Am I the only person to be incensed and insulted by Simon Calder's comments about rail fares? As one of those people he thinks are "desperate, lazy or on expenses" who pay full prices for rail travel, I would like to ask him how he would like getting up at five in the morning for a two-hour commute that costs £210 a week (a 10 per cent increase on last year). Does he seriously think that people like me can book our tickets weeks in advance and travel off peak? What sort of jobs does he think people do in the real world? Not all of us have the option to work from home or turn up at work at midday. I really resent the accusation of lack of planning and laziness. My life is organised like a military campaign and leaves me little time for anything but work. Of course I wouldn't do it if I had the choice. And finally, I'm doing what everyone says we should all do – walking and using public transport – and the reward I get is astronomical fares and insults by people like Simon Calder.
Caroline Toomey, Wiltshire
Simon Calder replies: I have great sympathy with people who have to endure overcrowded trains and high fares for their daily commute. The story, however, was not about commuting (a very important subject, but one beyond the scope of this travel section) and dealt only with the aspects of the Passenger Focus about one-off journeys.
Not all last-minute travellers are wealthy or lazy. Some of them are truly desperate. I travel from Loughborough to St Pancras regularly to support my daughter who has a two year old and a two-week-old baby. This has become prohibitively expensive if there is an emergency. Unless I can plan more than two weeks in advance I hit problems.
The cheap train fares for well planned journeys are indeed wonderfully cheap – it will cost me £8 to travel to London next Wednesday. But £66 (reduced, using my rail card) for a single ticket between London and Loughborough does strike me as ludicrous.
Julia Brailsford, Nottinghamshire
In his article on rail prices in Great Britain, Simon Calder omitted one important parameter, namely, quality. Where else in Europe would great cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham be linked by two-coach diesel units?
East Midland Trains might serve inexpensive coffee but the company is not very good at its core business of providing decent rail services.
Dr Brian Axcell, Cheshire
The contrast between America's Amtrak trains and our rail "service" couldn't be greater. I travelled from San Diego to Los Angeles last month. The conductor put my case on the train for me, the ground-level seats are all reserved for seniors and disabled (everyone else has to sit upstairs, though the view is better there).
On arrival at LA, the helpful conductor showed me where to catch the golf cart to the airport bus (a couple of yards from the train). Everything went smoothly and the passenger is well looked after. No senior railcard is needed – just proof of age. In the US, the customer really is always right.
I booked a return flight from Heathrow to Madrid on BA's website. The outgoing leg on a BA plane was effortless but the return to London – which hadn't appeared obvious on booking – was an Iberia "code-share" that fell far below BA service, even to the point that I hadn't realised I would need cash to buy a sandwich (which at €8, was also steeper than the budget rivals).
The flight ended up with a five-hour delay (with little information in English) and a re-route to Gatwick, where we arrived at 2am without onward transport, leaving me £100 out of pocket for cabs never mind the inconvenience.
This issue is indicative of what happens when a great airline gets into bed with an inferior one: customer service will fall to the lowest common denominator, with the loss of a key competitive edge for BA.
Da niel Aitkenhead, London
Surely if HMS Beagle was anchored off the northeast coast of Tenerife in January 1832, then Darwin would have seen the sun rise in the east behind Gran Canaria. Then, a short time later (as he looked south) the first thing to be illuminated on the island of Tenerife would have been the peak of Mount Teide. Isn't that what Darwin said?... or am I missing something? If Darwin's observational skills were also shaky then the scientific community is in big trouble.