Sankha Guha: Man About World

Detain us at Heathrow? Spare me
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The Independent Travel

The era of the five-hour check-in may be on its way to Heathrow. In the latest attempt to create Fortress America, Washington wants to introduce a new security regime called the Advanced Passenger Information System. This would require airlines to gather and pass on

The era of the five-hour check-in may be on its way to Heathrow. In the latest attempt to create Fortress America, Washington wants to introduce a new security regime called the Advanced Passenger Information System. This would require airlines to gather and pass on

detailed information from US-bound passengers. The Association of British Travel Agents says the logistics of this additional security rigmarole will add hours to existing check-in times, and is warning that it could lead to chaos at big British airports. Who are they kidding? We already have chaos.

Heathrow tops many travellers' lists of worst airports in the world. A total of 64 million passengers a year endure the jumble of ugly sheds which is the gateway to not so great Britain. Endless walkways that seem to go round in circles, smelly toilets, threadbare carpets, leaky roofs, exposed ducting and permanent repair works to patch and mend the whole sorry mess - this is our welcome to the visiting world. Heathrow has all the appeal of a badly run detention centre.

If we had a national airport that resembled Kastrup in Copenhagen, the idea of spending five hours waiting for a flight would be different. Kastrup regularly picks up gongs for "Best airport in the world". Acres of warm red hardwood underfoot; steel, glass and air above. The stunning Terminal 3, with its 228m-long wing-shaped roof and inset ribbon skylight, is enough to make you giddy with happiness. The concourse is dotted with commissioned works of art and the furniture is a showcase for Danish design. Stylish shops, restaurants and lounges cater to most desires. They market Kastrup as a destination in itself; it seems a shame to waste it on the mundane business of catching planes. In the real world, if the US homeland security department has its way, on future trips to the States we can expect to spend as much time at Heathrow as it takes to cross the Atlantic. I would rather eat my liver with a spoon.

Bon voyage, BBC2

In an article last week celebrating BBC2's 40th birthday, the channel's outgoing controller, Jane Root, writes: "Everyone has their own BBC2." Not me. Nor the huge demographic chunk of Britain that loves travel. Because under Jane's regime BBC2 has become a travel-free zone.

I have to declare an interest here. The last travel programme that many remember on the channel was the Rough Guide series which I co-presented. There were no focus groups telling us who our audience was, or how to make the series. We had to rely on our instincts. Luckily, it was a no-brainer. Travel seemed to share the values of the channel itself - exploration, adventure, fun and inquiry. And it worked. The series was a critical success, and a ratings winner - a top three BBC2 programme.

Times have moved on. Ms Root's BBC2 is stuffed with cookery, interiors, pop history and gardening. It has some drama, new comedy and more gardening. But the world out there has disappeared into a black hole.

Ms Root writes: "BBC2 takes its audience seriously, and knows they are serious about television." They may be, but they are more serious about travel. Figures released last week tell us that terrestrial channels lost 9 per cent of their viewers in the past five years (source: Ofcom); over the same period international travel from the UK has risen 18 per cent (source: Mintel). We made a staggering 60 million foreign trips last year - this despite Iraq, Sars, Bin Laden and BBC2 failing to show us where to go. Can any public service broadcaster afford to ignore such a massive constituency?

Now Ms Root is doing her own travelling; she is off to the US to run the Discovery Channel. My plea to her successor at BBC2 is simple. There is a yawning gap on British television for a big, brave destination-based travel programme - please fill it. I can't be the only viewer who wants to see BBC2 going places.

Who's No 1?

The definitive No 1 beach in Australia has just been announced. The baker nonpareil in Paris, likewise, was declared last week. These nuggets of wisdom exist to reassure us that the world is knowable, navigable and ultimately less likely to spring a nasty surprise on us.

How could we possibly leave our front doors without knowing the precise location of the best lavatory in Truro, or where to find the best Manhattan in, er, Manhattan? We are delighted that someone has taken the time to do our homework for us. We can't get enough of "experts" who have chosen our hotels, restaurants, bars, socks and underwear. How much easier to travel in the pre-digested, tried and tested world they give us.

An Australian academic has spent 17 years cataloguing and rating every one of his country's 11,011 beaches just so that you won't make the mistake of ending up on the wrong one. This is useful if it means you avoid being eaten by a bad-tempered Saltie (estuarine crocodile) on the tidal flats of Northern Territory, and are savvy to the treacherous rip tide on the south end of Sydney's Bondi Beach. But I don't think he is doing us any favours when he names Vivonne Bay on the southern coast of Kangaroo Island the perfect beach in Australia.

Not only will this, inevitably, wreck the beach - but in a wider sense, he is wrecking our right to discover places for ourselves. How will you chance upon that gem of a sidreria in a back street in Ribadesella in northern Spain, or the most rootsy dance hall in eastern Havana if you have been directed elsewhere by the "expert" who always knows better than you?

For the record, Le Boulanger de Monge in the fifth arrondissement has been picked out by not one but two new bakery guides as the best in Paris. But I won't be rushing there just yet. I want to find my own perfect baguette thank you very much - even if it means eating a few stodgy ones along the way.

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