Airplane '97

Airplane '97: `At 29,000ft pull the four levers back gently until things quieten down a bit, then get the map out'
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The Independent Travel
If you were paying attention last week, you will have read of the silly New Year air fares. It will take the average British worker under a fortnight to earn pounds 700, enough for a return flight to Australia on Britannia Airways - plus a weekend trip to New York on Virgin Atlantic (a 747, not a balloon).

Before you seize bargains like these, though, you should be aware of some of the pitfalls of modern aviation. Take Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia; a bulletin released by Airports Council International cheerfully relates that "each week is full of surprises". The airport director, Alexander Parshakov, tells of one incident: "Checking an aircraft after passengers had left, we found a hand grenade. Fortunately without the fuse, but otherwise perfectly operational."

God forbid that you should ever find yourself in the sort of in-flight emergency beloved of Hollywood disaster movies, and are required to fly the aircraft. But if it happens, just hope that you are aboard the Bournemouth- based airline Palmair. On page 30 of the in-flight magazine Whispers, you will find instructions for flying the British Aerospace 146, the airline's only plane. An extract: "At a suitable height, say 29,000 feet, pull the four levers back gently until things quieten down a bit, then get the map out to find the way to your destination."

Next Christmas I shall send my wish-list to Continental Airlines rather than Santa. Diane Dunn of Wimbledon writes: "Last August I was booked to travel with Continental from Newark to Gatwick. However, due to overbooking I accepted a $700 voucher to stand down and travel with Virgin to Heathrow a couple of hours later.

"A mix-up at Gatwick resulted in my receiving my baggage many phone calls and two days later. I wrote a letter to the chairman of Continental in the heat of the moment. Time passed and I forgot about it.

"A few days ago I received a letter with a fulsome apology, an affirmation of a commitment to customer care - and a travel voucher for a further $200." These days, that will almost get you to New York and back.

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