Travel: Simon Calder

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The Independent Online
What is the collective noun for a group of female television presenters travelling together? A network? An overbooking? A lottery? Whatever, several of our most notable TV personalities spent an unhappy Bank Holiday Monday evening at Nice airport, when they'd much rather have been in Luton.

They were among more than 100 holiday-makers waiting for a delayed EasyJet flight home from the south of France, which finally arrived five hours late in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

In common with other airlines, EasyJet has no legal obligation to make financial amends if a flight is delayed for technical reasons. But if the experience of Independent readers Sheila and Cliff Chatten or Reading is anything to go by, the unfortunate passengers should at least get their money back.

"We were booked to fly to Barcelona on Thursday evening. The motorway traffic had been appalling, the weather ghastly, and, on reaching Luton, we weren't too pleased to hear that our 7.47 [the time, not the make] flight had been 'indefinitely delayed'." Apparently the plane had been taken out of service for repairs after being struck by lightning. (To digress for a moment: my colleague Harriet O'Brien swears that on her recent fear-of-flying course she was assured that planes could not be struck by lightning, due to the absence of an electrical earth; comments, please.)

The Chattens continue: "We sat around to wait, eating and drinking courtesy of a pounds 3.50 voucher per passenger. Our flight eventually took off about 20 past midnight; the captain was charmingly apologetic about the delay and the drinks on board were free. An inconvenience, certainly, but not a catastrophe."

"When an unsolicited letter arrived from EasyJet some two weeks later, we imagined the contents before opening it: a half-price offer on some future flight, maybe, to tempt us back to the airline? No, better than that ..."

The letter the Chattens received was from Stelios Haji-Ioannou, EasyJet's chairman, promising a full refund: "Since we have failed to deliver on our basic promise of providing reliable transport to you at the best possible price, I feel it is inappropriate that we keep your fare for the above flight."

While EasyJet is an airline whose name invites hyphenated constructions such as "low-cost", "no-frills" and "Luton-based", Air France should resound with terms such as "style" and "panache". Not, however, in third class.

When George Orwell made his journey to the French capital in Down and Out in Paris and London, he sailed third class from Tilbury to Dunkirk. The modern equivalent can be found on the newly launched three-class system on Air France flights between Heathrow and Paris.

Many airlines use a three-class system on long-haul flights; Eva Air has four, on trips to Taiwan. But on a 30-minute journey it seems needlessly elaborate.

It works like this:

Passengers are segregated by fare paid, with business class at the front and "full-fare economy" in the middle. We discount travellers are crammed in at the back. Outbound, the promised "breakfast" turns out to be a stale croissant; inbound, the forbidden champagne is wheeled scornfully past third class, and anyone with the temerity to ask for some is offered a can of warm lager instead.

Air France says the arrangement reflects fairly the amount each passenger has paid for a seat, and certainly anyone stumping up pounds 420.40 for a round- trip business ticket deserves all the free champagne he or she can wolf down in half-an-hour. Meanwhile, until the Tilbury to Dunkirk ferry service starts up again, I'll be the one with a packed lunch on Eurostar.

Sue Sutton writes from Singapore about "the mysterious disappearance of the drinks trolley on Singapore Airlines' flights to and from London - instead they bring round a tray of orange juice, beer and fizzy wine. Other drinks can be ordered, but arrive only after a considerable delay and consist of a thimbleful of your chosen tipple. Obtaining wine with the meal is similarly complicated."

Dr Sutton asked the airline why the policy had been adopted: "I was told it was 'speedier'. On a 13-hour flight, I wouldn't have thought time a big consideration!

"While understanding that there have been some problems with drunken passengers harassing the 'Singapore girls', and certainly not advocating mass drunkenness on long-haul flights, I am surprised that an airline with such a reputation for excellent service and one that is, in many ways, way ahead of its competitors on this route, has fallen down to the level of a basic charter company."

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