Friday 19 January 2018

A world of new travel possibilities

Simon Calder

In northern Europe, last weekend marked the final nail in the coffin of summer. The clocks went back and we must now accept being cast into darkness in the middle of the afternoon.

But there is a bright side: we've just hit the 'seasonal boundary', when airlines' summer schedules give way to winter.

And there are enough new opportunities to provide the traveller with dozens of fresh possibilities this winter, though most of them are from European hubs beyond Dublin.

The word 'destination' is deliberately left out of that sentence: the new season is more about wider choices of services than finding new locations on the sky map.

An honourable exception is Vietnam (pictured). Some years ago, British Airways planned services to Ho Chi Minh City, still known on baggage tags as SGN from its old name, Saigon. As BA shrank, the idea was dropped. But from early December, Vietnam Airlines will serve both Ho Chi Minh City and the capital, Hanoi, from Gatwick.

To Latin America, KLM is making the running from its hub in Amsterdam -- which can be accessed from Dublin and Cork. The Dutch airline (now part of Air France) is re-starting links to both Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, which should help to drive down fares to the two most alluring cities on South America's Atlantic Coast.

Travel to Ecuador is accelerated, too. Until now, flights from Amsterdam to Quito (the capital) and Guayaquil (for connections to the Galápagos) have involved a refuelling stop at Bonaire, one of the Dutch Caribbean islands. Removing this pause saves a couple of hours from the overall journey time.

KLM is also going into Havana. The three weekly departures from Amsterdam will provide welcome extra capacity to the Cuban capital and competition for Virgin Atlantic and BA/Iberia, though two of the new flights are combined with Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

One more Latin enhancement: Qantas will soon start a non-stop link between Santiago in Chile and Sydney. Flights across the South Pacific are rare, and the extra capacity will relieve the existing links from Santiago via Easter Island to Tahiti, and from Buenos Aires via Auckland to Sydney.

In a few weeks, BMI is likely to become the first UK airline to go into liberated Libya, with daily flights from Heathrow to Tripoli expected to start on November 21.

From a travel perspective, the opening up of the second-largest nation bordering the Mediterranean (after Algeria) is akin to the solar system acquiring a new planet.

Libya's shoreline is as long as Cyprus's and Tunisia's combined. The nation comprises two ancient territories: Tripolitania, centred on the capital, and Cyrenaica, around the 'rebel capital', Benghazi. BA once flew to both Tripoli and Benghazi, and may return again soon.

And the prize for the most unusual new destination? Once again, it goes to Air France, whose Dedicate route network from Paris (using small A319 aircraft, and aimed squarely at business travellers) expands to embrace Bata in Equatorial Guinea and Port-Gentil in Gabon.

Don't all rush now.

Weekend Magazine

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