Travel news: ABTA complaints rise

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The Independent Travel

The Association of British Travel Agents saw complaints rise by 17 per cent last year, according to a new report. Abta received 17,196 complaints in 2005, compared with 14,600 the previous year. Among the list of grievances were poor accommodation, flight delays and building works at destinations. Despite the significant increase in complaints, those cases going to arbitration were down; 947 in 2005, compared with 1,155 in 2004. An Abta spokesperson cited an "increased awareness" of the complaints process for the rise in complaints.

* Following the recent poll to decide England's favourite icons, a new survey now shows which of those landmarks abroad we treasure most. This was undertaken by octopustravel.com which asked its customers to pick their favourite view from a hotel room anywhere in the world. Top of the list was India's Taj Mahal as seen from the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, voted for by more than 22 per cent of respondents. In second place was the view of Sydney Harbour from the Four Seasons Sydney, which gained 15 per cent of the vote. Third place was Niagara Falls (14 per cent) as seen from the Sheraton Hotel.

* The car hire company Hertz has launched a new product designed to appeal to security-conscious visitors: a fully armoured Range Rover. Initially available from the company's outlet in London's Marble Arch, vehicle hire starts at £1,000 a day, with a minimum period of three days. The ultra-secure vehicle features include armoured glass, an anti-tamper exhaust, in-vehicle oxygen supply, run-flat tyres and a self-sealing fuel tank. "The armoured vehicles market is one of the fastest growing automotive sectors in the world," according to general manager Neil Cunningham, "so there is clearly demand for such a service."

* In an effort to reduce queues, BMI has announced that passengers can now check in for selected routes online and print out their own boarding pass before going to the airport. Customers can log on to www.flybmi.com/online checkin and will be taken through a simple five-step process. Once they arrive at the airport all they will need to do is take any luggage to the BMI fast bag drop.

* A Commons vote cleared the way for the introduction of biometric scans for passports by 2008. Anyone renewing travel documents from that date will be asked to submit to electronic scans of a potential range of physical characteristics. These may include fingers, thumbs, face and eyes, which will be incorporated in a combined passport/identity card ahead of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all UK residents in 2013. Critics of the scheme say those renewing passports in 2008-09 will effectively be registering for ID cards five years early. The fee for the new document will be about £93, compared with the £57 charge for a 10-year passport.

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