Tracked by the watchers in Astral Towers

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The Independent Travel
You want to travel, so you call a tour operator or travel agent. Or you could call Air Miles, the frequent-flyer arm of British Airways. And if you don't call them, they'll call you.

That, at least, is the threat posed by the latest mailing from the company. It is one of those forms which you have to tick if you do not wish to be bothered. But the threat is not of a mountain of junk mail; instead, Air Miles personnel may ring to sell you travel that you didn't think you needed. Apparently they do not just sit about in the extravagantly named Astral Towers in Crawley: collectors are advised that, unless they tick the right box, "occasionally a travel consultant may contact you to assist with your travel requirements".

The company says it does not canvass business in this manner. If you are an Air Miles collector, though, it is worth bearing in mind that you are one of three million people on the company's database, and that your spending and travelling habits can be tracked precisely. It sounds like marketing heaven - or consumer hell.

Following our coverage of New Zealand a fortnight ago, an anonymous reader has sent in the front page from the Otago Daily Times, that he or she says "will confirm the prejudice that the country is living in the past".

A Boeing 737 was coming in for a normal landing at Dunedin airport, close to the second-largest city on the South Island. The plane banked steeply when the pilot noticed that the airport lights were switched off and there was no one in the control tower. The Freedom Air jet, arriving from Brisbane, had to circle for half-an-hour until a controller reached the tower and put the proverbial dollar in the meter.

Question 1: if your train arrives more than an hour late, are you entitled to a refund? Question 2: if your delayed train arrives after public transport has shut down for the night, are you entitled to a taxi home? Question 3: if you happen to be travelling on InterCity West Coast, will the train company keep quiet about your entitlements? The answer to all three is Yes.

Should this weekend find you travelling between Manchester and London, I commend the coach services of National Express. The price is less than half the train fare of pounds 44.50, and the journey takes around four hours. The rail journey will take about the same. But during the train ride, you may be treated to a series of misrepresentations about the arrival time, and kept in the dark about your rights.

The last train from Manchester to London on Sunday night was packed out. It was due to arrive before 11pm. Although it was half-an-hour late departing, the guard assured passengers that it would arrive at 11.20pm. Even when accelleration to warp factor 5 would not have been sufficient, he remained chirpily optimistic. In the event, the train dawdled in some time after midnight, when the last tube had long since retired for the night.

The sad details of the delay were relayed over the station's public address system, most of them heaping blame on to Railtrack. I listened expectantly for an announcement telling people that they were entitled to a refund after the nightmare trip, and to a taxi home. It never came. Those passengers who were battle-hardened enough to know the score, went and asked; all the rest, misinformed and mistreated, shelled out for taxis and vowed to travel by bus next time.

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