Packing poser

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The Independent Travel
BEFORE taking up this job, I used to be a maths teacher. Drilling the theory of probability into the heads of Crawley's less receptive 15-year-olds is probably one of the world's less gratifying careers. But I hope I imbued them with a better sense of risk than the one pertaining in the travel industry.

The new Inspirations Greece brochure includes lots of jolly holidays, plus a useful section called 'Hints 'n' tips'. A sensible suggestion it makes is that when travelling with a partner you should share out luggage in case one person's baggage goes missing. The theory is that if one suitcase is lost in transit, each partner will have enough possessions to survive. So far, so handy. Then the brochure goes out on a limb and fritters away its credibility with the claim: 'It is verging on the statistically impossible for your partner's case to misroute as well.'

The travel organisation Wexas calculates one piece of luggage in a hundred goes missing. All other things being equal, then, the chances of any two items disappearing is one in 10,000. Sadly, or happily, life is less predictable than pure mathematics. If your partner's bag is checked through to, say, LOS (Lagos) rather than Los Angeles (LAX), there is a good chance that yours will be, too.

Writer and broadcaster Robert Elms had an experience that tests new frontiers in mathematics. He was flying home with a film crew from the Chilean capital, Santiago, checking in 37 assorted pieces of luggage. The consignment had to travel via Buenos Aires, Rio and Madrid, so Mr Elms was not confident that they would all show up at Heathrow.

In the event, only two cases made it back from South America. As any Crawley schoolchild will tell you, the probability of 35 pieces of luggage going missing, according to the formula above, is one in 10 to the power of 36. (Think of the number of grains of sand that would go to make up the Earth, then multiply by one billion; that is 10 to the power of 36.) A cynic might suggest that Brazilian baggage handlers are sometimes tempted to manipulate the odds in their favour.