Simon Calder: Fuel, trolleys and passports: the Cuban connection

* By Monday, the disenchanted staff at Britain's passport offices should be back at work after their three-day strike this week. They are unhappy at a below-inflation pay offer – and, given the rate of passport inflation, who can blame them?

In the past decade, average air fares to Europe have halved in absolute terms. Yet since the start of 1998, the price of a standard passport has quadrupled. Evidently, the cash has not gone to line the pockets of the long-suffering staff.

Soon, though, they may have less of a workload – and the £19bn hole in Britain's tourism account may diminish. This is the UK's best chance for a decade to persuade us to stay at home, because the price of leaving the country is rising fast in all sorts of ways, as passengers flying out of Luton airport today will discover.

The Bedfordshire airport used to be, relatively speaking, a pleasure to use: small and manageable. But then it sprouted a terminal extension that created a labyrinthine retail gauntlet between check in and departure gate. Air travel in the 21st century provides quite enough hurdles to overcome without adding extra impediments – but, from this morning, that is exactly what Luton airport is doing: "Bagport, the leading provider of high-quality baggage services, will supply and manage baggage trolley equipment."

Finding a trolley will become trickier. And when you track down at one of only eight "stables", you will pay a pound or more for the privilege of loading it: "The cost of the trolleys will be £1 or €2, which is non-refundable," the explanation continues.

How does the airport justify charging for a facility that, for decades, has been financed by the passenger service charge that it levies? "The charge for the trolleys covers the increased operational costs incurred to ensure high service-levels."

Hitherto, I have not fretted much about trolley service levels; but now I come to think about it, Luton airport's avarice provides a reason to give the passport its very own holiday. And here comes another one.

* "Relax and enjoy your flight": that is how the US Airline Pilots Association signs off at the end of a full-page advertisement placed in America's only national newspaper, USA Today. The union represents pilots working for US Airways. The problem with their invitation is that the preceding message accuses management of "intimidation": "US Airways management has recently begun pressuring your Captain to reduce fuel levels for your flight in order to save money.".

The airline has every reason to save money; for each passenger flown between April and June this year, the airline lost $26 (£14).

"We are carefully looking at all of our fuel-burn metrics," says US Airways. "Loading more fuel at the start of a flight actually means the aircraft will burn more fuel en route because of the extra weight of the fuel." Eight pilots were identified as adding significantly more than the statutory minimum, and they were invited "to meet with our training department so we could understand their experiences". But the union maintains that the nature of these "training" encounters "could result in the termination of their careers".



* One country can feel relaxed about collective belt-tightening: Cuba, whose economy imploded in the 1990s when the Soviet Union disappeared, along with billions of dollars of subsidy from Moscow in the form of cheap oil.

Fidel Castro duly ordered the most efficient form of motorised urban transport anywhere on the planet, the camelo – a humped, articulated bus that has a theoretical capacity of around 150 but often boasts a "load factor" of 200 per cent. He also acknowledged that "only tourism can save Cuba", whether all-inclusive resorts or visits to learn boxing with the world's greatest amateurs (see page 21).

It was 55 years ago today that Castro became a street-fighting man. Tonight the Communist Party is going to party like it's 1953; by next 26 July, they will have more to celebrate. I bet you $10 to a peso that the next US president will end its economic embargo, allowing Americans to vacation in Cuba for the first time in two generations – taking up the slack left by us British travellers, dispossessed of trolleys, confidence and passports.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

    ‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

    Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

    The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

    ... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
    12 best olive oils

    Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

    Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back