Branson to sell $500m space venture stake to support Virgin Atlantic

Richard Branson to sell up to $500m-worth of Virgin Galactic ...

Sir Richard Branson aims to shore up his airline and travel interests hit by the coronavirus global travel shutdown by selling $500 million in Virgin Galactic shares.

Virgin Group told the New York Stock Exchange it planned to sell 25 million shares in the space tourism venture in a series of transactions.

The company said: “Virgin intends to use any proceeds to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19.”

The freeze in global travel is affecting a host of Virgin Group companies, including Virgin Atlantic as well as its holidays, cruises and hotels businesses.

Virgin Atlantic last week announced it would cut 3,150 jobs, move it Gatwick operation to Heathrow and rebrand Virgin Holidays.

Chief executive Shai Weiss insisted at the weekend that he was “100% confident” the airline can survive the Covid-19 crisis.

The airline, in which founder Branson still holds a majority 51% stake, has been seeking emergency investment as well as some form of state aid while the majority of its fleet remains grounded.

About a dozen investment groups have been reported as showing interest in the UK long-haul carrier while talks continue with the Treasury and transport secretary Grant Shapps.

The airline was told last month that it needed to resubmit a £500 million bid for government state aid amid reports the Treasury had felt the carrier had nit exhausted other options.

Virgin Australia entered administration last month as the airline industry struggles to survive global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

DOT orders airlines to pay out refunds

DOT orders airlines to pay out refunds
Photo Credit: Oliver Le Moal/Shutterstock

The Transportation Department on Friday issued an enforcement notice, telling airlines that they remain obligated to pay out refunds for flights that they have cancelled.

The order was prompted by an increase in complaints from ticketed passengers who have been denied refunds, the DOT said. Airlines instead are often giving travel vouchers.

“The longstanding obligation of carriers to provide refunds for flights that carriers cancel or significantly delay does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier’s control,” the DOT said in the order. “The focus is not on whether the flight disruptions are within or outside the carrier’s control, but rather on the fact that the cancellation is through no fault of the passenger.”

The unprecedented schedule cuts airlines have made in response to the Covid-19 crisis has left the airline industry with a $35 billion refund liability worldwide, according to a recent IATA estimate.

With airlines already struggling due to enormous losses in revenue, IATA has been lobbying governments to suspend refund requirements. Thus far Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Colombia have issued favourable rulings for airlines.

Airlines have also acted individually to make refunds more challenging to obtain. Some have stopped processing them entirely while many others are making it difficult for customers to find information on applying for refunds. In the U.S., United recently altered its refund process so that international ticket holders will have to wait a year to get repaid for a flight cancelled by the airline.

In addition, 33 airlines (as of April 3) have unilaterally suspended refunds through the GDSs or ARC’s Interactive Agent Reporting system, forcing travel advisors to deal directly with the carrier.

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of refund transactions facing airlines that are still processing them in the GDS has compelled ARC to delay its weekly remittance schedule. ARC will now turn over refunds to agencies 10 days after the Sunday end of each business week, rather than five. That decision, said ARC’s managing director of airline services Chuck Fischer, was prompted by the fact that with current refund volumes, many airlines simply can’t go through their procedures fast enough to meet the five-day schedule.

Fischer said ARC doesn’t like that some airlines have cut off GDS refund processing, “but we can’t stop them from doing that.”

IATA, which oversees agent channel billing and settlement for most of the world other than the U.S., has no such reluctance. In an open letter to travel agents Thursday, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said that the best solution right now for airlines and agents alike is for governments to suspend refund requirements.

“This would remove the pressure that is currently on agents to issue cash refunds at a time when airlines are making decisions based on their own need to preserve cash,” he wrote.

The DOT’s enforcement notice pushes back against such airline efforts. The department stated that it considers any contract of carriage provision by an airline that denies refunds for cancellations or significant schedule changes to be a regulatory violation. (The DOT does not specifically define “significant schedule change.” A DOT spokesperson said it is determined on a case-by-case basis.) The notice applies to both U.S. and foreign carriers that operate in the U.S.

The department said that for now, it will hold off on enforcement action against airlines that have provided travel vouchers in lieu of refunds to travellers with cancelled flights, but only if they meet three conditions:

• Carriers must contact passengers to tell them they have an option for a refund.

• They must update contacts of carriage to make refund rights clear.

• They must brief all relevant personnel on the circumstances in which refunds should be made.

Costa Cruises ship cleared after coronavirus scare

 Image result for costa smeralda

The fear of a potential outbreak of coronavirus on one of the world’s largest cruise ships has turned out to be a false alarm.

Costa Cruises confirmed that Italian health officials diagnosed a passenger onboard the 6,000-passenger Costa Smeralda with the “common flu”.

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that two members from the same family in England have the first cases of coronavirus in the UK.

Passengers on the Costa ship had been placed in quarantine as a precaution over a suspected case of the deadly virus in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome.

At least 66 British passengers were reported to be on board the vessel at the time.

A 54-year-old woman from Macau held in isolation on the ship with her husband had reportedly flown from Hong Kong to join the Mediterranean cruise.

A Costa Cruises spokesperson said: “Thanks to the protocols that are applied on board the fleet, Wednesday night our medical team promptly identified a suspected fever case in a 54-year-old woman, just a few hours before the ship’s arrival in Civitavecchia.

“As soon as the case was discovered, the required precautionary procedures were immediately taken. The relevant authorities were informed and, upon arrival of the ship in the port of Civitavecchia, they carried out all the required checks.

“While we appreciate the inconvenience caused, the procedures in force and our co-operation with the health authorities were effective in managing the situation and intended to ensure maximum safety for our guests, crew and the community as a whole.”

The ship will remain docked at Civitavecchia until today and miss the port of La Spezia before returning to its homeport of Savona.

 

 

MSC Magnifica in Queensferry, Scotland, photo credit Dave Jones

The scare came as rival line MSC Cruises announced a new series of strict “precautionary measures” across its fleet due to the coronavirus outbreak in China which has caused 213 deaths in the country and triggered a World Heath Organisation global health emergency.

Guests from all nationalities are required to fill out a pre-embarkation questionnaire to ensure no-one boards their ship who has travelled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days. Anyone who has travelled from mainland China or visited mainland China in the past 30 days will be denied access to the ship;

Mandatory non-touch thermal scans conducted for all guests and crew prior to embarkation for every cruise operated by the company anywhere in the world, and persons with signs or symptoms of illness such as fever or feverishness, chills, cough or difficulty breathing will be denied embarkation;

Elevated deep-sanitation on every ship in the line’s entire fleet;

Guests who may have fever symptoms will be isolated in their cabin and the same measure applies for their close contacts, including guests staying in the same cabin and family members, as well as any crew member who may have served these guests.

A spokesman said: “While there are no cases of coronavirus on board any of MSC Cruises’ ships these measures are additional steps to secure the health and well-being of all guests and crew.”

“These measures follow previous actions that were taken last week,” the spokesman added.

“Guests and crew who travelled last week from mainland China were already screened for symptoms upon embarkation and were requested to report any symptoms of illness to the onboard medical centre.

“Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, MSC Cruises has been closely monitoring the public health and safety situation in each of the regions its ships sail.

“The company has been consulting with international and local health authorities to follow their advice and recommendations.”

The move came after the line cancelled the next three MSC Splendida sailings from Shanghai.

The ship’s four and five-night sailings from Shanghai to Japan on February 1, 5 and 9 will not operate.

MSC Splendida, deployed in Asia for the winter, will reposition to Singapore to start a 27-night repositioning voyage to the Middle East and Europe on February 14.

The line’s chief executive Gianni Onorato said: “The decision to reposition the ship from Shanghai to Singapore has been taken in the best interests of the safety and wellbeing for our passengers and crew, as was the decision to cancel our next three scheduled sailings from China.

“Many major airlines have either cancelled or reduced their flight frequency to China and the grand voyage, a maritime tradition whereby a ship moves from one part of the world to another for a new sailing season, was entirely booked with guests flying from abroad to enjoy the experience of a unique itinerary.

“In light of Singapore becoming a new embarkation port we have had to cancel calls to Naha, Japan and Hong Kong but it has also created an opportunity to update and enrich the grand voyage’s itinerary with four additional new ports; Langkawi, Penang and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, plus Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to create a new, one-of-a-kind memorable cruise.”