Simon Calder: Going where the sun shines brightly
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 13 July 2012
Le quatorze juillet is more than just a public holiday in France celebrating the storming of the Bastille – mid-July is also when the exodus from Britain properly begins. We storm the airports, motorways and Dover Eastern Docks in search of sunshine or adventure, plus the exotic landscapes, gastronomy and culture located beyond our shores. Heathrow predicts next Monday will be the busiest day in its history, with an average of two passengers flying out every second between the first flight to Vienna at 6am and the last departures to Tel Aviv at 10.30pm.
Today the Independent Traveller celebrates the summer holiday. The actress Jane Horrocks champions the first Greek island that many of us visited, Corfu; there's a Travel Challenge special with real deals for the school summer holidays – from the canals of North Wales to the beaches of southern California – all still available at the time of going to press. And our choice for 48 hours is Malaga, which has more air links from Britain than any other Spanish city.
Yet just as the traveller's sense of anticipation is at its most exquisitely intense, here comes a no-frills airline promising "to improve your travel experience". Past behaviour suggests that this translates as a move that will downgrade your travel experience. And so it proves.
You thought no-frills carriers couldn't possibly make life any tougher for the passenger? The leading low-cost airline to eastern Europe, Wizz Air, begs to differ. .
Anyone booking a flight from Luton to Katowice in Poland from August onwards is allowed to take nothing bigger than a "school backpack or laptop bag" into the cabin without paying extra. Henceforth anything bulkier will be classed as a "large cabin bag", and incur a €10 charge. Following the no-frills revolution, all passengers may be equal – but from August, their cabin baggage is not. Other airlines will be watching Wizz Air's experiment closely. If it works, expect the incredible shrinking baggage rules to spread. Hats off to Flybe for this week making life a little easier expanding its cabin baggage limits. It's a pity, though, the airline did not choose to align its size rules with either Ryanair or easyJet to simplify life for the traveller.
"If there's fear, there's demand," says the insurance guru Andrew Lothian. He is chief executive of No Exclusions, providers of an intriguing new policy aimed at calming the nerves of easyJet passengers: missed flight cover. His firm surveyed travellers and found, unsurprisingly, that most of us fret about getting to the airport late. Now easyJet passengers may pay £7.50 one way or £9.50 return to protect against missing flights.
Many existing travel insurance policies cover missed departures, but with strings attached. Passengers must back up a claim of motorway mayhem or the wrong kind of snow with a statement from breakdown services or train operators. This new policy is a "no-fault" scheme, ideal for lazy, disorganised or capricious travellers. Whether you have overslept, are hamstrung by a hangover or had a row with your travelling partner and decide not to fly, you can choose either a full refund or a seat on the next available departure. You need only to reach the airport within four hours after departure and be "fit to fly" – basically, in possession of a valid passport.
The policy even covers those who dawdle in duty-free – or receive a call en route to the gate saying "come home at once". The company says, "You are covered whilst getting through security, during airside shopping and right up until you are through the gate and sitting on the plane."
"Total peace of mind should you not make it on time," is the promise from No Exclusions. Access to a 24-hour helpline with someone at the other end who won't demand all manner of documentation is a welcome development. But not everyone who misses a flight and secures a seat on the next one is at total peace with the world: they are fretting about the implications for their travel plans, while juggling car-rental bookings, hotel reservations and fractious children.
Before you sign up for missed flight cover, bear in mind that easyJet already has a commendable policy in place for people who miss a plane. Turn up within two hours of a flight's departure and you can pay a £50 "rescue fee" for a seat on the next available flight (this also works, in my experience, if you turn up at Luton for a flight which is actually taking off from Gatwick). And in the event of severe transport disruption, this fee may well be waived as the airline seeks to get everyone where they need to be.
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