Simon Calder: He'll need a holiday after that ...

The man who pay his way

If you go down to the airport today, you're in for a big surprise about the amount of one-way traffic leaving the UK. The summer rush that begins this week will be overwhelmingly outbound. In a replay of the "Millennium Bug" scares – you remember, how computers would spontaneously combust at midnight on 1 January 2000 – London is in the grip of entirely misguided fears that the capital will be overloaded with tourists and traffic. Less than a week before the Opening Ceremony, inbound tourists have been deterred but Brits' holiday plans are unaffected by the Olympics.

Should you plan to leave the sinking ship, mind how you go. Richard Gordon, from London, has already been to Spain and back – but he returns with a cautionary tale that demonstrates the essential iniquity of air travel. While an airline can delay or divert flights without penalty, woe betide any passenger who slips behind schedule. Mr Gordon's journey home after visiting his parents in southern Spain is an early contender for travel nightmare of the summer.

We join him on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the A7 autopista heading towards Murcia airport, a boarding pass in his pocket for the Ryanair flight to Stansted, and a smile on his face – until he realises he's missed the turn for the airport, and gets entangled in the city's outskirts. He reaches the airport at the time the plane was due to leave. It is still on the ground.

"The security staff kindly let me through to see if I could catch it, but I was not allowed to board," he says. The average passenger would have cursed, booked for the following day, and found a hotel. But Mr Gordon was due back in London for a night shift. The Ryanair staff tried to help: "They suggested I pay a €110 transfer fee to take a flight to Stansted from Alicante, and said the taxi journey would take an hour and cost €80." Mr Gordon paid up and jumped into a cab. But an accident 25km south of Alicante airport delayed them: "I eventually arrived at the airport, 20 minutes before the second flight, with a €110 fare." He was now €220 down.

At least his plane was there … except that he had not been given a new boarding pass, merely a piece of paper entitling him to check in at Alicante. Ryanair flights close firmly exactly 40 minutes before departure. Mr Gordon had missed his second plane of the day.

That empty feeling

Road signposting in Spain varies from barely adequate to non-existent – this is surely a nation for which Satnav was invented. But Mr Gordon holds the car-rental firm, Goldcar, responsible: "On the way to Murcia airport, I was preoccupied with my rental car's 'return empty' policy. This can leave you trailing vapours or handing back a rental car with excess fuel."

The "out full, back empty" rule now prevails at the cheap end of the rental market. Goldcar promotes the policy by saying it "saves you time when returning the car .... You will not have to worry about looking for a petrol station near our office." It also means that you have no control on the amount you pay for a tank of petrol – in Mr Gordon's case, €60 for a Fiat 500. The company says the charge "varies according to the capacity of the model of car and the actual market price of petrol" – plus "refuelling service costs".

Another big Spanish rental company, Centauro, charges "from 60 to 140 euros per tank", though for rentals of three days or less you are able to rent "out full, back full".

As Chris Gray of Which? Travel says: "Consumers should not be in a position where booking a car rental commits them to paying an unavoidable charge with no refunds, with no idea how much the charge may be."

Later that same day

To miss one flight is unfortunate; to miss two is very expensive: easyJet had a flight from Alicante two hours later, which cost Mr Gordon €166. As the cost of a missed turning accelerated towards €400, Mr Gordon realised that back at Murcia he had left his jacket in the rental car in his haste to return it. "My parents had to drive 90 minutes there and back to retrieve it," he says. That's a total of six person-journeys to and from Spanish airports so far for Mr Gordon and his family, and he still hadn't boarded a plane.

He eventually touched down at 1am, too late to start work, so he had to take an extra day (or night) as holiday. And as a final assault on his good humour, the plane arrived not at Luton, from where he had a train ticket, but in Stansted. At that time of night, the only way is Essex.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk