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I have no claim to be a long-time fan of Elvis, but after a stop over in Memphis last weekend and a pilgrimage to Graceland, I am becoming one.
The visit to Graceland was the inspiration of Airline Business editor Max Kingsley-Jones. He saw a window of opportunity in our itinery which took us via Memphis that he - as a big Elvis fan - could not pass up.
So, in the pouring Kentucky (OK Tennessee) rain, a visit to the home of Elvis Aaron Presley was on the cards. Luckily Graceland is only a 10 minute taxi ride from Memphis airport even if the Somali-born taxi driver wasn't actually sure which way to turn onto Elvis Presley Boulevard to get to the great man's mansion.
Graceland is in fact an unassuming property, albeit in the ghetto area of Memphis these days.
The Convair (seen above) was an ex-Delta Air Lines example. He christened it Lisa Marie after his daughter.
He bought the JetStar for nearly $900,000 in September 1975. It sits alongside the Convair across the road from Graceland amongst the various Elvis shops, restaurants and exhibits.
Now the "TCB" reference - what does that mean? Elvis fans will know it was one of his favourite phrases: "Taking Care of Business".
Elvis created a lightning bolt logo to go with the TCB initials. So there you have it.
I spotted these rather clever airbridge advertising posters at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport this morning boarding a Delta Air Lines Bombardier CRJ200.
Apart from spotting these posters, Cincinnati was remarkable as I had my first ever full body scan courtesy of the TSA - that was fun. However, I feel a good ancillary revenue opportunity for airports could be being wasted. Imagine offering travellers the chance to buy an image of their scan - now that would be something.
Cincinnati was a breeze compared to the hell of Washington-Dulles when I arrived on Thursday evening.
The first indication that a dismal time is 'a coming is when you remember you've got to use the mobile lounges (see below).
But that is a minor issue compared to the 2 hour passport control line. That's not good is it.
That wait propelled this trip into the top 3 worst ever entrances to a country for me.
One of the best, believe it or not, was Libya back in the early 1990s. But that's another story.
Now I would say that wouldn't I, after all I am the publisher and former editor of Airline Business, that 25-year-old "strategy for airline boardrooms worldwide" mag and brand.
I'm referring to a reading comparison between Airline Business and uber-trendy design mag Wallpaper* (note the important and pretentious asterisk). I grabbed a freebie copy of Wallpaper* to get up to speed with the latest cool on this Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-300 flight from Heathrow to Washington DC.
However, after wading through pages of brand ads (publisher's note: lovely revenue) I skimmed the rest of the mag in a heartbeat. Nothing caused me pause.
Now for Airline Business: OK, I am into airline strategy yawn, yawn, but what's not to love about new editor Max Kingsley-Jones interviewing Willie Walsh, Mary Kirby doing her Runway Girl grill over viral videos and features editor Victoria Moores connecting in no uncertain terms with the "disconnect" between network and low-cost carriers: Great stuff.
Now back to the Travelogue
On this trip to the USA I am taking in 6 airports, eight flights with four airlines and three hotels. My middle destination is our very own Network USA route planning (speed-dating for airlines and airports) event in Austin, Texas.
First tick in the box goes to Virgin, who sent me a text which I got in the taxi to the airport telling me of 0% commission on money exchange with Amex. Perfect timing Virgin and I took you up on the offer. Now that's mobile comms really working (note to Virgin: an upgrade text soon after would have been cool too!)
Heathrow T3 was crowded full of course. It's far too small and the emerging metalwork that is Terminal East taking shape on the old T2 site will not come a moment too soon to give this old airport more square feet of floor space.
Nothing else to report of note at Heathrow, except that I was tempted by a big offer at the Harrods shop: a 6ft Rodney Bear - resplendent in his classic Harrods green uniform - was down from £1,900 (Knightsbridge store price) to just £1651.21.
If it wasn't for the fact that I didn't have a ticket for Rodders I would of course have taken the plunge and brought him with me.
Now I'm off to watch the latest True Grit remake movie. This A340-300 doesn't have AVOD so my choices are relatively limited.
Note to self - make sure Virgin flights are A340-600 variety, which does have super-duper AVOD. Bye for now.
Seriously, this was one of the announcements on my eventful Virgin Atlantic flight last night.
Flight VS658 was Virgin's inaugural flight from
Initially, we had a few teething problems. Check-in had gone a bit slowly as airport staff got used to new systems and procedures; nothing too much to worry about. The flight boarded an hour or so after its 1445 scheduled departure time, but spirits were still high. Virgin's cabin crew were exceptional, as usual.
The captain advised us that he was waiting on the load sheet. Not long now. Time rumbled on and still no load sheet. The Virgin team began to get a bit anxious as we all returned to our seats for a head count. The already hot and humid A340 cabin was not getting any less hot and humid. Glasses of juice and wine gums were distributed by the still-smiling crew.
Miraculously a baby in the Upper Class cabin was blissfully asleep, despite the heat and hubbub. I grabbed the opportunity to interview Virgin Atlantic chief commercial and financial officer Julie Southern for our various titles.
My heart went out to a teenager travelling with his father in Upper Class who was due to sit his school entrance test in
By the time the captain came on the tannoy again we were already a couple of hours late. The load sheet was now all sorted, but one of the tyres was deflating. It seems fate was well and truly conspiring against us. We'd be a little while yet. More drinks, smiles and heart-felt apologies from the cabin crew, management and press team.
The aircraft was jacked up while we were on board and the errant tyre was changed. But the next announcement informed us that the engineers had run out of air and they'd gone off in search of a replacement cylinder. I'm not sure they prepare you for things like this in PR training school.
At this point, some economy passengers lost their sense of humour. One woman was demanding to be let off the aircraft and several others joined in the shouting match. It's on days like this when cabin crew earn their money for their saintly patience. They did their best to reassure and placate the passengers.
A medic crew came onboard to offload someone with high blood pressure. The heat and humidity were oppressive. The baby was still asleep. We were probably at the four-hour mark. The captain, Julie Southern and Jonathan Harding (Virgin's GM for international and distribution) did a sterling job of convincing several people who were determined to offload to stay. Seven could not be swayed and yet more time elapsed while we waited for the bags to be found. Still the cabin crew were lovely. A few more last minute would-be offloads were reassured and went back to their seats.
We finally got underway at 2033, nearly six hours after our 1445 departure time to a round of weary, but enthusiastic, applause. The chain of events would be quite comical if it weren't for all the hard work that the Virgin staff put in to making this event a success.
Julie came on the tannoy and apologised profusely that this first Ghanaian experience with Virgin had not gone as planned. She announced that every passenger would be given a free return flight with Virgin in the class which they were travelling in and that any taxi or hotel needs would be taken care of by Virgin on arrival.
We finally touched down at Heathrow at 0405 (we were due to get in at 2230) and were given a letter confirming Julie's promises as we disembarked.
I walked in my door just before 0600. The baby slept through the entire saga. And I hope the teenager made it though his entrance test (there was even talk of Virgin writing to the school to explain).
It's easy to get things right when everything's going smoothly, but it's even more impressive to get it right when everything goes wrong. Nice work, Virgin.
Virgin Atlantic has touched down in
Fresh in from a screening of the new Harry Potter film at Universal Studios in the States, Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson came along for the inaugural celebrations (for the Harry Potter fans out there, the film is apparently "tremendous" and "beautifully done").
Airline Business caught up with him in Virgin's Club House lounge for a pre-departure video interview, which will be online soon. To give you a sneak preview, Branson said Virgin might be forced to partner up with another airline to keep pace with the consolidation trend.
"If the playing field is so tipped against us that it is almost impossible to be an independent airline, we may come to a position where we have to consolidate. But this is not something we want," said Branson. He added that it is too early to say who Virgin might team up with.
Later on, he gave a casual media briefing around the Upper Class bar on board. Here's a quick sample of what was discussed.
THE RECOVERY: "Personally I'm an optimistic on recovery. I don't think we're going to have a second dip."
SIA'S VIRGIN ATLANTIC STAKE: "I don't think they're looking to sell."
VIRGIN'S AIRASIA X INVESTMENT: "Air Asia X is going very well. This is a financial, rather than strategic investment, so whether or not we keep it in the long term, we will have to see."
LONG HAUL, LOW-COST: "I don't think a pure low-cost airline out of the
makes sense. I'm not sure it would work." UK
THE BA STRIKE: "I wouldn't want to be involved in an airline which is tearing itself apart. Your relationship with your people is everything. A lot of BA passengers who have never flown with us are trying Virgin Atlantic. They have done themselves long-term, as well as short-term damage."
VIRGIN'S NEXT AIRLINE MOVE: "Space. This may lead to intercontinental travel in a fraction of the time and fuel would be a fraction of the cost compared with today's intercontinental flights."
VOLCANIC ASH: "We sent our aircraft up, BA sent their aircraft up and we didn't find ash. We didn't expect to find any 1,000 miles away from the volcano. We want the CAA and the Met Office to do proper monitoring of the ash cloud, not just holding a finger in sky as they have done until now."
THE PRICE FIXING CASE: "[Virgin Atlantic CEO] Steve Ridgway and all the people working with Virgin have my complete confidence"
AND FINALLY...WHAT'S KEEPING HIM UP AT NIGHT: "I think if you stayed awake with the problems of the airline industry you'd never get good night's sleep. You know that something is going to hit you each year, but you never know what it's going to be...SARS, 9/11, bird flu, the recession. We're just trying to battle our way through."
As the World Low Cost Airlines Congress kicks off in Barcelona, Flight journalist Chris Hall shares his tips on what to do and see in this vibrant Spanish city...
Barcelona is one of those cities that reveal more and more of themselves on repeat visits. Home to some of the world's most impressive architecture, museums and scenery, not to mention a truly excellent atmosphere throughout, it's almost impossible to characterise neatly. This city is modern, traditional, colourful, bohemian and mainstream all at once. Being the Catalan capital gives it a distinct identity within Spain, yet ironically it probably represents most foreigners' views of Spain. Most places claim to have something for everyone; Barcelona really does.
Antoni Gaudi's mind-bending architecture is one of the most obvious reasons to visit Barcelona, but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile. The Sagrada Familia, in the central Eixample district, is a must-see for newcomers, but take the time to check out Gaudi's Parc Guell. Situated further north, it's a popular spot for reflection and people-watching as you sit surrounded by surrealist sculpture and landscaped gardens.
Dating back to the 1992 olympics, Barcelona's Olympic village has been successfully turned into a tourist attraction that must have more than paid for itself by now - London take note. The modern architecture now houses a selection of shops, restaurants and cafés, as well as being a good spot from which to start a walk along the seafront.
At 542m (1778ft), Tibidabo is the highest hill in the wooded range that forms the backdrop to Barcelona. If the weather's clear - and in Barcelona that's a fair bet - it's a great place for views over the city. The locals come up here for some thrills at the amusement park Parc d'Atraccions, with an array of rollercoasters. Equally breathtaking, however, is the glass lift that goes up 115m to a visitors' observation area at Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower. The more grounded among you can find solace in the Temple del Sagrat Cor, Barcelona's answer to Paris' Sacré Coeur. Looming above Tibidabo's funicular station, it is actually two churches, one on top of the other. The top one is surmounted by a giant Christ and has a lift to the roof.
A tourist magnet, Barcelona's de facto high street (actually five streets end-to-end) has nonetheless got more to recommend it than overpriced restaurants and street hawkers. Check out the colourful bird market, the Palau de Virreina and the Gran Teatre del Liceu - the old opera house - as you walk down towards the Placa Reial, one of the cities grandest open spaces.
Barcelona has more than its fair share of museums dedicated to the arts: one good way to make sure you don't miss any masterpieces is to buy an 'Articket' from the tourism board, which covers you for seven of the city's foremost galleries, including the Museu Picasso, Fundacio Joan Miro and Gaudi's Caixa Catalunya.
Museums - articket deal
Barcelona is full of traditional markets selling fresh Catalan and Mediterranean food. La boqeria is one of the grandest, oldest and best known, the latter owing largely to its situation just a couple of minutes off Las Ramblas. As well as providing excellent picnic material, you can - and should - sit and sample the quesadillas made there and then. For something more formal, try the nearby restaurant El Quim
Les Quinze Nits is a stylish tapas restaurant which is definitely one to consider if reviews are anything to go by: it overlooks the grand Placa Reial, serves delicious yet reasonably priced food and, not surprisingly, is very popular as a result. They do not take reservations, however.
Fans of fine dining will feel right at home in Alkimia, one of Barcelona's most fashionable and talked-about restaurants. Nestling in the shadow of la Sagrada Familia, it has quickly made a name for itself serving ultra-modern interpretations of typical Catalan cuisine.
For less extravagant dinners, avoid the tourist traps around Las Ramblas and head into the old quarter, Barri Gotic: explore the narrow, winding streets and you should find plenty of authentic tapas restaurants and cafés.
This is a useful list of some traditional Catalonian dishes that you might like to try if you get a chance.
Barcelona deserves its reputation as a party town, even in a country that lives for late nights. The best areas to target are Raval, Barri Gotic, or Born: that's where you'll find the best bars and clubs. Be prepared to go the whole hog; with clubs that don't open until the early hours of the morning you might find yourself a little stretched if you're working the next day.
Outside of Barcelona
If you have time, or fancy getting away from the busy city, the surrounding area has plenty going for it. The nearby town of Sitges is a popular mix of medieval and modern cultures; Figueres, a little further afield, is the birthplace of the world's favourite surrealist, Salvador Dali, and has an excellent museum devoted to him; or for something entirely different, why not take a trip to Montserrat? Ascending the mountain by cable car to arrive at the 16th century monastery makes for quite a pilgrimage.
Been to Beijing? Have any top tips? Then please share them with us...
Photo credit: Sipa Press/Rex Features
The 2009 World Routes Development Forum in Beijing is fast-approaching and the Airline Business team will be there, producing three daily papers from the show.
Because time is always tight on these trips, we are putting together a list of Beijing's highlights to share with the Routes delegates.
If you have any insider tips on must-see sights or foods to sample, please let us know.
Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a vibrant, dynamic and colourful city which first appeared on the map in the mid-1800s. It is Malaysia's largest city and the youngest capital in Southeast Asia, reflected by the mix of old colonial-style buildings and modern skyscrapers. There is plenty to do and see in KL, so here are a handful of ideas:
(1) Iconic architecture
At 452m (1,483ft), the Petronas Twin Towers or KLCC are tallest twin buildings in the world. The octagonal buildings, which were opened in 1998, have 88-storeys marking the significance of the Chinese lucky number 8. Although the public can't visit the top, you can take a free 10-minute tour of the double-decker Skybridge at the 41st floor (170m above street level).Tickets are allocated from 08:30 on a first-come, first-served basis, so you'll need to get there early to grab one of the 800 time-allocated passes (closed Mondays).
Picture credit: Daniel Berthold
(2) Bird's eye view
While the Petronas Twin Towers score points for their sheer architectural beauty, you get the best views of the city from the observation deck at the KL Tower, or Menara Kuala Lumpur to use its official title. The KL Tower, which is a telecommunications and broadcasting hub, is 421m tall and appears to be taller than the Petronas Towers, because it is built on a hill. At one point it claimed to house the highest McDonald's in the world, but if you're after something a little more upmarket, it contains a revolving restaurant providing diners with stunning views of the city.
(3) Hustle bustle
If you're on the look out for gifts, crafts, art work and souvenirs, you should visit Central Market in China Town. Housed in an air-conditioned art deco building, the market is located along Jalan Hang Kasturi, a few minutes away from Petaling Street. It has been classified as a heritage site and it is a landmark for Malaysian culture, packed with a wide variety of Malaysian arts and crafts, including textiles, sculptures and handmade jewellery. Keep an eye out for demonstrations and performances, which include martial arts, music and dance performances.
(4) China Town at night
Heighten your senses with a stroll through China town, which is based in Petaling Street - a former tapioca producing suburb. Take an evening stroll through the hive of vibrant activity at the night market, which has an array of colourful sights, stalls, restaurants and no shortage of opportunities to hone your haggling skills. It's also a great place to sample local fruits and food.
(5) Local tastes
Check out our previous blog on must-try local cuisine, which was compiled with the help of Malaysia Airlines and their Twitter followers. Other recommendations include Restoran Rebung, owned by a celebrity TV chef and Malaysia's first astronaut (when Malaysia bought Sukhoi jets from Russia, part of the deal was that Russia would put a Malaysian in space). This vibrantly decorated restaurant does very good Malay food and is set in a house in Bangsar, one of KL's most popular bar and restaurant areas. Another tip is the Crocodile Farm Seafood Village Restaurant, a quirky eatery which is a great choice for Cantonese seafood cuisine. It has a large wooden deck where you can sit overlooking what seems to be a round lake, but is an old open cut tin mine which has filled with water. Although not an actual crocodile farm, you can idle away the hours watching the fish and turtles (including some liberated ex-pets).
(6) KL take-away
For a real taste of local street food, head to one of the many bustling evening hawker stalls. Hang out with the locals on rickety chairs and tables and sample some very affordable dishes. There are around 50,000 stalls so you'll be spoiled for choice. The recommended food markets, where many are located, are around Jalan Alor (renowned for Chinese dishes); Bangsar Baru Hawker Stalls (good mix); Jalan Masjid India (mainly Indian) and Merdeka Square Hawker Stalls, just behind St Mary's Cathedral, (a wide variety of Asian food).
(7) A touch of tranquillity
Taman Tasik Perdana or the Lake Gardens Park is a botanical garden at Jalan Perdana which was built in the 1880s. Nestled deep in the city centre, this is a wonderful place to wind down and stretch your legs. Its lush green gardens, undulating hills, bright flowers and fauna make it a favourite spot for city dwellers. You can rent rowing boats and take in highlights including the bird, butterfly and deer parks.
(8) Back to nature
For something a little different, how about a trip to the spectacular limestone Batu Caves? Discovered in the 1890s, and situated seven miles north of Kuala Lumpur, this series of caves and cave temples is a sacred place for Malaysia's Hindus. But if you are feeling a little jaded after the conference, be warned you need to climb 272 steep steps to access the main Temple cave. Prepare for a little simian attention, as there is a large local monkey population.
Try visiting some of the local mosques and temples. Must sees include the Masjid Jamek mosque, a beautiful pink and cream brick building which is set in a grove of palm trees on the banks of the Klang and Gombak rivers. Also you should go to the Sri Mahamariaman temple which, built in 1873, is the oldest Hindu temple in the country. A few blocks away is the Sze-ya Taoist temple which was built by one of the founding fathers of Kuala Lumpur.
(10) Last-minute shopping
If you need to get that last-minute gift before heading home, KL has some huge shopping malls full of all the well-known global chain and designer stores, as well as housing entertainment venues and many restaurants and bars. Try visiting the Mid Valley Megamall or Berjaya Times Square. If you specifically want a designer label, Starhill Gallery is the place to go. If you're after electrical goods such as computers and laptops head to either Plaza Low Yat or Imbi Plaza located in the Golden Triangle.
Photo credit: IaRuth
Hats off to our friends at Malaysia Airlines - they've got their fingers on the social media pulse.
Many thanks to Salina for all her efforts. Read on to see the full list...