Something To Declare: Tokyo; India's railways; Olympic Canada
Saturday 05 September 2009
Bargain of the week: Tokyo
Courier flights were, like T'Pau and state communism, big in the Eighties. While the appeal of the "China in your hands" band and applied Marxism-Leninism has never been adequately explained, the attraction of courier flights was obvious. At the time, air fares were, in real terms, far higher than today. Luckily, there was an alternative to paying astronomical prices: carrying "time-sensitive documents" on behalf of a courier firm.
Complex customs rules meant urgent deliveries had to be despatched as checked-in luggage – for which an accompanying passenger was required. Fares as low as £150 were available on Concorde to New York for travellers prepared to surrender their checked baggage allowance and perform some rudimentary bureaucracy at either end of the flight.
Air fares have fallen, and document delivery networks become more sophisticated. Accordingly, demand for, and availability of, courier flights has shrunk. But between next month and March 2010, British Airways is offering cheap flights to Tokyo.
Call BA World Cargo on 0870 320 0301 and you may be able to secure a round-trip to the Japanese capital for as little as £320. The fare allows for a two-week stay in Tokyo, but couriers may stay as long as they like at a fee of £55 per extra week.
Destination of the week: India's railways
"Electrification has done a lot to reduce the numbers travelling on the roof": this line could come only from the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable. The latest edition (£13.99) celebrates the railways of South and South East Asia – most notably India.
Indian Railways is by a wide margin the biggest transport provider in the world, with the annual passenger-kilometres score moving steadily towards the one trillion mark.
While true high-speed trains have yet to arrive, travelling by rail in India is usually a joy in terms of exterior scenery and interior humanity. Several of India's Hill Railways are also Unesco World Heritage Sites.
Train travel is also very cheap. The guide points out that a 500-mile journey between two cities can cost anything from £1 to £28. Usefully for the visitor, the compilers say that reservations for foreigners open 360 days in advance. But if you are unable to plan almost a year ahead, a class of seats on some trains known as the "Tatkal" scheme allows you to book nearer the departure.
The timetable also highlights rules on passenger baggage. In India, a clause specifically excludes motorcycles, while in neighbouring Pakistan deep-freezes are banned.
Warning of the week: Olympic Canada
Vancouver is an alluring destination in any season, but travel patterns will be disrupted when the 21st Winter Olympics take place from 12-28 February next year. The Games are based in the resort of Whistler, north of Vancouver. Anyone hoping to take in both the opening and closing ceremonies could face high fares if they travel on the national carrier, Air Canada; flying out from Heathrow on 10 February, and back on 1 March, for example, the lowest price on non-stop flights in economy are currently £1,317. However, Air Canada fares are lower if you are flexible with dates, and many other options are available. Canadian Affair (020-7616 9184; canadianaffair.com) is quoting fares of £428 return from Gatwick on many dates.
An alternative is to fly to Seattle, just south of the border in Washington State and with good road and rail links to Vancouver. Fares on BA – the only non-stop airline from London – are available at under £400 return on some dates in February.
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