Simon Calder: No medals for the golden Dove on a flight to Olympus

The man who pays his way

Perfectly rationally, most people turn up at airports way too early. That is terrific for the shops and cafés, but irksome for the passenger. We do it, of course, because the penalty for arriving late is so harsh. Suppose you have a typical ticket on the average airline. If a traffic snarl-up or a late train means you reach check-in or the gate one minute after the airline's deadlines, you lose your entire fare – or even more, if you opt for a later departure and spend a multiple of what you originally paid. That is 100 per cent or more: a disproportionate penalty.

To minimise the risk of encountering that dismal downside I arrived at Gatwick before 6am with my 8.30am flight to Thessaloniki (see this week's 48 Hours). The only sight of note was a gold-painted Airbus A319, tucked into the corner of the airfield – one of the seven gilded jets that British Airways decorated in the "Dove" livery for the Olympics. As fortune would have it, this plane turned out to be the plane deployed for the flight to Greece's second city, passing close to Mount Olympus. The jet, though, was not about to set any records. Boarding began at the time we were due to leave, and finished 20 minutes after the departure time. The airline ventured neither an explanation nor an apology.

Then the pilots spotted a problem with a cargo door, which took another 10 minutes to address. Given the recent experience with unlatched engine panels on another BA Airbus A319, I appreciate it is a good idea to get everything properly secured before take-off.

With no significant transfer traffic at either end of the flight, the airline would not be concerned about potentially expensive missed connections. And I understand that the crew may have been in no great hurry, since going to Greece and straight back was their only duty of the day; they, unlike us, could not look forward to a warm afternoon on the Thermaic Gulf.

Half an hour, you might say, is neither here nor there: it slimmed down my stay in Greece by only a couple of per cent. But the airline's disinclination to get the passengers aboard an airworthy plane by the promised time of departure meant we all lost 30 minutes of a glorious Greek afternoon (and arrived after the airport tourist office, the only one in the city that opens on Saturdays, had closed for the day).

The delay made no difference to BA beyond the intangible risk that next time a time-pressed passenger might choose a more punctual airline. Yet had the wait extended to three hours, it would have triggered a leap from zero compensation to €400 – twice as much as I paid for the flight. Under the EU261 compensation rules, a delay of three hours for a European flight of over 1,500km triggers that jackpot. It looks just as harshly disproportionate as the penalty a passenger pays for turning up a minute late.

International rescue

The European politicians who devised the compensation rules insist that the system is designed to incentivise airlines to keep to schedule. But it doesn't work. The unintended consequence is that carriers can appear relaxed about delays until the three-hour limit approaches. Then, should the deadline be breached, they subsequently fight the resulting claims from passengers tooth and nail.

A more equitable solution for both travellers and airlines is to penalise avoidable delays proportionately: obliging the airline to hand 10 per cent of the fare paid for every hour that the plane is unnecessarily late. After an hour, the airline hands back 10 per cent; after two hours, 20 per cent; and so on, until the 10-hour mark when all fly free. My minor delay would not qualify, but perhaps the scheme would encourage the airlines to deliver the product they sell.

No doubt the industry will insist this system would be unworkable – but in these online days, the airline knows my fare and the card I used to pay it, so refunds would be straightforward. It would prove more efficient and less expensive than the present airline bureaucracies apparently devoted to defeating claims for delays over three hours. In return for accepting reduced compensation, we passengers should have the right to pay a modest "rescue fee" for a seat on the next available flight – easyJet's £60 charge for anyone who turns up at the airport within two hours after the original flight departed looks a fair figure.

Farewell to frills

Back on board the tardy flight to Greece, we witnessed one frequent flyer getting an upgrade to Club Europe due to the economy section being full. Yet it seemed to be the least enviable upgrade in the history of aviation. The theatrical curtain that separates the classes was missing (or at least not deployed), so those of us in the back of the Airbus could see how the high-density seating extended all the way to the front. We also saw the catering that the well-heeled passengers were offered. The opportunity to quaff champagne at 10am didn't look worth the extra Air Passenger Duty (£13), let alone the £112 extra that British Airways has been asking for Club class for today's flight to Thessaloniki.

Across Europe, the frills are vanishing. From tomorrow, SAS abandons business class on short-haul flights. At the start of July, Lufthansa does the same on all but its Frankfurt and Munich services. I predict that BA may soon erase Club Europe from its Gatwick operation.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
Life and Style
love + sex
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot