Nightmare scenario: you have just missed your flight

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The Independent Travel
You have your non-refundable ticket to Los Angeles in your pocket, so you board a bus scheduled to get you to Heathrow two-and-a-half hours before departure. Then, if you are as unlucky as Denis Riley of Sheffield, the bus gets caught in traffic gridlock on the M4 because of a mishap in the tunnel leading to Heathrow.

"Forty-five minutes before departure, I was still a mile from the terminal. Three of us decided to grab our luggage and make a run for it, but I still missed my flight."

If the planned Terminal Five at Heathrow goes ahead, says Mr Riley, the potential for chaos will be even greater: "We should say `no' to T5 and the concentration of everything south of Watford. Surely the way forward is to develop regional airports for people like myself. South Yorkshire, for example, is in dire need of an airport. A possible solution arose when RAF Finningley, near Doncaster, closed down more than a year ago. The Government has now announced it is to be developed as a prison!"

Hazel Orchard of Sussex managed to reach an airport - specifically, Genoa in Italy - which was where her problems began. "I was due to fly to Gatwick at 2pm. When we arrived at the airport, the indicator said this flight would leave at 2.30pm. So my friends left."

Then the airport was declared closed, and the flight cancelled. Ms Orchard sought help from a BA representative. "All the assistant was prepared to do was book me on the 8am flight the following day. So, on my own, I battled my way across to the Sheraton Hotel in what was now a blizzard. The room cost me pounds 100 and the food was alarmingly expensive.

"Next morning I phoned BA at regular intervals from 6am, but there was no reply. So once more I got myself over to the terminal, where there was no sign of a plane going anywhere. Eventually office staff appeared and said they were looking at alternatives. I waited in the check-in area with my luggage. Luckily, a kindly Italian passenger tipped me off that a bus was departing for Turin airport, to connect with a BA flight there."

They arrived in time for the 11.45am departure to London, but were told that they would have to wait for the next flight from Turin.

"This flight arrived at Heathrow, where a coach took us to Gatwick. Since no one had told the Italian passengers anything, I had to use my imperfect Italian to explain what was happening."

Ms Orchard concludes: "Although by no means fragile, I am elderly and I am not used to being abandoned in this way. Nor do I expect that an airline will put me to extra expense through no fault of my own. I will think very carefully before using BA again."

Both Ms Orchard and Mr Riley are, like you and me, ordinary travellers accustomed to plans going wrong. Yet one of our elected representatives implies, in a travel story in another newspaper, that Members of Parliament should not be expected to have to share such experiences.

Jerry Hayes MP describes a dismal trip to Tenerife: "After one of those dreadful flights from Luton or something, we eventually arrived at our destination at 5am, to find the town was a building site - we had to stumble across the site carrying all our luggage."

So far, he has our sympathy. Then comes the tellingly indignant phrase: "... and I was an MP at the time".

Tales of other MPs expecting superior travel treatment will be welcome.

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