Travel Update

Travel Update - August 20, 2014

By Gloria Bohan

Air China Passengers from 51 countries can stay for up to 72 hours in 7 port cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, without a visa during their transfer in cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Chongqing, Shenyang, Dalian, Xi'an and Guilin before continuing their journey to the third country. Tourists can now take time to see a few sights like the Great Wall or the warriors of Xi’an. Passengers must have valid travel documents proving their nationality and a ticket with confirmed reservations on a nonstop flight bound for the third country within 72 hours. Visit the official website for detailed information on the transit visa-free stay policy.

New App for International Travelers Arriving at Atlanta
Customs and Border Protection announced the launch of a pilot program at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, to allow eligible international travelers to use a free app to create a profile with their passport info via secure encryption. Passengers can submit their Customs declaration form through the app, then receive an electronic receipt with a scannable QR code that lasts 4 hours. Travelers must have a Wi-Fi or cellular connection to submit the Customs declaration form. Travelers present their passport and mobile device with the code to a Customs officer. U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors are eligible to use the free app which could shorten wait times. More information on the Mobile Passport Control app is on the U.S. Customs website.

American Airlines Drops Meals
Passengers expecting some kind of meal on American Airlines (AA) short haul flights from 1 September will find they are disappointed. The Dallas Texas-based carrier will stop serving free meals to First and Business Class passengers on flights shorter than 2hrs 45mins. AA now only serves full meals on flights longer than 2 hours. The change is part of the AA merger with US Airways (US) which includes adopting a standard cabin service on the two airlines. US previously only served full meals on flights longer than 3.5 hours. In April it reduced that time to 2.75 hours. The airlines will continue to serve snacks on shorter flights. Passengers in economy sections can buy meals on flights longer than 2.75 hours. Some popular flights that are in the air for less than 2.75 hours, typically Chicago to New York, will be exempt from the policy.

Two-thirds of US Flyers Have No Favorite Airline
The airline industry spends heavily to increase brand loyalty, yet the majority of American flyers do not have a preferred carrier. A new survey has found that 63% of customers did not express a preference for a specific airline and just 5% felt getting frequent flier miles to be an important factor when selecting flights. The survey conducted for the financial news website,TheStreet, looked at consumer preferences in the industry and apart from price, 28% of respondents said non-stop service was important, followed by the time of departure cited by 20%, and 15% made booking decisions based on an airline's reputation. Almost a quarter of respondents had made a complaint to an airline and 60% of these felt satisfied with the overall response. Unsurprisingly, nickel and diming is a major annoyance with 70% against bag fees and 56% irritated by charging for in-flight snacks. 'The airline industry believes that bag fees are immensely logical and that airlines are able to build customer loyalty, but our new poll shows that most Americans still hate bag fees and feel little loyalty to individual airlines,' said Ted Reed, transportation reporter for TheStreet.

Alitalia Saved
Etihad Airways will buy almost half of Alitalia and invest nearly $745 million into the Italian airline in a deal signed last August. The two airlines have been in talks for nearly a year. The final agreement was delayed by negotiations over job cuts and debt restructuring. Alitalia's fleet may have been grounded within weeks without this deal which is subject to approval by European authorities and for Heathrow slots. The details of day-to-day management and operations have yet to be worked out. Etihad's is involved with a number of carriers holding a - 29.21% stake in Air Berlin, 2.9% Aer Lingus, 40% Air Seychelles, 24% Jet Airways of India, 10% Virgin Australia, and 49% in the Serbian national airline JAT/Air Serbia. It owns 33.3% of the Swiss carrier, Darwin Airlines, now rebranded as Etihad Regional. Existing Alitalia shareholders, including Poste Italiane, will constitute a so-called 'mid-company' controlling 51% of the restructured airline.

United Updates Passenger App
United Airlines passengers can now scan their passports on the airline’s mobile app, making it possible to print out boarding passes at home even for international flights. The new process, which began testing this week, enables passengers to take a photo of their passport within 24 hours of an international flight, using an iOS or Android phone. For additional security, Jumio Inc., a credentials management company, will then verify the passport. Once the process is complete, customers who do not need a visa can print out their boarding passes. United said it is the only U.S. airline offering this capability. It plans to collect feedback during the testing period to further enhance the app.

Room Service by Robot at Aloft 
A new bellhop is on duty at Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, CA and promises to change the face of hospitality. The Starwood owned Silicone Valley area hotel has deployed the first Botlr (robotic butler) to attend to guest requests. Once guests call the front desk with a room service request, the hotel's human staff simply load up the Botlr with an extra towel or a late night snack, input the guest's room number and the Botlr does the rest. It can navigate hotel corridors and use the elevator using a Wi-Fi signal. The pilot program officially kicks off on August 20 and may be deployed at almost 100 properties if it proves a success. Starwood says the robots will augment rather than replace existing staff. The Botlr was built by California tech firm Savioke which believes there is great potential for service robots. 'There are all these places, hotels, elder care facilities, hospitals that have a few hundred robots maybe, but no significant numbers, and we think that's just a huge opportunity,' said Savioke CEO Steve Cousins.

Reasons to Provide Duty Of Care 
Do you know where your travelers are? Are they safe? Are they well? Is their data secure? Duty of care has become a serious corporate responsibility as business travel expands into new markets worldwide. Risks are significant while national regulations have increased the burden of legal responsibility for organizations.

TRAVEL RISKS—rioting, disease, theft, storms . . . traveler risk takes many forms. Exposure to risk can be encountered anywhere - potential problems include risks to safety, security, health, reputation, equipment, data, legal regulations, financial and productivity.

We can help to avoid dangers and support travelers already at risk with comprehensive duty of care services: 
1) 24/7 emergency reservations services
2) Experienced disaster recovery team
3) Destination information, alerts, warnings
4) Two-way communication with travelers
5) Ongoing traveler tracking and reporting
6) Health and trip insurance available
7) Visa and passport assistance
8) Medical assistance
9) HOTELS and DUTY OF CARE—Book hotels through Omega to build your duty of care program. Since we integrate your travelers’ hotels into our tracking technology, we always know where your travelers are and how to reach them quickly. Rapid response, assistance and evacuation are powerful tools in a crisis, helping to ensure the safety and security of your travelers while limiting potential liability.
10) DUTY OF CARE TECHNOLOGY—Omega uses robust, state-of-art technology for worldwide, 24/7 duty of care support. Today’s technology starts with mobile communications, and Omega—always a technology innovator—delivers. Our technology is user-friendly, flexible, reliable and affordable:
• Omega’s comprehensive traveler tracking suite
• Consolidated online dashboard reporting
• Real-time mobile traveler communications
• Lanyon Hotel Sourcing RFP—fully integrated traveler locations for tracking
• 3rd-party tracking available—Sabre Security Suite, iJet, ISOS, TravelGuard red24 and Concur Alert & Locate.
• Customized client portal website—convenient, timely, online traveler communications. 
• FlightStats—sends email and cell phone alerts.

The following discount vacation packages are available from Omega World Travel and 7-Day Australia/New Zealand from $389, 10-Day Mediterranean from $469, 7-Day Bahamas from $549, 10-Day Panama from $889, 8-Day Caribbean from $1089. For more information, visit or call 1-888-333-3116.

Remember to participate in our Business Travel Survey at 

Cover photo by See-Ming Lee