Frequent flyer? Prepare for delays

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The Independent Travel
For the past year I have been tracking assiduously the punctuality of every flight I have taken. This may strike you as a singularly sad way to spend one's time, but the results confirm what many frequent travellers suspect - that the chances are more likely than not that your flight will be delayed. Of nearly 50 flights, two-thirds were delayed by anything from five minutes to three hours.

The most consistently tardy carrier is British Airways, with an average delay of 20 minutes, but this reflects the fact that I have used it more than any other - and that BA has to cope with the two crowded home bases of Heathrow and Gatwick.

The survey begins with a 45-minute delay on a BA flight from Heathrow to Harare (ascribed to "missing passengers") and ends with a 15-minute late Chicago to Heathrow hop on American Airlines ("a few last-minute bags").

In between, explanations for delays have ranged from the catch-all "operational difficulties" to the hardly more informative cause given bluntly by a Delta pilot between Atlanta and Orlando: "weather".

In some ways it has been a good year: unlike the last couple, all the planes have landed at roughly the right airport on approximately the right day. There was just one aborted landing (on Cyprus Turkish Airlines at Antalya) and one curtailed take-off (a Caledonian Airways TriStar from Manchester to Mombasa).

This flight turned out to be the most delayed of all, reaching Kenya three hours late. But this was in a summer when some passengers experienced delays of more than two days -my colleague Wendy Berliner spent 53 hours in Orlando failing to travel with Airtours International to Gatwick. And whenever you, like me, are tempted to grumble about a modest delay, it is well worth remembering that we are extraordinarily privileged to be able to undertake relatively fast, relatively comfortable travel to the ends of the earth for implausibly low fares.

Some people, of course, are more privileged than others - notably those in the premium cabin. I am sorry to report that the "upgrade tie" that I carry habitually, and put on just before check-in, in the hope of a seat in business class, has worked just once.

Air 2000 does not appear in my survey, but it would feature high in any list of soon-to-be-outdated names. Fortunately, readers have responded generously in their suggestions for a new name for the charter carrier to take it into the new millennium.

A convoy of suggestions as to what the airline could call itself once the year 2000 is over has been touching down over the past fortnight. Mr E Wright of Fleetwood recommends Millenair, while Mike Marshall of Bromsgrove has a name that will be valid for just 12 months - Air in 2000.

Peter Mair of London notes that Air 2000 offers tall people extra legroom, and offers "Air 2001 - a Leg Space Odyssey". Mr Mair also says that another charter airline, Monarch, will book seats with extra space to tall travellers without the need to supply a doctor's letter, as required by Air 2000. "To achieve this, as soon as one is booked on a Monarch flight, phone 01582 ..."

The responsibility for this number being incomplete is mine, not Mr Mair's. When I tried the number he suggested, the airline confirmed that it will do its best to assign an emergency exit row to tall travellers - but refused me permission to publish the number you need to call to request assistance. It seems that Monarch provides a useful service, but prefers its customers not to know about it.

Meanwhile, perhaps Air 2000 will grant an upgrade, or at least extra legroom, to those whose suggestions appear above.

As MPs disperse from Westminster for the last Christmas holiday of this parliament, some of them will be looking forward to foreign visits as part of a Commons select committee.

Writing in Travel Weekly, the Labour MP Nigel Griffiths reveals that members of the Defence Select Committee have bagged Ankara, Athens, Brussels, Gibraltar, Naples, New York, Paris and Washington DC. They did rather better than the Catering Committee: "Its one exotic trip consisted of a visit to British Rail's on-board services training school in Euston". One committee member who mis-heard news of the impending trip spent some time fondly anticipating a trip to Houston, Texas.