Simon Calder

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The Independent Online
If you are reading this on the 8.20 from Waterloo to Bourg St Maurice, stop smirking. Not only are you on the first commercial train direct from London to the French Alps - you are also avoiding the utter chaos at Heathrow, following yesterday's fire at Terminal One. Disruption caused by the blaze is likely to continue for the rest of the weekend, and indeed the year; thousands of travellers will find themselves delayed at Heathrow.

Were it Los Angeles airport, this would not necessarily be a dreadful prospect. Independent readers have responded magnificently to the question posed by Kit Norman, who finds himself marooned there for several hours between flights on Christmas Day. What, he wondered, should he do to fill the time (besides, perhaps, enjoying a flame-grilled meal at Burger King)?

Felicity Pocock of Oxford suggests a $20 taxi ride to Venice Beach: "Extraordinarily varied architecture, nice clear air in December, and even on Christmas Day there will be somewhere to eat on Washington Boulevard."

You need not go so far for somewhere to eat. David Rush and Angela James of Surrey recommend you look out at the airport for "a white, futuristic- looking building, a kind of tower with a big dome covering it, with four large supporting legs which sweep down to the ground. It tended to get used a lot as a backdrop to Hollywood movies in the Sixties. We had always assumed it to be a hi-tech radar premises housing some sophisticated monitoring equipment, but it is open to the public, and goes by the strange title of The Theme Restaurant.

"By ascending the central lifts one arrives at the top to a restaurant and piano bar. The prices for food and drink are reasonable, the views are dramatic and the service is congenial; certainly an improvement on the LAX transit lounges."

Ray Heyworth of Edinburgh says his family actually profited from the stopover: "My children occupied time checking telephone coin boxes for unclaimed change, then spending the proceeds. This pastime, of course, is not limited to Los Angeles, airports or, even, children."

It seems ungrateful to say so, but besides some jolly letters from readers, every day the post brings a Santa-sized sack of publicity material (the travel industry not yet having acknowledged the existence of e-mail; comes straight to me, for anyone who cares).

Most material goes straight into the recycling bin. Occasionally a press release so wonderfully mad appears that it makes all the letter-opening worthwhile.

The late entrant for deal of the year, if not the decade, comes from Emirates. The Dubai-based airline wants to promote the inflight phones that are fitted to every seat of its Boeing 777s. So during December the airline is allowing passengers to call for as long as they like for a flat fee of US$20 (about pounds 12).

This gives an opportunity to save a fortune. Take a typical Emirates itinerary of London-Dubai-Hong Kong (from discount agents for about pounds 500 return). Talkative travellers can call their aunts in Australia from 30,000ft rather than at home through BT; you could get a call worth pounds 200 for a fraction of the regular price. And that's just on the first leg of your flight. Use the same deal flying Dubai-London to call a friend in the Falklands, and avoid a bill of about pounds 570. You've more than covered the cost of your flight - and that's before the return leg. I just feel sorry for the person sitting next to you.