Airplane '97: `At 29,000ft pull the four levers back gently until things quieten down a bit, then get the map out'
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.