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Tag Archives: travel news

Costa Concordia cruise ship captain says sacking unfair

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Gennaro Manzo / Reuters

In this file image from July 28, Costa Concordia cruise captain Francesco Schettino appears at a window of his apartment in Meta di Sorrento in Italy.

ROME (Reuters) – The captain of the Costa Concordia which ran into a rock and capsized off the Italian coast in January, killing up to 32 people, has sued for wrongful dismissal, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Italian Francesco Schettino was not only fired by Costa Cruises but is accused by prosecutors of causing the accident by sailing the luxury cruise liner too close to shore.

He faces charges of multiple manslaughter and abandoning ship and preliminary hearings will begin on Oct. 15.

“It is the right of every worker to appeal against his dismissal and Captain Schettino has done no more than exercise that right,” lawyer Bruno Leporatti said.

“There is nothing to contest or be amazed about, unless we want to say that what the law allows for all citizens doesn’t apply for Francesco Schettino.”

Schettino was held up to ridicule in Italy and abroad following the Jan. 13 disaster off the Tuscan island of Giglio and his name became a symbol of incompetence and cowardice.

Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

In this file image, capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia is pictured, surrounded by cranes near the harbor of Giglio Porto on Aug. 28. In the Jan. 13 disaster, as many as 32 people lost their lives.

The angry order to “Get back on board, damn it!” delivered by a coast guard officer to Schettino over the telephone after he had abandoned his ship was printed on T-shirts in Italy.

Investigators said Schettino brought the 290-m (950-ft)-long vessel too close to shore, delayed evacuation and lost control of the operation during which he left the sinking ship while many of the 4,200 passengers and crew were still on board.

The Naples-born captain has always acknowledged making mistakes once it became clear that the 144,400-tonne Costa Concordia was in trouble, but has said he was not the only one who should be blamed for the tragedy.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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Airlines eye subway-style self-boarding

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Courtesy JetBlue

Pictured here is an example of JetBlue’s self-boarding gates in the Las Vegas airport.

Self-service is king when it comes to flying these days, with travelers checking in online, downloading their own boarding passes and tagging their bags.

But passengers outside the U.S. often perform one more task on their own at the airport: self-boarding.

Scan your boarding pass at a gate equipped with a subway-like turnstile, and voilà, you’re on your way to the plane—no gate agent required.

It’s an option travelers seem to love: Almost 90 percent said self-boarding is their favorite self-service technology in a survey of more than 2,500 passengers from 70-plus countries released on Tuesday. The poll was conducted by SITA, a company that specializes in air transport communications.

You’ll likely encounter automated gates at airports in Europe or Asia, but in the United States, they are still a rare sight. One of the few places you’ll see them is at the shiny, new Terminal 3 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where JetBlue has been testing self-boarding since July.

We are receiving positive feedback — customers do like it and it does speed up the boarding process,” said JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young. “There’s not the bunching that was previously experienced with the agents taking the tickets.”

Gate agents are still there, watching over the process to make sure travelers don’t encounter any snags, Young said.

Those snags are one of the reasons airlines have been proceeding carefully, industry observers said.

“If you’ve seen people using self-check-out at supermarkets, they aren’t generally as adept at scanning bar codes as the actual check out personnel,” said Robert W. Mann Jr., an airline industry analyst.

“When you narrow it down to the pointy end of the funnel, when everybody is trying to get on the airplane through one door, the person who struggles with the scanning is holding up 150 people and they’re all (upset).”

Still, self-boarding seems to be an attractive option for both airlines and travelers.

Some 17 international carriers now use the technology and there are 113 automated gates at airports around the world, according to recent figures collected by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The group, which represents some of the world’s biggest airlines, supports self-boarding as part of its “Fast Travel” initiative.

Airlines that pioneered the process include SAS and Lufthansa in Europe, and All Nippon Airways in Asia, said IATA spokesman Perry Flint.

Passengers may like the service because it’s somewhat empowering, Mann said. Travel requires people to give up a lot of control over their environment, so this is a small instance where they can take charge.

But the cost of installing the gates may be an obstacle for carriers in the U.S., where airlines usually own or rent the check-in space in airports where they operate and can’t spread the expense among several different users, Flint said.

“It may not make economic sense for the airline to make that investment if they’re the only ones who are going to be using it and if they are already operating at a very high level of efficiency,” Flint said.

Bottom line: Don’t look for automated self-boarding gates dominating U.S. airports any time soon, but be ready for subway-like boarding in other parts of the world.

And don’t forget your smartphone when you travel.

The SITA survey also found that the number of passengers with the gadgets has “risen dramatically” over the past year, from 54 percent to 70 percent.

“We’re now at the tipping point of explosive growth in mobile services offered to passengers, which will give them more control over their journey and reduce stress,” said Francesco Violante, the CEO of SITA.

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United raises fares by up to $10 per round trip

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United Airlines is raising prices on most flights within the U.S. by up to $10 per round trip.

The airline confirmed the increase on Wednesday. J.P. Morgan analyst Jamie Baker said that as of Wednesday morning, no other major airlines had matched United’s move.

United’s increase ranged from $4 to $10 per round trip, depending on distance. Baker said it was the 12th attempt this year by airlines to raise fares, but only four have succeeded.

Airlines usually roll back increases if key competitors don’t match them, because many consumers will switch airlines to save even a few dollars. Baker said the fate of United’s increase would depend largely on whether Southwest matches it.

FareCompare.com CEO Rick Seaney said United’s fare increase doesn’t affect sale prices for off-peak winter travel that were introduced Tuesday by Southwest Airlines and matched by United and others. Those sales end Thursday night.

United tried to raise prices in mid-September but gave up after other carriers declined to go along. Airlines are trying to cover high fuel costs but have been more cautious on increasing prices this year than a year ago, as the economy has remained sluggish and doubts have arisen about demand for air travel.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Found at LAX: Smoke grenade, billy clubs, hatchet

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A Massachusetts man has been charged with illegally transporting a smoke grenade in his checked suitcase while returning from a trip to Japan.

Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested Yongda Huang Harris, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, Friday in Los Angeles. He was flying from Japan, through South Korea and then Los Angeles, on his way to Boston.

What alerted agents to check his suitcase?  It might have been the bullet-proof vest or the flame-retardant pants that he was wearing under his trench coat.


According to ICE, a search of his checked bag turned up the smoke grenade as well as “three leather-coated billy clubs, a collapsible baton, a full-face respirator, various knives, a hatchet, body bags, a biohazard suit, handcuffs, leg irons, and a device to repel dogs.”

He appeared late Tuesday in federal court in Los Angeles. There’s no thought he was a terrorist or was plotting to do anything on the various planes he was flying on, a federal official says. But transporting a smoke grenade is illegal.

ICE isn’t saying what airline allowed him to begin his journey. Court documents say his trip originated in Kansai, Japan, stopped over in Inchon, Korea, and then in Los Angeles on his way to Boston.  A federal official says the Japan to Korea flight was not on a U.S. carrier.

Pete Williams is NBC News’ chief justice correspondent.

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Business travel growth sluggish, report says

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Unemployment, economic turmoil in Europe and slower growth in China and the Far East are expected to curb business travel growth in the United States.

Those are the major findings of a report released on Tuesday by the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA)—a trade group for corporate travel managers and suppliers—which projected business travel spending in the U.S. through the end of the year and 2013.

“With disappointing job gains and the upcoming presidential election on the horizon, businesses appear to be taking a cautious approach to their investment in travel until there is greater economic certainty,” the quarterly report said. They noted that while the total U.S. business travel spending—which includes both domestic and international outbound travel—is expected to grow for the remaining months of 2012 and 2013, the uptick is largely being driven by rising travel costs, not more trips.

“While companies aren’t cutting their business travel spend and we’re still seeing very modest growth, we are cautious about the outlook for the next several quarters,” Michael W. McCormick, executive director and chief operation officer of the association, said in a statement. “Corporations are in a wait-and-see mode and holding back on investment decisions that would help boost the economy.”

McCormick added that the looming “fiscal cliff,” a combination of more than $500 billion in expiring tax cuts and automatic spending sequestration set to trigger at the beginning of 2013, “is causing even more uncertainty, which we are monitoring with real concern.”

A major finding of the report is that unlike in past economic recoveries, job growth is not generating more business travel. Since the start of the economic recovery, job gains have been concentrated in areas that are less business travel prone, and the gap may be getting worse, a graph in the report noted.

And the projected growth in international outbound business spending—which in past years has been a boon to the U.S. business travel industry—has been constrained due to persisting economic concerns in Europe and growth in the developing world continues to slow. The report found that the volume of both imports and exports to China and the rest of the Far East are projected to slow over the next six quarters, which would impact business travel to and from the U.S.

Another factor that has contributed to dampened business travel growth is the slowing of group travel. Transient business travel—which refers to lone travelers who work for smaller businesses, not travelers for large corporations that have high volume contracts with heavily negotiated rates—continues to outpace group travel for meetings and events.

“Although group business travel has bounced back from its bottom in 2009, it has been a much more modest recovery over the last year after robust growth in 2010 and 2011, respectively,” the association said, noting that it expects growth to pick up as the broader economy recovers, “given the more cyclical nature of group and convention travel.”

Travel industry analyst Henry H. Harteveldt said overall he agreed with the report’s findings, but that it did not reflect the fact that many business people themselves do not appear to be eager to travel.

“Business travel policies that make business travel less-than-pleasant, ongoing frustrations with airport security, increasingly crowded flights due to airline capacity reductions, and airline delays don’t exactly make business people want to hit the road,” said Harteveldt, who is co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, a market research company.

“In addition, companies have invested in technology solutions, such as videoconferencing, that reduce the need for some travel,” Harteveldt said. “I also believe that higher airfares and hotel costs are suppressing some demand.”

Michael Steiner, executive vice president of Ovation Travel Group, said his New York-based travel management company is seeing slightly better results than the downward trend forecast by the GBTA report.

“Our bookings are actually up 10 percent,” when compared to this period last year, Steiner said. He explained that it was not a surprise, as many of Ovation’s clients work in the financial services and legal fields, which typically have stronger numbers than the corporate sector. The good news, Steiner said, is in the past, corporate sector activity usually followed those industries soon afterward.

He also said Ovation is seeing a “nice uptick in meetings and events,” the opposite of what the GBTA report found. “There is a lot of interest and advance bookings are up 15 percent.”

“We are realistic and pragmatic, and we understand macroeconomics,” Steiner said, “but we are cautiously optimistic.”

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