Simon Calder: Airlines aim to woo tiny flyers

The Man Who Pays His Way

Get them young. That was the motto of the Woodcraft Folk, the left-leaning youth organisation on which I cut my travelling teeth. When I was six, the junior league of the Co-operative movement, as it was at the time, offered the chance of a week's camping trip in the Lake District for a mere £4, including the 600-mile round trip from Crawley by coach. Unaccountably, my parents found it within themselves to cope with the absence of me and my seven-year-old sister for a week. I discovered the joys of (semi-) independent travel, and earned a sew-on badge to prove it.

Get them young. That was the motto of the Woodcraft Folk, the left-leaning youth organisation on which I cut my travelling teeth. When I was six, the junior league of the Co-operative movement, as it was at the time, offered the chance of a week's camping trip in the Lake District for a mere £4, including the 600-mile round trip from Crawley by coach. Unaccountably, my parents found it within themselves to cope with the absence of me and my seven-year-old sister for a week. I discovered the joys of (semi-) independent travel, and earned a sew-on badge to prove it.

In the 21st century, stylish youngsters prefer to fly – and are being recruited into frequent-flyer schemes of their own on the promise of rewards more substantial than a Woodcraft Folk emblem.

Adults (which in the airline world means anyone 12 or over) have been able to sign up for loyalty schemes for the past 20 years, exchanging accrued miles for free flights. Now, Czech Airlines and Korean Air have decided that the best way to the hearts and credit cards of the high-spenders of the future is to offer them bribes now. Both airlines are members of the Skyteam Alliance, which may soon become the schoolchild's alliance of choice.

The Korean carrier encourages careful saving, giving under-12 members of the "Skypass Junior Program" three-quarters of the miles that adults earn. But you can't draw upon these until you attain the ripe old age of 12. Then, if you have amassed 50,000 miles, you become a member of the Morning Calm Club, which sounds rather more serene than the Crawley branch of the Woodcraft Folk.

Until 12 years ago, most young people flying aboard CSA were probably paid-up members of the Young Communist League. Now the airline, whose call-sign is "OK", has been rebranded as Czech Airlines. And its regular young travellers can claim prizes such as a globe, presumably with which to plan future travels aboard the airline.

The desperate "I've got more Air Miles than you" conversations that pervade executive lounges could now migrate to the playground. Old-time members of the Woodcraft Folk will mourn the days when only one badge per child was permitted, for fear of encouraging excessive competition.

¿ Perhaps you were one of the passengers aboard the delayed BMI flight from Belfast to London on Thursday morning who was further aggravated by spending 15 minutes waiting at the gate to disembark while someone was found to operate the airbridge. If so, don't bother writing to complain, nor to make constructive suggestions about how the airline could sharpen up.

"You will no doubt be aware of the turmoil facing the airline industry in the light of the tragic recent events in the USA and as I am sure you can appreciate, this has had a significant impact on our workload." That is the reply you are likely to receive from BMI's customer relations department, judging from the experience of Peter Bartlett from Berkshire. Mr Bartlett is a health expert who had identified a potential problem with a catering item on a charter flight from Cagliari to Heathrow. He wrote a polite letter to the airline suggesting how they could tackle it. "My motivation in the first place was to be helpful; I believe prevention is better than cure."

The first response from BMI suggested that his original letter had not even been read. So he wrote again, and got a reply which, he says, is akin to "Doing a Jo Moore". As a result of those "tragic recent events", says the airline, "we are unable to investigate individual issues that have been brought to our attention. Experience has shown that our resource is [sic] now better utilised in ensuring that we prevent a recurrence, rather than spend time in retrospective investigations." In other words, stop wasting your time and ours.

Mr Bartlett says he is "furious that BMI should use the events of 11 September to lower their workload. I am also angry that they have put me in a position where if I ask for a reply I will seem heartless."

¿ Signposts can damage your tourism industry. How many French visitors, when their Eurostar train draws into Waterloo, vow never to undergo the national humiliation again? London is littered with place names that remind foreign tourists about our military victories: the very centre of the city, Trafalgar Square, reminds our former foes about Nelson's naval prowess.

Mind you, the French could look to their own capital with a view to wiping away the past: "Stalingrad", the square whose name appears on about half the direction signs in Paris, disconcerts Russians (who long ago renamed their city Volgograd) and the Germans who suffered a crushing defeat in 1942.

Even road numbers can be politically incorrect: the new motorway in Madeira is apparently named after the disastrous British airship, the R101. (Readers in Bedfordshire will probably know that there is an official R101 roundabout close to the place the airship was made, in Cardington).

At least one aircraft manufacturer is smart enough to name, or number, its latest plane after an uncontentious entity: the Torquay bypass. When the first "double-deck" Airbus finally rolls out of the hangar in Toulouse, the people of South Devon can feel proud that it bears the name of the road that loops around Torbay: the A380.

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

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