Three pence per second: that is the rate that thousands of Brits stranded in Egypt paid to listen to call centre hold music, while vainly trying to rearrange their flights during the volcano shutdown. A one-hour Orange call from the Red Sea to the UK generates frustration, fury and a £105 price tag.
As astronomical phone and credit card bills start to arrive, those who found themselves grounded around the world receive a painful reminder of the uncertainty of travel – and the tangle of liabilities, exceptions and exclusions that have characterised this affair.
More optimistically, we may be better able to recognise and manage risk the next time that ash, fog or industrial action exposes the frailty of 21st-century transportation. And we may also shed our misplaced sense of entitlement.
British travellers have access to a wider range of journeys, at better prices, than anyone else on the planet. Many who spent a fortune finding alternative transport will demand someone pays for such misadventures.
"Act of God" seems a fashionable term among underwriters seeking to decline claims; but I reckon the Almighty has come in for a lot of stick, and that travellers should regard Him as insurer of last resort only in the spiritual sense. Accordingly, I do not expect anyone to bail out my unexpected exit route from Norway on day one of the shutdown. Since I opted to locate myself 1,000 miles from my place of work, it is my responsibility to get back. Many distressed travellers found themselves in much tougher circumstances, and the Foreign Office seems to have done a good job of caring for those with particular medical or family needs. But the rest of us should sort ourselves out.
This episode has also uncovered a degree of de-skilling for many travellers. I asked a colleague who made a 30-hour drive from the Algarve to the Channel how many hitch-hikers she had seen. Just one. Those who have returned to phone bills that exceed their monthly salary deserve sympathy for learning a truth about travel: self-reliance is more useful than small print if you plan a big adventure.