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Monday December 3, 2012

Majorca hits the jackpot with new flight routes

It’s hard to imagine that come 2013 Majorcan residents, British expats and holidaymakers will literally be spoilt for choice when it comes to flight routes between Palma and London.

For the last few years there has been growing concern within the tourism and business sectors about the closure of highly popular routes such as the regular daily British Midland service that used to run for many years from Heathrow to Palma. When that stopped abruptly in 2009, it wasn’t just those who could afford business class that lamented having to take their chances at other London airports with budget airlines but those who found Heathrow a far more convenient hub for departures.

Now all that’s going to change as Spain’s low cost carrier, Vueling, the apparent white knight of the skies, breathes new life into the defunct Heathrow route and commences a regular service from next March. Vueling, Spain’s second largest airline, which is 45 per cent owned by IAG-the parent company of British Airways and Iberia-will offer three service levels-Basic (which happily does not involve clinging to the wing of a plane), Optima and Excellence. Having travelled with Vueling last year I was unnerved by the reasonable prices and how easy it was to book seats online. Where was the catch? I imagined we’d be herded on to a tired and tatty ancient craft at Barcelona airport but no siree, it was a modern airbus A320 in pristine condition.

So good news all round and if that wasn’t enough to uncork the cava, Norway’s low cost airline will be commencing a route from Gatwick to Palma also in March. Not to be outdone, BA City Flyer which has been operating a route from London City airport to Palma, will retain six services per week during the winter which will increase during the summer months.

With the current crisis in Spain, you’d think that our regional tourism minister here in the Baleares would be overjoyed but he’s still keeping a low profile since he paraded a pair of deer testicles on his head, and faced the ridicule of local and international media alike.

Ironically all this comes at a time when IAG is suing SEPLA, the Iberia pilots’ union, over their recent strike action in 2011, and earlier this year. With IAG announcing the loss of 4,500 jobs at Iberia which this year has incurred losses of €262 million, the airline is apparently in a “fight for survival”. If things weren’t bad enough, flight crews at Iberia are now planning strike action for six days prior to Christmas.

I suppose it all goes to show that in the airline business everything’s either up in the air or completely grounded.

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