Simon Calder: Places that have fallen from the map of the sky

The man who pays his way

Like the Universe, the travel industry constantly expands. A key duty of The Independent Traveller is to keep you abreast of the increasing range of possibilities: hotel openings, fresh adventures and new airline routes such as Belfast-Katowice – the latest improbable link to be revealed by Wizz Air.

The converse is that individual elements can disappear. Some collapse spectacularly, in a financial supernova, such as befell XL Airways six summers ago. But most exit quietly, with whispered announcements – death notices, if you like – that a particular route is no longer viable.

You might imagine that Britain is far better connected with the rest of the world than it was two decades ago. Certainly, the network of European flights has vastly expanded, embracing a constellation of places that you cannot pronounce and did not know you wanted to see.

Yet long-haul, the picture is very different. I have compared the summer timetable schedule of British Airways from 1994 with the present network.

The losses are dramatic, leaving a wide scattering of places no longer accessible direct from the UK on any airline at all. Africa is particularly badly affected, with the old "Empire" routes to Dar es Salaam, Gaborone, Harare, Lilongwe and Lusaka all disappearing.

Emirates and Turkish Airlines are in a race to conquer Africa from an aviation perspective, nibbling away at non-stop traffic from Heathrow. The airport authorities in Entebbe are presumably fretting about BA deciding to deploy its valuable Boeing 767s and even more precious Heathrow slots somewhere less lovely but more lucrative than Uganda.

Given that Asia is leading the world in 21st-century economic growth, I was surprised to discern no net gain of destinations served by BA. In the Indian subcontinent, Dhaka and Calcutta have been supplanted by Hyderabad and Bangalore. In the Far East, while China has gained BA non-stops to Shanghai and Chengdu, the airline bid sayonara to Nagoya and Osaka in Japan.

Australasia was once an extremely important part of BA's long-haul network. Boeing 747s flew via various circuitous and exotic routes to all the mainland Australian state capitals, as well as New Zealand's largest city, Auckland.

Twenty years on, almost all the airline's Antipodean destinations have been deleted, leaving a single service to Sydney via Singapore using a 777 – smaller than a Jumbo. Having planes "down route" for days and crews gone for a couple of weeks is no longer viable for BA, and Australia has become an outlier.

Yet even though Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth no longer have direct services, they are actually far more accessible from Britain thanks to multiple one-stop options daily on a range of airlines via the Gulf, Hong Kong and Singapore. The intense competition keeps fares almost as low as they were 20 years ago. Auckland departed BA's schedules in 1995, but is accessible via the same hubs as well as Air New Zealand's daily link via Los Angeles. Talking of LA: no one has seen fit to take over BA's old non-stop from Manchester, but other axed routes between UK regional airports and the US have been taken up by other operators. United now flies from Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow to New York.

Going Caracas?

Heathrow's first departure, in 1946, was a proving flight for British South American Airways. Yet these days the continent scarcely features on the airline route map from Britain. Santiago de Chile followed Lima and Montevideo into oblivion. For a time, so did Bogota. Thankfully, Avianca last month revived the link from Heathrow to the Colombian capital.

The most glaring omission is Caracas – the nearest big South American city to the UK. Venezuela's capital used to be the ideal gateway to the continent. Two decades ago, the now-defunct national airline, Viasa, offered excellent fares via its hub to all the key Latin American destinations, from Havana to Buenos Aires. It also allowed stopovers at no extra charge. You could grab some cheap Caribbean sun (from the arrivals hall at Caracas airport to the nearest pristine beach takes 10 minutes), then explore the capital and its high-altitude hinterland, or fly off to the spectacular east of the country and track down the Angel Falls.

The root cause of the routelessness? Official incompetence, squandering Venezuela's oil wealth. The currency, the bolivar, is in such a dreadful state that some locals buy international air tickets with no intention of travelling. Having a ticket out of the country entitles them to buy dollars at the official rate, and promptly resell them for a massive profit on the black market.

You might imagine that the airlines would be delighted by passengers who buy but don't fly. Yet foreign carriers have had a dreadful time trying to get their earnings out of the country. At present £2.5bn of ticket revenue is being withheld by the government and, as a result, flights to the country have been halved since January. A fortnight ago, the nation's top football team, Caracas FC, could reach a key fixture in Lima only by crossing the border to Colombia by bus before flying on to the Peruvian capital.

Venezuela has become isolated – a vast nation connected to North America by fewer flights than the average Caribbean island.

New York to Nevada

Twenty years ago, British Airways considered only one long-haul destination deserving of a link from both its main UK bases, Heathrow and Gatwick. Today, the same accolade is still ascribed only to one city. It is also in the US. But the hub of human happiness has apparently shifted 2,000 miles south-west: farewell, New York, viva Las Vegas.

people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
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

    Service Charge Accountant

    30,000 to 35,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: We are currently recruiting on...

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    Day In a Page

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?