baggage Handlers Nabbed Throwing Surfboards

Video has emerged of surfers watching in shock as baggage handlers biff their surfboards onto the tarmac at Auckland Airport.

The footage, filmed from the airport's international terminal and posted to Facebook, shows three baggage handlers in yellow vests unloading luggage and surfboards from a Qantas jet, unaware they are being filmed.

The surfboard owners watch in horror as the handlers drop four boards onto the tarmac despite them being labelled with fragile tags.

"They just biffed our boards on the ground," said one of the board owners.

"If there's any damage we can fully wreck these guys," another can be heard saying.

NORWAY: Eleven dead, Two Missing After Helicopter Crash Off Norway

An oil-rig helicopter crashed on Friday (Saturday NZ Time) on an island off the coast of western Norway, killing 11 people and leaving two others missing, a rescue official said.

Jon Sjursoe, a spokesman for Norway's Joint Rescue Coordination Center, said the Eurocopter EC-225 helicopter was carrying 11 Norwegians, one Briton and one Italian from the Gullfaks B oil field in the North Sea to Bergen, 120 kilometres away on the Norwegian mainland. He did not know who was among the confirmed victims.

Norwegian broadcaster NRK said 11 on board were employed by the Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil ASA. The company didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

Police spokesman Morten Kronen said the helicopter "totally smashed" as it hit the island of Turoey, near Bergen, and the 11 victims were found on land.

The helicopter's fuselage was found in the water off the island while its rotor system was on land, Sjursoe said.

"It is a very small island and (helicopter) parts are spread partly on land, partly in the sea," Sjursoe said.

Norwegian media posted photos of huge billows of smoke. Witness Rebecca Andersen told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that the helicopter's "rotor blades came rushing toward us."

"Then we heard a violent explosion," Andersen was quoted as saying.

Statoil said it had mobilised its emergency response team and had "temporarily grounded all equivalent traffic helicopters."

USA: Southwest Flight Lands At Wrong Airport

A Southwest Airlines flight bound for the main airport in Branson, Missouri, instead touched down at a much smaller nearby airfield that gave the pilots only half as much room to stop.

After passengers were let off the jet, they noticed that the airliner had come dangerously close to the end of the runway, where it could have tumbled down a steep embankment if it had left the pavement.

"As soon as we touched down, the pilot applied the brake very hard and very forcibly," said passenger Scott Schieffer, a Dallas attorney who was among the 124 passengers aboard Southwest Flight 4013 from Chicago's Midway Airport to the Branson airport.

"I was wearing a seatbelt, but I was lurched forward because of the heavy pressure of the brake. You could smell burnt rubber, a very distinct smell of burnt rubber as we were stopping."

Branson Airport has a runway that is more than 7,100 feet long - a typical size for commercial traffic. The longest runway at Taney County Airport is only slightly more than 3,700 feet because it is designed for small private planes.

After the jet stopped, a flight attendant welcomed passengers to Branson, Schieffer said. Then, after a few moments, "the pilot came on and said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry to tell you we landed at the wrong airport.'"

At first, Schieffer said, he considered it only an inconvenience. But once he got off the plane, someone pointed to the edge of the runway, which he estimated as about 100 feet away.

"It was surreal when I realised we could have been in real danger and instead of an inconvenience, it could have been a real tragedy," he said.

Mark Parent, manager of the smaller airport also known as M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport, described the distance as closer to 300 feet. He said the runway is built partly on landfill. At the end there is a "significant drop-off," with a ravine beneath it, then busy US 65 on the other side.

He said a Boeing 737 had never landed at the small airfield, which opened in 1970 and normally handles light jets, turboprops and small aircraft for the charter, corporate and tourism markets.

No one was around at the airport when the Southwest flight landed. Airport staffers had gone home about an hour earlier but were called back after the unexpected arrival, Parent said.

Brad Hawkins, a spokesman for Dallas-based Southwest, said everyone aboard the jet was safe. He did not know why the plane went to the wrong airport.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinaro said the agency was investigating, but he declined to elaborate.

Jeff Bourk, executive director of Branson Airport, said the Southwest pilot was in communication with the airport tower, which cleared him to land around 6 pm. The plane touched down a few moments later at the other airport.

Skies were clear at the time, with the temperature around 10 Celsius, Bourk said.

Passengers were loaded on buses for the 11-km trip to Branson. Southwest brought in another plane for passengers flying on to Love Fiend in Dallas. That flight departed around 10 pm, Bourke said.

Hawkins said the aircraft involved in the mistaken landing should be able to take off from the smaller runway, though it was not clear when that would occur.

The minimum runway length needed to take off varies depending on a plane's weight, the temperature and other factors. Based on Boeing documents, a lightly loaded 737-700 can take off from a runway about the length of the M. Graham Clark airport.

Parent said he had no doubts that the plane would be able to take off safely.

Sunday's event was the second time in less than two months that a large jet has landed at the wrong airport.

In November, a freight-carrying Boeing 747 that was supposed to deliver parts to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, landed 14.5 km north at Col. James Jabara Airport.

The company that operated the flight later said in a training video that the crew was sceptical about the plane's automation after the co-pilot's flight display had intermittent trouble, and the pilot chose to fly visually when he spotted the brightly lit runway at Jabara.

Last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida, landed without incident at the small Peter O. Knight Airport nearby. An investigation blamed confusion identifying airports in the area, and base officials introduced an updated landing procedure.

The airline announced last month that it would end service in June in Branson, Key West, Florida, and Jackson, Mississippi, because it can't make money in those smaller markets.

The Boeing 737 took off from M. Graham Clark Downtown Airport in Taney County. Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew says the jet will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for fuelling, then return to service.

Couple Book The Wrong Airport In A Plan For A Dream Holiday to Las Vegas

Richella Heekin spent $2500 on the Las Vegas birthday surprise for boyfriend Ben Marlow.
A couple booked a trip of a lifetime to Las Vegas, only to discover at the check-in counter they had selected the wrong airport.

The couple showed up at Birmingham Airport in England and couldn't see their flight on the departure board.

They quickly realised their tickets were for Birmingham, Alabama in the US.

Richella Heekin had been saving for two years to pay for the surprise £1200 ($2500) holiday for boyfriend Ben Marlow's 30th birthday.

Richella's face has just gone red and she's in tears.

"I was like - we're not going to Vegas then. I was more gutted for Richella than myself because it was a surprise."

Heekin said the error occurred after "doing a lot of clicking" on booking site

She did not realise the BHM code on her ticket was referring to Alabama's airport. BHX is the airport code for the English city.

The couple used a credit card to purchase two last-minute flights to Amsterdam in the Netherlands instead.

But since the pair attracted worldwide media attention for their blunder, Virgin Holidays has stepped in to provide the couple with free flights and a five-night stay in Vegas.

Airport mix-ups are not uncommon.

Last year Ghanaian man Emmanuel Akomanyi was attempting to travel to Guyana on South America's Caribbean coast, but when he got off at the other end he was in the Brazilian city of Goiania - almost 3000km away from where he needed to go.

In 2014, US dentist Edward Gamson sued British Airways after he booked first-class tickets to Granada in Spain, but ended up in Grenada, the Caribbean island.

- A woman who wanted to travel to Dakar, Senegal, ended up in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

- An 85-year-old woman ended up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, after she booked a Southwest Airlines flight to Fort Myers, Florida because of an airline error.

- A VietJet airplane that took off from Hanoi landed at Da Lat airport, 140km away from Cam Ranh Airport, where it was supposed to be.

- A Southwest Airlines plane landed at a small airport in Taney County, Missouri, approximately 12km from where it was meant to land at Branson Airport. Taney County had a much shorter runway and the plane had to brake hard to stop before the end.

- A 21-year-old American student found himself on a plane to Auckland, when he just wanted to get to Oakland, California. He blamed it on the Kiwi accent: ""They didn't say Auckland. They said Oakland. They talk different."

GERMANY: Germania Airline

Germania, legally Germania Fluggesellschaft mbH, is a privately owned German airline with its headquarters in Berlin. Germania operates scheduled and charter flights to destinations in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East from several German bases. It carried 2.5 million passengers in 2009 and had around 850 employees as of summer 2014.

The airline was founded in April 1978 as Special Air Transport or SAT for short in Cologne and started operations on 5 September 1978. with a Fokker F-27. In November 1978, a Sud Aviation Caravelle was purchased from LTU, which was replaced by two used Boeing 727-100 from Hapag-Lloyd Flug (now TUIfly). Germania Express has adopted the IATA code "ST" which was previously used by Yanda Airlines.

In spring 1986, the company was re-organised and its name was changed to Germania on 1 June 1986. For many years, Germania's main area of doing business were charter services for TUI, Condor and Neckermann Reisen – an area in which Germania earned a reputation for offering the lowest prices. In 1992 the registered office was relocated to Tegel. In the same year Germania won the bid for flight services between the old and new capital of Germany (Bonn and Berlin) on behalf of the German government, establishing a short-lived Beamten-Shuttle (German for “shuttle for civil servants”).

In 1998, the airline pioneered the use of aircraft for advertising in Germany advertisers included Siemens and various tour operators. In the same year, Germania began to lease more and more planes to other airlines such as Hapag-Lloyd Express, Maersk and Delta.

In June 2003, Germania started to offer tickets directly to passengers under the brand Germania Express (often shortened to gexx). Following a purchase of a 64% stake in dba (now part of Air Berlin) on 28 March 2005, Germania wet-leased 12 Fokker 100 aircraft to dba. At the same time, dba took over Germania Express's 15 established low-cost routes and thus absorbed Germania's gexx brand. Germania on the other hand, with all aircraft having been leased to other airlines, no longer offered routes directly to passengers.

While the partial merger between Germania and dba was already reversed in the summer of 2005, the cooperation of Germania and dba was extended to 14 Fokker 100 aircraft. Air Berlin chief, Joachim Hunold, was tasked by Germania owner, Hinrich Bischoff, to take charge of the future of the company shortly before Bischoff's death on 11 November 2005. However, an agreement between Bischoff and Hunold was not reached in the end as Bischoff's heirs refused to accept.

Germania relaunched scheduled flights under its own brand name out of Berlin and Düsseldorf beginning with the 2008 summer schedule.

The foundations were laid for the first maintenance hangar at Berlin Brandenburg Airport on 21 March 2011. Germania plans to use the hangar together with Air Berlin once the airport becomes operational.

On 3 March 2014, Germania had its traffic rights for flights to Iraq revoked after an intervention by Iraqi Airways. On 12 March 2014, Germania was allowed to resume all operations to Iraq with the first flight resuming on the 17 March 2014.

In spring 2015, Germania announced to phase out all of their recently refurbished Boeing 737-700s by 2020 to become an all-Airbus operator.

Germania Fluggesellschaft mbH is a private company that had been founded and run for many years by Hinrich Bischoff, who died on 11 November 2005. His wife Ingrid Bischoff was the main shareholder, but she sold it. Germania has its headquarters at Riedemannweg 58, Berlin, Germany.

Germania Technik Brandenburg GmbH is a wholly owned aircraft maintenance subsidiary of Germania, based at Schönefeld.
In October 2011 it was reported that Bischoff had taken over Germania's charter partner Flynext (Flynext Luftverkehrs GmbH) from the Nuremberg-based regional airline entrepreneur Hans Rudolf Wöhrl, Flynext having been set up earlier that year and operating two Airbus A319s on a wet-lease basis for Germania. Now called Germania Express (Germania Express Fluggesellschaft mbH), the new company took over the two Airbus A319s.
Germania Express in turn is the main shareholder of Gambia Bird, a airline based at Banjul, The Gambia. Gambia Bird however suspended operations on 30 December 2014.

In 2014, Germania founded Germania Flug as a new sub-company in Switzerland to operate leisure flights under the newly established HolidayJet brand in cooperation with Swiss tour operator Hotelplan.

Germania offers a wide range of some year-round and mainly seasonal leisure and some metropolitan routes from several German airports. From its bases, scheduled flights to Turkey, Kosovo, Israel and Lebanon are also offered, servicing minorities living in Germany and Austria.

As of January 2016, the Germania fleet (excluding the Swiss subsidiary Germania Flug) consists of the following aircraft

Airbus A319-100----------------------------8

Airbus A321-200----------------------------4

Boeing 737-700----------------------------10


NEW ZEALAND: Air New Zealand Says Southland Needs To Pump Up Volume On Tourism

Up-market tourism packages could grow travel agents' marketing of Southland and boost flight numbers into Invercargill, Air New Zealand says.

Many Southland attractions are free but do not line the pockets of the travel experts who sell the area, the national carrier says.

Air New Zealand regional affairs manager Ian Collier said free attractions could limit travel agents' marketing of Southland - the agents do not earn commissions from the sale of free activities.

The development of "commissionable" Southland products would be advantageous in the long-run, Collier said.

"There is no question that Southland needs to work even harder to compete against other regions that are already well established as popular tourist destinations such as Queenstown."

Collier said quality accommodation was critically important for Southland to attract "high-value tourists", who would deliberately seek premium experiences.

Hawkins director Jim Boult, a past director of Tourism New Zealand, said up-market tourism packages may not be the answer for Southland tourism.

In May Boult will speak in Invercargill on tourism growth.

The region should aspire to attract Chinese visitors, Boult said. Chinese visitors to New Zealand spent up to $3,500 per head, which put them high in the pecking order.

"Southland needs to make sure that it does what it needs to do to take advantage of that," Boult said.

"While a bush walk may be free there's tours or retail offerings or manned talks that means Southland gets some money out of them."

At a meeting of the Invercargill City Council's finance and policy committee on Wednesday, Cr Alan Dennis said he had a meeting with Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

​The meeting was held at the Invercargill Licensing Trust the day after the opening of the new Invercargill Airport terminal.

"The message I got from him was that we don't really market the south well at all, in fact not at all," Dennis said.

"We need to sharpen our act up very quickly, and get a higher profile."

The discussion with Air New Zealand found tourists were not as interested in bungy jumps and tours, but in seeing cows being milked, Dennis said.

"[Luxon] said 'You put on the volume, and we will put on the planes'."

Luxon did not directly respond to Fairfax questions, which were answered by Collier.

Speaking on Thursday, Dennis said the ILT could work on marketing packages for up-market or Asian guests.

"We need to match the supply of accommodation with events and make a steady improvement in the tourism market," Dennis said.

Air New Zealand saw Southland tourism as a "catch 22", Dennis said.

"If we improve what people experience, we can up the amount of flights [to the region]."

Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said visitors to Southland "make less noise" about their travels. This was because the tourist attractions in the south were generally more nature based, rather than being commercial bungy jump-type attractions.

He believed Southland was doing all it could to promote itself.

"We may not be the bungy-jumping centre of the world but we've got a good centre for eco-tourism and bird watching."

He said the type of customer to Southland attractions might not spend as much.

"If you're a bird-watcher and just want to stand in the bush with binoculars and look at birds, it's very hard to make money out of that and use the money for infrastructure."

Air New Zealand works with Venture Southland, Invercargill Airport and the city council regarding travel to Southland.

NEW ZEALAND: Passport Scanning Machines Frustrate Kiwi Travellers

Travellers say eGate or SmartGate problems with Kiwi passports are especially common at Australian airports, including Melbourne.
Dozens more people have reported scanning snags with New Zealand passports at local and overseas airports.

Airport staff here and in Australia have told irritated Kiwi travellers that issues with SmartGate machines not reading New Zealand passports are common.

Douglas Senior, 26, got his passport in October 2014. It failed to scan in New Zealand and he said SmartGate didn't work for him in Australia either.

"The Customs guy in Australia told me he had been having a lot of issues with New Zealand passports."

Senior said he flew frequently, but had problems only when using SmartGate systems.

Christine Hayvice had her passport issued in January. In Sydney, she tried at least six times to get her passport scanned.

"There was a long wait each time ... inserting the document until it rejected, making me a darned nuisance for the crowd lined up behind me."

Marlene Duncan was issued a 10-year passport in December. She said two different machines in Christchurch didn't scan it, and the system failed again in Brisbane.

Duncan told a "nasty" staffer in Brisbane that she was following instructions, but the passport still could not be read.

The Brisbane staffer then suggested such problems with Aussie scanners and Kiwi passports were common.

Another reader, Jennifer, with a passport from June 2013, said she was treated like a "criminal" because the passport reading systems in Melbourne kept failing.

"I have had my passport for four years now and have been to Melbourne three times on it. I can leave New Zealand fine, but have issues arriving and leaving Melbourne airport. Every time without fail Melbourne will not accept my photo."

Australian airport staff sometimes took her away for questioning because of the glitch.

"I have never had a criminal record but, when entering Australia, I feel like I have."

Another Kiwi traveller contacted Stuff to say a Wellington SmartGate rejected his passport three months ago because his photo was too light.

"Excuse me? You issued it to me," was his response.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which issues passports, has said there are no problems with the travel documents.

Customs, responsible for scanning machines at New Zealand airports, insisted there were no issues with scanners at manual booths or SmartGate.

A spokeswoman said Customs previously identified an issue with scanners not reading an unspecified "security feature" of the new passports. She said that issue had been resolved.

"If a person fails to go through SmartGate, it's usually because of user error, or not following instructions, such as a passport being inserted into the scanner incorrectly, or the person wearing glasses or having hair across their face."

Australian authorities were in charge of the SmartGate scanners in Australia, Customs said.

Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been approached for comment.

In New Zealand, children must be 12 or older to use SmartGate.

TURKEY: Woman Hid Child On Air France Flight

A child found stashed in the carry on luggage of a woman on an Air France plane is much older than first thought.

Reports claimed that a baby "around 1-2 years old" was found hidden in a bag belonging to a passenger on board the plane, but it has now been reported that the child was four-years-old.

According to a source from France's Charles de Gaulle Airport, the woman, who is a resident of France, was in the process of adopting the child from Haiti.

"She was apparently in the transit zone in Istanbul, and had crossed the customs checkpoint with the child, when she was prevented from boarding a flight with her," the source said.

It is then alleged that the woman "decided to hide the child in a bag to get aboard another flight, after buying a new ticket.

"Once on board, she placed the child at her feet, under a blanket, but the girl needed to go to the toilet and was noticed by other passengers," the source added.

Air France said it notified French authorities and the woman was taken into custody.

Prosecutors decided not to press charges but both the woman and the child were being held at the airport.

RUSSIA: Rossiya Airlines

Rossiya Airlines JSC , sometimes branded as Rossiya - Russian Airlines is a Russian airline headquartered in Saint Petersburg with its hub at Pulkovo Airport. It is predominantly owned by Aeroflot and serves domestic and some European destinations and additionally operates the aircraft fleet for the Government of Russia.

The airline was established in 1992 and is wholly owned by the Russian government. In 2006 the Russian government merged Rossiya Airlines with Pulkovo Aviation Enterprise and on October 29 the new airline started flying under the name Rossiya. The merger process began in December 2004. In November 2006 it was announced that the merger had been completed and Rossiya Airlines was registered in Saint Petersburg on 9 October 2006 and has a branch in Moscow and 54 offices in Russia and abroad.

In February 2010, the Russian government announced that all regional airlines owned by the state through the holding company 'Rostechnologii' would be consolidated with the national carrier Aeroflot in order to increase the airlines' financial viability.[6] The airline has operated flights under Aeroflot's "SU" since 30 March 2014.

Arising from the merger with Pulkovo Airlines, the bulk of the scheduled service operation is from Russia's second-largest city, St Petersburg, where Pulkovo was the dominant airline, and Rossiya continues to be. Operations based in Moscow are predominantly non-scheduled ones for state organisations, or flights operated on behalf of Aeroflot; Rossiya continues Pulkovo's lead role on the Moscow-St Petersburg route.

Rossiya has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:

- Aeroflot (SkyTeam)
- Air Astana
- Air France (SkyTeam)
- Air Moldova
- airBaltic
- Austrian Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Belavia
- Czech Airlines (SkyTeam)
- Finnair (Oneworld)
- Hainan Airlines
- Iberia (Oneworld)
- Icelandair
- KLM (SkyTeam)
- Korean Air (SkyTeam)
- LOT Polish Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Norwegian Air Shuttle
- Scandinavian Airlines (Star Alliance)
- Swiss International Air Lines (Star Alliance)

RUSSIA: 11-year-old Boards Rossiya Airlines flight At Vnukovo International Airport Undetected

A Russian schoolgirl who had never been on a plane before managed to slip past security officials and board a flight from Moscow to St Petersburg.

Without any form of ID or a plane ticket, the 11-year-old passed through security at Moscow's Vnukovo International Airport this week completely undetected.

A video of the incident shows her ducking beneath the barriers and mingling with a large crowd as other passengers go through security procedures.

From there, she was able to get on a Rossiya Airlines flight, where cabin crew failed to notice the unaccompanied minor.

When the 90-minute flight landed, she received a call from her parents, who became worried when she didn't return home from school.

They were stunned to learn she was at St Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport.

Airport staff were contacted, and the girl was handed over to child services who arranged for her return to the Russian capital.

The girl's mother said she planned to sue Moscow Vnukovo International Airport and Rossiya Airlines for failing to carry out proper checks.

Both the airport and airline are now facing a review of security procedures.

The curious young traveller reportedly said she had wanted to see the city and experience what it was like to fly.

THAILAND: All Hua Hin Tourist Attackers Arrested

Hua Hin police stand behind two suspects (seated), who were arrested following an assault on an elderly British couple and their son. The tourists were savagely attacked during a family vacation in Prachuap Khiri Khan.
Four men have been arrested for a savage attack on an elderly British family holidaying in Hua Hin over the Songkran holiday after a video of the incident went viral on the internet.

The video, captured by overhead security cameras and posted this week on social media, sparked shock and outrage over its brutality and the ages of the victims: a 65-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man from Scotland.

"All four suspects have now been arrested," Pol Col Chaiyakorn Sriladecho, chief of Hua Hin police, said Thursday afternoon.

Suphatra Baithong, Yingyai Saengkham-in, both aged 32, and Siwa Noksri, 20, were captured within days of the assault while Chaiya Jaiboon, 20, was apprehended today.

They all are expected to appear in court before next week.

"The men say they are sorry and that they wouldn't have done this if they weren't drunk," he added.

In the clip, the family is seen walking in front of Wat Hua Hin on Soi Bintabaht around 1.30am on April 13 amid festivities for the Thai New Year.

An altercation breaks out with a group of men on the street who punch all three in the face, kick their bodies and stomp on their faces in an attack that lasts about two minutes.

The attack stops only when all three victims are seen lying apparently unconscious on the ground. As the gang disappears, bystanders come to their aid.

Pol Col Chaiyakorn said the attack started after "the son accidentally bumped into one of the Thai men".

Lewis Owen, 68, and his son John, 43, suffered head injuries requiring stitches, he said. Rosemary Owen, 65, was more severely injured, suffering a build-up of fluid in the brain that was removed, he said.

"The hospital is still holding her for observation for serious head and eye injuries," said Pol Col Chaiyakorn.

The incident just made the headlines in Thailand after the British media, namely The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Mirror, reported it on Wednesday.
The attack is just the latest brutal assault on foreign tourists, which contribute to 10% of the country's gross domestic product.

In March, four French tourists were assaulted on the island of Koh Kut as they walked to dinner. Among them were a mother and daughter who were both raped.

Two British backpackers were murdered on Koh Tao in 2014. Autopsies showed the couple, a young man and woman, had been severely beaten and the woman raped.

Two Myanmar migrants were convicted of the crime based on DNA evidence that rights groups say was questionable.

THAILAND: British Tourist FamilyAttacked In Hua Hin

A British couple and their son who were attacked during a family holiday in Thailand say they will never return to the country.

Shocking footage has emerged of what is reported to be a British family being attacked in Thailand, apparently because they were western tourists.

The couple and their adult son were leaving a bar in the Hua Hin province in the early hours of April 13 after celebrating Thai New Year, reports, when they were attacked by a gang of young men.

“At one point the mother, believed to be in her 60s or 70s, tried to sit back up and was kicked in the jaw causing her to fall unconscious.

British media is reporting that one eyewitness who intervened had claimed in an online forum that the gang deliberately targeted Western tourists.

Police have arrested three people in connection with the attack, local Police Chief Chayakorn Siradecho said.

Thai police are hunting the last suspect seen assaulting the family and leaving them apparently unconscious on the street.

“We are now looking for the last suspect and we have a warrant out for his arrest” on assault charges, he said.

The condition of the three victims is unknown.

CCTV footage of the incident has gone viral online.

Thailand’s reputation as a tourist haven has suffered a setback over the past several years, due to incidents including the high-profile murders of two British backpackers on the resort of Koh Tao in 2014 and a bombing at a popular Bangkok tourist site in August that killed 20 people.

THAILAND: Thailand’s Difficult Dependance On Chinese Tourists Grows

A THAI friend of mine remarked the other night after to returning to Chiang Mai from her studies in New York that out of all the changes she had noticed in this fast growing city it was the pervasion of Chinese tourists that surprised her the most. We have seen over the last few years a statistical growth which has transformed the city and brought with it a new economy. The tourism demographics are a changing, and while a third language has started to adorn restaurant menus and public bathrooms around town, there has been a barrage of controversy concerning how Thailand’s rising star of tourism conducts itself.

In spite of what opinions we might hold about the influx of tourists from China and the purported traits they bring with them, Thailand has become heavily reliant on its new guests. As MasterCard chief economist Yuwa Hedrick-Wong put it recently, the many countries benefiting from Chinese tourism must “diversify”, and not become too dependent on one demographic in terms of tourism revenue.

At the same time, not focusing on Chinese tourists would suggest poor business acumen. While there has been an increase in Russian tourists to Thailand over the years – followed by a decrease due to the weakening of the ruble in 2014 – China is the only market that stands out. Diversification might be at the epicenter of all intelligent, sustainable business models, but with Chinese spending power and the will to spend overseas being what it is, one could hardly be blamed for focusing towards the Divine Land for your business growth.

In March this year Chinese tourists travelling into Thailand amounted 679,660 people, which was 26.84% all international tourists; 29% of tourists were Chinese in February, and 21% in January – almost as much as all European tourists put together, and a much higher number than all tourists travelling from the Americas. In 2014 Chinese tourists visiting Thailand was by far the highest nationality (4.6 million or 18.66% of 24.8 million tourists in total), followed by Malaysian and Russian nationals. Tourists from the UK amounted to 909,335 in 2014, a number that has been more or less steady for the last 10 years, but even back in 2006 was still below China’s 1,033,305 arrivals.

In 2014 China’s outbound tourists for the first time ever equaled 107 million of its citizens, a rise of 19.49% form 2013, according China’s National Tourism Administration. Compare that to 10 million outbound tourists in 2010. According to a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch that number looks likely to increase to 174 million outbound tourists by 2019, with an expenditure of an estimated $264 billion. And it’s thought that only around 5% of the ‘world’s biggest spenders’ hold a passport.

John de Kreij, who owns the Sleep guesthouse in Chiang Mai with his Thai wife started his business at about the time of the Chinese tourist explosion. He told Asian Correspondent that during the low season 70% to 80% of his occupants are Chinese. “I think we wouldn’t survive without them,” said de Kreij, adding, “I just spoke to a lady who works for a zip line company and she was telling me the same thing; that 70% of their customers at the moment are Chinese.”

It’s good news for the Sleep guesthouse then that Thailand’s Tourist Authority (TAT) has projected that by the end of 2015 a record six million Chinese tourists will have visited Thailand. There have been 2.69 million Chinese arrivals in the first four months of the year, according to TAT, spending an average of 6,346 baht (US$188) each day compared to the average daily expenditure of foreign tourists of 4,950 baht.

While the initial spike in Chinese tourism numbers was partly due to the 2012 Chinese blockbuster movie, ‘Lost in Thailand’, the momentum doesn’t seem to be stopping. The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has recently begun a marketing campaign directed at China’s largest micro-blogging website, Weibo, focusing on Thailand’s travel and tourism services and products. ‘Lost in Thailand’ may have been the catalyst to the Chinese influx, but the focus now is how to get the Chinese to stay in Thailand.

Jaffee Yee, a Malaysian born veteran publisher, turned his focus to the Chinese market in 2013 when he launched something of a novel idea at the time, his Chinese language magazine for Thailand, Nihao. Yee told Asian Correspondent, “I first conceived the idea to launch a Chinese travel mag for Thailand during 2011-12 when Chinese visitors to Thailand began to surge past the traditional #1 market source Malaysia. I realized there was no existing Chinese language magazine and there was a clear market niche.”

Yee is currently working on a property and travel magazine targeting the Chinese of Greater China and Southeast Asia to be launched in the last quarter of 2015. Speaking of the cash crop and the danger in putting all your eggs into one basket, Yee says, “It’s always dangerous to rely too heavily on one market; the risk of a crash is unpredictable as with any natural disaster. A good example is impact of the disappearance of the Russians in Pattaya, a town that has been heavily dependent on this single market source in the past.” What if MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) affects the market, he asks, “The Chinese may simply stop travelling and stay home.” Coincidentally, Thailand confirmed its first case of MERS shortly after the interview.

It seems, as was reported by Reuters, that some people riding the wave of Chinese tourism are doing so with “gritted teeth”, with many people that accommodate Chinese tourism complaining of bad behavior. In view of the (mostly) innocuousness of these well-reported misdemeanors perhaps Thailand might appreciate this boom a little more and be careful not to lose a nose to spite its own often beguiling face.

At Sleep guesthouse in Chiang Mai they welcome what has been the main source of their economic survival, and are open-minded about what is perceived as unworldly or ungainly behavior. “I would say most of our Chinese customers are really nice and most of the incidents we had were based on cultural misunderstandings,” says de Kreij. “My wife and me talked about this the other night. That most people don’t realize that without them here the economic situation in Chiang Mai would be totally different.”

THAILAND: Chinese Tourists Fight For Food

AMATEUR footage, which surfaced online recently and showed tourists allegedly from mainland China going on a feeding frenzy at a hotel’s all-you-can-eat buffet luncheon in Thailand, has earned the ire of netizens in the country and abroad.

In the video, which lasted slightly over half a minute, about a dozen tourists are seen scrambling to grab several plates full of what appeared to be prawn fritters served in trays. Some of those in the footage also appeared to jostle each other, shoveling the prawns with their plates.zy

The footage, which went viral on social media, was apparently captured by a patron at a hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and shared on Facebook late last week. It was not long before netizens took to Facebook and Twitter to deride the “obnoxious” and “greedy” behavior after seeing that much of the highly-fought-over food was left unconsumed and wasted.

News of the incident also appalled users on popular online forum reddit, with many sharing their own “horror” stories of encounters with tourists from the Chinese mainland.

One reddit user, danysu123, said “Just clearing it up. There are so many types of Chinese people because of different areas of China. I’m Chinese myself and watching that video had me cringing. My family never does that sort of riff raff bs. Just saying that not all are indecent”.

Other users added a dose of humour into the affair – tunajr23 said: “I think it’s safe to say that they’re shellfish.”

While many condemned or ridiculed the incident, LankyN attempted to rationalise the situation by saying, “I’d guess it was one of the more expensive items on offer and they’re getting more value for money. Saying this because my dad would be disappointed when I bring back chips instead of spare ribs.”

The behavior of Chinese tourists abroad have posed a headache to their government, which is struggling to get Chinese nationals to adhere to the more “civilised” norms of the countries that they visit.

JAPAN: Chinese Tourists Urged To Stop Farting In Public

A Japanese tourist board has issued an etiquette guide asking Chinese visitors to refrain from public "belching or flatulence". The Hokkaido Tourism Organisation said it came up with the idea of publishing a list of do's and dont's after some of Japan's hotel owners complained about the behaviour of visitors from China.

Called Common Sense When Travelling in Hokkaido, the guide gives advice on subjects ranging from shopping, how to use a toilet and the importance of being punctual. In one section entitled Everything with Modesty, it reminds tourists that Japanese people "avoid bodily functions such as belching or flatulence in public entirely", adding: "Of course, these functions are a necessary part of human life, but please be modest and discreet when visiting Japan."

The guide was in response to Japanese hoteliers refusing to take Chinese tourists, according to Japan Times. This included accusations they left hotel rooms dirty and made excessive noise.

The guide asked tourists not to put used toilet paper in the waste bin instead of flushing it away, as is common in China. They were also told to stop opening packages in shops before buying them, another regular habit of Chinese shoppers to test for product quality.

But the guide, originally published in Mandarin in August, has already had to go through one revision after complaints that it was offensive. A Chinese resident in Hokkaido said it gave the impression all people in China lacked common sense and manners. The tourist board agreed to remove "patronising" red crosses next to things not to do, softened the tone of the advice and published it in English.

Japan has seen a surge in Chinese tourists visiting the country in recent years, receiving some of the $164bn (£113bn, €144bn) spent by Chinese citizens abroad in 2014. There have been numerous media reports complaining of their behaviour, however, with Japanese media even urging the authorities to set up a "special zone" for Chinese visitors at popular attractions.

The Japan Times reported that the booklet was aimed at Chinese tourists after receiving complaints on the purported lack of common sense by their maritime neighbors.

An older guide, entitled “Hokkaido Ryoko Joshiki” (“Common Sense When Traveling Hokkaido”), had touched on topics regarding common courtesy, such as how to behave while shopping and when in a hotel, and sheds light on proper ways to use a bathroom.

Apart from instructions to not steal cutlery from restaurants, the guide also covered time-keeping, and the ever-so-offensive passing of wind in public.

The idea to come up with the guide was mooted last year following complaints from hotels on their unease over the behavior of Chinese tourists. The hotels had claimed cases where Chinese tourists were overly loud or left rooms in a mess, said an official at the tourism promotion body.

This comes as the number of Chinese tourists swell in Hokkakido in line with other parts of Japan. Chinese tourists make up the second-largest group of nationalities to Hokkakido with over 218,600 travelers between April and September last year.

Research by the Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that more than 100 million Chinese tourists went abroad in 2014, spending some US$164 billion.

Released in March, the revised publication “Hokkaido Kokoroe” (“The Traveler’s Etiquette Guide to Hokkaido”) had dropped “condescending” “X” marks on descriptive images, and offered written guides on what constitutes bad behavior.

“In Japan, you can buy products with a sense of security that they are good, without opening their packages,” read one ‘softened’ line in the revised booklet.

The booklet is also made available in English.

Despite complaints by a Chinese tourists on the earlier ‘patronizing’ guide, the revised version is still found to contain details that are perceived as condescending.

In its English version, one line in the booklet said: “Japanese etiquette is based on avoiding causing discomfort or nuisance to others.”

“Accordingly, the Japanese will avoid bodily functions such as belching or flatulence in public entirely, or perform bodily functions as discreetly as possible. Of course, these functions are a necessary part of human life, but please be modest and discreet when visiting Japan.”

The booklet is being distributed at accommodation and other venues in the prefecture. So far, 85,000 copies have been printed for distribution.

Thursday 28 April 2016

GERMANY: Berlin Hunts Down On Holiday Apartments

Berlin is about to shut down as many holiday apartments as it can. But while the city's nightmarish rental market needs relief, sites like Airbnb say the law won't lower rents, but will drain money from the city.

Berlin's tight housing market will get some small, but possibly much-needed relief on May 1, with the end of the transitional phase of its new law banning unregistered holiday apartments.

From the end of this month, landlords in the German capital will have to apply for special permits to rent their apartments out to tourists, or face fines of up to 100,000 euros ($113,000). Renting out single rooms is still allowed, provided the landlord also lives in the apartment.

Major online mediators have already taken steps to ensure their users are abiding by the law. "Die Zeit" newspaper reported on Wednesday that Airbnb has begun removing some Berlin entries from its site..

Some 6,300 apartments could be brought back onto Berlin's regular rental market as of next week - though some see that as a drop in the ocean in a city of 1.9 million apartments and an estimated housing shortfall of over 100,000 units.

Major problem, or not?
Rents in Berlin are rising fast. The city is welcoming some 40,000 new inhabitants every year (not including the influx of some 50,000 refugees that arrived in 2015). In an analysis published in January, the real estate investment firm CBRE found that there had been an average five percent rise in rent prices across the city since 2014, and a seven percent increase in the city's central Mitte district.

But it's unclear exactly how many apartments in Berlin in total are being rented out to holidaymakers and other visitors. A study last year by the German property developer GBI put the figure at 24,000 - which suggests that only about a quarter are being rented out legally. Wibke Werner, deputy director of the Berlin tenants association, says estimates vary from between 12,000 and 29,000 apartments.

Since the new law was introduced in 2014, local district councils have started appealing to residents to report suspected holiday apartments via a special anonymous online portal. Now the authorities are ramping up the pressure even more - with some 34 additional positions being created to carry out spot checks, while online services like Airbnb and Wimdu are being forced to pass on information about landlords.

The new ban represents a major headache for such businesses - Berlin is by far the biggest market in Germany for private holiday rentals. GBI estimated that some 6.1 million overnight stays in the capital per year are in private properties - more than three times as many as the second city on the list: Hamburg, where there were two million privately rented overnight stays.

Not cheaper
So it's unsurprising that Roman Bach, CEO of the online portal 9flats, is pretty blunt about it. "This law is one of the most stupid pieces of legislation that ever happened in Germany," he told DW. He also questioned whether there really are 24,000 holiday apartments for rent, arguing that many apartments may have been counted twice because they appear on different platforms.

"However, let's assume this 20,000 number is real," he said. "Even if you get those 6,000 back onto the market, how many cents per square meter do you think your current rent will be lower, or your new rent, with 100,000 or 140,000 units still lacking on the market? Do you think you will get a cheaper apartment?"

Werner, of the Berlin tenants association, agrees that the direct impact of the law will be small - but that doesn't make it unnecessary. "It's more of a signal," she told DW. "We have to make clear that rental apartments that exist and are affordable should be available to tenants. The rental market is getting tighter and tighter and we have to try and protect every single rental home."

Werner also thinks it's more than high time that something was done. "The government could've acted quicker," she said. "The law depends on there being an intense property market, and for many years the Berlin government denied this."

Other holiday home platforms argued that the negative impact of holidaymakers are more than matched by the benefits: "We understand the concerns of the authorities in Berlin, although we do not share them," Aye Helsig, regional director for the international platform HomeAway/FeWo-direkt, said in an emailed statement.

"The vast majority of guests in holiday homes are families who do not pose a particular disturbing factor in residential neighborhoods. It is worth noting that families on holidays contribute much revenue to the local economy."

GERMANY: Hundreds Of Flights Canceled As Strikes Affect German Airports,

Strikes at airports in Düsseldorf, Cologne, Dortmund, Hannover, Frankfurt and Munich are taking place on Wednesday, impacting some 80,000 passengers. German airline Lufthansa has scrapped hundreds of flights.

Ground crews are participating in the mass strikes, which were called by German labor union Verdi in response to a dispute over wage increases. German airline Lufthansa, which is not part of the negotiations, said it had canceled around 900 flights.

Six airports have been targetted by Verdi members working in air safety control, ground services, at check-in counters and in engineering workshops at the airports.

Intercontinental flights were the most affected, but even some domestic and European flights were canceled, Lufthansa said.

In Munich, 740 flights were scrapped, in Frankfurt more than 390, at Cologne/Bonn airport 90, and in Dusseldorf 54, with passengers also facing delays at the airports of Hanover and Dortmund.

Germany's biggest airline Lufthansa took the brunt of the strike with more than 900 flights cancelled and 87,000 passengers grounded. A spokesman for rival Air Berlin said that 87 domestic flights were hit.

A new round of negotiations between Verdi and the government will take place on April 28 and 29.

Verdi - one of Germany's biggest labor unions - is demanding a 6 percent wage increase for some 2 million public service employees it represents. It's also calling for a pay increase of 100 euros ($112.81) per month for trainees.

Wednesday's strike follows similar stoppages Verdi has recently organised in other institutions, including hospitals, town halls and child care centres.

Lufthansa has been hit by several strikes over the past year in wage disputes of its own, with both pilots and cabin staff staging a number of walkouts over pay and early retirement provisions.

USA: Malaysian Wildlife Smugglers Jailed In The US

Orangutan skulls like this one were among the myriad illegal items that the pair shipped to the US from Malaysia
Orangutan skulls. Langur skulls. Macaque skulls. Monkey skull necklaces. Hornbill beaks. Sun bear claws. Bear teeth. Wild boar tusks....

These were among the gruesome "decorative" items that two Malaysian men who ran an online business called Borneo Artifact kept mailing from the island into the United States for a decade. They did so in violation of American and international wildlife protection laws and have now paid the price: they have been sentenced to six months in prison in the US.

During the decade between 2005 and last year, the two wildlife smugglers, who are in their early 30s, shipped $95,000 (RM370,000) worth of parts from endangered species into the US, according to investigators. Eoin Ling Churn Yeng and Galvin Yeo Siang Ann, it soon transpired, maintained a large clandestine network of smugglers, or "runners," across Malaysia and Indonesia whose job was to procure rare and forbidden wildlife parts for the smuggling business.

So as to nab the two men, in 2013 an undercover agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began posing as a buyer and ordered an orangutan skull and a turtle shell from a resident of the State of Oregon who had been acting as an accomplice for the two Malaysian traffickers. Eventually, the agent even managed to lure the two Malaysians into Portland, Oregon, where they were arrested and charged with violating US wildlife protection laws.

The pair have now been sentenced to six months in prison and slapped with a fine of $12,500 each. They will be allowed to return home once they have completed their sentences.

In one of his emails, later obtained by investigators, to a client in the US, Eion Ling boasted: "There are many runners in this business, each and everyone of them are EAGER to find and please his master. It all comes down to money, which can be a bad thing when they come with TONNES of stuff when u only seek for a few."

Unfortunately, we have no reason to doubt the accuracy of that statement. Malaysia continues to remain a global hub of wildlife trafficking with many locals willing to do the dirty work of poaching endangered animals or selling their body parts. A lot of that business is now conducted online. A recent survey of wildlife trafficking on Facebook revealed a booming online market.

The capture of the two Malaysian smugglers is a welcome development, but wildlife officials, both in Malaysia and globally, will have plenty more work to do to roll back the trade in endangered species.

Wednesday 27 April 2016

Shaza Hotels To Open Six New Properties In Middle East

Shaza Hotels, an independent five-star luxury hotel operator, has signed six new hotels across the Middle East that are set to open between 2016 and 2019 in addition to its existing Shaza Al Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

At the Arabian Travel Market (ATM), Sheikh Salem bin Ahmed Al Ghazali, chairman of Golden Group of Companies, and Salman Al Mohannadi, chairman of Shaza Hotels also signed an agreement of management for the new ‘Shaza Muscat’ that will comprise 250 hotel rooms and 150 hotel apartments, as part of a mixed–use development. The hotel will be welcoming its first guests in the third quarter of 2019.

Further identifying an opportunity to offer Arabian lifestyle in an upscale environment, the brand is launching Mysk by Shaza, a four-star experience with its flagship hotel opening in March 2017 in Al Mouj, Muscat.

Inspired by the Arabic pronunciation of musk, Mysk carries the fragrance of Shaza into a renewed and festive worldliness. Like its parent, Mysk is born out of the Middle Eastern culture, awakening the senses with its enchanting aroma, and creating a theatrical experience that is closely tied to the rich and ever evolving Arabian culture.

The years 2016 and 2017 are a key milestone in the expansion plan of Shaza Hotels and Mysk by Shaza. The third quarter of 2016 will witness the grand opening of Shaza Hotel in Makkah while negotiations are underway for new Shaza projects in Europe, which marks an important new chapter for the brand outside the Middle-East.

Further to the launch of Mysk by Shaza in 2016, five hotels are to be signed in the region by the end of 2017, including two projects currently under negotiation in Saudi Arabia.

Commenting on the chain’s ground-breaking projects in the pipeline, Simon Coombs, CEO of Shaza Hotels, said: “2016 is definitely a landmark year for Shaza Hotels and we are excited to be unveiling our imminent projects across the Middle East.

In a meaningful partnership and dialogue with our owners, we take pride in creating each Shaza Hotel to be a bespoke experience where we deliver the highest standards to our guests. I am now very excited to extend this experience to our new brand Mysk by Shaza."