TODAY I am supposed to be in Iceland. I paid pounds 355 to a bucket shop called Orient Travel in central London. I thought I was buying a return ticket on Icelandair to Washington that would allow a day's stopover in Reykjavik on the homeward leg. Unfortunately, I was sold a ticket for a flight that does not exist.

In the early Seventies the cheapest deals to North America were via Reykjavik. One way to circumvent the strict regulations governing transatlantic fares was to take a flight that stopped in Iceland; if you were really keen to save money, you could travel surface to Luxembourg and pick up a cheap fare there.

Deregulation, instigated by Sir Freddie Laker and enhanced by Richard Branson, means airlines flying non-stop from the UK can charge more or less what they like. So the wings of cut-price airlines such as Sabena of Belgium, Aer Lingus and Icelandair were clipped.

But this summer Icelandair, with the most modern fleet of any of the world's airlines, was once again pushing its transatlantic flights. Its fares are competitive but not the absolute lowest, but the added attraction is the chance to see a little of Iceland. This was the carrot that persuaded me to travel with the airline, and the 'OK' confirmation on the ticket assured me that - barring accidents or international incidents such as the cod war - I would enjoy a day exploring the Icelandic capital.

Creative marketing is a buzz phrase in travel these days, but my agent took the concept to a ridiculous degree by selling a ticket for a flight that does not exist. The 4.30 flight this afternoon from Reykjavik to Heathrow has never existed. I discovered this when reconfirming timings with the airline in the US. The computer record showed I was to leave Washington a day early. It also insisted that the date had been changed at my request, and that I had paid pounds 75 for the privilege.

A day was spent phoning and faxing to try to resolve the problem. The agent in London could not call me back in Washington because, he said, 'the phones did not work'. Although a US operator managed to get a reverse-charge call through despite the dodgy phones, the agent would not accept the charges. So I turned to the New York office of Icelandair.

The staff eventually offered me a flight on the correct day. Unfortunately, departure was from Kennedy airport in New York, 200 miles away, and arrival in Glasgow rather than London. Furthermore, the time allowed to enjoy Iceland is 60 minutes, hardly long enough to buy a duty-free cod, let alone see the sights. And the thought of a mandatory stopover in Glasgow, pleasant though it is, does not have quite the exotic appeal of a day in Iceland.

With my rapidly diminishing pounds I paid for a call through to the agent in London, to ask two questions: why he had sold me a ticket for a flight that does not exist, and what would have happened if I had just turned up at the airport? He slammed the phone down, twice.

The moral is not to avoid flying Icelandair, though you do tend to spend the journey jostling 6ft Vikings with rucksacks to match - and some of the men are pretty terrifying, too. Before handing over full payment for any bucket- shop ticket, check directly with the airline that you have a seat booked and that the flight exists.

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