Travel: Left standing

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The Independent Travel
THE peeling paint showed the bus had seen service in the mountains of Greece until the end of its natural life, whereupon it was shipped across the border to ply the seven-hour haul between Tirana, the Albanian capital, and Sarande, the port of departure for Corfu and Albania's link with the outside world.

Last week my luck (and that of the bus) ran out an hour from Tirana, when a tyre blew. Then began a sequence of small catastrophes which cost me a couple of days and a couple of hundred pounds. No replacement bus could be found, and since Albanian railways could teach even BR a thing or two about 'operational difficulties', a train was out of the question.

I finally tracked down a taxi driver who, in exchange for a sum close to the value of his car, was prepared to make the trek across the mountains to Sarande; but we arrived too late for the afternoon ferry to Corfu.

The evening flight to Gatwick took off a good 12 hours before I reached Corfu airport. The rules for seat-only tickets such as my pounds 115 special are clear: if you fail to turn up in time for your plane, you lose all rights to a flight home. Something else happens to the tardy traveller, too: the entire travel industry closes ranks.

'Bad luck,' said the company that sold me the ticket. 'You'll have to buy another ticket, but we've got no flights for four days.' A Britannia plane bound for Gatwick was sitting on the tarmac with empty seats, but the rep for Thomson (whose charter it was) said Greek aviation rules prohibited the selling of seats on charter flights from the island.

This may be the case, but anyone who cares to check with the numerous agencies in Corfu town centre will find that seats on charter flights are available for about pounds 90 each (compared with a one-way scheduled fare of pounds 466). Unfortunately, the only company with flights out over the next few days was Thomson, whose people were sticking firmly to the rules.

While rummaging through my wallet to find enough drachmas to pay for the now industrial- sized phone bill, I found my British Airways Executive Club card, and dimly remembered reading something about a members' rescue service. After a few more international calls, I finally reached somebody who not only sympathised with my plight, but also was able to do something about it: rescue organisations clearly have a lot more clout than stranded punters. With a final recital of my Visa card number before it reached its limit, I procured a seat on the Thomson- operated flight to Luton the next morning for pounds 105.

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