Travel: Being British: the perilous news

The Man Who Pays His Way
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Indy Lifestyle Online
THE USE of "British" as a prefix in travel brings different connotations depending on what follows it. When it is succeeded by "Rail" many travellers will wince, especially if the word "sandwich" is attached. The suffix "Columbia" reminds you how fine it would be to visit western Canada; ditto "Virgin Islands". Closer to home, the British Museum is, rightly, the most popular free tourist attraction in London.

When the name of an airline begins with "British", sadly its prospects for survival are modest. These are just a few of the airlines that are no longer with us: British Airtours, British Caledonian, British European Airways, British Overseas Airways Corporation, British United Airways. Most of these have been subsumed into British Airways, but others, like British Island Airways (BIA), have vanished. (Pinned to a wall at the Olympic Airways ticket office at Athens airport is a warning about BIA tickets; fraudsters apparently use coupons from defunct airlines to get free flights on other carriers.)

Now British Midland could be for the chop, too. The airline is in reasonable financial shape, but is concerned about its image as it prepares to launch transatlantic services. Airline bosses have hired Landor Associates - the Californian company that, in the Eighties, gave BA its most radical makeover - to come up with a new look.

Depending on which industry rumours you believe, Landor is also searching for a replacement for "British", or "Midland", or both. The problem with the first element is that many people abroad believe British Midland is merely a subsidiary of British Airways - in North America, an airline's short-haul offshoot is usually tagged in the manner of American Eagle and Canadian Regional, which are part of American Airlines and Canadian Airlines respectively. The second part of the name, Midland, is hardly as sexy as Silk Air or as cuddly as Teddy Air. It is always risky to tie an airline's name to a particular region - as Virgin Atlantic is discovering, with its growing range of flights to Asia and Africa.

To help British Midland reinvent itself, a few suggestions. PeoplExpress and Laker Airways are both fondly regarded for their cut-price transatlantic services, while Dan-Air and Eastern are also available. Air Lanka has just become available, since the island's carrier turned into SriLankan Airlines.

If British Midland's owner, Sir Michael Bishop, is looking for something more regal, he will already know that Monarch and Royal Airlines have been snapped up. Perhaps he should consider using his own name: Bishop Air (company motto: nearer my God to thee) could have a three-class system - pew, choir and Crockford's - and award frequent prayer points. And just think of those uniforms.

A breeze through the OAG World Airways Guide reveals a trend towards more energetic names. They're busy over at Intensive Air, while Impulse Airlines caters for those last-minute travellers.

THE STARTLING new round-the-world air fares that British Airways and Qantas revealed last week kick in this November. When better, you might think, for a trip to the Australian state of Queensland? The heavy rains have yet to return, while the temperature glows at around 30C. And there's a brand-new publication to guide you. It includes some advice.

Getting there: Britannia Airways "has a fare of pounds 322 return". Cultural awareness: "If you are not familiar with Aussie slang, spend a day in Earl's Court." Eating and drinking: "Verdi's, Shields Street, the place to go for a good spanking! Lively atmosphere where the staff `punish' diners with a good-natured spanking, largely for their own amusement." And, for your own amusement, how about this for a riveting pastime: "A discussion on the tough new rules being imposed for selling insurance and what it could mean for agents".

You have probably gathered that the publication in question is a industry preview of the 1999 Association of British Travel Agents convention, which begins in Cairns on 26 November. Now, you might think that the resort is alarmed about the prospect of an estimated 3,000 travel agents and assorted hangers-on.

The ability of Britain's package-tour purveyors to enjoy themselves is legendary.

On opening night, those who have not attended a convention before can start at 6pm at the First Timers' Party at The Pier, move on to the Welcome Party at the Palm Cove, and continue until 3am at the Abta nightspot at the Reef Hill Casino. That insurance debate could be thinly attended. And, to follow, "A host of events have been planned to help shake off those traditional conference hangovers". These include the Abta Ashes, a cricket match "which will also include a typical Aussie barbie - and no doubt a few tinnies". Something circular there.

If you are beginning to get indignant about the way some of your holiday cash is being squandered by the travel industry, calm down. The main sponsors of this event are the Australians themselves, who are pouring (often literally) pounds 2m into the convention.

The nickname for Abta is the Association of Beach Towel Arrangers - and, true to stereotype, the Germans have got their towels on the water's edge first. The week before Abta arrive, 2,000 German travel agents will be attending a conference down the coast in Brisbane.

A BONUS for all those travel agents is that they will get a free return ticket on the Heathrow Express, Britain's most expensive railway. The high-speed link between London and the airport is a year old, and to celebrate, the pounds 10 fare is to increase by 20 per cent - even though the average train is only one-quarter full. But, says the company's Jeremy Job, "We are the only railway co in the whole of the UK that has children travelling free, permanently." A commendable move, though for the rest of us, Britain's priciest railway will be more expensive per mile than flying Concorde (and that's in second, sorry, "express" class on the train).

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