Simon Calder: The worse the disruption, the more attractive it is to stay here

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The Independent Online

Air-traffic control used to be the all-purpose scapegoat for airlines. All manner of delays could be misattributed to the men and women at the radar screens. Now, though, tardy airlines seem to be adopting a 21st century excuse. "It's the security situation at Gatwick", was the explanation from a BA captain whose Thursday evening flight from Tenerife became a Friday morning departure.

Passengers may be pacified by such explanations in the short term. We may also discount the chaos caused over the past nine days by the shambolic implementation of new airport security regimes (I have counted five in the past three weeks). But the more common aircraft diversions become, the more attractive Britain looks.

The passengers on yesterday's Excel Airways flight from Gatwick to Egypt had not booked a two-centre holiday, but that was what they got - and all because of a slip of paper bearing the word "bomb" found in a seat pocket. Sadly, the manner of their arrival, in the company of an F16 fighter, meant that they were not able to enjoy Brindisi's attractive and uncrowded beaches and instead spent the time being frisked. Similarly, the delights of Boston eluded the Washington-bound passengers on United Airlines, who on Tuesday made an impromptu touch-down following an apparent altercation over a passenger's illicit face cream.

All of which is good news for Britain's tourism industry - up to a point. The more mayhem created by scares about security, the more of us will decide that the whole sorry business of flying abroad is simply not worth the stress.

Vacations are supposed to be opportunities to escape the stresses of daily life. Spending an extended last day of your holiday waiting in an overheated Red Sea airport lounge for the inbound flight - or indeed the sweaty surroundings of Tenerife South because of "security surroundings" - is not the ideal conclusion to a break. Holidaying at home enables you to dodge the ever-extending hurdles that impede every flight, and to remind yourself why the UK is one of the most popular destinations on earth for overseas visitors.

But for how long? If jet-age jitters have reached the stage where cosmetics or childish pranks can cause the fighter jets to be scrambled, foreign tourists may simply choose to give us a wide berth.