Time bandits

When the clocks go back tonight, the aviation industry will be thrust into temporal disorder. Eastbound transatlantic flights, for example, either take off earlier or arrive later because of the temporary discrepancy between British Summer Time and Daylight Saving Time in the US.

At least airlines in the West adhere to local time. The last time the clocks changed, a reader from west London was in Syria. (He wishes to remain anonymous, in case he ever goes back.) "When I booked the flight to Damascus, the airline warned me that because the clocks went back in Syria the night before our return, the flight might be delayed for an hour to keep the Heathrow slot." On their last night, he and his wife changed their watches, along (they assumed) with the rest of Syria.

"The flight home was due to leave at 11am. The boarding pass said `latest boarding time 11.30am', so we guessed the London office had been right. As we sipped an overpriced Coke in the departure lounge, we heard a crackly call for `two remaining passengers ... London ... immediate departure.' It was the last London-bound flight for five days, so we sprinted for the gate." The passport official seemed deliberately to take an age, while an airline rep admonished the couple and said their baggage had been unloaded from the aircraft. "This was nonsense, since we only had hand luggage."

Despite the obstacles, the couple caught the plane and vowed to pay the extra £120 to fly Royal Jordanian next time, not least because of the rueful postscript: "If you're a woman in a hurry, about to miss your flight and therefore not in a position to do anything about it, expect a grope by Syrian policemen on your way out of the country."