Never mind the Buzz clocks

Simon Calder The Man Who Pays His Way
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Indy Lifestyle Online
CALL ME sad, but I spent a couple of hours last Saturday re-wiring the phones at home to make it possible to make three calls at once. The purpose: to maximise the chances of getting through to the new no-frills airlines Buzz, which had promised to give away 250 pairs of tickets in the first hour after the phone lines opened at 7am.

I set the alarm for five to seven, GMT, and dreamt of trading off an inflated phone bill against a cheap trip to Vienna, Milan or Paris. (In fact, each passenger had to pay tax and miscellaneous airline expenses, but pounds 25 return from Stansted is still an excellent deal.) Plenty of other people thought so too, including hundreds who neglected to put the clocks back when British Summer Time ended on Saturday night. "We had a deluge of calls, as you'd expect", says Tony Camacho of Buzz, "And they started earlier than we'd anticipated."

The confusion ranked alongside the telephonic chaos surrounding tickets for the England-Scotland match. After halk an hour of jabbing the redial buttons on three phones, I finally spoke to an operator at the Buzz call centre in Glasgow. "We were inundated with calls," he told me, "and the free tickets disappeared instantly."

Sharon Berger e-mails to say that she got through on the dot of seven. "I thought I had come up trumps, only to be told that the so-called free flights were going to be allocated on a random basis and that I could purchase flights for pounds 60. No amount of arguing would change their mind. What a disappointment."

Tony Camacho says the culprit was a story in another newspaper that misleadingly said the first 500 callers would get a pair of free tickets. "Also, the story failed to mention that taxes were extra, so it took us a while to explain all that to callers. We in fact ended up giving away more than the required number of tickets."

Richard Madge of Sussex was not one of the lucky winners. "Maybe in revenge for the football tickets fiasco the Scots just weren't giving them away to anybody with an English accent," he speculates.

NIGEL WRIGHT seems a nice chap. He is also something of a rarity: the managing director of a large yet independent tour operator, Cosmos. For 40 years it has been sending holidaymakers to the sun from the suburbs; Cosmos is based in Bromley.

This week, Mr Wright's company claimed to have broken the mould of the traditional brochure (you can see the cover on page 8). Instead of the usual romp around the Mediterranean from Majorca via all stations to Cyprus, the starting point for the new winter Cosmos brochure is the style of a holiday, not so much the destination.

First, you decide if you are a "get away from it all" type, who wants a quiet hideaway, or a "get away to it all" person who's never happier than when the entire hotel is resounding to rock'n'roll at 3am.

There is also what Tony Blair might call the Third Way, entitled the Best of Both Worlds. To the publisher who recently claimed "travel is the new sex", this presumably corresponds to bisexuality. Either way, in an industry not always renowned for fresh ideas, the Cosmos departure is welcome. The launch, though, still troubles me. When he unveiled the concept Mr Wright said he is a man with a mission: "To put the fun back into holidays, just like they used to be in the Sixties and the Seventies".

At what stage, then, did Cosmos take the "fun" out of the holidays it has been selling us in the Eighties and Nineties? And were the early packages really such fun? Plenty of people have memories of flying in ageing aircraft to half-built hotels. Tour operators collapsed with such regularity, leaving thousands stranded, that we now have the world's strictest consumer protection for travel.

"HAVE YOU ever observed the trolley performance at Waterloo International?" asks Matt Cole, of west London. He has.

"Those who have taken lots of luggage on to a Eurostar train, will probably have struggled with the arcane luggage trolley system." This involves following a series of hieroglyphic instructions, then inserting either a pounds 1 or pounds 2 coin, or a 10-franc piece, in the slot to release the trolley from its moorings.

But by the time you have struggled through security and up escalators, you may have forgotten this fact - or just simply decided that the logistics involved in retrieving the coin are not worth the effort.

"Abandoned trolleys, each containing a minimum of pounds 1, line the platform," says Mr Cole. "I saw a struggling passenger collect one of the strays, and start pushing his belongings along the platform - until a security official told him to relinquish it. What happens to all this cash? I hope the money is collected for charity."

NO ONE would accuse Britain's train operators of acting like charities, but WI Hume, of Otley, West Yorkshire, says I have been uncharitable to GNER. A fortnight ago I wrote that all cheap tickets were being suspended for a fortnight up to, and including, New Year's Eve.

In fact, Mr Hume is the proud owner of an Apex ticket for 30 December. The GNER press release (available on gner.co.uk if you have access to the Internet; apologies if you don't) suggested that the cheapest ticket would be a Saver. But the company now says that "on certain trains, on certain dates, some Apex tickets are available". I'm glad Mr Hume managed to get one and, naturally, I'm happy to credit GNER with showing some seasonal generosity.

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