Travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2005, 12:00am

Air mail

The United States Postal Service has issued a set of commemorative stamps titled 'American Advances in Aviation', featuring 20 commercial and military aircraft of historical significance. The airline industry is represented by the twin-engine Boeing 247, which is recognised as having been the world's first modern airliner. First flown in 1933, it could carry only 10 passengers and one flight attendant, but was the first such plane to feature an air-conditioned cabin, retractable undercarriage and auto-pilot. Seventy-six B247s were built, mostly for Boeing Air transport, which later became United Airlines, although two ended up flying domestic routes in China. Despite its proudly advertised 'three miles a minute' performance, the New York to Los Angeles journey took 20 hours, with seven stopovers en route. The B247's refinements represented a major step forward for air travellers in terms of comfort and safety. Author and aviator Ernest K. Gann vividly described his time as an airline pilot aboard one of the B247's predecessors. 'The air is annoyingly potted with a multitude of minor vertical disturbances which sicken the passengers and keep us captive of our seat belts,' he wrote. 'We sweat in the cockpit, though much of the time we fly with the side windows open. The airplanes smell of hot oil and simmering aluminium, disinfectant, faeces, leather and puke ... the stewardesses, short-tempered and reeking of vomit, come forward as often as they can for what is a breath of comparatively fresh air.'

Orange crush

Britain's easyGroup, the parent company of easyJet and other similarly cut-price operations, recently opened its first easyHotel in London's South Kensington. To say the property is low on frills is something of an understatement, with rooms with windows available at a premium.

Originally the hotel was a guesthouse with 12 rooms; it now has 34 in the same space and is manned by one member of staff. Floor space starts at 60 square feet a room, and if you want to use the television you'll have to fork out #5 ($69) for the remote-control box to switch it on.

Wardrobes, carpets and telephones are also conspicuously absent. The attraction of course is the price, starting from #20 a night. Bookings can be made online at (and the earlier you book, the cheaper the room rate). More hotels are planned for London and continental Europe.

National-day deals

The St Regis Shanghai (right; is selling two packages for stays from September 29 to October 8 for travellers visiting the city during the National Day holiday week. The first is a basic accommodation deal that includes a deluxe-room stay, buffet breakfast for two and an 'in-room aromatic St Regis Bath' for 1,000 yuan a night. More substantial, and perhaps of better value, is the $1,290 yuan deal, which includes all of the above plus a 'transportation on demand' service for sightseeing and shopping, and 50 per cent off dinner at Danieli's Italian restaurant. Guests also receive, as standard, 24-hour butler service, daily cocktails in the executive lounge, complimentary tea and coffee throughout the day, delivered by your butler, pressing for two garments and fresh fruit and flowers daily. For reservations, e-mail the hotel on stregis.

Open for business

The long-awaited Park Hyatt Saigon has opened its doors in a handy location just behind the city's famous Opera House. The 259-room boutique property has three dining venues, a spa and a 20-metre outdoor swimming pool. Guest rooms have all the facilities to be expected of Hyatt's top-tier brand, and an unusually high 65 per cent or so are non-smoking. If you're booking a room at any Hyatt property online it's worth visiting for the best rate guarantee, which matches the lowest available online rates, then discounts by a further 20 per cent (subject to some reasonable small print).

Deal of the week

A two-night package to Fridays Boracay ( is on sale at Farrington American Express Travel for $2,770 a person, with round-trip, economy-class flights from Hong Kong to Kalibo via Manila on Philippine Airlines. A slightly cheaper option is Nami Private Villas ( for $2,600. Round-trip coach transfers between Kalibo and Caticlan, and boat transfers from Caticlan to the resorts, are included in the price, as are breakfast and travel insurance. Stopovers in Manila are possible at the Westin and Hyatt Regency for $235 a night. These prices, all quoted on a twin-share basis, are available until mid-November. For details and reservations contact Farrington American Express Travel on 3121 3000 (Hong Kong) or 3121 3900 (Kowloon), or e-mail

Comfortable carriage

Russia's first private train has begun operating on the Moscow to St Petersburg line. The Grand Express is proudly described as 'the most comfortable hotel possible on wheels linking these two places', by company director Andrei Kudriatsev. The compartments are kitted out in red and gold, with flat-screen TVs, and some have en suite showers and bathrooms. Tickets for the nine-hour journey cost as much as US$500 in Grand de Luxe class, dropping to US$110 for a first-class seat. All this luxury is, of course, a far cry from the communist era. As recently as the early 1990s you could travel first-class by train, with ferry ticket included, from Moscow to London for US$10 - if you paid in black-market roubles.