Simon Calder: In travel, you need the right approach

The man who pays his way

The final minute of a flight may be the most stressful time in the cockpit, but as a passenger you can afford to relax in the moments before touchdown. While the pilots prepare for landing, you can look further ahead than the threshold of the runway – and, if you wish, speculate about the likely length of the queue for passport control and the possible wait for baggage. You might even take a stab at the arrival time at your final destination. At this stage of the flight, what could possibly go wrong?

I estimate the Airbus was about a mile short of Düsseldorf's runway and at a height of perhaps 300 feet when the engines roared and the A319 soared. The aircraft banked to the left as it climbed and gave those of us in window seats some thrillingly fresh views of the Rhine.

The passengers and crew had anticipated a routine first flight of the day from Heathrow to Germany's third-busiest airport. The British Airways jet had got away early and within an hour of take-off we were on the final approach. But the aircraft ahead was deemed too close for safety. At a cost of a few hundred pounds in extra fuel, the pilots made a textbook "go-around" and landed safely at the second attempt.

A member of the cabin crew told me he experiences a "go-around" only every couple of years on average. I happen to be slightly ahead of him: aboard an easyJet flight to Geneva last year, I enjoyed an unexpected extra turn over the lake and mountains rather than touching down as planned.

From my limited experience, go-arounds are more fun than abandoned take-offs – after an alarming failure to get aloft first time around aboard a Tupolev belonging to the Romanian airline, Tarom. The incident also took place in Switzerland, at a snow-covered Zurich.

On that occasion, no one explained the problem. But on my latest missed approach in Germany, the captain announced gruffly and concisely: "Düsseldorf air-traffic control made a right hash of our approach."

The tube's stress test

Earlier that same day Transport for London had made a right hash of my approach to Heathrow. Tube trains do not usually run to published timetables, but early in the morning they are supposed to – particularly to the nation's busiest airport. The 5.21am westbound District Line service from Earl's Court carries people with planes to catch, plus people heading to work in order to help other people catch planes. The first train of the day is scheduled to reach Hammersmith in six minutes, whereupon passengers walk across the platform to a waiting Piccadilly Line train. This departs a minute later and deposits its happy customers at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 6.05am. So much for the clockwork theory. In the event, the 5.21 turned up late – a cause of consternation for those relying on making the Hammersmith connection. We need not have worried, since the first Heathrow train had not been sighted.

For reasons that were never explained (but were unlikely to do with air-traffic control), the first train arrived 15 minutes late and plodded to the airport, turning a straightforward journey into an exercise in stress. Airline staff and passengers sped from the train in an undignified mob sprint, while a recorded announcement boasted: "A good service is running on all lines." The travelling public, not the Tube operator, should be the judge of that.

Meanwhile, the London Underground remains the best advertisement for the Heathrow Express, the high-speed service from Paddington station; expensive, yes, but run by people who appreciate that passengers have planes to catch.

Czech point Charlies

At least I reached my final destination. Russell Roe, a student from Brighton, was not so lucky. On Monday he turned up at Heathrow Terminal 3 in good time for his 4pm flight to Prague. But British Airways check-in staff turned him away. Mr Roe's passport expires on 6 November this year, and he was told that the Czech authorities would not let him in because they insist upon at least three months' validity remaining.

"I felt humiliated, as I had checked the relevant information provided by British Airways," he says. "But everyone I spoke to at the airport said it was my responsibility for not checking."

They were wrong, and Mr Roe was right. An EU citizen is entitled to remain in the Czech Republic, or any other EU nation, up to and including the last day of validity of the passport.

When I contacted BA on his behalf, the airline accepted its check-in staff had been Czech point Charlies. "We are very sorry," said a spokeswoman. "The agent misread the regulations. British passport holders do not need to have three months' validity beyond the period of intended stay in the Czech Republic."

To its credit, BA moved swiftly to put things right and arranged new flights for Mr Roe. As well as paying him the obligatory €250 in denied-boarding compensation, the airline is also reimbursing his travel expenses for the wasted journey to Heathrow. And he has been given a £250 voucher for a future flight.

"I am fortunate my case has been satisfactorily resolved," Mr Roe says. "I hope what has happened to me might go some way to ensuring that this scenario doesn't happen again."

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: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police