Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way
The minutiae one gathers as a perennial passenger
Saturday 01 April 2006
Each 1 April it is traditional for newspapers to create spoof stories. In the airline business, though, every day is All Fools' Day. Just take a look at this A-Z of silliness from aviation.
A is for announcements. Moroccans mainly speak Arabic and/or French. On a recent Heathrow-Casablanca flight, inflight briefings were in English and Danish only.
B is for Bermuda. Ignoring the omens, BA used to fly a triangular route from London to Bermuda, also calling at Baltimore.
C is for code-sharing. The day's first Vienna-Heathrow flight has many aliases: Air Canada 9603; Air New Zealand 4851; Austrian 851; BMI 2801; and Lufthansa 6464. The plane I actually flew in? Lauda Air.
D is for Doncaster: one Air Atlantique plane is registered as G-DRFC, after the favourite football team of the chairman, Mike Collett: Doncaster Rovers FC.
E is for environment. CFM jet engines on Airbus A320s carry slogans boasting that they are "environmentally friendly".
F is for Fokker. When a long-gone French airline called TAT flew from Gatwick to Paris, it used Fokker 100 planes, offered free food and wine and had this infantile slogan: "It's all business class on this Fokker."
G is for Go. BA's no-frills airline was sold off and the brand erased, but the name Go-Air has reappeared in India, complete with lower-case "go" logo.
H is for hand towels and how to work them. The dispenser in the Gents' at Bergen airport in Norway has instructions only in English and Spanish.
I is for inertia . Ex-President Mobuto's Boeing 707, marked "Republique de Zaire", has resided at Lisbon airport for a decade.
J is for Jersey. Approaching Paris on an Air France flight from the east, the sky map shows two UK locations: Manchester and St Helier, Jersey's capital.
K is for knife. Our ski writer Stephen Wood saw this sign at Geneva airport: "We cannot sell [Swiss Army] knives to passengers travelling on British Airways, Continental, KLM, Virgin Express, Air France or any airline flying to the USA."
L is for luck. Aboard a Canadair Regional Jet with only 13 rows, I was assigned seat 14D; row 14 follows row 12 at the request of superstitious passengers.
M is for military airports such as Ballykelly in Northern Ireland, where passengers on a flight from Liverpool to City of Derry found themselves on Wednesday - surely the logical conclusion of Ryanair's secondary airport policy.
N is for no-frills airlines and no-shows . The former make more money from the latter than from the passengers who turn up.
O is for Olympic Airlines , a relaxing place to work. "It's like this every Sunday," sighed a stewardess at chaotic Athens airport. "People just don't turn up for work."
P is for profit. Very elusive. Air Wales, which ends scheduled flights this month, lost around £10 for every passenger it carried - less than Buzz, which lost £20 per customer in three gloomy years.
Q is for Queen's Flight: 11 aircraft, but only six flights a week.
R is for "re-protection", airline-speak for finding another flight if your first is cancelled.
S is for stacking. On a flight from Bilbao to Heathrow, the pilot gave the usual spiel, then assured us he had enough fuel to "fly around in circles for up to an hour" before diverting to an alternative airport.
T is for timekeeping. At Napier airport in New Zealand, one coffee is called a "cafe late". Let's hope the plane isn't.
U is for upgrades - not something you expect to find on easyJet, but you never know: the screens above check-in at Faro airport announce that the desks are for the use of passengers in "All Classes".
V is for volts. At Basel-Mulhouse airport, the only accessible mains sockets for those with laptops are in the bar; users must "rent" them for the price of a coffee.
W is for why on earth provide free drinks on planes? A drunk Australian passenger aboard a flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong lit a cigarette as the plane made its final approach. He was arrested on arrival and later fined a modest HK$4,000 (£300). Back in Australia, he sued the airline for A$2,000 (£800), blaming the cabin crew for serving him with alcohol, and claiming he lit the cigarette "inadvertently". He lost.
X is for XRY, perhaps the most curious airport code of all: Jerez in southern Spain.
Y is for Yugoslavia, which lives on in the form of JatAirways. Stuart Harrison from Lichfield says the office of the Serbian national airline in Albania's capital has three clocks showing the time in Tirana, Tokyo and New York, but "only one of them is working and that gives the wrong time".
Z is for Zeppelin. The Alpha-Bravo-Charlie alphabet, as used by pilots worldwide, has many local variations. In Finland, Z is signified not by Zulu but by Zeppelin.
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