The Austin Allegro: a last-chance saloon
Any lingering doubts that British designers were responsible for some atrocious creations during the second half of the 20th century were dispelled when I learned to drive. Both the vehicle and the venue were dismal.
The car was an Austin Allegro. It was heralded as the final throw of the dice for the UK motor industry, but the square steering wheel and soggy brakes represented an all-time low. This last-chance saloon lurched around corners with all the agility of a hippo; emergency stops sometimes seemed to drift on for hours.
The Midlands city where I perfected the seven-point turn had suffered quite enough already: Coventry. Its historic core was mercilessly bombed in 1940, and when the fighting stopped, the planners took over where the Luftwaffe left off. The one exception to the utilitarian ugliness they imposed on the heart of Coventry (and Plymouth, and Liverpool …) was the cathedral. The medieval Cathedral of St Michael's was wrecked in the Second World War, but in 1956 the Queen laid the foundation stone for the Modernist structure that stands alongside the ruins.
Almost six decades on, Coventry Cathedral is highly rated in our quest, shared with BA's inflight magazine, High Life, to find the 21 leading British landmarks for the 21st century.
A panel of expert judges set out to identify the diverse structures that enrich the British landscape and symbolise both the nation's heritage and the creative energy of the present. Inevitably, many excellent candidates missed the final countdown. Kerry Smith, editor of High Life, said: "A building that people voted for, but not in very large numbers, was the Glastonbury Pyramid Stage – which I think, is really nice in terms of defining Britain in the 21st century."
Over and out
A less-flattering definition of the UK in 2015 has emerged this summer in the shape of the 30-mile line of trucks decorating the M20.
Operation Stack, the stationary straggle bisecting east Kent, is visible evidence of how, in this super-connected world, conflict and oppression in far-off countries can impact travellers in 21st-century Britain.
Perhaps, though, it is appropriate that this symbol of connectivity is a queue – that great British institution. And in this record-breaking summer for UK aviation, you can expect long lines at our airports, including some people seeking to find fresh flights after overbooking.
"I would prefer for The Independent to push for prosecution of the airlines for overbooking rather than condoning the situation." So writes Robert Alliott of Ross-on-Wye in response to my speculation that I am the only person, apart from the airlines themselves, who is in favour of carriers selling more seats than there are on board. After some high-profile cases where passengers were "bumped" against their will from flights on easyJet, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, I argued that overbooking is beneficial to everyone – so long as the airlines handle it properly, offering generous payments to volunteers prepared to surrender their seats.
Mr Alliott is unconvinced: "Imagine what would happen if I purchased a new house and turned up on the day with my luggage only to be told, 'Sorry we sold that house to someone else – but don't worry we will give you a few pennies and find you a house around the corner next week'."
To make that analogous to airline overbooking, you need a world in which about one in 20 of purchasers never turn up to claim the house they own, while other buyers will gladly take cash for waiting an extra day. Unlike a home, a seat on a flight is a transient commodity. People who need urgently to travel value an immediate departure very highly; other passengers may not, and can be bribed to postpone their flight.
Mr Alliott, though, disagrees in principle: "If I purchase a seat on a plane then space should be reserved for me whether I show or not. To sell my seat to someone else is massive fraud."
I suggest he flies with an airline such as Monarch. A spokesperson from the Luton-based firm called me this week to say that Monarch never overbooks. Try it, I advised; it will increase your earnings and enable more people to fly.
Fade on Entebbe
The problem for the decades-old British Airways link between London and Entebbe, Uganda's main airport, is underbooking.
BA says the flight from Heathrow is no longer commercially viable. It ends on 3 October, and several thousand passengers with confirmed seats on later flights must find alternative routes. "We are sorry for any disruption that this may cause," says a BA spokeswoman.
Daily flights on Emirates, Ethiopian, Qatar Airways and Turkish via their respective hubs have eaten into the market for BA's four-flights-a-week operation. To show how the travel world is changing: the route analysts at Anna Aero calculate that Istanbul is now the best-connected city on the planet. Turkish Airlines offers 224 destinations from its hub. But London remains the global centre of aviation, with 150 million passengers expected to fly in and out of the capital this year. We must be doing something right.Reuse content