For budget travellers from Britain, Air India is a boon; not just for its flights to the sub-continent, but for its cut-price tickets to North America and Europe. The airline sells off the empty seats on its onward services from Britain at bargain prices. If you want a cheap flight from Heathrow to New York or Manchester to Rome, the best value is often to be found on Air India. So I use the carrier frequently.

The downside is that flights are subject to all manner of delays. I have yet to travel on an on-time Air India flight to New York, always because of some unspecified problem in the airline's home country. But delays of a few hours are nothing compared with the dismal experience of Maureen Cunningham of Liverpool.

She was travelling from Manchester to Rome with her daughter and grand- daughter, and had paid pounds 187 for each of them (no child discount was allowed for four-year-old Stephanie). Air India's flight 178 was first postponed by three hours from its 12.40pm departure time, then cancelled altogether.

By now, time for arranging alternative flights was running out, so Air India's management laid on coaches to Heathrow, which finally arrived shortly before 10pm. The airline refused, however, to provide any accommodation. Since young Stephanie was (a) aged four and (b) exhausted, the Cunninghams decided they would have to find a hotel rather than stay up all night at Heathrow, which was the option offered by Air India.

The next morning there was no direct flight to Rome, so the family had to travel via Zurich. They finally arrived 25 hours after they should have left Manchester. Mrs Cunningham's son, Colin, who was waiting for the family at Rome airport, was as unamused as them. Air India has refused to pay for the Heathrow hotel or make any other compensation.

Two sides of the same travel coin. You ask a reservations agent at Jersey European Airways about flights from Southampton or Heathrow to Jersey. She says her company doesn't fly from those airports - and immediately offers the telephone numbers for Air UK and British Airways, which do serve those routes.

Later, in the office of a leading car rental company which is temporarily out of autos you ask for suggestions about other firms which might have a spare car available to rent, and are told "That's for you to find out." One organisation is evidently trying harder than the other to help the customer.