Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

I'm easy, fly me baby....
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Is it a sugar-free drink? A sad reflection of declining standards of literacy? No, it's a plane. MyTravelLite is the nation's latest no-frills airline. No one has dreamed up a daft airline name for well over a week (the last being Flybe), so another one that cuts out those spacesbetweenwords was bound to turn up. The new Birmingham-based carrier takes barmy names one stage further on the flight path to lunacy, by adding a mis-spelt word to an only-recently-made-up title.

Is it a sugar-free drink? A sad reflection of declining standards of literacy? No, it's a plane. MyTravelLite is the nation's latest no-frills airline. No one has dreamed up a daft airline name for well over a week (the last being Flybe), so another one that cuts out those spacesbetweenwords was bound to turn up. The new Birmingham-based carrier takes barmy names one stage further on the flight path to lunacy, by adding a mis-spelt word to an only-recently-made-up title.

Earlier this year Airtours had had enough of an identity that explained, concisely, what it did, and decided to become MyTravel.

At about the same time, the company's management must have noticed that Ryanair and easyJet make huge profits from low-cost flying; indeed, the Irish no-frills airline this week revealed it earns £8 profit per passenger, a figure for which other carriers would, if you will forgive the phrase, kill – or at least head-hunt. MyTravel poached Tim Jeans from Ryanair to head up a charter airline pretending to be a scheduled carrier, to try to win back customers who are flocking in their millions to the low-cost airlines. A better name might be MeToo.

When the new airline's flights went on sale at 10am yesterday morning, they were snapped up at the rate of 1,000 seats an hour. It has the welcome policy of not penalising people who prefer to book by phone (08701 564 564) rather than on the internet, at the dismal website of the week, www.mytravellite.com. And since the flights are being operated by the existing charter fleet and crews, there's a good chance that they won't be cancelled due to staff shortages in the Luton area.

We can but hope that the new low-cost airline does not team up with the organisation formerly known as the Scottish Tourist Board and become VisitScotlandMyTravelLite. Those who mourn the travel industry's propensity to mangle the English language may take comfort from the fact that the last airline to append "Lite" to its name for a no-frills offshoot was the US carrier Continental. The venture promptly failed.

East midlands airport could be an unexpected casualty of the new airline. For years, the airport that serves Derby, Leicester and Nottingham has existed quietly on a diet of British Midland scheduled flights, a few charters and some cargo traffic. Earlier this year, within a few hours, two no-frills airlines announced plans to set up in the quiet Leicestershire countryside: Go and Bmibaby, the frill-less offspring of British Midland (which by then had made up its own silly name, BMI). Bmibaby is about to chase its parent out of the house, taking over all routes from, and more particularly to, East Midlands.

Where? Or, if you ask a Czech to point to the airport's location on a map of the UK, "kde?". It is like selling, to the British, flights to "North Bohemia" rather than Prague. East Midlands airport says it has spent time and money building up public awareness, and has no plans to change. But with competition from an upstart airline 35 miles away at Birmingham, the world (or at least the Midlands) has changed. People from Alicante or Malaga wondering where to plan a city break will be more tempted by a recognisable place than a vague geographical concept. East Midlands airport needs to dream up a new identity to attract overseas visitors.

Each city served by the airport has a strong claim: the airport lies within the county of Leicestershire; the phone numbers and postcodes belong to the nearest city, Derby; and in the Official Airline Guide, East Midlands is described as Nottingham (which Icelandair renders as Nothingham). Any of the three cities would be mortified to see a rival gain prominence.

Another solution must be found. "Middle England airport" raises the prospect of a terminal run by the Women's Institute. Other options are soon ruled out, too. Kegworth, the closest village, has too much resonance with the tragic British Midland crash in 1988. The nearby hamlets of Bunny, Thrumpton and Gotham would not be taken seriously by travellers. And Ashby de la Zouch could confuse overseas visitors, who might assume it is somewhere in Brittany, not Britain, or turn the suffix into "Zilch".

Which leaves Melbourne, the Derbyshire village with impeccable travel credentials: Thomas Cook was born here in 1808. But turning East Midlands into Melbourne would possibly lead to people flying to tranquil Derbyshire, when they intended to travel to its namesake in Australia. The answer is to pick a celebrity who is instantly recognisable to foreigners. Robin Hood International Airport is ruled out by the subtitle of the film of his life: Prince of Thieves, which could draw attention to the less-than-perfect security record of UK airports. Instead of Sherwood Forest, the figure is to be found on the football field – or, these days, the commentary box.

You can guess the age of almost any European male by mentioning you are British and talking about football. Older men will instantly cite Bobby Charlton; younger ones, David Beckham. Both have already been bagged by Manchester. So East Midlands must settle for the one name universally recognised by middle-aged soccer fans. Welcome to Gary Lineker International Airport, celebrating the former Leicester City and England hero.

And so to Emma Nunn and Raoul Christian, the two students who ended up in Nova Scotia rather than New South Wales when they bought tickets to Sydney. Plenty of people have unkindly suggested the couple must be one flight coupon short of a ticket. How could anyone confuse Australia's largest city with a small settlement in eastern Canada when booking on the internet? Easily, and I do not say that only because earlier this year I managed to turn up at Luton for a flight I had booked online to Geneva that was actually departing from Gatwick.

The scope for confusion between destinations is legion: Dakar in Senegal and Dhaka, Bangladesh; Dulles airport, serving Washington DC, and Dallas in Texas; Amman, the Jordanian capital, and Oman; and half a dozen US cities by the name of Portland.

On discount flight screens, Sydney NS and Sydney NSW are just a whisker – or, more exactly, a W apart.

Where the couple went wrong was in paying way too much for their flights. Tickets in August for the 21,000-mile round-trip to Australia are currently available for less than the £740 each that they paid – and for Air Canada to get away with a fare like that for a 6,000-mile return flight, even in peak season, suggests an exploitation of its monopoly position.

Even STA Travel, which sells to those of us who are fortunate enough to be under 26, could not come up with a better deal. The short hop from Halifax to Sydney, Nova Scotia, less than 200 miles each way, adds an extra couple of hundred pounds to the fare.

On thursday morning, Radio 4's Today programme investigated the cheapest way for the environment minister, Michael Meacher, to travel to the Earth Summit in Johannesburg; he was, for a time, to be excluded from the jolly on grounds of cost. The programme concluded that £1,500 should cover the total trip from his home in Oldham to South Africa's largest city – but it is easy to identify huge savings on this figure.

For a start, the programme was quoted £37 return for a National Express bus ticket from Oldham to Heathrow. This is a case of asking the wrong, or at least the expensive, question; the company's buses to London Victoria are much cheaper than those to the airport, even if they stop at Heathrow along the way. The lowest return fare from Oldham to the capital is £22, and another £1.70 each way will get Mr Meacher to Heathrow. But there is no need to go to London anyway; the deal quoted by the bucket shop, of £625 return on Air France via Paris, applies equally to flights from Manchester.

If Mr Meacher could wait a few more days, an even better bargain of £375 from Birmingham becomes available, thanks to a special fare from Emirates – or MinisterialTravelLite, as the Dubai-based airline will henceforth be known.

Comments