SIMON CALDER COLUMN

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The Independent Travel
British Airways believes the future of air travel rests with ticketless journeys, and has announced it will test the concept on flights between Aberdeen and London. But the airline is 21 years late. Ticketless travel actually began in 1975, pioneered by

When BA launched its Shuttle operation in 1975, the airline dispensed with the need for reservations and tickets from Heathrow to Belfast, Edinburgh or Glasgow (Manchester came later). Its "turn up and go" service meant that if you wanted to travel on a particular flight, you simply turned up 10 minutes before departure and demanded a seat. If the plane was full, the airline laid on an extra one just for you - a promise that it still keeps on Shuttle flights. But best of all, you needed no ticket to get on board. All you did was promise to pay your pounds 17 on board.

In those days, cabin crews did not attempt to break the record for serving 189 breakfasts in under an hour. Instead, they were glorified bus conductors who trawled through the Trident selling tickets.

But what happened to passengers who were unable or unwilling to pay? Ejector seats were not fitted, so the airline must have had another mechanism to discourage stowaways. Can anyone say what it was - or confess to having travelled for free?

Some time later, my career in aviation began at Gatwick airport. I was employed to clean out planes for, among others, British Airways. I shall spare the "revolting things you find in seat pockets" stories, and instead mention the feeling of gloom upon boarding a plane that you recognise as having once cleaned. This means the aircraft is of a certain age. The safety record of British carriers is excellent, so advanced years in no way means increased risk. But older planes seem to develop more faults.

So it was with trepidation that I recognised the Caledonian Airways TriStar at the boarding gate in Manchester. Sure enough, the take-off was aborted due to a fault, and we spent a couple of hours stewing on the apron while it was fixed. The cumulative delay, compounded by a problem with the inflight ovens, meant that our promised meal was not served until four hours after scheduled departure. By this time hunger could have persuaded me to eat the furniture, had I not known something of its colourful history. No doubt someone can come up with a longer gap between departure and dinner, and I look forward to details - the less lurid the better.

Hitch-hikers the length and breadth of the M4 will be celebrating this week's opening of the second Severn Crossing more than most, for the simple reason that it will greatly reduce the chance of being dropped off at the hitching graveyard known as Aust Services, in the shadow of the first Severn Bridge.

Most service stations are good hitching prospects; not Aust, which is caught between the M5 and the Avonmouth slip road. The world will probably never know if there is any truth in the story that one hitcher waited there so long that he was offered a job by a catering manager, who admired his tenacity in waiting patiently at the roadside for 12 hours.

The appeal for imaginative combinations of three-letter airport codes (such as LHR for London Heathrow) brought some excellent responses. "What a FAN-TAS-TIC trip you could have", writes Jim Barry of Derby, "if you went from Farsund in Norway via Tashkent to Tinak Island in the South Pacific. Lucy Marsden of Notts suggests FAT MAN HAD HIS DAMSON PIE - a journey from Fresno, California to St Petersburg, Florida, via Manchester, Halmstad (Sweden), Hayman Island (Australia), Damascus (Syria) and Espiritu Santo (Vanuatu).

Ms Marsden narrowly misses out on the prize of an I-Spy book of aircraft; she is bumped at the boarding gate by Bryan Bennion of Derby, who has stumbled upon a flight plan for the singer Paul Simon: from Watertown (New York State) via Garaina (Papua New Guinea) and Funafuti (Tuvalu) to Kiel in German. Mr Bennion says the musician is to be accompanied by a close friend for this journey, which translates as ART-GAR-FUN-KEL.

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