Travel: `Not every tandem passenger makes a full contribution to pedalling'

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The Independent Travel
Britain's charter airlines are, mostly, excellent. But my asking last week for details of charter flights where not everything had gone quite according to plan resulted in a veritable overbooking of stories, such as this one from Mike Stace of Tonbridge, recounting a trip to the Canary Islands last summer:

"On the outward trip it was quite fun. On arrival in Tenerife the captain announced that we had landed in La Palma (we hadn't) and got the local time wrong by an hour. The cabin crew, on the other hand, hoped that we would have a pleasant holiday in Paphos. But the real excitement came two weeks later.

"When I phoned to reconfirm the flights, I was greeted by a taped message which told me without much conviction, or any comment on the change, that the departure was at 10pm rather than 6pm. At 8pm we joined a huge crowd and queued for an hour to be halted a few yards short of the check-in desk when the check-in clerk discovered that the plane had fewer seats than he had expected. We had been bumped.

"Passenger pressure persuaded the airline rep that she'd better phone England for advice, which she did from a public pay phone. She then revealed that the plane was indeed smaller than she had expected, but that another was on its way. After closer questioning from the waiting crowd it emerged that this was not an extra plane but one booked to leave at 1.30am with a full load of passengers. We asked how to avoid being bumped off that one, too.

"There ensued a full and frank discussion in English and Spanish, from which a plan emerged. We were sent to a check-in at the other end of the airport indicated as being for Munich. This may have been a clever ploy to put the passengers for the 1.30am off the scent, but I suspect that no one knew how to work the electronic display: the 10pm flight details had been on bits of cardboard wedged on to a sheet of hardboard.

"Until midnight, we passed the time playing two games: fending off a group of Australians who'd been drinking since 9am, and repulsing the more inquisitive passengers for the 1.30am flight. Suddenly we were checked in at break-neck speed, encouraged to run back through the airport to the departure gate and told to sit anywhere on the plane. Experience had taught us that now we might be playing musical chairs so people needed a clear view of a destination seat before they could be persuade to swap seats to allow parents and children to sit together.

"We took off at half-past midnight - one hour early. So there had been no chance to load the baggage. Some luggage went on other airlines to Gatwick; ours went to Milan."

If that sort of thing is enough to persuade you to holiday at home, you might be tempted to travel by Holidaymaker - a special Saturday service from Scotland and the north of England to various South Coast resorts. The first of the summer schedule departed for Devon from Glasgow last Saturday at 9.30am. Or at least it would have done, if someone had chosen to connect a locomotive to the train. Eventually one was found, but not before we waiting passengers had had nearly an hour clipped from our holidays.

The subject of motive power is close to the heart of anyone who rides a tandem. Having spent a fortnight getting used to my new vehicle, I am not yet convinced that every pillion passenger makes the appropriate contribution to pedalling power. So action has been taken, in the form of a sign attached to the machine. If you see a tandem bearing the request "Is she pedalling? Toot if she's not", I hope you will oblige.

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