The man whose business is travel: a rose by any other name...

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The Independent Travel

Names, not numbers: that is what business travellers should demand to make life on the road more human and less stressful.

Just think about a typical journey: you turn up at the airport for flight BA117, from gate 15 at Terminal 4 where a 747-400 is waiting for an 0855 departure. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a total of 16 digits - the same as your credit card, but harder to remember, and that’s not even counting your seat number.

So let’s work through the process of providing names, not numbers. Not all of them, mind: 08.55 is a concise way of saying “five to nine in the morning”. But most of the other numbers have an arbitrary quality about them.

I can see why Concorde’s morning departure for New York was awarded flight number BA001, since it was the airline’s flagship route. But BA117 is, frankly, meaningless. The early departure should henceforth be branded as the Dawn Dash. After all, the passengers on this business-focussed departure have risen early to get a head start across the Atlantic and perhaps a midday meeting in Manhattan. In contrast, then, to the more leisurely BA177, or Sunny Afternoon as it could surely be known. With a comfortable late-lunchtime departure and touchdown around four, passengers are guaranteed a long and lazy afternoon.

Next, those terminals need sorting out before Terminal 5 opens next March. Since the numbers were awarded arbitrarily (the oldest at Heathrow is Terminal 2, which preceded 1 and 3 by some years), surely no one can object to a cheerful colour code instead? Sky blue for 5, pillar-box red for 4, chocolate brown for 3, canary yellow for 2 and emerald green for 1. This will not only brighten things up: it will also eliminate delays like the three-hour wait I suffered flying from Gate 4 at Terminal 2: two passengers had instead headed for Gate 2 at Terminal 4, and while they were found we missed our slot.

Those gates: I can see that a logical sequence helps passengers find the correct departure lounge, but could they not also get a name, and perhaps even a theme? At Heathrow, they could be characters from Shakespeare plays in one terminal, pop stars at another and so on: “Your flight is from Hamlet this morning, Madam” or “I’ll meet you at Mick Jagger after I’ve been to duty-free” adds a bit of spice to the journey.

Now on to the plane (in both senses). The first aircraft I flew on was a Vickers Viscount. The Britannia, Comet and Trident also provided splendid personal service. But somewhere along the line - perhaps with the 1-11 or the VC10? - it was decided that numbers worked better.

They don’t, which is why the Jumbo has retained its nickname among frequent travellers for almost four decades. In contrast to the Boeing 747’s soubriquet, most other aircraft carry the most utilitarian descriptions. The name of a standard narrow-bodied short haul jet does not make the heart sing. The Airbus 319 happens to be an excellent aircraft, but “Airbus 319” sounds like something you might encounter in a traffic jam on London’s North Circular Road rather than an exciting machine to take you across Europe. Each type should be given an inspirational name. I look forward to the Airbus short-haul family celebrating the continent where it is made with the Danube, Rhone and Rhine replacing the 319, 320 and 321. The Boeing 737 could become the Globetrotter, with the 777 adopting a name from the past and turning into the Stratocruiser. I look forward to turning up at Sky Blue terminal, gate Romeo, to board a Stratocruiser for the Eastern Promise to Shanghai.