The Man Who Pays His Way

Irma Zimmerman, I'm sorry today is so sad for you. At midnight, your company, TWA – one of the best brands in aviation – is to be extinguished by the new owner. A piece of business jargon is appropriate for what will, henceforth, be a "paper airline"; TWA is to be "folded into" American Airlines.

Ms Zimmerman was the lead flight attendant on the last TWA trip I shall ever have the opportunity to take, from San Francisco to New York JFK. She told passengers: "Call me Mom – my kids do." Once the half-empty plane had levelled off at 37,000 feet, she invited people to find an empty row of seats so they could stretch out, adding, "We're not expecting any more passengers to join us."

Then the drinks service began: "How would you like your coffee, sir?" she asked an elderly gentleman. "Hot and sweet, like your women?" When his silver-haired companion ordered wine, Irma demanded to know: "Are you over 21?" And at the end of the flight she insisted we search through the seat pockets to find "any stray dentures or $100 bills".

Irma has been entertaining passengers on TWA for a good 20 years. She continued to amuse them even when they started stealing cutlery. As mentioned here earlier this year – in aviation terms, the olden days when metal knives and forks were permitted on planes – TWA found its eating irons were being snapped up by souvenir hunters. Loyal passengers were keen for a memento of one of the world's great airlines before it was rubbed out by the new owners.

* TWA colours keep flying until midnight on Saturday night. Then, Trans World Airlines will take off for the great brand dustbin in the skies, following a decade after Pan Am – whose logo, ironically, is attached to the spacecraft in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the 21st-century traveller should spare a thought for an airline that arguably did more for the passenger than any other.

Following its inception in 1930, TWA delivered an astonishing variety of innovations. TWA passengers benefited from the first autopilot (1934), inflight audio (1940) and film (1961); the first feature was By Love Possessed, starring Lana Turner. Would you believe that, until July 1970, smoking was such an accepted part of flying that TWA was the pioneer in offering non-smoking sections in all its planes?

THE AIRLINE'S downfall was sealed 10 years ago, when it sold its historic routes from Heathrow to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago. The buyer, ironically, was American Airlines, which paid almost as much for those routes as it did, a decade later, for the whole darn airline. TWA kept an Anglo-American lifeline going, but only the less-than-glamorous route from St Louis to Gatwick. For a time, TWA even bolted on an extra leg to Frankfurt and a connection to Berlin, giving British travellers a cheap way to Germany's biggest city in the days when a fare of under £100 return was a good deal. I'm sure I encountered a younger Irma wielding a trolley at 6,000 feet – the maximum height at which planes were permitted to fly over the old East Germany.

* Berlin's predecessor as German capital, Bonn, was the subject of an extraordinary attack on Radio 4's Today programme this week. "This is an utterly suburban and boring place," asserted Andrew Gilligan. He was explaining why the beautiful city on the Rhine was chosen as the venue for international talks on the future of Afghanistan. "It's about as far as you can get from Kabul and still be on the same planet," he added.

Perhaps he missed the revelation in these pages that a suburb of the Chilean capital, Santiago, enjoys that particular quality. If you drill a hole through the centre of the earth from Bonn, you end up languishing beneath New Zealand – a country that has its own problems.

First, its national airline paid an implausible amount for the now-bankrupt Australian airline, Ansett. Now, it may need to find a new logo in a hurry. As described on the front page of this section, the euro will have a wide effect on the way we travel. It will also make Air New Zealand look a bit odd. The symbol on the Kiwi carrier's tailfin bears a strange resemblance to the sign for the new single European currency.

These days, the fare to Germany and back is 2p; at least, that's the deal Ryanair is offering on 300,000 of its seats in the next two months. Try to book, and inevitably you find that a range of charges (only a few of which are taxes) will be added to the cost.

A round-trip to Italy still comes in at under £20, so who's counting? Well, anyone who is aged under two, at least if they are arithmetically advanced.

On most low-cost airlines, infants travel free, on the reasonable grounds that they are really only lively pieces of hand luggage. But not on Europe's biggest no-frills airline.

Ryanair will cheerfully fly you around Europe for twopence, yet it imposes a £10 fare – 500 times larger – for under-twos.

Simon.Calder@independent.co.uk

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