Simon Calder column

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The Independent Online
The best argument yet for a single European currency has just dropped through my letterbox. You expect your first credit card statement after Christmas to contain a shock or two, but you don't usually expect the culprit to be the credit card company itself.

Here's how it happened. The usual check-out scrum surrounded the cashier's desk at the Hotel Alcora in Seville. I said the bill had already been paid; they said it hadn't, and with the disadvantage conferred upon anyone with a plane to catch I handed over my credit card to settle the 25,000- peseta account.

Seconds later the mistake was spotted. My card was put through the machine again, a refund slip was issued for the same amount - in pesetas - and I thought no more about it. Until the bill arrived this week. The amount charged was pounds 106, but the refund was only pounds 100.

Losing pounds 6 in as many seconds is worrying; more alarming is what it suggests about the margins the bank appropriates for foreign transactions.

In the seven years since the collapse of Communism, the countries of the former Soviet Union have adopted all manner of Western habits, including airlines which focus on the interest of the passengers, not the staff. But they haven't quite grasped the concept that in-flight magazines should be bland and unadventurous.

Uzbekistan Airways' cabin reading, imaginatively entitled Inflight Magazine, takes its chances with a feature on Britain's capital.

It commends the "Free topical walking excursions through London", a surprise to the London Walks organisation, which charges pounds 4.50 a stroll.

"An excursion of London will include Big Ben, the clock tower that collates the exact time throughout Great Britain."

Panorama, the in-flight organ of Ukraine International Airways, focuses on home territory. The first time that British travellers are likely to see this is when heading to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, probably for work. So any anxiety they may feel will be amplified by the full-page advertisement that begins: "I was getting really nervous. I couldn't believe it when my company transferred me to Ukraine."

The ad, for an American-run clinic in the capital, continues the worrying theme: "As the day approached, I was starting to panic ... Oh my gosh! What if I get sick over there or worse ... in some kind of horrible accident ... I had heard some nightmare stories about Ukrainian health care."

I think I preferred the blunt technical data that passed as in-flight reading on a flight from Irkutsk to Moscow. Just after the Tupolev took off for its non-stop flight, I read that the aircraft's maximum range was 5,000km.

The distance between the two cities is 5,200km.

What airline is this, anyway? That's the question posed by Peter Copping of Manchester, who bought a package holiday from a small tour operator. "I travelled out on the ticket of one `airline', on a plane operated by another carrier. The journey back was on a different, non-UK airline. None of these was the airline whose name appeared on my ticket. Had an accident occurred - I don't mean a crash, just, say, boiling coffee being spilled on me - I would not have known who was responsible."

Can anyone help?

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