News: Amsterdam moves south; insurance blacklists

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Amsterdam moves south

For 85 years KLM has been based at Schiphol airport near Amsterdam. But a month from today, the Dutch airline's no-frills offshoot, Basiq Air, is moving its operations 40 miles south-west to Rotterdam. Despite the distance, Basiq's website is selling the place as though it were Amsterdam's second airport.

For years, traditional airlines have mocked no-frills carriers for using airports miles away from the cities they are supposed to serve. Ryanair is the leading exponent; "Frankfurt" Hahn, is 90 minutes from the German financial capital, and "Barcelona" is 40 miles away in a different city, Girona.

Basiq Air, which flies from Stansted, is to switch its flights from Schiphol to Rotterdam on 28 March. On its English-language website the airline describes the airport as "Amsterdam (Rotterdam)", though the Dutch version lists it only as Rotterdam. The new airport is a minimum of an hour away from Amsterdam's Centraal station by public transport, compared with the 16-minute train service from Schiphol.

"Even by Ryanair's standards that's a pretty wild leap of imagination," says Tim Jeans, chief operating officer of MyTravel Airways. "It's like calling an airport 'Manchester (Birmingham)'. You can't align two separate cities."

A spokeswoman for Basiq says that listing the airport as Amsterdam (Rotterdam) is a "transitional arrangement", and points out that all Basiq Air's UK press and advertising describes the airport as Rotterdam. Fares from Stansted to the city are widely available for £45.50 return, even at weekends.

Basiq Air took over the old Buzz route between Stansted and Schiphol a year ago (when Ryanair bought Buzz, one of its first acts was to drop the link with Amsterdam). Basiq Air has faced competition from easyJet since last October, and there is rarely room for more than one low-cost airline on a single airport-to-airport route.

Travellers planning to fly from Bristol, Edinburgh or Glasgow to Amsterdam may find it tougher from 28 March when KLM cuts the number of flights from these airports to Schiphol.

Basiq Air: 020-7365 4997, www.basiqair.com

The Emirates join travel insurance blacklist

One of Britain's leading travel insurance companies is refusing to cover visits to the United Arab Emirates. Columbus Direct has excluded the area, which includes Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, from its policies. The company says this is as a result of Foreign Office advice. Yet the UAE is not among the countries on the Government's travel blacklist.

The current official travel warning says: "We judge that there is a significant threat from terrorism against Western, including British, targets." This stops well short of the advice for prospective visitors to countries such as Indonesia, advising against "all non-essential travel", which is the usual trigger for cover to be withdrawn. But underwriters for Columbus have decided to withdraw cover for the UAE.

According to the Foreign Office, 48,000 British nationals live in the Emirates, and half a million visited in 2002. Columbus says that existing policyholders are covered, if the UAE was not excluded when the policy was taken out.

Columbus Travel Insurance: 0845 330 8518; www.columbusdirect.net

* British travellers have another way to get to the Gulf and beyond this summer. Inspired by the success of Emirates, Dubai's airline, the other Gulf states are bidding to cash in on travel between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, aims to persuade travellers to forsake Dubai as a stopover point in favour of the adjacent emirate. A month from today it will start three flights a week from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi.

Etihad: www.etihadairways.com

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