News & Current Affairs

September 13, 2008

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

Thousands stranded by XL collapse

The collapse of the UK’s third largest package holiday group has left tens of thousands of Britons stranded abroad.

The decision to place XL Leisure Group into administration has also left thousands of staff facing the axe.

Chairman Phil Wyatt said he was “totally devastated” by the failure which has grounded XL’s 21 planes. The company flies to about 50 destinations.

There are 67,000 stranded who booked directly with XL, and another 23,000 who booked via other companies.

The Civil Aviation Authority(CAA) also said the firm had 200,000 advance bookings.

‘Sad day’

CAA EMERGENCY HELPLINE
Customers abroad: +44 (0) 2891 856547
Customers in the UK with advance bookings: 0870 5900927

“We’ve made every effort, myself and my fellow directors, to find new funding for the business – and it’s a very sad day for me personally. I am totally devastated,” XL chairman Phil Wyatt said.David Clover, a spokesman for the CAA, said it was making arrangements to help customers of the four tour companies within the XL group.

“In respect of people who are currently abroad we’re making arrangements and working very closely with the travel industry to organize repatriation flights.

“Clearly though, with XL Airways no longer operating, we’re having to bring in substitute aircraft to bring people home.”

He said package deals are covered by the CAA’s Air Travel Organizers’ Licensing (Atol) scheme and those customers will be offered repatriation flights or their money back if they have an advance booking.

Struggling

However, those who booked directly with the airline or XL.com – who are in the minority according to the CAA – will face a fee.

Anyone yet to take their flights should check their insurance policies, and with their banks or credit card companies about refunds, he added.

XL – which carried 2.3 million passengers last year – is the latest travel business to face financial difficulties, as the industry struggles with high fuel costs and an economic downturn.

But an agreement has been reached whereby Straumur investment bank has acquired XL’s German and French subsidiaries, which Straumur considers to be financially viable and sustainable businesses.

They will continue operations as separate commercial entities.

Share prices in holiday firms TUI Travel and Thomas Cook were up 6% and 7% following the collapse of their rival.

Economic downturn

“As the travel industry matures in Europe, there was always going to be pressure on those operating in the mid-market,” said Lastminute.com chief executive Ian McCaig.

A statement on the XL group’s website said: “The companies entered into administration having suffered as a result of volatile fuel prices, the economic downturn, and were unable to obtain further funding.”

XL COMPANIES
XL Leisure Group
XL Airways UK
Excel Aviation
Explorer House
Aspire Holidays
Freedom Flights
Freedom Flights (Aviation)
The Really Great Holiday Company
Medlife Hotels
Travel City Flights
Kosmar Villa Holidays

BBC travel correspondent Tom Symonds added that the industry would be facing an “enormous challenge” as it deals with the fall out of XL’s collapse.

“XL wasn’t just an airline it was a fundamental link Britain’s package holiday industry,” he said.

“Getting these people to and from their holidays will be an enormous challenge not least because of the shortage of aircraft caused by so many airline collapses in recent weeks.

“XL can’t use its own airliners for among other reasons it has no insurance now.”

The CAA said it was working with the travel industry to bring stranded holidaymakers home, and denied it had been responsible for the grounding of XL’s planes.

Airlines BA, Easyjet, BMI, Flybe and Ryanair have offered to fly some of the stranded passengers home.

Easyjet chief executive Andy Harrison told that its fuel efficient planes had helped it cope with the high cost of aviation fuel although on Thursday it said it would cut up to 60 jobs to remain competitive.

Fuel pressures

Mr Wyatt added that spiralling oil prices had increased the firm’s costs “year-on-year by over $80m”.

“So where many people have been making hay with high oil prices, this is the repercussions of that hay – 1,700 people potentially out of work today in the UK,” he said.

Rival TUI warned that rising fuel costs meant that “airlines with less than robust business models” – such as XL and Futura – were now failing.

It added that the government should take steps to ensure all holiday companies must belong to the Atol scheme, which offers package holiday makers financial protection.

In the US, one flight from Orlando to Manchester managed to set off, while one bound for Gatwick was grounded. A source at the airport said accommodation was being found for the “distressed” passengers.

In the UK, air traffic control prevented three XL aircraft from taking off from Manchester Airport.

The XL group, which is based in Crawley, West Sussex, runs an airline and owns several travel companies, including Travel City Direct, Medlife Hotels Limited, The Really Great Holiday Company, Freedom Flights and Kosmar Holidays.

‘Going nowhere’

The company flies mainly from bases at Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow airports.

Travel writer Simon Calder warned that many thousands of XL customers hoping to fly to the Caribbean, Mediterranean, North Africa and North America, from airports across the UK in coming weeks and days “simply won’t be going anywhere”.

Jim Duwaine, from Portsmouth, said he was given the news when he arrived at Gatwick where he had been due to catch an early morning flight to Menorca.

HELP OFFERED TO XL CUSTOMERS
Flybe – offering flights for 90 euros (£71.50)
BA– offering a one-way discount
Easyjet– flights offered for £75
BMI – provided aircraft to CAA for transport people home
Ryanair – has offered spare plane to CAA for transport

He said: “Absolutely devastated. Got up at midnight planning on going on holiday, but got let down, unfortunately. We’re here, just trying to get some other flights, but it’s not looking good. I think everyone else has got the same idea.”

Other holidaymakers have said they have been quoted vastly inflated prices for replacement flights.

Robert Spurgeon, of Norwich – an XL customer who had been due to fly to Tenerife from Gatwick – said: “We’ve not been told anything but my wife’s been quoted £2,000 for alternative flights.”

Also among those affected are a 130-strong choir on tour to Canada from Wales who were booked on Zoom and lost £50,000 when it folded last month, and then re-booked with XL.

XL is the current kit sponsor of West Ham United but football club said it would end the sponsorship deal and play on Saturday in an unbranded kit.


Are you struggling to make your way home from your holiday destination? Have you paid for a holiday that you may not be able to take? If you were an employee of XL what are your views? Send us your comments
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August 14, 2008

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Murdered couple in ‘scam’ probe

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang

Xi Zhou and her boyfriend Zhen Xing Yang studied at Newcastle University

A Chinese couple murdered in Newcastle may have been involved in a range of internet scams, including betting and providing false visas, police said.

Zhen Xing Yang and girlfriend Xi Zhou died after a “frenzied” knife attack at a flat in Newcastle’s West End.

Detectives revealed information on a seized computer and three mobile phones showed the pair may also have arranged forged professional qualifications.

The 25-year-old Newcastle University graduates, were found dead on 9 August.

Det Supt Steve Wade, leading the murder investigation, said: “A possible motive for the killings is beginning to emerge concerning the lifestyle of Xi Zhou and Zhen Xing Yang.

“Community intelligence supported by the examination of computer equipment and mobile call data has shown that both of the victims have been involved in fraudulent activity which has angered and upset a number of people.

Televised matches

“We are currently investigating this as a possible motive for the killings.”

One line of inquiry involves claims Mr Zhen recruited spectators online to send live updates from UK football matches.

It is claimed syndicates in China, where matches are televised a minute behind, could take advantage of this.

Information passed to Northumbria Police includes details of adverts placed on UK-based Mandarin-language websites, recruiting people to watch football matches around the world.

One reads: “It is a very simple job, any student who is interested, please contact Zhen Xing Yang.”

An ad posted under the name CICI-UK, his girlfriend’s nickname, on the powerapple website last October, reads: “Work: Watch football games and send live information to people.

“Requirement: Basic understanding of football rules, no professional background needed, advantage if you have a car.

“Location: Sheffield, London, Blackpool, Portsmouth, York, Hull and many other places.”

Similar adverts requested live information from the Mexican League.

CCTV of Xi Zhou in street

Xi Zhou was caught on CCTV travelling home from work

The couple were found dead in separate bedrooms at the downstairs flat by friends on the afternoon on 9 August.

Police said Mr Zhen was “assaulted for more than an hour” before being stabbed. They believe passers-by may have heard his screams.

A post-mortem examination revealed he suffered extensive bruising to his arms before he died.

Examinations also showed Miss Xi may have been asphyxiated as well as stabbed during the attack.

The body of a cat, which had been drowned and hidden in a washing bowl underneath the bathroom sink, was probably killed by the couple’s murderer, said police.

An offender profiler has been brought in to help establish a motive for the killings.

Police have also released CCTV images taken as Miss Xi traveled home from work at the Wagamama restaurant in Newcastle last Thursday afternoon.

Police have not been able to find any occupation for Mr Zhen since he completed his degree in September 2006.

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “We continue to look into the lifestyle of both victims and internet websites form part of this investigation.

“We cannot comment further at this stage.”

August 5, 2008

Ronaldo saga over, says Ferguson

Ronaldo saga over, says Ferguson

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson says the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer saga is now “closed” and the winger will remain at the club.

Meanwhile, Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon hinted the Spanish side may have ended their pursuit of the winger.

Real have been linked with Ronaldo throughout the summer, but signed Rafael van der Vaart on Tuesday.

“Van der Vaart is the first and possibly the only signing of the summer for Real Madrid,” Calderon said.

The 25-year-old signing from Hamburg was unveiled at Real Madrid’s Bernabeu stadium on Tuesday and Calderon said he was unlikely to further add to his squad.

Calderon has repeatedly said he would like to sign Ronaldo, but his latest comments come amid signs that Real’s bid to recruit the Portugal international have stalled due to United’s refusal to sell the 23-year-old.

606: DEBATE

Ronaldo is under contract at Old Trafford until 2012 but has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid and the player appeared to be keen on a move.

But Ferguson has remained adamant that Ronaldo would stay at Old Trafford and has now moved to end the saga.

He said: “The matter is closed now. He is a Manchester United player – it’s finished. He’ll be playing here next season believe me. It’s finished.”

Real have been relatively quiet during this summer’s transfer window.

The Spanish champions signed Argentine defender Ezequiel Garay from Racing Santander at the end of last season but under the terms of the deal the player will only join the club in the 2009-10 season.

In addition, midfielders Javi Garcia and Ruben de la Red, who were in Spain’s triumphant Euro 2008 squad, have rejoined Real after a season with Osasuna and Getafe respectively.

“We believe that this squad is full of quality, of plenty of talent. It’s a team which is a great family, very close,” Calderon added.

Rafael van der Vaart

Van der Vaart’s move to Madrid may scupper Ronaldo’s transfer

“We said that the new arrivals would be few but of great quality. That seemed logical after two successful seasons in which we’ve brought in 19 young, promising players.

“This [the low number of signings] was a request of the board of directors.”

Ronaldo is recovering from surgery on an ankle injury and is due to visit a specialist in Amsterdam to discover how successful the surgery has been.

He is likely to be sidelined until the end of September, missing their opening five Premier League matches.

United are on a pre-season tour of Nigeria United where they play four friendlies, including one against Community Shield opponents Portsmouth.

Premier League ins and outs

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:41 am

Premier League ins and outs

Courtesy BBC

ARSENAL

Arsenal

Ins: Aaron Ramsey (Cardiff, £5m), Samir Nasri (Marseille, undisclosed), Amaury Bischoff (Werder Bremen, undisclosed).

Outs: Gilberto Silva (Panathinaikos, £1m), Alexander Hleb (Barcelona, £11.8m), Jens Lehmann (Stuttgart, free), Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan, free), Kerrea Gilbert (Leicester, loan).

ASTON VILLA

Aston Villa

Ins: Steve Sidwell (Chelsea, £5m), Curtis Davies (West Brom, undisclosed), Brad Friedel (Blackburn, £2m).

Outs: Thomas Sorensen (released), Patrik Berger (Sparta Prague, free), Luke Moore (West Brom, £3m).

BLACKBURN ROVERS

Blackburn Rovers

Ins: Robbie Fowler (Cardiff, free), Paul Robinson (Tottenham, £3.5m), Carlos Villanueva (Audax Italiano, loan), Danny Simpson (Manchester United, loan).

Outs: Stephane Henchoz (released), Bruno Berner (released), Peter Enckelman (Cardiff, free), Brad Friedel (Aston Villa, £2m), David Bentley (Tottenham, £15m).

BOLTON WANDERERS

Bolton Wanderers

Ins: Johan Elmander (Toulouse, £10m), Fabrice Muamba (Birmingham, £5m), Mustapha Riga (Levante, undisclosed).

Outs: Daniel Braaten (Toulouse, undisclosed), Andranik Teymourian (Fulham, free), Stelios Giannakopoulos (released), Ivan Campo (released), El Hadji Diouf (Sunderland, £2.5m).

CHELSEA

Chelsea

Ins: Jose Bosingwa (FC Porto, £16.2m), Deco (Barcelona, £8m).

Outs: Steve Sidwell (Aston Villa, £5m), Ben Sahar (Portsmouth, loan), Ryan Bertrand (Norwich, loan), Slobodan Rajkovic (FC Twente, loan), Claude Makelele (Paris St Germain, free), Khalid Boulahrouz (Stuttgart, £4m), Tal Ben Haim (Manchester City, undisclosed), Shaun Cummings (MK Dons, loan).

EVERTON

Everton

Ins: None.

Outs: Lee Carsley (Birmingham City, free), Stefan Wessels (VfL Osnabruck, free).

FULHAM

Fulham

Ins: John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora (West Ham, £6.3m), Tony Kallio (Young Boys Bern, undisclosed), Andranik Teymourian (Bolton, free), Zoltan Gera (West Brom, free), David Stockdale (Darlington, undisclosed), Mark Schwarzer (Middlesbrough, free), Fredrik Stoor (Rosenborg, undisclosed).

Outs: Dejan Stefanovic (Norwich, undisclosed), Nathan Ashton (Wycombe, nominal fee), Elliot Omozusi (Norwich, loan), Ricardo Batista (Sporting, undisclosed), Tony Warner (Hull City, free), Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais, free), Brian McBride (Toronto, free), Philippe Christanval, Jari Litmanen, Simon Elliott, Kasey Keller (all released).

HULL CITY

Hull City

Ins: Peter Halmosi (Plymouth, £2m), George Boateng (Middlesbrough, £1m), Tony Warner (Fulham, free), Bernard Mendy (Paris St Germain, free), Geovanni (Manchester City, free), Craig Fagan (Derby, £750,000), Anthony Gardner (Tottenham, loan).

Outs: Michael Bridges (Carlisle, loan), Henrik Pedersen (Silkeborg IF, free), David Livermore (Brighton, free).

LIVERPOOL

Liverpool

Ins: David Ngog (Paris St Germain, undisclosed), Emmanuel Mendy (Murcia Deportivo, free), Diego Cavalieri (Palmeiras, undisclosed), Andrea Dossena (Udinese, undisclosed), Philipp Degen (Borussia Dortmund, free), Robbie Keane (Tottenham, £20.3m).

Outs: Jack Hobbs (Leicester, loan), Godwin Antwi (Tranmere, loan), Adam Hammill (Blackpool, loan), Scott Carson (West Brom, £3.25m), Peter Crouch (Portsmouth, £11m), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray, free), Paul Anderson (Nottingham Forest, loan), Anthony le Tallec (Le Mans, undisclosed), John Arne Riise (Roma, £4m), Besian Idrizaj (Wacker Tirol, free), Danny Guthrie (Newcastle, undisclosed), Robbie Threlfall (Hereford, loan).

MANCHESTER CITY

Manchester City

Ins: Jo (CSKA Moscow, £18m), Tal Ben Haim (Chelsea, undisclosed).

Outs: Georgios Samaras (Celtic, undisclosed), Andreas Isaksson (PSV Eindhoven, undisclosed), Geovanni (Hull, free), Emile Mpenza and Paul Dickov (both released), Sun Jihai (Sheffield United, free), Matthew Mills (Doncaster, £300,000).

MANCHESTER UNITED

Manchester United

Ins: None.

Outs: Adam Eckersley (AC Horsens, free), Gerard Pique (Barcelona, £5m), Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, loan), Chris Eagles (Burnley, £1m), Danny Simpson (Blackburn, loan)

MIDDLESBROUGH

Middlesbrough

Ins: Didier Digard (Paris St Germain, £4m), Marvin Emnes (Sparta Rotterdam, £3.2m).

Outs: George Boateng (Hull City, £1m), Fabio Rochemback (Sporting, free), Lee Dong-Gook (released), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham, free), Steve Thompson (Port Vale, free), Lee Cattermole (Wigan, £3.5m).

NEWCASTLE UNITED

Newcastle United

Ins: Danny Guthrie (Liverpool, undisclosed), Jonas Gutierrez (Real Mallorca, undisclosed).

Outs: Emre (Fenerbahce, undisclosed), David Rozehnal (Lazio, £2.9m), Peter Ramage (QPR, free).

PORTSMOUTH

Portsmouth

Ins: Peter Crouch (Liverpool, £11m), Ben Sahar (Chelsea, loan), Glen Little (Reading, free), Omar Alieu Koroma (Banjul Hawks, undisclosed).

Outs: Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan, £12.7m), Omar Alieu Koroma (Norwich, loan).

STOKE CITY

Stoke City

Ins: Seyi George Olofinjana (Wolves, £3m), Dave Kitson (Reading, £5.5m).

Outs: Marlon Broomes (Blackpool, free).

SUNDERLAND

Sunderland

Ins: Pascal Chimbonda (Tottenham, undisclosed), David Meyler (Cork City, undisclosed), Nick Colgan (Ipswich, free), Teemu Tainio (Tottenham, undisclosed), El Hadji Diouf (Bolton, £2.5m), Steed Malbranque (Tottenham, undisclosed).

Outs: Andrew Cole (Nottingham Forest, free), Greg Halford (Sheffield United, loan), Ian Harte and Stephen Wright (both released), Ross Wallace (Preston, loan).

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Tottenham Hotspur

Ins: John Bostock (Crystal Palace, £700,000), Heurelho Gomes (PSV Eindhoven, undisclosed), Luka Modric (£15.8m), Giovani dos Santos (Barcelona, £4.7m), David Bentley (Blackburn, £15m).

Outs: Pascal Chimbonda (Sunderland, undisclosed), Paul Robinson (Blackburn, £3.5m), Teemu Tainio (Sunderland, undisclosed), Joe Martin (Blackpool, undisclosed), Robbie Keane (Liverpool, £20.3m). Anthony Gardner (Hull City, loan), Steed Malbranque (Sunderland, undisclosed), Jake Livermore (Crewe, loan).

WEST BROM

West Brom

Ins: Scott Carson (Liverpool, £3.25m), Marek Cech (FC Porto, £1.4m), Gianni Zuiverloon (Heerenveen, £3.2m), Luke Moore (Aston Villa, £3m).

Outs: Kevin Phillips (Birmingham, free), Curtis Davies (Aston Villa, undisclosed), Martin Albrechtsen (Derby County, free), Zoltan Gera (Fulham, free), Luke Daniels (Shrewsbury, loan).

WEST HAM UNITED

West Ham United

Ins: Valon Behrami (Lazio, £5m), Balint Bajner (Liberty Salonta, undisclosed), Jan Lastuvka (Shakhtar Donetsk, loan).

Outs: John Pantsil and Bobby Zamora (Fulham, £6.3m), Richard Wright (Ipswich, undisclosed).

WIGAN ATHLETIC

Wigan Athletic

Ins: Amr Zaki (Zamalek, loan), Olivier Kapo (Birmingham, £3.5m), Daniel de Ridder (Birmingham, free), Lee Cattermole (Middlesbrough, £3.5m).

Outs: Andreas Granqvist (Groningen, £600,000), Julius Aghahowa (Kayserispor, undisclosed), Salomon Olembe (Kayserispor, free), Josip Skoko (Hajduk Split, free), David Cotterill (Sheffield United, undisclosed).

Drogba will miss start of season

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has revealed striker Didier Drogba is set to miss the start of the season.

Drogba, 30, has spent the summer recuperating from a knee injury and will not be fit for the Premier League opener against Portsmouth on 17 August.

“Didier will not play in our first game and will probably miss the second against Wigan,” said Scolari.

“If there are no more problems he should be ready for the game after that, Tottenham on 31 August.”

However, Scolari concedes that the nature of Drogba’s injury makes it difficult to predict exactly when the Ivory Coast star will return to full fitness.

The Brazilian added: “When you have a knee injury, you just never know.

“I have been getting a progress report from the doctor every day.

“He’s getting better and is working with a fitness coach back at the training ground.

“I hope he will be ready to start training next week but he will not play until he is in good condition.”

In the absence of Drogba, Chelsea will be relying heavily on Nicolas Anelka, who scored four goals in a 5-0 mauling of AC Milan on Sunday.

Salomon Kalou is away at the Olympics and Scolari has hinted Andriy Shevchenko is not a contender to start the first game of the season.

July 28, 2008

Liverpool close in on Keane deal

Liverpool close in on Keane deal

Courtesy BBC

Liverpool are expected to complete the £18m signing of striker Robbie Keane from Tottenham within 24 hours.

He underwent a medical on Monday and may be able to fly to Spain with the Liverpool squad ahead of Wednesday’s friendly against Villarreal.

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez completed the final stages of his negotiations with the 28-year-old over the weekend.

The Republic of Ireland star is expected to sign a five-year deal worth about £80,000 per week.

As a child growing up in Dublin, Keane was an avid supporter of the men from Anfield – and Liverpool will now become his sixth club after spells at Wolves, Coventry, Inter Milan and Leeds, before his switch to Tottenham in 2002 for £7m.

Keane had become Benitez’s number one summer target over recent weeks, with the need to replace Peter Crouch, who joined Portsmouth earlier this month, seemingly more important than pursuing the complicated and protracted move for Aston Villa’s 27-year-old midfielder Gareth Barry.

With the prospect of Xabi Alonso now remaining at Anfield, Liverpool may now decline to respond to Villa manager Martin O’Neill’s demand that they make their intentions regarding Barry clear.

Liverpool’s response is that Villa have turned down four bids for Barry and the Merseysiders are not prepared to pay £18m for the England international.

Benitez will now be unwilling to allow full-back Steve Finnan, a possible makeweight in a deal for Barry, to leave the club.

That is because new signing Philipp Degen is expected to need surgery on a groin injury that will rule him out of the start of the season.

There is also the likelihood that Spain international Alvaro Arbeloa could return to his home country for £6m in the coming weeks, having expressed such a desire for personal reasons.

All such problems will be put aside by Benitez when he is able to unveil Keane – who married Irish model Claudine Palmer in June – as the new strike partner for Fernando Torres.

Torres cost Liverpool £20.2m when they bought him 12 months ago, and their current second biggest signing is Javier Mascherano, who cost £17m when the deal finally went through in February this year.

The arrival of Keane will take Liverpool’s spending to about £32m since the end of last season. They have already drafted in Degen, fellow full-back Andrea Dossena, goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri and teenagers David Ngog and Emmanuel Mendy.

About £20m has been raised by selling Crouch, John Arne Riise, Scott Carson and Danny Guthrie.

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