EU-Canada air agreement...More Vegas, Baby...British Airways strike averted...
A wild couple days in the travel biz got even more interesting a few minutes ago when the EU today signed an aviation deal with Canada that will allow airlines to operate flights from any European city to Canada. It also will phase out restrictions on foreign ownership of carriers.
Canadian Press reports the deal replaces a patchwork of agreements between Canada and most — but not all — of the EU’s 27 countries that prevented one EU country’s flagship airline from running flights from another part of Europe to Canada. This meant, for example, that British Airlines (which just a few minutes found out it has avoided a crippling cabin crew strike over the holidays; scroll down for more on that) could only run flights from Britain to Canada. That’s no longer the case now and airlines can operate direct flights to Canada from any part of Europe. The deal also removes all restrictions on routes, prices or the number of weekly flights between the two regions.
The EU’s executive commission said the deal could generate economic benefits of more than $100 million and create more than 1,000 jobs in the first year. That's nice for them, but for consumers in Canada it SHOULD mean more choices and, perhaps, cheaper flights in the long run as competition opens up.
EU officials said opening up the market could see an extra 3.5 million people fly between the two regions in coming years.
The deal also recognizes security checks in both regions which should simplify flight transfers because passengers, luggage or cargo taking a connecting flight would be exempted from a second round of security. That sounds pretty good, too.
AIR TROUBLE EASES IN BRITAIN
Associated Press reports that British Airways has won an emergency court injunction to stop a 12-day strike by its cabin crew, bringing relief to around one million travellers whose Christmas holiday plans were threatened by the planned walkout. The High Court backed BA's claim that the ball by the Unite labour union was illegal because it included members no longer employed by the airline.
“We are delighted for our customers that the threat of a Christmas strike has been lifted by the court,” British Airways said in a statement after the ruling by Justice Laura Cox. “It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families in the UK and around the world."
Unite said the decision marked a “disgraceful day for democracy” and added that it will hold a fresh ballot unless the dispute is resolved. But the union cannot hold another vote until after Christmas, with a rescheduled strike unlikely before February. Still, there are talks of strikes over the coming days by ground staff at Heathrow and Aberdeen airports. British Eurostar train drivers plan to walk out on Friday and Saturday, but the operator of the high-speed rail service between Britain and continental Europe said it could get replacement drivers from France and Belgium.
We hear the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bus drivers are available, too.
All that BA stuff was going on just as Scotland's biggest carrier, Flyglobespan, suddenly collapsed, leaving some 4,000 passengers stranded. Scheduled flights were cancelled, according to the Guardian, and military staff is said to be stranded in the Falkland Islands; possibly stuck over Christmas.Budget rival Flybe is said to be offering special fares to stranded customers, but no one knows if everyone will get home.
It's not just folks in Britain, of course, who are hurt by the demise of Flyglobespan. Our friends at the Hamilton Spectator report that the discount airline has been offering cheap, seasonal flights from Hamilton to the UK for three years.
"This means we're going to have to go looking for someone else to do this," said Richard Koroscil, president of the Hamilton airport. "We know the market exists so I'm sure we'll be able to find someone."
Tourism Ireland folks say the only direct flight to Northern Ireland from these parts was the Flyglobespan flight to Belfast. Flyglobespan also flew Halifax to Glasgow, Vancouver to Dublin and many other sites, and it's a huge problem for folks with tickets. Not to mention tourism folks in Britain who count on cheap flights to supply steady customers.
The Star's Richard Ouzounian, the hardest-working journalist in the entertain biz, files his last blog update from Las Vegas, where he got to eat his way through some great new restaurants, check out the newest hotels and generally peek under the hood of the massive, new City Center project, pictured at right during its opening ceremonies last night.
LAS VEGAS - I think Maureen McGovern sang it first: "There's got to be a morning after." And all I can say is that I would not want to be a Tylenol bottle in a Las Vegas home this morning.
Last night was the gala opening of the Aria Hotel at City Center and - as far as these giant bashes go - it was one of the best I've ever been to.
Bizarre but fascinating electrified techno-bands played a variety of percussion instruments at the various entrances. No conventional music, no old Sinatra recordings. This is The New Vegas, baby. (There, that's my obligatory "baby". One per blog.)
Dozens of statuesque women (all roughly 6' tall) stood in random locations holding decorated metal poles that were twice their size. Why? Because it looked good. I asked one beauty (named Sherri) how she got the job. "I answered an ad," she sighed, shifting aching muscles and possibly regretting she had.
How many people were there? I was told by one PR person that there were 3,000 partygoers milling around, but the place is so damned spacious you'd never believe it. I do know that there were 450 accredited media and they were usually the ones jostling in front of me for the food.
The food. That's what I'll remember. Aria has 16 restaurants and each one of them was offering up goodies for the evening. Kobe Beef Sliders were the big item at the sportsbar-ish Union Restaurant, mini Peking Duck wraps came from Blossom and there were Stone Crab claws at Bar Moderne that were the sweetest I've ever tasted.
But what was the most attractive (to me at least) was the Caviar Bar. Four types, including some of the rare Russian variety, not the unbelievably expensive large-grain beluga, but the far more reasonable, less tasty and tinier sevruga. The gentlest and most succulent I found, however, were the giant red pearls of salmon roe. I asked the caviar master where it was from. "Canada," he told me. I kid you not (as Jack Paar used to say).
There was also a gala first preview of the new Cirque show, Viva Elvis!, but the reports were not encouraging. (I'm commenting on this in the Entertainment section of Friday's Star.) One Canadian expat and his wife recognized me at Jean Georges Steakhouse and, in between bites of a superb Wagyu Tartare, the lady informed me she had just gotten a text from a well-placed friend who was watching the show and gave it a violent "thumbs down". The opening has just been postponed until Feb. 19, so we'll see if space traveller Guy Laliberté can work some magic now that he's got both feet on the ground.
Speaking of texting, I've never seen so many people using their PDAs while partying, myself included. Were we all emailing or texting or twittering our friends who weren't there to make them feel bad? Probably. People can have a nasty streak!
Celebrities? A sprinkling of local sports stars and Eva Longoria, owner of Beso, one of the new eateries. I got to interview her about her new career as a restauranteur and found her to be an attractive and charming woman, very down to earth. I'll include her comments when I look in detail at these new Vegas restaurants for Travel in a couple of months.
As the evening went on, I noticed more and more people started leaving the open areas to merge into the bars, all of which were packed and home to some serious, Vegas-style drinking. Even the caviar station was empty, so I paid it another visit. Didn't want them to feel lonely.
Midnight finally came and everyone spilled out into the area outside to see some really spectacular rooftop fireworks. Then Aria was officially open, the slot machines started whirling and the festivities continued. Me? I went to bed, because I had to get up at 5AM (Vegas time) to type this and write some articles for the Saturday entertainment section before getting on a plane back to Toronto.
But as I looked down from my Vdara Hotel window just now, I could still see some merrymakers heading home. Ah, Las Vegas!
Note to flight attendants on Air Canada 592: let the guy in 13A sleep. He's had a busy couple of days.
Great stuff, Richard. Many thanks. And now back to Jim's regular travel blog, for a bit more Vegas some updates on a wild week for British travel.
MONTREAL-VEGAS ON WESTJET
This is a match made in heaven between two of the big cities that never sleep (no offence, New York). Montreal is DEFINITELY party town Canada, and Vegas, well, it goes without saying. Now West Jet has announced (just today, actually) the launch of new, non-stop service between Montreal and Las Vegas. The inaugural flight departs Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport at 9:45 a.m. ET today.
"Las Vegas is possibly the most popular city in WestJet's destination lineup," said Hugh Dunleavy, WestJet Executive Vice-President of Strategy and Planning. "We knew it was vital that we offer service from another of our Canadian gateways so that even more WestJet guests can travel to this dynamic and exceptional city. It's even more exciting now that we can offer this route to our friends in Quebec on a year-round basis."
WestJet will fly between Montreal and Las Vegas five times per week.
NEWFOUNDLAND-LONDON ON AIR CANADA
Air Canada today announced that it will introduce daily non-stop seasonal service between St. John's and London Heathrow, U.K. offering convenient connecting flights throughout Europe with its Star Alliance partner carriers. Air Canada will operate the only daily non-stop service between Newfoundland and Labrador and London Heathrow between May 27, 2010 and September 26, 2010.
"For the past several months we have worked closely with the local community and the Airport Authority to offer travellers in Newfoundland and Labrador the convenience of the only daily non-stop service to London Heathrow in time for the peak summer travel season," said Nick Careen, Vice President, Airports, Air Canada in St. John's with airport, tourism and government officials. "With this improved schedule, we believe our customers in Newfoundland and Labrador will value this direct link to the U.K., as the fastest and most efficient way of making connections to several European capitals such as Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Vienna, Moscow, as well as Dubai. We hope the support for this route will enable us to operate it again next year and even extend it year-round."