Britain: Simon Calder column

As conspiracy theories go, this one's a bit flimsy. But the Case of the Disappearing Bicycle has got me worried.

Travelling with a folding bicycle is the ideal solution for much of the research I undertake. Airlines, buses and railways are happy to carry the machine, and so far this year it has safely accompanied me to Harwich, Hook and Harare. Twice, though, it has gone astray, and both these occasions are related.

Now and again travel organisations ask me to speak at conferences. Inevitably the subject veers towards the subject of what is wrong with the travel industry, and I end up offering full and frank suggestions as to how the audience could pull up its collective socks.

The first such event this year was at a conference of independent travel agents, held in Ireland. If you want to keep my custom, I announced, have the courage to recommend EasyJet (the direct-sell, no-frills airline) when it is the most appropriate choice.

I checked my bicycle in as usual, only for it to vanish mysteriously. It turned up some days later at Heathrow, having been "short-shipped" by Aer Lingus; "short-shipped" is a euphenism for "not shipped at all".

Then, last Sunday, I took issue with Britain's travel agents at the annual ABTA convention in Tenerife. Why, I wondered, is it so much easier to book a foreign holiday than a British one? The industry is hurting both itself and the country, by exacerbating the tourism deficit - as a nation we spend pounds 10 million pounds a day more on overseas travel than we earn from foreign visitors coming to the UK. Domestic holidays, I ventured, help avoid everything from Air Passenger Duty to lost baggage.

More robust heckling. After the convention everyone headed for the airport. Or, more accurately, airports. All the other delegates seemed to be flying out of Tenerife North on scheduled flights; I was the only one to have bought a cheap Skytours package, departing from the island's South airport.

You guessed it: after half-an-hour of watching all the bags come and go at Gatwick, I had to conclude the bike was making its own way back from Tenerife. After meandering around Europe, the absent conveyance was finally tracked down in Dusseldorf. The unhappily mangled remains of what used to be my bike were delivered late on Thursday.

I shall repair the damage and take it to the Airports Council International conference in Seville next month. But after telling airport operators a thing or two about how to make life for long-suffering passengers, I fully expect never to see the bike again.

Making such a fuss seems churlish compared with the disaster potential of aviation - exemplified by last Wednesday's emergency landing by the Virgin Atlantic plane whose undercarriage failed on the final approach to Heathrow. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt.

Next day, GLR - the BBC radio station for London - asked listeners to suggest a new slogan for Richard Branson's airline.

The entrants included "Wheel get you there" and "Red carpet treatment in the air, blue light treatment when you land". The best I could come up with was "Smooth as Virgin olive oil in the air, but a bit of a Branson pickle when you land".

The winner was a Heathrow worker named Greg, who made play of Virgin's much-publicised inflight entertainment: "We'll give you a telly, but you'll land on your belly".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor