Simon Calder column

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The Independent Online
Bus travel is a form of transport neglected by many, including me - trains and planes are generally much quicker, and these days barely more expensive. But travelling by National Express from Manchester to Carlisle reminded me that it can be fun.

For a start, this is one route where the bus is quicker than the train. The driver - let's call him Bob - ended the safety briefing by saying "There's a hammer for breaking glass, or controlling your children". His colleague Vic served snacks at sub-train buffet prices, and pointed out sights like the "heart of England", a cardiac-shaped grove of trees on a hillside by the M6. Traffic was light, so the promise to phone ahead to make sure connections at Glasgow were held proved unnecessary.

The 135-minute trip was exactly on time and, at pounds 16, cheaper than the train. But it could have cost another 99 pence, had I taken up the offer in Manchester to buy insurance cover.

Every passenger is offered insurance, but what possible use could it be for a journey of just over two hours? (Which I was unlikely to cancel since I bought the ticket five minutes before travelling.) Answers on a bus ticket, please.

When I needed a plane ticket to Mexico City, I chose to travel on KLM via Amsterdam because the Dutch airline offered the cheapest ticket on the day I needed to travel. But for once my "upgrade tie" stayed in the wardrobe.

Here's the theory. An airline will often find itself overbooked in economy, and be obliged to shift some discount travellers into business class. In order not to upset the passengers who've bought premium tickets, the idea is to select vaguely respectable people. Hence the only slightly out-of-fashion tie, which I always carry and don just before checking in.

KLM, though, has put paid to that plan. My ticket, which cost the wrong side of pounds 500, bears the uncompromising, capitalised message "NO UPGRADE".

Why? Perhaps, on a previous trip, I had been spotted skulking about the check-in area trying to look smart. Was my name on a KLM computer under the heading "Warning: Business Class Imposter"? No, says a spokeswoman for the airline.

"It's a standard thing on all KLM economy class tickets," she says, "aimed at discouraging passengers from asking for upgrades. KLM has a policy of not upgrading, believing that business-class passengers should get the benefit of any extra space."

An economy class amenity pack awaits anyone who has been upgraded on KLM, if they will share with us all how they did it.

"Do you know," asked my neighbour on a Turkish Airlines flight after we had been immobile on the apron at Istanbul airport for two hours, "why they call the airline THY?"

It was the low point of a truly dismal journey. The outward leg had been tiresome enough; when I enquired why the flight was an hour late, the response was "Because it's Friday". Going home, no one seemed to know why the plane was so late (it being Wednesday, the Friday explanation was no longer valid).

The correct answer to my neighbour's question is Turk Hava Yollari, the vernacular for Turkish Airlines. But his answer was funnier: "They hate you."

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