Simon Calder: Anyone for a midnight plane from Stansted?

Travel polls can be compelling, not least because a holiday hit parade that inspires visions of sea, sun and cities provides a welcome escape from gloom, doom and despondency. Not always, mind; when, last Wednesday, I searched for a bed on LateRooms.com, I happened upon the company's "Top Destinations". The top 10 began enticingly enough with Madrid and Seville in 10th and eighth positions respectively. Yet Florence – that gracious Tuscan city, overflowing with fine food and finer art – was pipped for top place.

The planet's leading destination, at least according to the discount hotels website, stands on the Tees, not the Arno: it is Middlesbrough.

At least the contenders in an online opinion survey from Virgin Media online look more familiar: the "hottest city" category, when I checked, was topped by New York, just ahead of Barcelona. "Most appealing destination in a movie" by a country mile was the Greek Islands, thanks to the screen success of Mamma Mia!. But one category is curious, given the aviation connections of the Virgin group. Users are invited to nominate the "collapsed airline you'll miss the most". All the candidates folded last year: Oasis Hong Kong Airlines, Zoom and Silverjet are listed, with top place going to XL Airways. And all these failures stranded passengers at airports around the globe.

On Wednesday another bid to make a success of long-haul, low-cost flying takes off from Stansted, destination Kuala Lumpur. AirAsia X has been selling seats for as little as £99 each way, though after making a series of test bookings it seems a more likely one-way fare is £200. In true low-cost fashion, "you're only buying the flying". Checked luggage costs £12 each way for a 20kg case, with meals a further £7 per flight.

The operation shares a couple of other features with no-frills flying: high aircraft utilisation and strange flight times. Those two are entwined: with a flight time eastbound of 13 hours, and westbound 14 hours, the single Airbus A340 cannot operate a "rotation" – a there-and-back flight – within a 24-hour day. Therefore AirAsia X will fly back and forth five times a week, with departure and arrival times shifting from one day to the next – testing the travelling public's appetite for cheap flights.

Book on the Monday flight, for example, and your departure time is "00.00", leaving plenty of scope for confusion. The airline happens to mean the Cinderella hour at the end of Sunday, rather than the moment when Monday changes to Tuesday.

There's certainly room for error; in the olden days when people booked in person or by phone, a good travel agent would carefully spell out that the Monday flight was actually a Sunday night departure; these days, online buyer beware. Other airlines minimise ambiguity by avoiding 00.00, instead using 23.59 or 00.01 to indicate which day they mean.

Coming back, the Sunday and Thursday flights from Kuala Lumpur leave at a very civilised 4.30pm – but that means they land at 10.30pm at the Essex airport. By the time the passengers have cleared immigration and customs, amid the last crowded wave of no-frills flight from Europe, most public transport from Stansted will have disappeared.

The website Sleepinginairports. net can expect more hits; one user describes Stansted as "a refugee camp". The site's worst-airport poll, incidentally, is topped by Heathrow (3), Moscow Sheremetyevo (2) and Paris Charles de Gaulle (1).

Will Airasia X soar? The airline can expect ferocious competition from the incumbent carrier on the London-KL route, Malaysia Airlines, whose fares are only marginally higher. In the newcomer's favour is a premium cabin costing around £200 more than economy.

Given the airline collapse that happened six months to the day before Air Asia X's London launch, this cabin has a brave choice of name: XL.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
News
news
Life and Style
Jack Cooksey goes for the grand unveiling - moments before dropping his new iPhone 6 on the floor
iphone launch
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
football
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week