1998 and all that

Yes, yes, yes, it's your global almanac. Simon Calder gazes into his crystal compass and reveals what the new year holds in store for travellers.

January

At the time when people are traditionally booking their holiday for the coming summer, Airtours issues its brochure for winter 2004/5, which features holidays flying on yet-to-be- invented planes to yet-to-be-built hotels in countries that don't yet exist.

From a similar realm of fantasy, National Rail Inquiries blames its failure to answer even the simplest inquiry on "the wrong kind of snow" - not intended as a reference to poor-quality cocaine inhaled by telephone staff.

February

P&O European Ferries and Stena Line complete their merger on the Channel crossing from Dover to Calais. To compete more effectively against Le Shuttle through the Chunnel, the minimum check-in is reduced to the time it takes to say the name of the new company, which incorporates all the proud pedigrees of the two lines: Peninsular and Oriental Townsend Thoresen European Stena Sealink Viking Longboat Ferries.

Eurostar insists its four-year-old promise to start services from UK provincial cities to Paris will finally be kept in 1998.

March

BA's new no-frills airline, EasyPeasy, starts flying from Stansted to "Paris South" - a disused military airfield outside Marseille. Its only competitor is EasyMoney, Harry Enfield's new venture into the low-fare airline market. A dozen stewardesses are disciplined for wearing lacy underwear. A spokesman explained: "When we said no frills ..."

April

After intensive market research, EasyPeasy changes its name to QuestionAire. Apparently the focus groups thought this was one of the suggested alternatives, rather than the title at the top of the list of questions. A suggestion that the two names be combined as QuEasy was turned down on the grounds of taste. All BA tailplanes are repainted with a question-mark replacing the other questionable designs.

May

The first anniversary of Labour's victory, during which London has acquired the most expensive public transport of any city in the world: some Tube journeys now cost pounds 8.25 per mile.

To celebrate the triumph, the Deputy Prime Minister promises all adult voters a Triumph - from a stock of old Toledo models lying idle at a former British Leyland plant in the West Midlands.

"No one seriously believed all that nonsense about sustainable transport, did they?" purred a departing John Prescott as his ministerial Stag scattered a constituency of cyclists.

When the summer railway timetable comes into effect, National Rail Inquiries continues to use the winter one, blaming the wrong kind of glue in the summer version. "Pages fall out of the new one," says a spokeswoman, "spreading leaves on the lines" (not a reference to a habit involving a mirror, a quantity of cocaine, and inhalation).

June

"Our best summer yet," is the verdict of a leading package holiday operator. "Providing we all hold our nerve and aren't tempted to increase capacity, there will be no last-minute bargains." Six other package holiday operators double capacity, and a week in the Med falls to pounds 99.

Eurostar says trains from Edinburgh and Manchester to the French capital will be starting just as soon as a British player wins Wimbledon and England win the World Cup.

July

After the astonishing victories of an out-of-form Greg Rusedski and an out-of-retirement Sue Barker at the All-England Club - topped by the amazing mixed doubles triumph of Virginia Wade and Sir Cliff Richard - Eurostar says it has started running trains from the provinces to Paris, where Glenn Hoddle's boys have just beaten Germany 4-2 after extra time (and yes, that third goal did cross the line). But since these are supposed to be publicised by National Rail Inquiries, they have yet to attract any passengers.

August

The increasing strength of sterling means that a cup of tea on the seafront at Margate costs more than a week in the George V Hotel in Paris. No one is in Margate anyway, due to the summer-long storms attributed to El Nino. Airtours takes advantage of the dismal weather at home to launch its 2025 brochure, headlined "Forget Margate - try Mars".

September

Dreadful smog across South-East Asia reduces the 26th Commonwealth Games in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, to a single event: blind man's buff.

Meanwhile in Britain, crisis looms: how to stem the disastrous slump in domestic tourism?

Under pressure, the Chancellor increases Air Passenger Duty 100-fold to pounds 2,000 for travellers outside Europe.

This triggers reprisals from Turkey and the Dominican Republic, which impose the same charge on departing British holidaymakers. Thousands are destitute, and forced to rely on diminishing quantities of deteriorating buffet food at all-inclusive resorts.

October

Richard Branson, who has been remarkably quiet so far this year, launches EasyBritFlit - a no-frills, no-markings airline that specialises in moonlit landings in foreign airports to retrieve destitute Brit holidaymakers.

November

Chaos at Heathrow when a flood in the salad bar of Burger King closes down Terminal One; if it had only happened a year earlier, it could have put out the fire. Heathrow blames climatic changes brought about by the wrong kind of El Nino.

National Rail Inquiries denies that any trains whatsoever operate in the UK.

December

National Rail Inquiries refutes its own existence and disappears up its own phone holding system.

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