Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

Introducing 'callable' flights, better for the airline - and for you

For many Catholics in Italy and across the Continent, at least one road leads to Rome, which helps to explain the congestion on the
autostrade and the vast crowds at the Pope's funeral yesterday. But for the faithful living in Britain, the prospects were trickier.

For many Catholics in Italy and across the Continent, at least one road leads to Rome, which helps to explain the congestion on the autostrade and the vast crowds at the Pope's funeral yesterday. But for the faithful living in Britain, the prospects were trickier.

Judging from the calls and e-mails I have received this week, the closure of Rome's Ciampino airport and the subsequent cancellation of dozens of flights from Britain to the Italian capital each day meant that many UK Catholics who hoped to be in Rome for the event were unable to get there. Meanwhile, another group of travellers had the opposite concern. They were weekenders who had already booked trips to Rome long before the pontiff's illness. Given the mounting chaos in the Italian capital, they wanted to postpone rather than grapple with a city in turmoil. Some city-break companies offered clients the chance to switch dates or destination, but anyone who bought a cheap flight on British Airways faced a stark choice. "Normal ticket rules apply," says BA: in other words, go as planned, or lose your cash.

Yet there is a solution: the "callable" flight - one of those rare innovations that offers a win-win-win outcome. It benefits the original traveller, the person who takes the seat, and the airline. And here's how the system works.

Suppose that some weeks ago you booked a flight to Rome for a return fare of £100. Imagine you had been offered, at the point of purchase, the following interesting proposition by the airline:

You, the traveller, give us, the airline, the right to buy your flights back. If we take up the option, we'll refund the original fare - and give you an extra £100.

The concept recognises that passengers' desires to travel differ. Anyone booking a flight for a wedding would be ill-advised to opt for a "callable" flight. But these days many of us travel frivolously. If you have booked a weekend away at a very low fare, and are not that fussed about whether you go to BIQ (the code for Biarritz) or B&Q (the do-it-yourself store), then accepting the "call" is a sensible plan.

Why should the airline make such an offer? Because it stands to make a healthy profit on the deal. A seat will be "called" only if demand for the flight in question rises unexpectedly. The surge in demand could be precipitated by an unforeseen world event, a European football match involving a British side, or something as trivial asa large short-notice stag party to Prague.

Whatever the reason, the airline will know it can re-sell the seat for a handsome sum. Judging by the fares being charged to pilgrims this week, the going rate could be £600 or more. This may look usurious, but if people are prepared to pay high fares, the airline cannot be blamed for charging what the market will bear.

The system is a humane alternative to overbooking. In a sense, the carrier is looking for volunteers to be "bumped", but is doing so in advance of the flight. The newly enriched traveller can then start looking again for flights - avoiding cities gridlocked by big events - or go out for dinner at the airline's expense.

For the technique to work, the airline must give the passenger a deadline by which time it will "call" a flight, eg three days before departure. The passenger must be allowed to cancel both halves of a return trip. And the traveller is not allowed to renege on the deal, to say: "I might have agreed potentially to sell it back, but now I've paid for my hotel and I'm looking forward to the trip." The seat will be taken away - though he or she could try to buy it back, at many times the original price.

Most of the time, the system will not come into play. Even the most efficient scheduled airline finds it difficult to fill more than 85 per cent of its seats. The only call the passenger will usually get is to board the plane. But the sooner an innovative airline brings in the system, the better: it is a form of ticket touting that is both legal and moral.

So which airline will be first to take the plunge with callable flights? Not Monarch Scheduled, judging by the response when I suggested the idea to the airline's boss, Tim Jeans: "It might work, but our systems can't cope with overlaying an 'e-bay' functionality on top of everything else."

News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
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: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015