Simon Calder: Ho, ho, ho! Christmas cheer to report

The man who pays his way

You never see Santa and Sir Howard Davies in the same room. 'Twas a week before the night before Christmas, and at a press conference in central London on Tuesday, the chairman of the Airports Commission was handing out gifts for long-suffering airline passengers.

The residents of west London, north Sussex, and north Kent may not glory in the prospect of a new-born runway. A landing strip might arrive in the next 17 years at the end of their road, depending on whether Heathrow, Gatwick, or the Isle of Grain is chosen as the venue for the runway that Sir Howard says we will need by 2030.

The Davies Commission will announce its preferred option in the weeks after the next general election, handing a poisoned chalice to the incoming government. There is no certainty that the prime minister of the day will join the triumph of the skies; no party has said it will unconditionally accept the runway recommendation. But delve deeper into the 228 pages of the Davies Commission's interim report (particularly the festive 33-page Appendix) and you find much to celebrate.

"All in white shall wait around," as the carol "Once in Royal David's City" so curiously ends, is surely a metaphor for the stacking that planes flying into Heathrow routinely undertake? Aircraft heading for Europe's busiest airport traditionally fly a holding pattern over beacons in each quadrant of the Home Counties before they are cleared to land. The practice helps air-traffic controllers regulate the flow of arrivals to extract the maximum capacity out of the runways.

Sir Howard is keen to stamp out stacking. If controllers can stipulate when aircraft will reach London's airspace, they can organise the landing sequence to eliminate flying around in circles, burning fuel, annoying residents and missing connections. It's not rocket science, but it has hitherto eluded the aviation industry. Sir Howard says: "There are many inefficiencies in the way airspace is managed." So he wants the air-traffic control firm, Nats, and the airlines to sort it out. Flights that turn up on London's metaphorical doorstep early or late, and rob the Home Counties of a silent night, could be penalised.

People who live near airports may have missed some comfort and joy provided by a paragraph on page 14 of the Appendix. It recommends more use of "displaced thresholds". Basically, this means moving incoming planes further away from population centres by landing them in the middle of the runway rather than close to the start. "Their approach paths would be higher and therefore less noisy than at present," says the commission. But I would rule out the practice in the case of the novel proposal for extending Heathrow's northerly runway by a mile-and-a-half, allowing take-offs and landings on the same strip of concrete. I trust they will only do this with planes pointing in the same direction.

Beware the new Santa clause for bags

You never see Scrooge and Michael O'Leary in the same room. This year, the Ryanair boss (Mr O'Leary, not the glum Dickens character) appears to have borrowed Santa's clothes, with passenger-friendly moves to make flying with Europe's biggest no-frills airline less stressful.

Yet anyone turning up at a lowly cattle shed (or whichever air terminal Ryanair is using) this weekend will find a Santa surcharge has been applied to baggage charges for the next fortnight.

As you know, airfares often cost more at Christmas and New Year. But Ryanair is dramatically increasing charges for luggage as well. The three million-plus passengers travelling with Europe's biggest budget airline any time up to 4 January will pay £25 to check in a sack of presents, rather than the normal £15.

Suppose you need to change your flight, as a number of passengers will doubtless have to do over the festive season: the fee if you ring the call centre rises by a third from £45 to £60.

Ryanair told me: "These fees reflect the relative cost of flying during high season, such as over the Christmas period." But the firm did not spell out why it might be more expensive. The airline claims its luggage fees are "entirely discretionary," and only one passenger in five checks in a case – though many more people tend to carry bags at Christmas. It's a crafty move because many Ryanair passengers travel only at Christmas, so they won't detect how the bag fees soar just as the festive rush begins.

The other big Dublin-based airline, Aer Lingus, is following suit – though with a slightly less steep festive fee increase. Ryanair's rival has decided to raise its fees for checked-by bags 50 per cent, from £12 to £18.

More festive fares

"Santa surcharges" are relatively rare in travel. A £4 supplement on London taxi fares applies from Christmas Eve until dawn on 27 December, and again from New Year's Eve to 2 January.

Should you need to travel between the capital and its main airport, Heathrow, on Christmas Day, then the usual £5.50 fare on the Underground won't apply – because the Tube isn't running. The only public transport option is the National Express coach, which will charge £10 each way on 25 December, about 50 per cent more than normal fares. But it's the first Christmas Day that the bus firm has ever run services, and it's still cheaper than that taxi. And faster than the options across in New York: Sir Howard Davies was especially scathing about transport links from America's aviation gateway into New York City, saying: "The easiest way to get from JFK to Manhattan is to walk."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism