Simon Calder: Your ticket says 'Manchester'; pilot says 'Newcastle'

The man who pays his own way

Most of the time, Thomas Cook delivers good value and great holidays – which is why the company this week celebrates the 171st anniversary of its first excursion. The 500 people who paid one shilling (5p) each for that 12-mile maiden voyage by train from Leicester to Loughborough were successfully returned whence they came. Thomas Cook has since become arguably the strongest brand in travel. But, in the 21st century, getting home with the company has become a less certain enterprise.

A fortnight ago, I wrote about planes arriving in unexpected places. Exhibit A was a Thomas Cook Airlines flight from Greece to Gatwick, which landed instead at Manchester because the plane was needed in the North-west. More than 300 passengers spent hours on buses in order to save the carrier some money. The ink was barely dry before Thomas Cook was at it again. The tickets from the Greek island of Zante on flight TCX2117 said "Manchester". But the pilot, directed by the operations team, had other ideas. His 235 passengers arrived at the right time but the wrong place: Newcastle.

One of those confused customers was Peter Royle. "The ground staff were eager to replenish food trays at the rear of the plane before the passengers had disembarked," he reports. "We then had to wait two hours at Newcastle while another company, Swissport, arranged coach transportation. Despite being told that someone from Thomas Cook would greet us at Newcastle, nobody ever arrived." The same old story: another plane had broken, and rather than chartering another jet to fill the gaps in its schedule, the company chose to limit the financial damage by rejigging its flights.

A spokesperson for Thomas Cook said, "Whilst we do everything we can to fly back into the airport of departure, sometimes there are knock-on impacts on our fleet when there have been technical problems or delays beyond our control. We then work hard to balance the delay on those waiting to depart the UK against diverting routes and then arranging transportation back to the original airport. Luckily, this doesn't happen very often and we'd like to thank our passengers again for their patience and understanding."

"On these rare occasions, we do ensure that holidaymakers return to their departure airport – coaches were provided from Newcastle to Manchester". As, of course, the law demands.

Thomas Cook, the man, made his name and built the brand by taking people to places they wanted to be – not always the case with Thomas Cook, the airline, when it takes people to places they don't want to go.

Two weeks from now, Harriet Green takes over as chief executive of the troubled travel firm. Her "to do" list must already be monumentally long, beginning with reassuring staff and customers about Thomas Cook's financial health and long-term prospects. But if the firm is to avoid getting a reputation for random redirection of returning travellers, the resilience of the airline should be high among her priorities.

Europe accelerates

One part of the Thomas Cook empire remains as reliable as ever. The compilers of the European Rail Timetable create order out of the chaos of dozens of disparate nations' railways schedules. The "red book" may have become blue, to match the rest of the Thomas Cook range of maps and guidebooks, but it still distils the millions of departures each month into 500 pages. Need to get from Tralee, Co Kerry, to Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific Coast? The European Rail Timetable remains the prime source of information.

Many more British tourists reach the Continent by air than by rail; flying is usually faster and cheaper. But thanks to many improvements this summer, at least you can do the decent thing and travel by train when you get there.

The July edition is the bearer of many glad tidings – starting as close as Belgium. For travellers beginning their journey from outside London and South-east England, the broken promise to run direct Eurostar trains to Brussels means the obvious way is to fly, and due to the way that connections from the airport work the only easily accessible cities are the capital, Ghent and Bruges. But with the opening of a new arc from the airport, Table 5 reports that Mechelen (11 minutes) and Antwerp (34 minutes) are swiftly accessible by direct trains. Both are well worth the trip.

Across at Table 668, cash-strapped Spain opens a new four-hour link between two great cities, Valencia and Seville; when I first made the journey, in 1976, it took a day and a half.

Even the Arctic gets in on the act, with the Botniabanan opening up Swedish wilderness with that unusual species, a high-speed single-track railway that tears across the tundra as far north as Umea, on the same latitude as Reykjavik.

Silky smooth

The age of the high-speed train has arrived in Uzbekistan: Spanish Talgo rolling stock now shuttles between the ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand and the modern capital, Tashkent. At present, the 220-mile run between the two (about the same as London to Lancaster) takes two-and-a-half hours, but this will shrink by 60 minutes when the trains start running at top speed – cutting the journey time to the same as London to Macclesfield, the Cheshire station whose street address is Silk Road.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor