Fly me to the junk mail bank

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SOMEBODY out there thinks I'm a big business traveller. I know this, because they keep writing to me, saying that as I am such a big business traveller, I'm going to need (a) a card that will allow me to phone from anywhere in the world, (b) a discount arrangement with every hotel and airline in the world, (c) a really reliable and updated guide to airline schedules, (d) a regular magazine that will keep me in touch with the things that all business travellers have to know . . .

Well, I may not be a hardened traveller, but I am a very experienced travel-mail receiver. Here's what I do. I take it all down to our local recycling dump. We have four banks there: Paper Bank, Bottle Bank, Clothes Bank and Unwanted Business Traveller Junk Mail Bank. In it goes . . .

It's not unlike the experience of flying, come to think of it. When you sit in an airline seat, you have a waste disposal area at knee level into which you can similarly put (a) your unwanted papers, (b) your unwanted bottles, (c) your unwanted clothing, (d) junk literature, such as the in-flight menu and magazine, which tells you such useless things as what music you would be getting if you were on another flight.

That's the thing about air travel (and air travel junk mail). You are always told the things you do not need to know, but never the things you want to know. Example? Certainly. The last flight I went on was this charter trip to Cuba, and the organisers had divided us into three groups. One lot went with Iberia (overnight stop at

Madrid). Our lot went to Amsterdam and changed to a Martinair flight. The third lot, the brave ones, had to go to Shannon and change to Aeroflot.

The question I want to know the answer to is not why a travel firm would send its passengers by three different routes - the answer is, clearly, to divide and conquer. At the other end, we all met up and compared notes, and concluded that, no matter what experiences we had had, the others had been far worse off. And none worse off than the Cuba-bound British jazz musician who had missed his Iberia flight to Madrid and gone to Shannon instead, bluffing his way on to the Aeroflot flight.

That's the question I want to know the answer to, actually. If a helpless jazz musician can miss a flight to Madrid, then successfully get on to an Aeroflot flight in Shannon while still waving an Iberia ticket, who actually needs the sort of guidance offered by international business traveller junk mail?

Here are some other international-hardened-traveller questions I want to know the answers to before I subscribe to any of these offers:

1. What can you do when the passenger in front of you suddenly reclines his seat and you find his seat-back in your face for the next six hours?

2. When you wake up over Bermuda and you are halfway through a film dubbed in Dutch, how can you find out what the film is, what has happened so far, and whether it is worth watching the rest?

3. Why are in-flight movies now shown on small television screens, not big movie screens?

4. If these television screens are also giving out all the information such as what height we are flying and how far from our destination we are, then what on earth are the pilots doing? Everyone knows planes are all on automatic pilot these days, so there is nothing for a pilot to do but give a running commentary, and if that is taken over by a computerised screen, then what does a pilot do?

5. If your oxygen mask falls down out of the ceiling and dangles above your head, how do you get it back in? (This has actually happened to me. And I couldn't get it back in. And everyone avoided my eye as I tried to stuff it back in the hole whence it came, as if I were deranged and dangerous.)

6. Once, at Heathrow, dallying with the idea of making a duty-free purchase, I went to the British Airways inquiry desk to ask for a list of their in-flight duty-free prices, so I could compare them with the BAA tariff.

'I'm sorry, Sir,' said the man, 'but BAA won't allow us to display or even give away our price list here on the ground.'

My question at the time was: What is BAA so frightened of? Now that we know more about the world of flying, I have a better question: How did anyone ever manage to cow British Airways into such action?

All answers, please, on a recyclable postcard.