Travel Europe: Only a churl, or Richard Branson, will not welcome BA's economy advances
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Saturday 07 November 1998
That warning came from a member of the Government's Action 2000 team, John Ivinson. He told the Association of British Travel Agents convention that everything from hotel lifts to air traffic control could be affected by computers misbehaving when they see the "00" at the end of the year.
The problem is that the travel industry has "a very high dependency on technology in order to be able to operate in the first place". Worse still: "A large part of their work is sending people overseas, especially to developing countries." And because the so-called booking horizon for many aspects of travel is 12 months - the standard validity for air tickets, for example - the first computer calamities could occur when 1998's New Year's Eve ticks around into 1 January 1999.
Another problem that may come to light, said Mr Ivinson, is the result of an old programming technique: "In the Sixties and Seventies, some programmers used '99 in the year field to indicate the end of a job." Mr Ivinson knows this is true because he was one of those programmers. "I would not have been doing my job properly if I had used the very limited computer capacity in any other way."
British Airways told agents in Marbella it would not fly on any routes over New Year's Eve 1999 where it was unconvinced about safety. On routes to the Far East, for example, aircraft routinely fly over one or more former Soviet republics, and there is concern that air traffic control systems may not be "millennium compliant".
The tour operators are caught in the tricky position of trying to make as much money as possible from something that is, for once, a genuine "once in a lifetime" opportunity, and of not wishing to be held responsible for anything that goes wrong. Sovereign, for instance, promises "the most lavish and extravagant events", but then warns that it cannot accept liability for any disruption beyond its control.
The example Sovereign chooses to illustrate the possible inconvenience is a curious one: "unusual traffic-light sequences, etc". If only it were that simple.
THOSE WHO decide to stay at home and visit the Millennium Dome instead may find tickets scarce. Geoffrey Robinson, operations director for the New Millennium Experience, says that 30m Britons intend to visit the Dome, but adds "I hope they won't, because we won't have room for them." The maximum capacity allowed for at present is around 18m. Tickets for individuals will not go on sale until September, though tour operators can reserve space before then.
Mr Robinson expects some days to be completely sold out. In a bid to deter touts, he says tickets not bought from official vendors will be invalid. "We will retain the right to refuse admission," he tells me, "to anyone who can't prove the ticket from a valid outlet."
ONLY A churl, a business-class passenger, or Richard Branson would not welcome BA's much-needed improvements to the economy section of its long- range planes, known as World Traveller. Enhancements include seat-back videos and natty two-tier meal trays. But not all is innovative.
Henceforth, promises the publicity, you will be able to get a pre-assigned seat - so long as you paid full fare for your trip. This merely partially restores a privilege that was removed from all travellers, irrespective of fare paid, two years ago.
Then there is the chance that people attracted by the changes will buy BA tickets, only to find the plane belongs to one of its many partners. This could be anyone from Canadian Airlines to Qantas, both of which will lag a long way behind in terms of economy-class comfort. (Virgin Atlantic does the same with its tie-ups with Continental and Malaysia Airlines.)
Finally, the improvements will take more than two years to instigate - so in 2001, even if you confirm you are travelling on a long-haul flight operated by BA rather than an impostor, you could find yourself flying in an economy cabin that already looked threadbare in 1998.
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Emma Watson on Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak: 'Even worse than seeing women's privacy violated is reading the comments'
- 2 Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Cee Lo Green: It is only rape if the victim is conscious
- 5 Katie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge: ‘I hate fat people for making me do this’
Jessica Chastain demands Scarlett Johansson-fronted Marvel superhero movie
Nicki Minaj suffers wardrobe malfunction during MTV VMAs performance with Ariana Grande and Jessie J
North Korea threatens Britain over 'mud-slinging' Channel 4 thriller focusing on Kim Jong-un's nuclear weapons programme
Olivia Colman and Mary Berry top Radio Times' female power list
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming in September 2014
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ashya King: 'Cruel NHS has not given us the treatment we need', says father of five-year-old with brain tumour who fled to Spain