Bunhill: Hold tight - plenty more room at 27,000 feet

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The Independent Online
WHAT comes down must go up, so maybe we should be wary of the pounds 100 return flights to all parts of Europe offered by Go, British Airways' new cut-price airline which took off for the first time on Friday. And maybe we shouldn't read too much into the decision by Virgin Express to undercut Go by selling tickets for pounds 98. But I prefer to think that airports are the new bus stops.

Of course it may be that the first casualty of cut-price competition is competition, with Go, Virgin Express or the other loose-change airlines going out of business, merging or turning tail on the low-cost market.

Alternatively, it may be that the price war is pursued so aggressively that, as costs soar high above returns, "no frills" airlines become "no bills" airlines. In which case expect to be getting up before you go to bed to make a flight that touches down before you wake up from the sleep you never had. But don't expect to wait in the comfort of a terminal; you'll be standing in a queue at an aircraft stop on a runway miles from anywhere, complaining that you've waited seven hours for a jet and then four come along all at once.

And imagine the scene as you open your wallet on the new ultra-low-cost pay-the-pilot airplane, only to be greeted with the response: "Can't you read? It says here 'No Notes'!" As you disembark in desperate search of a shop that will sell you a bar of chocolate you don't want to eat so you can break into your pounds 10 note, you'll hear an elderly lady enquiring of the pilot, "I'm going to Copenhagen - can you put me off?" "Certainly, madam", he'll reply, "modern architecture has destroyed much of its idiosyncratic charm."

All this is the price you pay for convenience, however. So while the airlines are about it, could they arrange to drop passengers off outside their front doors? All they'd need would be request buttons next to the seats, a set of parachutes and a recorded message saying "mind the gap".

IN THE US, so the Oprah Winfrey Show tells us, they're very busy empathising and stressing the benefits of quality time. So busy, in fact, that Americans can't find the quality time to remember to send birthday cards to their loved ones, and are turning instead to a company which will do it for them.

Cards Remembered (or Romance is Dead Inc, as it should be known) was founded earlier this decade by Beth Bonness to meet the needs of people with burnt-out memories. At an average price of $4 (pounds 2.50) a card she will store a list of important dates for each customer on computer and, a week before the big day, mail a greetings card to the client in a stamped, addressed envelope. This will be contained within a larger envelope so that, says Ms Bonness, no recipient "knows I'm there". All the client then has to do is sign the card and send it on. Well that's the idea; in all probability, the busy executive will get his secretary to forge his signature.

Cards Remembered began trading in 1995 and this year expects to turn over more than $100,000. That's roughly 25,000 cards, or several thousand Americans who really should spend more time with their families. Still, it's the thought that counts ... for nothing.

The painful truth

TWO WEEKS ago, the Counter Spy Shop of Mayfair broke under cover of the night into these pages to announce two of its latest business-intelligence products: a video surveillance system and a telephone-tap detector. Now it's up to its dastardly work again, this time using the conduit of Bunhill to tell the world about its "hand-held truth machine" - or lie detector to you and me.

The VSA-15 uses voice stress analysis, picking through taped business conversations to detect what are called "subaudible microtremors" - which mean the speaker is telling a whopper. A spokeswoman for the shop tells me that the product costs pounds 2,700, and I have no reason to doubt this because her voice maintained a reassuring monotone.

At this kind of price, the main takers will be employers that want to play Big Brother and verify the excuses made by bad debtors, absentee workers and so on. Most of us, therefore, will be denied the chance to put various highly suspect people to the test - like those who now claim to support Arsenal or to watch Lithuanian concept films. But we should also make sure that our nearest and dearest haven't got hold of the VSA- 15, otherwise the truth will out about that greetings card.

TO CHANNEL 4 and the Paragon Entertainment Corporation of Canada, which have just lost the licensing rights to screen Life of Brian after a High Court action, and could now be sued for breach of copyright by the Monty Python team, there is only one thing left to say: always look on the bright side of life.