Simon Calder: Why squander slots on the shortest hops?

The man who pays his way

As I prepared to fly from Heathrow to Paris CDG, I pondered why anyone would fly from Heathrow to Paris CDG. Twenty years ago, they were at either end of the world's busiest international air route. British Airways even launched its new Boeing 777 on the link between the English and French capitals.

Then Eurostar got into its stride, and the default means of travel between Paris and London involved burrowing under, rather than flying over, the Channel. While neither St Pancras in London nor Gare du Nord in Paris is quite as central as the train operator would like to claim, they are both much handier for the average tourist or business traveller than Heathrow or Charles de Gaulle airport. And even with the half-hour check-in Eurostar demands, the journey time by train is under three hours. Air France insists on a 40-minute check-in followed by an 80-minute journey, making two hours airport-to-airport before you add the journey to Heathrow and from Charles de Gaulle.

So, why does the French airline, and British Airways, expend valuable slots on this link? Each shuttle eight times a day, both ways, between LHR and CDG. The reason: connections.

BA wants to feed its long-haul services from Heathrow. Paris, being the biggest city in the western part of Continental Europe, is a prime candidate. So from early morning to last thing at night, BA has Airbuses airborne between the two airports (and even adds three more to and from Orly in southern Paris, which taps into a different catchment area in the French capital).

Air France is even more dependent on transfer traffic than is BA. With London being the biggest aviation market in the world, the easiest way to fill long-haul seats from Paris CDG is to fly in passengers from Heathrow. People are prepared to trade time and convenience to save a couple of hundred pounds. I am one such traveller, and that was why I was flying from Heathrow to Paris.

Terminal velocity

It didn't begin well. Air France has the misfortune to fly from Heathrow Terminal 4, the least-loved and worst-connected facility at Britain's biggest airport. It was always an unwanted child – a sub-optimal stop-gap while permission was sought to build Terminal 5. While "T5" sits neatly between Heathrow's two runways, T4 is a forlorn outpost shoe-horned between the airport's southern runway and the A30 trunk road.

The good news: Terminal 4 is served by direct trains from London's Paddington station, taking half-an-hour for a fare of £9.90. The bad news: there are only three a day: at 4.42am, 5.13am and 11.07pm. Should none of the trio suit your travel plans, you are invited to pay £21 and change trains en route, or risk the cheaper Piccadilly Line from central London. But the dark blue Tube line unravels at its western end, with frayed ends serving several destinations. In my experience Terminal 4 is served by even fewer Piccadilly Line trains than Planet Tharg.

If and when you reach the terminal, you will probably find the Paris flight at Gate 15. A long trudge – but with a miraculous addendum.

Right next to the gate, a set of stairs leads up to View Heathrow – an observation tower, furnished with binoculars. From this free facility, you watch the hypnotic cycle of landings and take-offs. To the east, London's spiky skyline punctuates the horizon. From the moment I saw the panorama, T4 leapt from worst to first.

On board the plane, its absurd location became clear as we waited to cross the busiest runway for landings in the world. Yet more aesthetic treats awaited in the sky. As the patchwork of English meadows softened by summer retreated, we flew over Seven Sisters (the dramatic Sussex cliffs, not the scruffy north London suburb). On the French side of the Channel, the rural geometry changed to a more angular pattern, disrupted by the odd swish of high-speed railway. On the approach to Paris, we found ourselves racing a high-speed train south.

It was such a compelling journey that I almost failed to notice that Air France's catering seems intended to insult the British and French equally: the former with an undrinkable approximation to tea, the latter with flabby, stale croissants.

Coming back, the catering was equally contemptible and the journey even more protracted. On a reasonably direct track, the 200-mile Paris-Heathrow flight should take 40 minutes. But by the time we had flown circuits over the Home Counties and queued to cross a hyperactive runway, it took a full hour longer.

While arguments about airport capacity rage, it might seem barmy to have 1,000 flights a month hopping between Heathrow and Paris CDG. Yet they are not going to stop any time soon; the route still makes the list of top 10 destinations from Heathrow by passenger numbers. Regulators regulate, but the market decides.

In Lust, in Bedfont

Faced with an eight-hour wait for the next direct train, I sought an escape route from Terminal 4. Aim south-east across the A30 and through a thicket, and you find yourself in bucolic surroundings striding beside the Duke of Northumberland's River. Ducks carve aquatic tracks, while ponies whinny in a field beyond.

Waterways lead to Feltham railway station, but along the way you encounter Bedfont Village – rich in replenishment options for passengers who declined Air France's inflight catering. I was particularly taken by In Lust: not a retailer specialising in what used to be known quaintly as marital aids, but an "Urban Indian" restaurant. Its speciality, the Hyderabad biryani, costs under £8, including a proper cup of tea.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
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
  • Get to the point
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

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing