This Week in Travel News

US Vulnerable To Spread Of The Zika Virus
So far, experts are divided about what lies ahead for the United States. Nearly three dozen cases have been confirmed to date in 11 states and the District of Columbia, but CDC acknowledges that the number is growing rapidly. In each, the person was believed to have been infected while out of the country. The South is seen as especially vulnerable because of its warm, humid climate and pockets of poverty where more people live without air conditioning or proper window screens. Plus, the region is already home to mosquitoes that can transmit the virus. Some models estimate as many as 200 million people live in areas that might be conducive to the spread of Zika during summer months, including the East and West coasts and much of the Midwest. That makes for a huge target as researchers scramble to determine how the virus manifests itself in the human body, who is particularly at risk, and why. 

Canada To Launch Pre-Clearance Checks For Brits
Brits flying to Canada must apply for US-style electronic travel authorization from March 15. The pre-clearance checks, announced last year, have been introduced by the Canadian government to prevent high-risk travellers entering the country. The requirement for an eTA applies to all visitors who aren’t currently required to have a visa to travel to Canada, including British citizens. The eTA costs C$7 per passenger and lasts for five years or until the passport is renewed. Passengers must apply online.

Richard Branson, Colin Veitch Settle Lawsuit Over Virgin Cruises
The Virgin Group settled a lawsuit by veteran cruise executive Colin Veitch, who claimed his plans were used to create Virgin Cruises. Virgin Cruises said the lawsuit had had amicably resolved. The action was filed in March 2015 and the
terms of the settlement are confidential. In a statement from Virgin Cruises it said ‘Mr. Veitch states that he has always been a believer in the power of the Virgin brand to shake up the cruise industry and looks forward to seeing the team deliver a unique product to attract new consumers and expand the cruise market.” Veitch had sought more than $300m in damages in a complaint filed in federal court in Miami.

MGM Resorts Set To Open The Park In April
The Las Vegas Strip is opening its first park on April 4, 2016. MGM Resorts International will debut The Park, which will connect New York-New York and Monte Carlo resorts, as well as the T-Mobile Arena. It will be a park that will offer guests common spaces and new eateries. The Park is inspired by iconic plazas, promenades and squares from the world’s greatest cities. Guests will be able to use patio-style seating beneath mature trees. There will also be water walls along the entrance and live entertainers and street performers.

US Treasury Department Lifts More Restrictions On Cuba
The United States Treasury Department announced it would continue easing travel and export restrictions for Cuba as part of the ongoing effort to improve diplomatic relations between the two countries. Amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations Export Administration Regulations took effect Wednesday.

Airline passengers Are In Quarantine After Flying With Man With MERS
At least 32 people, including hotel workers and airline passengers, have been put into quarantine after they came into contact in Thailand with a man with the potentially deadly Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The 71-year-old had travelled to Thailand from the Gulf state Oman. All people who may have come into contact with the man are being quarantined, including his son, hotel workers, fellow passengers on the plane he arrived on and taxi drivers. It is the second confirmed case of MERS in Thailand, after a 75-year old, also from Oman, was diagnosed with the virus last year. Oman borders Saudi Arabia where the virus was first discovered in 2012.

Mystery Illness Causes Flight Emergency
An American Airlines flight yesterday had to return to London Heathrow when several crew and passengers became ill. The American flight was headed to Los Angeles with 172 on board when flight attendants collapsed in the aisles, sparking fears of contamination in the air conditioning. Although the flight was close to Iceland, the captain decided to return to Heathrow. The flight was met by ambulances, police cars and fire crews. Passenger weren’t allowed to disembark until checks were made. Reports say seven crew and some passengers had become ill, although the London Ambulance Service tweeted that it has checked over six patients who were feeling unwell. Initial tests of the plane failed to reveal what caused some of those onboard to fall ill, while mystery surrounds why police later seized everyone’s luggage for mysterious ‘checks’.

WestJet To Add Three US Routes
Canadian discount carrier WestJet will launch two new routes to the U.S. this summer and resume a third. Beginning June 15, WestJet will fly five times per week between Toronto and Nashville. WestJet will compete with Air Canada on the route. In addition, WestJet will begin thrice-weekly service between Vancouver and San Diego. Flights on that route will begin June 16. No other airline flies the route. 

United To Offer Refunds, Waivers For Travel To Zika-Affected Regions
United Airlines says it will allow customers concerned about the Zika virus to cancel or postpone their trips if they’re ticketed to fly to areas affected by the mosquito-borne virus. “We are offering customers who are traveling to the affected regions the opportunity to rebook at a later date or receive a full refund,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in a statement to Today in the Sky on Tuesday.

Yosemite Hotels To Change Names Due To Trademark Dispute
The Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels in Yosemite National Park will change names in March because of a trademark dispute between the outgoing concessionaire and the U.S. National Park Service. The Ahwahnee will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, while the Wawona will become Big Trees Lodge. Both hotels are on the National Register of Historic Places. 

UAE Launches First All-Woman Airline Service
The United Arab Emirates announced that it will become the first country in the world to launch an airline services company that caters exclusively to women, according to Gulf News. Privately-owned LGO International FZ has established offices in Abu Dhabi and will serve only women clients with an all-female crew, made available for high-profile and more conservative women, CEO Emmanuel Dubuisson said. 

TSA Screeners Find Record Number Of Guns On Passengers In 2015
Federal officials say a record number of airline passengers were caught last year trying to take guns on planes, and most of the weapons were loaded. The Transportation Security Administration says 2,653 firearms were found in carry-on bags in 2015, a 20% increase over the previous year, which had been a record. More than four out of five were loaded. Airports with the most gun discoveries were Dallas-Fort Worth, 153; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, 144; Houston George Bush, 100; Denver, 90, and Phoenix, 73. 

Airlines Refunding Tickets For Pregnant Passengers Flying To Infected Areas
Major airlines have announced that they will allow customers concerned about the Zika virus to cancel or postpone their trips if they are ticketed to fly to areas affected by the infectious virus, USA Today reported yesterday. Just last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel warning for more destinations, largely in the Americas, as information continues to emerge about the dangers of the mosquito-borne virus. United Airlines claimed its policy will include to travel to all areas mentioned in the CDC alert, which now includes Puerto Rico, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Suriname, Venezuela, Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde and Samoa. 

Norwegian Air US Licence Delayed
Norwegian Air announced that it was to commence the first transatlantic route from Cork Airport to Boston this summer. However this was dependent on the airline being granted a licence by US Department of Transportation authorities. Despite making its application nearly two years ago, there is still no sign of the granting of the licence. The European Commission is holding talks this week in a bid to save the first transatlantic flights out of Cork.

Emirates To Launch The World’s Longest Commercial Flight
Emirates airlines has announced that it will launch what will be the world’s longest non-stop flight, between Dubai and Panama City, Panama on February 1, 2016. Panama City will be Emirates’ first gateway city in Central America. The westbound leg of the journey will take 17 hour 35 minutes. The new daily service on Emirates flight EK251 will take-off from Dubai at 08:05 and land in Panama City at 16:40. The return flight EK252 will leave Panama City at 22:10, and arrive in Dubai at 22:55 the following day. Qantas holds the current record for the world’s longest flight, 17 hours, operating between Sydney and Dallas. A previous record holder, Singapore Airlines, has been studying the relaunch of its longest flights with non-stop service to U.S. cities, including its previously abandoned Newark service, which was a 19-hour flight.

Norwegian To Offer Cruises From UK For First Time In Seven Years

Norwegian Cruise Line will launch regular cruises from the UK next year for the first time since 2010. Norwegian Jade, one of its four Jewel-class ships, will sail from Southampton from May 12 to June 20 and from August 7 to October 16. It will operate 11 western Europe and three Norwegian Fjords saiings as well as two mini cruises, taking in Europe’s highlights. At the same time, Norwegian Getaway, the second newest ship in the fleet, will move back to Europe for the first time since 2014 to offer eight or nine-night Baltic Capitals cruises from Copenhagen. Three other ships will sail in Europe in 2017, including the recently refurbished Norwegian Epic with a seven-night western Med itinerary from Barcelona, Rome or Marseille. Norwegian Spirit will sail from Barcelona and Venice and Norwegian Star will spend the summer cruising from Venice to the Greek islands and Turkey. The new itineraries will go on sale in the middle of next month.

Maryland General Assembly Adopts Hotel Tax Bill
The Maryland General Assembly voted to override their governor’s veto of a tax bill this week, enacting a law that will require online travel agencies to pay a greater share of taxes on hotel sales. Under the law, OTAs must pay the state’s 6 percent sales tax on the full price a consumer pays for lodging accommodations, including rate markups and fees. Previously, sales taxes applied only to the amount travel agencies remitted to lodging suppliers. The governor vetoed the bill last year but the Maryland house voted 89 to 52 and the state senate voted 30 to 16 to override that veto. The bill closes a loophole for OTAs and they now are required to pay the same occupancy taxes as hotels do.

Sandals Is Expanding to Mexico
Sandals Resorts International has announced it will be expanding to Mexico. The Jamaica-based company will be expanding out of the Caribbean for the first time with a Sandals resort in the Riviera Maya. The company expects to start on the resort by the end of the year. It will be a brand new resort located 40 minutes north of Playa del Carmen.

Germany Ranked As Best Country In The World
In a survey prepared by U.S. News and World Report, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and BAV consulting, they determined a list of the world’s best countries by surveying more than 16,200 leaders in business and notable members of the public ahead of the World Economic Forum, which met in Davos, Switzerland last week. Germany took the top spot, Canada ranked second-best country in the world, while the United Kingdom came in third. The U.S. took the fourth spot. Three of the factors that determined the ranking were celebrating diversity, being culturally influential and having an overall good quality of life.

French Air Traffic Controllers Walk Out Causing Travel Chaos Across Europe
A strike by French air traffic controllers is causing widespread disruption today as airlines have been forced to cancel hundreds of flights. Ryanair has cancelled dozens of services from UK airports, not only to France but also to Spain, Morocco and Portugal. Most of the flights were due to operate from Stansted, but services from Edinburgh, Luton, East Midlands, Bristol, Gatwick, Liverpool and Birmingham have also been affected. EasyJet has cancelled 35 flights, mainly within France but also to or from Switzerland, Italy and Spain. British Airways said that a small number of flights had been cancelled and warned customers that there were likely to be delays across the strike period, which started at 7 pm yesterday and will run till 6 am on Wednesday.

A New 48 Hour General Strike In Greece Starts Tomorrow
Cruise Industry News reports a new 48-hour strike is slated for Greek ports starting Jan. 27, according to Inchape Shipping Services (ISS). It is expected that the routes of domestic and local ferries and commercial vessels calling at Piraeus, Aspropyrgos, Eleusis, Pachi and Megara will be affected. The strike action has been announced by the Hellenic Crew Union and the Towage and Salvage Crew Union of Piraeus and is scheduled to start at 06:00 local time on January 27 and end at 06:00 on January 27. During the stoppage period, vessels will not be able to berth, shift or sail from the affected ports. Tug boats in Thessaloniki are expected to work normally on these dates as these crews will not be participating in the strike. The action has allegedly been called by the unions in response to the government’s planned changes to labor and insurance rights, pensions and retirement ages. This strike would be applicable to cruise ships as well, however, there are no calls scheduled during the strike dates.

Viking Star To Reposition To North America
Viking has announced that its first ship, the Viking Star, will reposition to North America starting in September. After its transatlantic cruise, the ship will sail fall cruises in Canada and then down the eastern seaboard to Puerto Rico where it will homeport for the 2016-2017 winter season. The ship has received a 5 star rating from Cruise Cri8tic members. Viking hopes to give more people a chance to see the ship. On its transition cruise from Canada to Puerto Rico, it will be making stops in Boston, New York and Florida. For its first winter in the Caribbean the Viking Star will do a series of nine 11-night roundtrips from San Juan, visiting Tortola, British Virgin Islands; Antigua; St. Lucia; Barbados; St. Kitts; Guadeloupe; St. Maarten; and St. Thomas. Viking will take over its second ship, the Viking Sea, this spring.

DHS Revises Visa Waiver Program In Wake Of Paris Attacks
The United States has begun implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, passed December in the wake of the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. Anyone who’s traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011 can’t enter the U.S. via the Visa Waiver Program, with exceptions for diplomatic or military travel in the service of a VWP country. In addition, nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria are excluded from VWP. These individuals can apply for a U.S. visa using the regular immigration process at their embassies or consulates. U.S. embassies and consulates will expedite processing for urgent business, medical and humanitarian travel. 

CDC Expands Zika Travel Warning
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added eight more destinations to its recent Zika virus travel alert. In addition to the 14 countries already on the CDC list (Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti , Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Suriname, and Venezuela), the CDC added these 8 more countries: Barbados, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Guyana, Cape Verde, and Samoa. The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) states that the move to add countries where a traveler could be injected “follows the CDC’s initial Jan 15 travel advisory recommending that pregnant women and those trying to become pregnant consider postponing travel to countries where Zika virus is circulating, and if they must travel to the destinations they should follow strict steps to avoid mosquito bites.” This latest development comes at a time when “three travellers who returned to the UK from South and Central America have been diagnosed with the Zika virus.”

Frankfurt Airport’s New “Silent Chairs” Offer More Relaxation For Transfer Passengers
With the introduction of so-called silent chairs, Frankfurt Airport (FRA) has created new relaxation opportunities for passengers at one of the world’s leading transfer hubs. The silent chairs are the perfect way to relax in peace while waiting for an onward connecting flight. These arch-shaped chairs noticeably reduce the ambient noise, enabling passengers to listen to their own music thanks to integrated speakers that can be connected to their smartphones, tablets or other digital devices. Those wishing to work will also find integrated power sockets, a USB port, and a small table. Silent chairs are available to transferring passengers in Terminal 1 opposite gates A58 and Z58, and in Terminal 2 at gates D4 and E5. Fraport, the airport operator, is planning to add more silent chairs in the terminals.

Turkish Airlines Flight Houston-Istanbul Triggered Emergency Landing In Shannon
Turkish Airlines TK34 to Istanbul was diverted on its flight from Houston, Texas to Istanbul. The plane landed safely in Shannon. A note was found in one of the bathrooms saying the plane had a bomb onboard in a checked bag in the cargo hold. Emergency vehicles were on standby. All passengers were taken off the plane and transported by bus to the Shannon Airport terminal.

Norwegian Suspends Calls To Turkish Ports
NCL has suspended calls at Turkish ports for Norwegian, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. The calls will be suspended through 2016. Norwegian said they were dropping Turkey because of security issues. The Turkish ports are being replaced by calls in Athens and Santorini. The move affects 32 itineraries sailed by Norwegian Cruise Line, 17 for Oceania Cruises and 12 for Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

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