Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Why there'd be no presents if Santa had been on my flight to Basel

Let me take you back to the olden days before our leading airport became Britain's answer to Guantanamo Bay: to last Sunday evening, in fact.

As in-flight entertainment goes, this performance is pure avant-garde. It comprises a recital, over the public-address system, of the names of about half of the passengers on board British Airways flight 756, from Heathrow to Basel.

From Christophe Nicolas to Michael Becker, the purser Sam Baycock plods conscientiously through the list of travellers aboard the Airbus. Twice.

The second time, I count them: 55 or 56. My uncertainty arises because "William Scott" gets two shouts (once, sonorously, adjacent to Graham Watt). Either the duplication is a mistake, or two gentlemen on board share the same name. Some of the passengers (Jackson Cousteau? Julian Bomber?) must surely have been added for comic effect or to make sure that we are paying attention.

This eloquent soliloquy takes place over northern France, specifically, the Champagne region. Yet the passengers thus honoured are in no mood to celebrate their inclusion on the roll of honour. Tidings of comfort and joy? Not exactly. They owe their place on Sam's in-flight register to the fact that their baggage will play no further part in their lives for the near future: more than half of the luggage has been left behind at Heathrow.

Bury bad news? Not on this flight. Sam Baycock is reciting the names of those deprived of their possessions in the lottery that is 21st-century air travel. She is the modern-day equivalent of the town crier. Meanwhile, the other crew aboard the errant BA flight are performing minor miracles. The captain, Russ Williams, is one of the rare breed of pilots who judge that fare-paying passengers who have battled their way to the airport and through security deserve to know why their plane is running an hour late.

His opening gambit, around the time we should have left, was: "There are some bags next to the aircraft but no loading team. In the next five or 10 minutes, I hope they will turn up." Eventually, they did. His next promise: "The cargo door will be closing in the next couple of minutes. We'll be leaving in about 10 minutes".

Things deteriorate, though: "We've lost our tug [the vehicle used to push the aircraft back from the gate]. We'll have to get another one." Followed by an increasingly desperate: "The latest news is that we're fourth in line for a tug."

When, finally, the plane takes off, the cabin crew have barely an hour to serve meals (I use the term loosely) and free drinks - which are voraciously consumed by the bereft passengers around me: "Mine's a Samsonite... I mean, a Sauvignon".

During all this, armed only with some blank sheets of A4 and a pen, the crew manage to operate a production line turning out handwritten forms for use by the Basel 55, as the possession-free passengers are now known (except by the breakaway faction who maintain that the correct title is the Basel 56).

These makeshift forms carry the date and flight number, with spaces for each passenger's name, seat number, baggage tag, address in Switzerland and phone number. It feels more like Blue Peter Goes Flying than The World's Favourite Airline, but the crew's hearts are definitely in the right place.

LAST-BUT-ONE word to the steward who, when, we finally land in Switzerland, does his best to sound reassuring. Yet one verb gives his announcement a touch of menace: "Tomorrow, our ground staff at Basel and Heathrow will be working hard to relocate you and your luggage." Personally, I would rather be reunited than relocated.

And the last word? To Captain Russ Williams, after explaining yet another snag in the tricky business of flying from London to Switzerland: "I guess we'll get our reward in Heaven." Not what you want to hear from a pilot. Stranger still was my inbound flight - from Baden-Baden, due to Ryanair's festive €10 (£7) fare. One week before Christmas, I was checked in by an agent named Bettina Christ. "Call me Tina," she said. I hope that both Ms Christ and you enjoy a first-class Christmas and a premium New Year (I'll be the one in economy). And may your luggage be with you.

WITH A SONG IN MY HEART

Over the past few years the world has become a less safe place. Yet one force has been working ceaselessly to bring people together and put a smile on the planet. I refer, of course, to the Eurovision Song Contest.

The winning entry in 2004, "Wild Dances" by Ruslana, was instantly forgettable. But Ukraine's triumphant Euro-anthem dramatically eased access to the former Soviet republic. With victory came the right to stage the 2005 event in the capital, Kiev. At a stroke, the government shrugged off a century of red tape and declared that Eurovisionistas were welcome without visas. It was supposed to be a temporary move, but has become permanent.

Now this year's winners have been honoured. While recording a podcast in Lapland, I repaired for refreshment to the Hotel Santa Claus in Rovaniemi. An off-duty elf named Hot Toddy (well, that was his story) told me about the latest triumph of Eurovision in transforming the world. With a nose as ruddy as Rudolph's he explained that Lordi, the monstrous rockers who took the title, were local boys. The main square in the capital of Lapland is now called Lordi Square.

Listen to Simon Calder's podcast from Lapland by visiting www.travel.independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
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 - Franchised Main Dealer

    £30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee