There must be a way out of here

The Man Who Pays His Way

Lifelong Non-Smokers deserve some sympathy. They will never experience the exquisite first cigarette at the end of a long, smoke-free flight, the intense rush as one's equilibrium is restored by the rapid administration of nicotine. But neither will they suffer the discomfort of the
en route refuelling stop when passengers are not allowed off the plane. Smokers, unable to fume, just sit and chew nicotine gum.

Lifelong Non-Smokers deserve some sympathy. They will never experience the exquisite first cigarette at the end of a long, smoke-free flight, the intense rush as one's equilibrium is restored by the rapid administration of nicotine. But neither will they suffer the discomfort of the en route refuelling stop when passengers are not allowed off the plane. Smokers, unable to fume, just sit and chew nicotine gum.

Distressing for the passenger - but imagine how tough the no-smoking rule is for flight crew who happen to smoke. Those who work for Britain's charter carriers spend the summer shuttling back and forth to the Mediterranean, with no chance to leave the aircraft during the swift turn-around on the ground.

Yet the smoking aviator's lot may not be as bleak as it seems. A recent newspaper story about a day in the life of a JMC aircraft told how the captain of a Gatwick-to-Faro charter "nips to the back of the aircraft with the rest of the crew for a cigarette" while the plane was on the tarmac in Portugal awaiting the return flight.

People performing a stressful job deserve a half-time cigarette, and any member of the flight crew who wants a smoke while on the ground should be free to nip off and have one. But you may be surprised to learn that JMC staff are allowed to light up on board an aircraft while it is on the ground.

"Providing local restrictions permit," says the airline, "the crew are allowed to take a short break between flights once all duties are completed, there are no passengers on board the aircraft, and no refuelling is taking place".

Good luck to them - but not every paying passenger will agree. Some may be highly sensitive to smoke; conversely, smokers on long-haul charter flights who find themselves cooped up in the cabin during a refuelling stop in America or the Gulf may wonder why they are not allowed the same privilege.

**********

"FOREIGN LANGUAGE dictionaries have existed for several hundred years," writes Sue Powell of Leeds. She is referring to my inability to deduce that sottopassaggio is not a large city in northern Italy, but a term used on the railways. To compound the error, I then asserted that sottopassaggio means "way out". It doesn't; it means "subway" or "underpass". Ms Powell points out that the Italians have a perfectly serviceable word for "exit", uscita.

Christopher Snowden of Cumbria takes a charitable view of my confusion. "It is likely that to leave the confines of most stations one will need to traverse the sottopassaggio. Unfortunately, upon arriving in a strange railway station and being immediately plunged into a concrete tunnel, it is all too easy to haul one's ponderous baggage in entirely the wrong direction. Freedom might prove elusive until one has located the sign labelled uscita."

Mr Snowden adds that Italy can be "deliciously confusing" for the linguistically challenged. Not too many years ago, he recalls, toilet doors were labelled signori and signore. "This was the source of much embarrassment to the fumbling Englishman who could only remember that signore translates equally correctly as 'gentleman' (in the singular) or 'ladies' (plural)."

John Cram e-mails to report on his journey back from Slovenia to Venice. "Arriving from Ljubljana at Villa Opicina, the frontier station, I experienced some other Italian words, such as dicchiare ("declare") from an enthusiastic customs officer who was checking the train for alcohol and cigarettes.

"Unfortunately, you then have to experience both sottopassaggio and uscita as you have to temporarily leave the railway in order to catch a bus to Trieste Centrale for the connecting train around to Venice - but it was a great journey nonetheless."

**********

Centro and centrale have subtly different meanings on Italian railways, as Edwina Sanders of London discovered at Malpensa airport, outside Milan.

Anyone who has become entangled with the chaos of Milan's biggest airport will probably vow, next time, to get a flight to the much handier and more manageable Linate airport; or, failing that, stay at home. The only recent development to mitigate the misery of Malpensa is the new rail line to the city centre - wherever that may be.

"All the signs at the airport direct you to trains for Milano Centro," Ms Sanders writes.

"We got to the airport's railway station in time to catch the 3.15pm train. We were told it was a 35-minute journey. We had a connection to Florence at 4pm - tight, but we would make it."

Unfortunately, the term centro is used merely to indicate vaguely the middle of the city. The train actually takes 40 minutes and arrives at Cadorna, four metro stops from Centrale station, whence the Florence train departs. "We thought our reservations had just become worthless."

Luckily, the travel gods were smiling that day. "All the trains were, for once, departing on time - except for ours, which was running 20 minutes late. We legged it down to platform 11, and hopped on just before it left for a fab ride through the countryside."

**********

One final example of linguistic confusion from our writer Margaret Campbell. On a first assignment to a city in Germany, her attempts at orientation were hampered because almost every road appeared to be called Einbahnstrasse. Luckily, Ms Campbell escaped a one-way street to befuddlement.

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