Simon Calder: The man who pays his way

A Crawley start for the Inca Trail

The most direct route from London to Lima carves an intriguing course. Initially, it follows the line of the A30, traversing Basingstoke, Exeter and Bodmin, then sets off across the Atlantic – brushing remote islands from the Scillies to the Azores, before grazing Trinidad and making landfall on the north-eastern shore of Venezuela. The route slices through the jigsaw of national boundaries in northern South America, clipping Colombia and Brazil – where it crosses the Equator close to one of countless Amazon tributaries.

If you gaze from the window of a Boeing 777, the vision of deep green forest laced with sludgy brown veins continues for hours. The mesmerising vista of river and rainforest is finally broken by the Andes, the mighty spine that divides the continent’s eastern lowlands from the spectacular Pacific coast. Finally, you reach the sprawl of the Peruvian capital, a very long way from home: 6,314 miles, to be precise.

From next summer, this flightpath becomes a reality, when the route from Gatwick to Lima is resurrected. Unlike the previous link, the plane need not refuel in Caracas, or anywhere else. From 4 May next year it will be the longest route from the Sussex airport, and will allow the local town to claim, with only slight exaggeration, that the Inca Trail begins in Crawley.


Route of the problem?

How appealing is the prospect of spending more than 12 hours in a plane, even with the opportunity to gaze upon both Basingstoke and Brazil?

Last weekend I wrote about Emirates’ plan for the world’s longest flight, connecting Dubai with Panama City in a little under 18 hours. Not everyone was impressed, including two editors-in-chief.

Malcolm Ginsberg of Business Travel News points out that the previous longest route, from Singapore to New York, proved unviable: “Singapore Airlines couldn’t make it work on a route that had much more potential than Panama – even allowing for the increase in canal traffic with the widening.” And Lyn Hughes of Wanderlust magazine says an en-route stop is actually a plus: “It’s a change of scene and chance to walk and stretch.”

Lyn dreamed up Wanderlust on a long flight to Ecuador with her late husband, Paul Morrison; in the absence of any inflight reading, they devised the magazine on the back of a sick bag.

Singapore Airlines

But it wasn’t her longest flight. That was from Heathrow to Singapore in the late 1980s with the then-Soviet airline Aeroflot: “It took 28 hours, stopping at four airports en route to refuel. There were no announcements, so each time we landed we played the game of guessing where we were. They included a very snowy Moscow, a steaming hot Delhi, and a mystery airport in the middle of the night.”

Lonely Planet co-founder Tony Wheeler has only himself to blame for his experience of long flights, by making Melbourne – the world’s southernmost big city – his adopted home: “The longest sector I’ve ever flown, and I’ve done it a few times, is Los Angeles-Melbourne.”

These extreme days, this 7,930-mile marathon doesn’t even rank in the top 20 longest. But, he says: “The first time I did it on an A380 it did stretch into the longest, time-wise, from initial departure to final arrival. A computer glitch between departure gate and runway necessitated a return to the gate, several hours of hitting the on-off switch (yes, just like you do with a recalcitrant laptop) and more hours on the plane than I care to remember.”

Escape from Heathrow


A Yorkshire couple are about to endure an ultra-long-haul journey to South America, courtesy of British Airways. Bev and Andrew Allport from Driffield booked an afternoon  hop from Leeds/Bradford to Heathrow to connect with the overnight flight to Sao Paulo. But BA cancelled the leg from Yorkshire to London and rebooked them on a morning flight. The result: a wait of more than 11 hours at Heathrow, about the same time as it takes to fly to Brazil’s largest city. BA refuses to provide meals at Heathrow or lounge access during the protracted stopover that it created, telling them: “We’re unable to offer compensation or reimburse any expenses.”

Fortunately, Bev and Andrew can leave Heathrow unencumbered during their enforced lengthy stopover. So, while their checked luggage mopes around all day in the intestinal baggage system of Heathrow Terminal 5, they can take the short bus ride to nearby Windsor, home of a notable royal residence and a river. Agreed, it’s not quite Machu Picchu and the Amazon, but it’s better than a day lost in transit. And Lyn Hughes, whose Wanderlust magazine is based in Windsor, recommends the town’s most exotic restaurant, Al Fassia: “A warm and friendly Moroccan in the locals’ bit of Windsor. It’s the same family as one of Marrakech’s top restaurants, so very authentic.”