Simon Calder: Selling the dream – but not the reality

The man who pays his way

Two conflicting views of flying: a plane is a plane; and "If it ain't a Boeing, I'm not going". The first opinion belongs to those who regard aviation as a necessary chore to be endured en route to somewhere delicious. They could not care two inflight pretzels whether they board an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 737 for a short-haul flight, or an A330 or a 767 for a longer stretch. They just want to arrive alive and on time. True, at the XL end of the aircraft spectrum, you might notice the distinctive double-deckerness of the original Jumbo (747) and the so-called Super Jumbo (A380). But since Concorde stopped flying 10 years ago, most jets look and perform the same.

The second attitude prevails most strongly on pick-up truck bumpers in the Seattle area of the north-west USA, where for decades Boeing has built some of the world's greatest aircraft. The saying arose from the manufacturer's formidable reputation for safety and reliability. "Refuse Toulouse" was another slogan aimed at Airbus, which is based in the French city.

Today, when there are just two manufacturers of full-size jets, I can't imagine any frequent flyer lives by the rule. Airbus has an equally robust attitude to safety. Besides, the airline that sells you the ticket can despatch you on whatever, and whoever's, plane it likes.

Buy British Airways, fly Ryanair: that was the what some passengers found during the cabin-crew strikes three years ago. BA chartered in capacity from rival carriers, including the Irish airline, to fill some of the gaps in its schedule. On this occasion the Ryanair jets were "wet-leased", ie BA hired the planes complete with crew. A "dry lease" is where you rent only the aircraft. And a "damp lease": plane and pilots, but no cabin crew.

When easyJet has run short of equipment, I have found myself aboard the ad-hoc charters of Titan Airways (though they wouldn't let any of us sit in the posh seats at the front). Last summer, many Monarch passengers found themselves aboard a jet wet-leased from Aurela Airlines, based in a former Soviet Baltic republic. Even though the Civil Aviation Authority was content with safety standards, not everyone was happy to be flying on a jet from Lithuania.

For many Thomson Airways passengers, the problem is not Lithuania, but lithium. Thomson is the launch customer for the Boeing 787 "Dreamliner", and has scheduled it to fly transatlantic from East Midlands, Gatwick, Glasgow or Manchester, starting 1 May. But the metal used in the batteries that provide essential power for the systems of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner has not proved as stable as the makers expected. After two scares involving the lithium-ion devices catching fire, the plane was grounded in mid-January.

So far, there is no indication about when the aircraft may be allowed to carry passengers once more, nor what needs to be done to eliminate the problem. While engineers and officials frown and fret, no Dreamliners can be delivered. So about 30,000 passengers booked with Thomson Airways in May or June to Florida and Mexico won't be going. Well, they will, but not on a Boeing 787.

If you had set your heart on the Dreamliner, all you can do now is dream the impossible dream.

Boeing, Boeing gone

The Dreamliner is the first plane properly to put the passenger first. Refinements such as higher pressurisation make long flights more bearable. It is more fuel efficient, and makes new routes viable, such as Gatwick to Phuket in Thailand (from November, safety officials permitting). Thomson, naturally, sought to extract maximum value as the first UK airline with the 787:

"If you could design your own dream plane, what would you come up with? Comfier seats? Supersized windows? Whatever tops your wish list, the end result would probably look a lot like the Thomson 787 Dreamliner."

Now that the dream is over for thousands of passengers, Thomson says: "We fully understand how very disappointing this is for our customers, and hope they will appreciate these circumstances are completely outside of our control." Fair enough. But the aftermath is completely within Thomson's control. The firm is hanging on to the cash (except for handing back the £10 per flight Dreamliner premium), and rebooking passengers on a dull old Boeing 767. Disappointed passengers who booked only because they wanted to be first to fly on the new plane in British colours are allowed to switch to an alternative holiday, but refunds are refused.

Catch the Airbus

An hour after Thomson's cancellation of its 787 programme in May and June, British Airways started selling its first Airbus A380 tickets. BA finally joins the Super Jumbo club this year. You can book to fly the world's biggest passenger jet from Heathrow to Los Angeles at 4.15pm on 15 October. Could BA also risk upsetting passengers? No. All it is saying is: book flight BA269 to Los Angeles from 15 October onwards, and you can expect to fly on the A380. But you will not be the first; BA will fly the jet well before 15 October – but makes no promises about when or where.

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
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
  • Get to the point
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

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'