Grim Tidings for Travellers from UAE During Christmas


Grim tidings for Christmas travellers

UAE - OCT 14: Travel agents and airlines are warning expatriates in the UAE to book tickets as soon as possible if they want to guarantee flying home for Christmas – and expect prices to increase further between now and then.

A steep rise in global fuel prices and increasing demand have forced prices up by 30 per cent since last year and anyone hoping to make a late decision on whether to fly home should bear in mind that some flights are already selling out.

Yesterday, the cheapest available direct return ticket that could be found online from Dubai to London, leaving on Dec 19 and returning on Jan 2, was DH3,675 (US$1,000). The cheapest indirect flight, an 11-hour journey via Bahrain, was Dh3,140 (US$855).

At Dh3,892 (US$1,060), the cost of a direct flight to London for the same period from Abu Dhabi was slightly higher, while an indirect flight, with Gulf Air via Bahrain, was just over Dh3,000 (US$820).

The lowest price available yesterday on for tickets for a family of two adults and two children, travelling from Abu Dhabi to Heathrow for the same period, was Dh7,387 (US$2,010), with Gulf Air via Manama.

Travelling direct with Etihad would have cost the same family Dh14,234 (US$3,875).

“It is advisable to book early for flights in peak periods,” said a spokesman for STA Travel, a leading travel agency with branches in 18 countries, including the UAE.

“Families tend to plan Christmas trips six months in advance, so many flights will already be full. As there are a limited number of seats in each pay band the prices will rise markedly as Christmas approaches.”

“With Eid falling on Dec 9 and 10 this year, there will not be many cheap seats available,” said the STA spokesman.

And if you have a preferred airline, it could already be too late, according to Emirates.

“Really, over the Christmas and New Year period, you’d be lucky to find seats on Emirates now,” said Boutros Boutros, senior vice president of media relations for the airline.

STA estimates that ticket prices are already 30 per cent higher than last year, with most of the increase due to a rise in taxes related to global fuel prices.

“Obviously, the fuel prices went up to such a level that affects the current prices,” said Mr Boutros. “But it varies between one destination and another.”

Christmas, he added, was “always a very big season. We operate more or less at 100 per cent capacity to all the destinations we have. Anywhere, to be honest with you – Europe, the Far East, Australia – because we have a big mix of holidaymakers and students.”

A spokesman for Etihad said December was also traditionally one of its busiest months, comparable with June, July and August, when this year the airline was flying at more than 90 per cent capacity on long-haul routes. Etihad’s busiest long-haul routes during the holiday season are London, Manchester, Paris, Sydney and New York, with holiday destinations such as Bangkok and Malaysia also popular.

In an attempt to meet demand for these routes, both for the holiday season and, as the emirate’s population grows, in general, the airline is adding four flights a week to Sydney and three to Heathrow. From Oct 31, Etihad will increase its flights to Sydney from seven to 11, and to London from 18 to 21 a week.

According to figures from the Abu Dhabi Airports Company, from 2005 to 2007 the combined number of arrivals and departures at Abu Dhabi International Airport during the month of December rose from 466,374 to 730,404 – an increase of more than 56 per cent in only two years.

The rapid increase in prices has already overtaken some expatriates. Charlie Evans, an events co-ordinator who works in Media City, had intended to fly home for Christmas and was saving to book his flights in November.

“I had some money saved but due to the increases it may not be enough,” he said. “My family will be so disappointed if I don’t make it home.”

Some affordable options are still available, according to STA Travel.

“Considerable savings can be made on indirect flights. Flying via Doha is a cheap option at the moment. European carriers often run services via Germany and Austria, which can be a cheaper option for those flying to the UK.”

Some flights might also become available at the last minute due to cancellations.

Some people, however, will be spending Christmas in the UAE rather than join the increasingly expensive exodus. Sarah Nightingale, for one, is planning to recreate Christmas in her apartment in The Greens in Dubai.

“I’m putting a tree up in the corner of the room, which some friends will help me to decorate,” she said. “Then on Christmas Day a group of us will open presents by the tree before enjoying a traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings, including crackers of course.”


Health service to be partly privatised

Abu Dhabi - OCT 14:The Government is seeking external investment in the emirate’s healthcare system as it looks to privatise some services.

“Privatisation allows us to depend less on publicly run institutions, which in the past have not been as efficient as possible,” said Zaid al Siksek, chief executive of the Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD), yesterday.

“Private institutions have shown strong capability in generating the kinds of financial systems that reflect the true cost of health care,” he said at a healthcare investor summit in Abu Dhabi.

Fifty private firms have filed applications to invest in the emirate’s healthcare system, he said, but only four of those are expected to “move forward”.

Many of the investment proposals do not meet the needs of the people of Abu Dhabi, he said.

The authority has not specifically said which services it hopes to have taken over by private companies.

It has indicated, however, that it is looking to award contracts to companies able to provide facilities ranging from full-service hospitals to home-based care.

It has also said it is actively seeking investment in psychiatric services.

Mr Siksek said that one of the problems facing the healthcare system was that small hospitals were unable to provide quality care at a reasonable cost because of their size, which could lead to duplication of some services.

Mr Siksek emphasised the need for hospitals to consolidate, creating large systems able to provide most services. “It’s not primarily about spending more,” he said. “It’s about spending in the right way.”

Hospitals and clinics are also concentrated in parts of the city where they are not needed.

“Facilities are not necessarily where the population is,” said Dr Philipp Vetter, head of strategy at HAAD. “We’re trying to put ourselves in the investors’ shoes, saying how can you deliver value to the population profitably?”

HAAD officials stressed the authority would maintain an active role in overseeing the health care of Abu Dhabi and would not be handing responsibility to corporations.

“We are all for competition, but competition in a controlled fashion,” said Mr Siksek. “The goal must be to provide value for patients and not just lower costs.”

In Abu Dhabi the quality of care varies from hospital to hospital. The hope is that an influx of high-quality services will lure more health professionals to the emirate and improve the care available. Dr Finn Goldner, from HAAD’s health insurance regulation department, said: “Building world-class facilities will attract people who want to be here to practise good medicine.”

It will also help to incorporate more Emiratis into the healthcare professions where they are currently under-represented. “Many people, when it comes to health, like being treated by people who share the same background,” said Dr Vetter.

Private hospitals will have an advantage if they are able to hire national staff. This will create incentives for the hospitals to train and recruit Emiratis.

The spirit of competition which the authority is relying on to increase health standards will also provide people with more choice. “The trend is that consumers will be more empowered,” said Mr Siksek.

The present insurance scheme allows patients to seek treatment at private or public hospitals, and HAAD is able to use those statistics to determine the health of the medical sector. As investment in the region increases, patients will have more options to meet their health needs and better access to data to help make those decisions.

“Money follows patients,” said Dr Goldner. “If you have a better service delivery model you should see more patients.” This could even reduce so-called medical tourism, as the number of people seeking treatment abroad is expected to decrease as the healthcare system improves.

“Private health care does not stop people from going abroad. Good quality health care stops them from going abroad,” said Mr Siksek. “Rather than go to the Cleveland Clinic Ohio, why not go to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi?”


Man found starving in mountains

RAS AL KHAIMAH - OCT 14: A man has been discovered starving and close to death in the Ras al Khaimah mountains after allegedly crossing into the country illegally.

The Asian man had been lost for days before he was found, said Lt Col Saeed al Yamahi, the head of RAK Police Aviation section.

“We got a tip from a passenger plane pilot that there was a person stuck in the mountains in the morning [yesterday],” Lt Col Yamahi said.

Rescuers surveyed the remote area from the air and within 30 minutes spotted the man, who officials believe entered the country from Oman. Police have not established how long the man was in the country.

He was treated for dehydration and heat-related sickness before being transferred to hospital.

Lt Col Yamahi said the man would be referred to public prosecutors and was expected to appear in court to answer charges of illegal entry once his heath improved.

A police source involved in the rescue confirmed the man was close to death when he was found: “Our doctor said if we had not picked him up for another day, he would have died. He couldn’t walk or talk.”

Lt Col Yamahi said the case was the second of its type recently. “The mountains are not safe, it’s not right for someone to walk such long distances in isolated areas, this craziness should stop.”


Perverted School Bus Driver Faces Law

Dubai - oct 14: A perverted school bus driver could be sentenced to death for repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl after she became besotted with him.

The 30-year-old driver bombarded the youngster with phone calls and gifts - once giving her a watch for Valentine’s Day - and repeatedly told her that he was in love with her, before taking advantage of her and forcing her to have sex.

The child said she began to get friendly with the driver in January and that after a while “fell in love with him”.  She told police officers: “Sometimes we would talk on the school bus. After a while I fell in love with him and told him so. He gave me his number and I started calling him. Then our relationship developed. I was meeting him at least three times a week without my parents knowing.”

The schoolgirl said their relationship intensified after he gave her a white watch and a necklace as a Valentine’s Day gift. “We started to meet in the bus after school. I had sex with him at least five times in the school bus.”

The pair were caught after the girl’s father spotted her heading towards the bus parked outside their home in the Qusais area of Dubai and confronted her about the situation. He then alerted police and the Pakistani driver was arrested. The child’s seven-year-old sister confirmed the affair.

Lawyer Mohammad Al-Redha from Al-Redha Advocate and Legal Consultants told 7DAYS that although the girl agreed to have sex with the suspect, the law states that he must be charged with rape.

 “According to the law, if the victim is less than 14-year-old then she is considered not responsible for her actions. It’s an awful crime and he could be executed or face a life sentence for what he did if he is convicted.”

The suspect denied the charges against him and the trial judge adjourned the case.


Ferry service for Dubai Creek

Dubai - Oct 14: A new ferry service will carry millions of passengers a year across Dubai Creek, helping alleviate chaotic traffic in the city, transport officials announced yesterday.

Ten ferries, each of which is capable of carrying up to 100 passengers, are to begin operating in June 2010, initially between four stations on the banks of the creek.

The service is to later be extended to Sharjah and Nakheel’s World and Palm developments.

The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) said the service would be invaluable to its effort to reduce traffic by encouraging commuters to use alternative means of transport.

“Ferry Dubai will integrate with and complement other RTA transport projects aimed at solving the problem of traffic jams in Dubai,” said Mattar al Tayer, executive director of the RTA.

“It will transport three million passengers in the first year, spanning the creek and the coastal line of Jumeirah Beach to serve tourists in the emirate, and link the downtown area with Nakheel’s projects.”

The ferries, each 32 metres long and 7.2 metres wide, were designed by the Dutch company Damen and are to be built mostly in China. Each will have 84 economy seats, 14 business-class seats and two seats for disabled and special-needs passengers. The air-conditioned boats, which cost Dh17.8 million (US$4.8m) each, weigh 20 tons and travel at about 20 knots, powered by twin diesel engines.

The first consignment of six ferries is expected to arrive in Oct 2009 and the rest in March 2010. All 10 then will be tested for safety and performance before they begin ferrying passengers between stations at Union Square, City Centre, Al Ghubaiba and the gold souq, Mr Tayer said.

“Once the ferries are in place and have undergone trials for safety, the operation of the ferries will be outsourced,” he said.

Fares have not been decided. “This is not to make money. This is to help solve the traffic problems and congestion in Dubai. There are so many factors involved in deciding the fares, and so many different government bodies involved in making that decision. We have to keep it affordable so that people will use it.”

Marine transport is an important part of the RTA’s plans to eliminate road congestion. By integrating water-based transport with the Dubai Metro – scheduled to open next September – and other means of transport such as taxis and buses, the agency hopes to encourage commuters to abandon their cars.

The RTA’s marine agency last month said it would introduce a new generation of abras with high standards of safety and efficiency to replace the current fleet of old vessels on Dubai Creek.

The new boats will be lighter, faster, more flexible and more environmentally friendly than the motorised abras they will replace, but will look the same to maintain the heritage of the traditional wooden vessel. The plan received a mixed reaction from abra users and operators, many of whom said it threatened the integrity and culture of a traditional form of transport.


A Pitiful Warning  for Beach Goers

Dubai - oct 14:Beach-goers are continuing to swim in a contaminated stretch of the sea - because of inadequate warning signs that fail to mention the cause of the problem.
A small temporary fence has been put up to prevent people from accessing Jumeirah Beach, with signs that merely say, “Sorry for inconvenience - coastal management section”.

However people are oblivious to why the fence and signs have been put up, and continue to risk their health by swimming in water infected with raw sewage and E-coli.
The putrid problem is caused by the illegal dumping of untreated sewage in Dubai’s inland storm drain network, which is designed to carry only rainwater to the sea.

As a result, raw sewage flows directly into the Gulf, next to prime swimming beaches and the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club harbour. Sailing club manager Keith Mutch, told 7DAYS: “They have cordoned off the whole public beach next to us and put signs up everywhere.
“But people are ignoring the signs because they only say, ‘Sorry for the inconvenience’.
“The signs don’’t say the real reason for the closure - it’s a joke. This problem is not going to go away.”

Some holidaymakers have been put off from coming to Dubai all together, because of the situation. One British tourist who heard of the problems, said: “I was going to bring my family over to Dubai for a week in the sun and sea, but there's no way I’ll let my kids swim in that filth.”

The contamination is caused by tanker drivers trying to avoid queuing for hours at the Al-Awir treatment plant. After dark some drivers - who are paid by the lorry load to collect waste from the city’s brimming septic tanks - are taking a shortcut and dumping their loads straight into manholes meant only for rainwater.

More than 4,000 manholes in the Jumeirah area have been welded shut to deter the dump-ing - but some already show signs of being forced open. So far this month, more than 30 drivers have been caught and fined dhs 50,000 each. Abdul Majeed Safaee, director of drainage and irrigation for Dubai Municipality, said the warning signs were not put up by his department.

50% savings on Etisalat international calls

UAE - oct 14:ETISALAT announced a new International Super Off-Peak plan of 50 per cent savings from 1 am to 7 am every day, for both Wasel and GSM customers on their off-peak calls to international destinations all over the world.

The new plan will be an optional one for customers with the added benefits of no rental or activation fees.

Customers who subscribe to the new plan would get 50 per cent savings on the off-peak rate for their international calls as part of a new Super Off-Peak Plan. The Super Off-Peak hours will be from 1 am to 7 am everyday.

In addition to the super off-peak, customers will also benefit from the normal off peak hours applicable from 2 pm-4 pm, 9 pm-1 am on week days and from 7 am on Friday to 1 am on Saturday.

During off-peak hours, GSM customers will be saving 30 per cent more than the current off peak rate, while Wasel customers will be saving 25 per cent more than the current off-peak rate.

With text messaging being a popular mode of communication, the new Super Off-Peak plan will continue to offer competitive SMS rates to international numbers at the existing 60 fils/SMS.

Domestic SMS however will be charged at 30 fils/SMS. Local calls to mobile and fixed lines during peak hours will be 36 fils/min .However, charges for international calls during peak time will cost an additional 10 per cent under this new plan.

Essa Al Haddad, chief marketing officer, Etisalat said: "The new Super Off-Peak plan is in line with our strategy of providing convenience, enhanced coverage and additional value to our customers, by enabling them to save more, while conveniently reaching out to their family and friends across the world on a more frequent basis.

Furthermore, customers can now pick and choose from various "value" options provided by Etisalat like Global Friends and Family plan, Favourite Country Plan and now the Super off peak plan, thereby providing customised options based on their diverse requirements."

The Global Friends and Family plan enables customers to select any three international numbers for a discount of 20 per cent for a monthly fee of Dhs20.

The Favourite Country Plan brings discounts of 30 per cent for fixed-lines, 25 per cent for postpaid mobiles and 20 per cent for Wasel subscribers.

He added, "This latest initiative is part of Etisalat's continuous efforts to offer outstanding value to our customers in an environment where the cost of living and other expenses are on the rise."

To activate the new super off-peak plan, customers can call 125, or visit any of the Etisalat Business centres/ outlets across the country.



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Title: Grim Tidings for Travellers from UAE During Christmas

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