Simon Calder: Gunners’ own goal: taking to the air for a Canaries clash

The man who pays his way

The shortest-ever flight from Luton airport to the Canaries departed last weekend. It spent just 14 minutes in the air. On board? Gunners. The Arsenal first team took on Norwich City (the Canaries, who play in yellow and green) at the Carrow Road ground last weekend. They could have driven in the team coach: the 115-mile journey from the Emirates Stadium in north London takes under three hours with a clear run. But instead, the players converged upon the executive terminal at Luton airport and boarded a plane for a journey of less than 100 miles to Horsham St Faith, the airport just beyond the Norwich ring road.

Next day, they flew back to Beds. The plane belonged to the private jet firm Ocean Sky, rather than Arsenal’s Dubai-based sponsor.

Now, the club is so concerned about its environmental impact that a Citroën C0 electric car is used by staff on shuttle runs between Emirates Stadium and the training ground in St Albans. So how could the team possibly contemplate flying over the unchallenging terrain of Herts, Essex and Suffolk rather than travelling overland? An Arsenal spokesperson said: “The club considers all transport options available for the first team when travelling to an away fixture. Given the severe disruption to rail services at the weekend, the most time-efficient option was to fly.”

The rail option from Finsbury Park (almost next door to the stadium) via Cambridge was still available, but the plane option prevailed. After their environmental own goal, Arsenal – against the form guide – lost 1-0 to Norwich.

Shannon short shift

Those of us confined to scheduled air travel see our options shrink in the coming week. Links from Heathrow to Amritsar in India, Khartoum in Sudan and Casablanca in Morocco are extinguished tomorrow along with the last flicker of the BMI mainline brand following the takeover by British Airways. Across at London City, BA’s “son of Concorde” service to New York JFK takes a hit. While this business-class-only service is to continue, Friday’s 4pm flight was the last afternoon departure on which passengers can pre-clear US customs and immigration.

When the business-class-only flight was conceived, its weak link became a strength. The short runway at the Docklands airport means the plane cannot take off with enough fuel for a transatlantic crossing. Therefore it follows the time-honoured course, adopted by everyone from BOAC to Aeroflot, of refuelling at Shannon in the west of Ireland. The stop adds a good hour to the journey. But pressed and stressed business travellers could use the time effectively to tackle American red tape at the Irish airport. US immigration and customs officials are stationed there. When pre-cleared passengers touch down in New York, they are treated as domestic passengers – free to grab a yellow cab without formality.

From Monday, afternoon passengers will no longer enjoy this courtesy, because US Customs and Border Protection is cutting back on hours. Anyone hoping to get a morning’s work done and whizz along to London City for the 1pm departure will also have to adjust. This flight is switching to a 9.50am slot, in order to get to Shannon and go through border control before the officials finish for the day at lunchtime. Arrival time at JFK is mid-afternoon, getting you to Manhattan too late for a lunch meeting but too early for cocktails. Passengers on BA’s 10am Jumbo from Heathrow will overtake the premium jet, and arrive 90 minutes earlier in New York. The airline says it is “disappointed” with the change. So, I imagine, are loyal passengers.

Another westbound flight going west is the helicopter link from Penzance to the Scilly Isles. Since 1964, St Mary’s and Tresco have been connected to Penzance by the UK’s only scheduled helicopter service. But because of a planning row (involving, among others, Tesco without an R), the link ends on Thursday. Two days later, the Scillonian III stops sailing for winter, leaving only the Skybus plane from St Mary’s airport.

D minus

Reaching the home town of the German composer Johann Pachelbel becomes a Nuremberg trial from 7 January. On that day, Air Berlin abandons the route from Gatwick to the city where the Baroque Bavarian wrote his Canon in D.

Even the city’s Schloss ist geschlossen. The historic youth hostel inside Nuremberg castle was due to re-open this autumn, but will remain shut for many more months. Auf Wiedersehen.

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