Simon Calder: The alien language of Planet Travel

The man who pays his way

The aviation industry's capacity to play with meaning knows no bounds. Last weekend at Malaga airport, 29 passengers who lined up to board an easyJet flight to Bristol were left behind. A glitch in ground handling led to the final tranche of passengers still queuing as the plane taxied away. Some were put on a plane to Gatwick, others went back to Bristol the next day. When I called the airline to ask about the €400 compensation due under European Union denied-boarding rules, I was told: "As the matter was a result of a genuine mistake rather than an inability to accommodate the passengers onboard, EC261 compensation will not be offered."

If a claim were made, I look forward to seeing the evidence for easyJet's interpretation of the rules. The airline has made a "genuine mistake" several times recently in turning away passengers wrongly deemed to have out-of-date travel documents. On each occasion, as far as I know, it has paid the stipulated compensation.

I sought the view of Kevin Clarke, a Wilmslow-based solicitor whose company, Bott & Co, has tackled a large number of cases where airlines have initially refused payment. "Mistake or not, genuine or not, these passengers have been denied boarding and have a valid claims," he told me. "This is as clear a case as you would ever be likely to see. It is regrettable that the airline either does not know enough about the regulations, or that their default reaction is apparently to deny every case irrespective of the facts."

Bags the best fare

By Wednesday, BA was playing havoc with travellers' comprehension. The press release promised: "British Airways increases fare choice across all short-haul flights." The reality is, on many journeys, "BA reduces flight choice".

The basic idea is commendable. Following the lead of other airlines, BA has started charging separately for checked baggage on all short-haul flights. Air fares are the slipperiest of things to price-check, due to their tendency to rise and fall faster than the tides. Still, the airline's claim that it will knock £10 off the price of a flight if you carry only hand luggage looks reasonable. You save the airline the trouble of loading your bag, and the fuel that would be burned in flying it across Europe, and you get rewarded.

But then the proposition gets complicated. I made a test booking for a London-Barcelona trip over this weekend, leaving on Thursday and coming back on Sunday. BA flies to the Catalan capital seven times a day from Heathrow, and three times daily from Gatwick. But a hand-baggage-only fare was available on just two of the 10 daily departures, both from Gatwick.

Suppose you choose the cheapest, at a very reasonable £84. Now, what about coming back? Bizarrely, by agreeing to travel outbound with only a cabin bag, your choice of inbound flights shrinks to just one, obliging you to fly back to Gatwick at 10.30am on Sunday, just when you should be tucking into chocolate con churros in the Granja La Pallaresa on Carrer Petritxol.

What's happening? BA's reservations system assumes that, if you fly out with just cabin baggage, you must want to travel hand-luggage only on the way back – despite the many retail temptations in Barcelona. Even more oddly, it seems to deduce that, because you opted for the cheapest fare going outbound, you must be a total skinflint and would only ever be interested in the lowest possible fare. Whereupon many of the flight options disappear, since all of these are at higher fare levels that assume you will be taking baggage outbound and back.

A disgruntled traveller named Andy sums up the problem robustly: "I've just booked a flight from London City to Aberdeen and I don't have baggage to check. On the outward flight I had a choice of a fare with hand baggage only and a more expensive fare for checked baggage. On the return flight the only seat was in the checked baggage column. However, to choose this seat I had to change my outward trip to the more expensive flight which assumes checked baggage. So, I'm travelling with no checked baggage and I've been forced to pay for it in both directions. Even Ryanair doesn't have the balls to charge me for checked baggage I'm not taking."

One fix is to buy two one-way tickets. On my speculative weekend in Barcelona, this unlocks the entire repertoire of inbound flights – but it is far from an ideal solution. Suppose, for example, that a strike by French air-traffic controllers scuppers your outbound flight. With a return ticket, you automatically get a refund of the whole fare even if the planned inbound operates as normal. With two one-ways, you have no such protection.

Norwegian would ...

The world is about to expand, at least from the perspective of Gatwick. The Sussex airport has accrued a long list of failed long-haul destinations. While Florida and the Caribbean remain well served from Gatwick, over the years links with New York, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur have departed from the departure board. But on Thursday, the low-cost airline Norwegian will launch "some major long-haul routes" from Gatwick. If anyone would, Norwegian would, because it has both short- and long-haul planes. Naturally I asked where, and naturally the request was politely declined. So I have been speculating, starting with the existing Norwegian long-haul network from Scandinavia, suggesting Bangkok, New York or Los Angeles. Maybe, though, there is a chance of Honolulu or somewhere South American, ideally Lima.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
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

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    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...

    Day In a Page

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup