Simon Calder at 25: The ultimate travel timeline, from 1994-2019

The events and the people in travel that have shaped the last quarter of a century, from Fidel Castro to Sir Richard Branson

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 18 May 2019 13:25
Simon Calder: 25 years at the Independent

Over the last 25 years at The Independent, it’s been my privilege to cover some of the most pivotal events, break the biggest new stories and interview the most inspirational people in travel.

Here are the moments that best define my last quarter of a century as a travel journalist.


1994 (August): “Only tourism can save Cuba,” Fidel Castro declares, as the Cuban economy implodes following the removal of financial support by Moscow.

1994 (28 September): The Estonia ferry from Tallinn to Stockholm sinks during a storm in the Baltic; 852 passengers and crew die in Europe’s worst peacetime maritime disaster since the Titanic in 1912.

1994 (14 November): The first scheduled Eurostar train departs from London Waterloo through the Channel Tunnel to Paris at 8.23am. The journey is scheduled to take around three hours, and the lowest return fare is £95. The tunnel cost £4.65bn to build, almost double the original estimate.

The Eurostar has come a long way since launching in 1994

1995 (10 November): The first easyJet flight takes off from Luton to Glasgow, priced £29.

1995 (14 December): The signing of the Dayton Agreement ends the Bosnian War in the former Yugoslavia. In 1990, Yugoslavia had been the UK’s second-most popular package-holiday destination after Spain. But the Foreign Office put Yugoslavia on the “no-go“ list in June 1991.

1996 (4 February): Britain’s first privatised train is the 5.10am from Twickenham to London Waterloo.

1996 (22 October): Microsoft launches an internet travel operation selling plane tickets and hotel rooms, with the brand-name Expedia.

1996 (23 November): An Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 flying from Addis Ababa to Nairobi is hijacked by three men who demand it flies to Australia. The aircraft runs out of fuel just short of the Comoros Islands, and 125 people die in the crash-landing.

1997: Three guidebooks to Antarctica are published, plus one each to Mars and the Moon.

1997 (18 October): The Guggenheim Bilbao opens, and puts the industrial Spanish Basque city on the tourism map.

1997 (14 November): Terrorists attack tourists and guides at an archaeological site on the east bank of the Nile at Luxor. Sixty-two people die in the massacre.

1998 (January): Competition between ferry firms across the Channel becomes so intense that, in a newspaper promotion, Hoverspeed starts paying drivers £1 to take a day trip from Dover to Calais – hoping to make money back on the sale of duty-free alcohol and tobacco.

1998 (15 February): The Angel of the North, a giant winged structure south of Newcastle, becomes a landmark for travellers on the East Coast main line and A1 road.

1998 (3 September): All 229 passengers and crew aboard Swissair flight 111 from New York to Geneva perish when the plane crashes at Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. The cause is believed to be a fire in the MD11’s cockpit caused by faulty wiring.

Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel opened 20 years ago (Getty/iStock)

1999 (1 July): Duty-free benefits are abolished for journeys within the European Union. Predictions by the trade that 140,000 jobs would be lost later proved unfounded.

1999 (5 October): A high-speed train collides with a commuter service at Ladbroke Grove, just outside Paddington station in London, killing 31 people.

1999 (December): The Burj Al Arab hotel opens on an artificial island in Dubai.


2000 (3 January): KLM turns its British subsidiary, KLM UK (formerly Air UK), into a no-frills airline called Buzz. During its brief 39-month existence, the carrier loses £20 for every passenger flown.

2000 (9 March): The British Airways London Eye, more commonly known as the Millennium Wheel, opens to the public 10 weeks later than planned.

2000 (25 July): An Air France Concorde from Paris to New York crashes shortly after take-off from Charles de Gaulle airport, killing all 109 people onboard and four more on the ground.

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2000 (1 October): The last cross-Channel hovercraft flies between Dover and Calais.

2001 (11 September): Hijackers belonging to al-Qaeda take over four domestic flights in the US and crash them in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania, with the loss of almost 3,000 lives.

2002 (1 January): Euro coins and notes enter circulation in 12 EU countries.

The London Eye opened in March 2000

2002 (12 October): Suicide bombers kill 202 people, mainly foreign tourists, in the resort of Kuta on the island of Bali. A further 20 people died in a subsequent attack on the Indonesia island in 2005.

2003 (12 February): The first Jet2 flight takes off from Leeds Bradford, destination Amsterdam. The airline’s tour operation has since grown to become Britain’s second-largest holiday company after Tui, displacing Thomas Cook.

2003 (1 May): In the European Union’s biggest-ever enlargement, 10 new nations join. They include the three Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – that were formerly part of the USSR.

2003 (4 August): Megabus is launched between London and Oxford. Initial services use London double-decker buses.

Concorde gave up the ghost in October 2003

2003 (24 October): The last flight of Concorde, from New York JFK to Heathrow, ending a project that cost taxpayers billions and mainly benefited the super-rich.

2003 (December): The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam closes for a refurbishment planned to last three years. It reopens 10 years later.

2004 (26 December): The “Boxing Day tsunami”, whose epicentre was off the coast of Sumatra, kills an estimated 228,000 people. The victims include up to 9,000 tourists, mainly in Sri Lanka and Thailand.

2005 (9 October): Smoking is completely outlawed on UK trains when London-to-Scotland sleeper services ban the habit.

The Rijksmuseum reopened in April 2013 after a decade of closure

2005 (18 October): Eos, a business-class only transatlantic airline, starts flying between New York and Stansted. It is soon competing to New York against MAXjet from Stansted and Silverjet from Luton. MAXjet is first to go bust, on Christmas Eve 2007; all three had closed down by May 2008.

2005 (November): Flybe announces plans to become the first airline to start charging for checked baggage. The initial charge is £2. Fares are reduced, says the airline, by £1.

2006 (July): The city of Bath’s Millennium Project, Thermae Bath Spa, opens five years late and three times over budget.

2006 (10 August): The “liquid bomb plot” is uncovered. Terrorists planned to smuggle explosive substances on board transatlantic planes in soft-drink cans. An immediate ban on any liquids sees even ballpoint pens confiscated from passengers. The strict new rules brought Heathrow and other airports almost to a standstill, with British Airways alone cancelling over 1,500 flights. The rules on “liquids, aerosols and gels” were eased three months later.

2007 (February): Thomas Cook and MyTravel (formerly Airtours) announce they are to merge. One month later, Britain’s other two big tour operators – Thomson and First Choice – follow suit. The latter company is now known as Tui, with First Choice as its all-inclusive brand.

2007 (19 March): The final edition of the Holiday programme is broadcast on BBC1. It had launched on 2 January 1969 as “A series of programmes to help you choose your next holiday”, with the focus on low-price packages to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. The last report is a river trip down the Mekong in Laos.

2007 (25 October): The Airbus A380 ”SuperJumbo” enters service between Singapore and Sydney. The aircraft used for the historic first flight is currently being dismantled for parts in southwest France.

2008 (11 August): An accommodation website called is founded in San Francisco. Nine months later, the site is relaunched as Airbnb.

2008 (12 September): XL Airways closes, blaming the economic downturn and volatile fuel prices. Around 80,000 passengers are stranded out of position.

Uber started life in the Noughties

2008 (11 November): The QE2 begins her final voyage from Southampton to Dubai, where she was due to become a floating hotel. The conversion took a decade.

2008 (21 November): Oasis of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship in history, is launched. The Royal Caribbean vessel can carry more than 6,000 passengers.

2009 (March): A company called UberCab is founded in San Francisco. In June 2009, the Uber app is launched.

2009 (12 December): The Orient Express train, which by this time is running only between Strasbourg and Budapest, is abolished. The Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, a luxury train, continues.

2009 (14 December): British Airways cabin crew call a 12-day strike over Christmas and New Year, after a 9-1 vote in favour of industrial action in a dispute over proposed changes to working conditions. But the High Court orders the Unite union to cancel the strike because of voting irregularities.

2009 (18 December): During extreme wintry weather, five Eurostar trains break down in the Channel Tunnel with more than 2,000 people onboard.


2010 (15 April): The skies of northern Europe are closed because of an erupting Icelandic volcano. A ban on flying over Britain lasts for nearly a week.

2011 (May): The BA cabin-crew dispute ends with an agreement for the creation of a new “mixed fleet” of cabin crew.

2012 (31 March): Titanic Belfast opens, interpreting the social history of Northern Ireland around the narrative of the doomed ocean liner. It has exceeded all forecasts for visitor numbers.

The Titanic Belfast Museum (Rex)

2012 (August): During the London Olympics, 18 per cent of hotel rooms in the capital are empty – twice the usual vacancies in August.

2013 (16 January): All 50 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft are grounded following a series of fires involving lithium-ion batteries. The ban is lifted after three months.

2014 (8 March): A Malaysian Airline Boeing 777 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappears with 239 passengers and crew on board. Flight MH370 is believed to be in the Indian Ocean west of Australia, but the cause of its loss is unknown. Four months later, another Malaysian 777, flight MH17, is shot down over eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives.

2015 (24 March): Andreas Lubitz, co-pilot of Germanwings flight 9525 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf, kills himself and the other 149 people onboard by crashing his plane into the French Alps.

The reconstructed wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17

2015 (25 April): A massive earthquake kills 8,000 people in Nepal, and devastates much of the tourist industry.

2015 (1 May): Eurostar launches direct trains from London to Marseille, connecting the Thames with the Mediterranean in six hours.

2015 (26 June): At the Tunisian resort of Sousse, a gunman kills 38 victims, including 30 British tourists.

2015 (31 October): a Metrojet Airbus A321 crashes shortly after take-off from Sharm el Sheikh, destination St Petersburg, killing all 224 passengers and crew. The cause is suspected to be a bomb placed onboard at the airport. The UK ban on British airlines from flying to the Egyptian resort is still in place.

A guide to the Qantas Perth flight - The longest nonstop scheduled passenger flight ever from a UK airport

2016 (January): Zika virus, a mosquito-borne disease linked to birth defects in babies, spreads quickly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

2017 (2 October): Monarch Airlines collapses, owing creditors half a billion pounds. The Civil Aviation Authority organises an airlift for 85,000 people, at an eventual cost to the taxpayer of £40.5m.

2018 (25 March): Qantas flight 10 operates the first nonstop passenger flight from the UK to Australia, linking Heathrow with Perth in 17 hours.

2018 (19 December): Gatwick airport’s runway closes after a drone is spotted. The closure lasts for 33 hours, cancelling the pre-Christmas flights of 150,000 passengers.

Virgin Galactic is set to take flight (AFP/Getty )

2019 (10 March): Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi crashes soon after take-off, killing all 157 onboard. It is the second fatal accident involving a Boeing 737 Max in five months. Three days later, the US Federal Aviation Administration becomes the last safety authority to ground the plane.

2019 (21 April): On Easter Sunday, terrorists kill more than 250 people in Sri Lanka. The suicide bombers target churches and luxury hotels. Shortly afterwards, the Foreign Office warns against all but essential travel to the island.

2019 (10 May): Sir Richard Branson announced that Virgin Galactic is moving in to Spaceport America – the world’s first, purpose-built commercial spaceport, signalling “the final countdown to a regular commercial spaceflight service for paying passengers”.

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