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.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
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
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice