Any cynic who wonders whether there could be a less inspiring institution should check out the board's handbook. Within it, among the capsule descriptions of the 100-odd airlines operating to Britain, you find some splendid resonances of aviation history.
Sudan Airways, for example, which is celebrating its half-century this year, began life as a subsidiary of Sudan Railways. And Delta Air Lines, now one of the world's biggest, started as the world's first crop-dusting business: Huff Daland Dusters, based in the Mississippi Delta.
In 1982, you learn, its employees decided they liked the company so much that they conducted a workers' whip-round to buy Delta a Boeing 767; in the current climate, I can't imagine British Airways cabin crew passing the hat around to present Robert Ayling with a new $100m jet. The first identifiable ancestor of BA, incidentally, was the equally uncatchy Aircraft Transport and Travel Ltd. It began flying in August 1919 from Hounslow Heath near London (and very near Heathrow) to Le Bourget airport in Paris - the world's first daily scheduled international service.
The handbook reveals that Syrian Arab Airlines, which for a time was banned from flying to Britain, is re-installed in its Mayfair offices, selling flights on a fleet which is a real jet blast from the past: remember the Caravelle, basically a Citroen 2CV with wings and jet engines attached, which I believed had long gone the way of the Comet? In fact, the pioneering French aircraft is still in active service from Aleppo as an alternative to the road to Damascus.
I thought of saving the final gem for the Christmas travel quiz, but fear no one would get it right. Which European airline was, until 1968, known by the name of a popular chocolate bar? The answer is not Air Galaxy, or Bournville Airways, but Finnair - which for the first 45 years of its life was called Aero. The plucky airline started up in 1923, even though the first airport in Finland did not open until 1936.
Another acronym: PASL. This is an even more intriguing body, the (St) Petersburg Auto-Stop League. "Here," says Daan Toner of The Hague, "is the electronic answer to the question about whatever happened to hitching races". This bunch of Russian hitch-hikers has a Web site on the Internet, where you learn about its activities, such as "training hitch-hikers to travel fast even in the most difficult terrain and circumstances".
It is hard to imagine more difficult terrain and circumstances than present- day Russia, where some of the drivers are almost as malevolent as the climate. No problem: "The members of the league travel in yellow suits, especially designed for hitch-hiking 24 hours a day, seven days a week, world-wide. Reflecting patches and flashlights make hitch-hiking possible through the night."
PASL's plans for a world hitch-hikers' trophy are ambitious. Beginning next month, pairs of hitch-hikers will compete for the title on a race through the former USSR, Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, Germany, Denmark and Norway, ending up next February at Russia's northernmost city, Murmansk.
This is merely a preliminary round for the real thing - a hitching race around the world. A year from now, surviving teams will begin at St Petersburg and travel via Siberia, Nome (across the Bering Strait in Alaska), Seattle, New York and Paris. Impediments such as the absence of roads in eastern Siberia and the considerable stretches of ocean are not mentioned, but helpfully "the world can be travelled the other way round or by a different route depending on circumstances like visa regulations and civil war".Reuse content