News: BA substitutes charter flights for scheduled jets

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Some British Airways passengers expecting to fly this weekend to Florida and Kenya on state-of-the-art jets will instead find themselves squeezed into a Portuguese charter aircraft.

Some British Airways passengers expecting to fly this weekend to Florida and Kenya on state-of-the-art jets will instead find themselves squeezed into a Portuguese charter aircraft.

The airline says that the Boeing 777 normally used for the Gatwick-Tampa service will be replaced by a 767 charter jet operated by EuroAtlantic Airways of Sintra, near Lisbon.

A BA spokesman said the change is "a knock-on effect" from the severe winter weather that affected the north--east US last month, causing dozens of flight cancellations and disrupting cabin-crew rosters. "Instead of cancelling the flight we chartered in another company," said the spokesman.

The flights are "wet-leased": pilots and cabin crew are supplied by EuroAtlantic. Business-class passengers are to be handed £250 in compensation when they turn up at Gatwick. Travellers in economy-class passengers get nothing, because BA describes the service as "broadly similar" to its own economy product.

Yet the seat pitch in EuroAtlantic's main cabin is an inch less than the BA standard. In addition, the Portuguese jet cannot fly as fast as the 777, extending the journey to around 10 hours.

Contributors to the online air-travel forum, FlyerTalk, have condemned the change of plane. One wrote "It's one thing to replace an aircraft, quite another to replace it with a seriously substandard (from a passenger perspective) machine, without any achievable advance warning or meaningful compensation." BA's spokesman said " We'd like to apologise to all customers affected by the change of aircraft. We're doing all we can to resolve it as quickly as possible".

The airline is trying to contact passengers to advise them of the aircraft, change, and offer the chance to re-book, re-route to another BA destination or claim a refund. Normal service to Florida is due to resume on Monday.

Travellers on some flights from London to the Kenyan capital will also travel aboard a charter aircraft. The airline said that "a maintenance overrun on the 767 fleet" had caused it to replace some scheduled Heathrow- Nairobi services with a Lockheed Tristar, also chartered from EuroAtlantic.

Careerists given gap-year chance

Career-break travellers are soon to get the opportunity to spend part of their "grown-up gap year" working on volunteer projects in the developing world. At present, Voluntary Service Overseas placements are for two years. But in April, VSO is to merge with Beso (British Executive Service Overseas), which specialises in enterprise development. Beso projects require volunteers with business skills, who use their commercial experience to help develop firms in poor communities.

Crucially, Beso's placements last for between one and three months.

To start with, the placements will only be available to Beso's existing volunteers, VSO's returned volunteers and those recruited through VSO's Business Partnerships scheme. However, by next year, the scheme will be open to all.

Mark Goldring, VSO's chief executive, says: "We can use the skills of a much wider section of the British public for whom long-term volunteering is not feasible."

Voluntary Service Overseas: 020-8780 7200; www.vso.org.uk

* A new gap-year show will take place at the Wembley Exhibition Centre on 28 and 29 June, where groups offering courses, seasonal work and volunteer projects will have stands.

Spanish fares set to fall

Travellers to the Asturias region of north-west Spain can expect fares to fall this summer: on 24 March easyJet is to start flying from Luton to the main city, Oviedo. The airline will be in competition with British Airways, which currently flies three times a week from Gatwick.

US boost for UK regional airports

North America will be easier to reach from regional airports this summer. Continental Airlines continues its expansion from UK airports with the launch, on 20 May, of flights from Bristol to Newark, New Jersey. A week later, Belfast will also be linked to the east-coast city. Besides offering easy access to New York, Newark has connections across the US and into Canada and Mexico. On 2 May, Continental restarts its summer-only flight from Gatwick to Cleveland.

American Airlines is to restart its Glasgow-Chicago and Manchester- Boston links on 2 May, continuing until 30 September and 29 October respectively. The Manchester service is an economy-only flight.

From June, Zoom adds Belfast to its UK regional network, with a weekly scheduled flight to Toronto.

American Airlines (08457 789 789; www.aa.com; Continental (0845 607 6760; www.continental.com) Zoom (0870 240 0055; www.flyzoom.com

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