Travel: Something To Declare

NEWS FROM THE TRAVEL WORLD
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The Independent Culture
True or false: all airlines are cracking down on hand luggage?

False, although these days most of the world's airlines insist you can carry just one bag on to the aircraft - you have to check the rest of your bags in. Sometimes, if you have paid enough for your ticket, the airline may let you take more.

It all seems a long way from the days of People Express, the innovative US airline that installed outsize luggage racks aboard its planes. Passengers were even discouraged from checking in baggage, by a five-dollar-a-bag fee. Now, a new American carrier is pressing ahead with what it says is an unlimited carry-on bag policy: "If you can carry it, you can bring it on the plane", is how Legend Air's boss, Allan McArtor, described it to World Airline News.

His secret is to halve the usual number of seats fitted to the DC-9s that the new airline plans to use: "We want the plane to be as comfortable as possible". Two drawbacks for British travellers: the airline is based at Love Field, the second airport for Dallas and inaccessible on direct flights from the UK; and it is at present merely a "paper" carrier with no immediate plans to start flying. But perhaps the move could trigger a more relaxed attitude to carry-on bags.

A likely tale: automatic first-class upgrades on Eurostar.

Last week's story about how you can travel first class to Paris on Eurostar if you book a package to the French capital through the new offshoot, Eurostar Holidays Direct (0870 167 67 67), proved extremely popular with readers. The problem many of you found, however, was that the line rang and rang without being answered.

Eurostar confirms, as it did before publication of last week's story, that the upgrades are available and the telephone number is correct. But the train operator says that the phone system has not been functioning correctly, and apologises for the problems. A spokesman says the system should be running properly from today.

Bargain of the week: America for pounds 164

This winter's fares war across the Atlantic could be even more aggressive than the last. Already it is easy to find a London-New York flight for pounds 200 or less. Last winter, fares on the world's busiest international air route bottomed out at pounds 159 - and already, one airline is already offering a fare at only a fiver more than that.

Through Trailfinders (0171-937 5400), Icelandair is offering a fare of pounds 164 for return flights from Heathrow to New York, Boston or Baltimore. You must travel out between the start of November and 12 December, and stay at least one Saturday night. A supplement of pounds 21 applies for weekend travel.

Although you have to change planes in Iceland, no stopovers are allowed. You have to book by next Wednesday, 21 October. But if you can't make up your mind by then, don't fret; there are likely to be even better deals as the winter deepens.

Say you want a revolution? One of Britain's biggest travel agents today launched a new computer system that it says will revolutionise customer service. Called Matchmaker, the innovation from Going Places allows customers to see video clips of resorts and cruises they are interested in, and even call up pictures of the hotel room they could be staying in.

The project has been developed in secret and should be rolled out to all 720 Going Places shops by the end of the year. Certainly it is an improvement on the archaic technology that the UK travel industry has relied upon for the past 20 years, and allows for improvements such as showing official and discounted air fares on the same screen. But on a real enquiry, for the lowest London-Montreal return ticket next weekend, the discount flight specialist Quest Worldwide undercut the Going Places Matchmaker system by more than pounds 200 by employing a diversion via Paris on the outbound leg.

Escape from (or to) Luton There is a scheduled flight between Norwich and Luton - a distance of just 90 miles - but you cannot buy a ticket for it. On most days Suckling Airways (0870 606 0707) makes the 20-minute hop between the two towns as part of its Norwich-Luton-Paris service.

It could appeal to anyone keen to avoid the two-hour drive, or to holiday- makers from East Anglia about to take a charter flight. But, sadly, the airline does not believe that it would be worth making a fare available on the route. And while a link from Norwich to Heathrow might be widely appreciated, restrictions on slots at Britain's busiest airport mean that such a service - which used to be flown by Air UK - is unlikely to be reinstated.

Other ways of reaching Luton airport are tricky, too. "Luton airport is connected to Luton station by a frequent shuttle bus taking around 10 minutes. During this timetable a new station will open called Luton Airport Parkway which will further reduce the journey time," says Thameslink in the winter timetable, just as it did last issue. But anyone waiting for the first train is probably getting fed up.

The airport station, which was due to be open in April, is complete, and the trains have their stops scheduled. But until what Thameslink describes as a "land use problem" is solved, travellers must use the present laborious bus route from the station, inconveniently located in central Luton.

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