Money: Courier flights offer discount take-off

Ian Hunter has found a way to make big savings on long-distance flights
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The Independent Online
Fancy a scheduled return flight to Tokyo for pounds 498, or return to Mexico for pounds 340, or perhaps pounds 250 return to San Francisco? These are three examples of the cheap guaranteed flights offered to members of the public who fly as couriers with British Airways.

Courier companies are responsible for transporting urgently required material by the fastest possible route. It is much quicker to send documents by air, as part of a passenger's check-in baggage than to suffer the delays associated with air freight cargo .

Although many companies prefer to use their own staff as couriers, firms such as British Airways Travel Shops, based at Heathrow Airport, are responsible for finding members of the public to act as couriers .

There are a number of restrictions associated with most courier flights. British Airways normally allows its couriers to use up to 23 kg of their baggage allowance together with one piece of hand baggage.

Every courier flight imposes restriction on length of stay. Most flights operate on fixed returns of 1-3 weeks duration. Trips are usually offered on a return flight basis only.

It is the courier's responsibility to ensure that any necessary visa requirements have been satisfied. Before booking a flight you must first send a stamped addressed envelope to British Airways Travel Shops to obtain an information pack.

British Airways has discounts on scheduled flights to at least 30 destinations worldwide. Bookings may be made by telephone only. On receipt of payment a contract and flight details are sent to the traveller .

British Airways says that ideally the courier coupany likes to fill the schedule two or three months in advance. However, seasonal variations in demand mean that seats are sometimes available at shorter notice, even the day before in rare cases.

Once the flight has been booked it is not possible to change the return date, unless in exceptional circumstances the flight can be re-scheduled. However as British Airways explains: "This is only possible at least 30 days prior to the flight and you will usually be charged an amendment fee."

Cancellation charges will be imposed if you decide to change your plans. According to British Airways: "The percentage of your payment held depends on the number of days prior to the flight that the cancellation is made. If you cancel at the last minute or miss your flight you will lose the full amount."

Would-be couriers are strongly advised to take out adequate travel insurance since you will not be insured by the courier company. If the flight is cancelled more than 14 days before departure a 50 per cent refund will be paid.

Anyone, male or female, who is healthy and over the age of 18 is eligible and the other qualifications are limited to little more than having a valid passport.

There is a dress code for couriers. Men are required to wear a jacket, collar and tie while women must wear a dress, skirt or smart trousers. The conditions also state: "Under no circumstances can denim, shorts, trainers etc be worn .You will be refused travel if this rule is not upheld." Couriers are not allowed to consume excess alcohol on the flight or to exceed their duty-free allowance.

On the day of travel you have to report to the airport at least two hours before the departure time. A representative hands over a document pouch and ensures that you are checked in. When you arrive at the destination airport a representative of the courier company takes the document pouch and makes sure that the material clears customs

On the return date a call must be made to the locally-based courier contact. The contact provides a meeting point and you will pick up another document pouch to bring back to London.

The savings on flights vary and travellers should check for off-peak bargains on normal flights in case they offer better value. However on some British Airways courier flights, the saving on a standard APEX fare can exceed pounds 500.

For further details:

British Airways World Cargo 0181- 564-7009

Or send an SAE to:

British Airways Travel Shops Export Cargo Terminal

World Cargo Centre (S 126)

Heathrow Airport

Hounslow

Middlesex TWG 2JS

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