Expert Simon Calder answers six of your urgent travel questions

Readers have most recently been asking about plans for zero carbon aviation, the high price of Eurostar trains – and budget options for Barbados

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 10 September 2022 19:30 BST
Tempting sight: the south coast of Barbados
Tempting sight: the south coast of Barbados (Simon Calder)

Zero tolerance?

Q: According to, the UK government’s “JetZero” policy could result in aviation CO2 emissions being higher in 2050 than they were in 1990. The government’s aviation strategy takes a firm stance against policies that could reduce demand for flights or airport expansion and instead looks to new technologies to reduce emissions. My question is that, if the new technologies fail to deliver emission cuts, should there be measures to limit aviation demand? And what could these be?

Brian in Brum

A: Let us start with the reality that the environmental ambitions of the previous government, such as they were, are likely to be – to put it politely – scaled back by Liz Truss’s administration. In a very short inaugural address to the nation, the new prime minister mentioned building new roads twice; not a word about railways.

Given that she believes in the generous use of UK government jets (as demonstrated by her flight to Australia and back earlier this year), I would be surprised if the “jet zero” target moves any closer in terms of actual measures designed to bring carbon neutrality to aviation.

There are, of course, a range of mitigations that any government can put in place: in particular applying high taxes to journeys that are particularly harmful (eg ultra long-haul) or easily substitutable by terrestrial transport (eg Edinburgh and Glasgow to London). But instead the current plan is to halve Air Passenger Duty on all domestic flights from April next year, encouraging a switch from rail to air.

Taxation remains the most effective way to limit demand for flying. My expert colleague, Helen Coffey, author of Zero Altitude: How I Learned to Fly Less and Travel More, says: “Rather than caps or quotas, there are a couple of things that make more sense in my opinion: a frequent flyer levy, which increases with each flight an individual takes within a year. That way, those who fly the least aren’t penalised, and modelling shows that those who fly the most would naturally reduce the number of flights they get if they were taxed incrementally more each time.

“Aviation should also be properly taxed, particularly on kerosene (aviation fuel) which is currently untaxed – this would naturally then lead to higher air fares, which in turn would naturally lead to people taking fewer flights.

“Research suggests market forces are a better way to organically reduce the number of flights people take than telling them they can only take so many per year (because humans hate being told what to do!).”

I agree about increased taxation, but I have reservations about how effective a frequent-flyer levy would be. How would it be calibrated? Would an extremely carbon-heavy first-class return to Australia count the same as a budget hop to Alicante and back?

What about people faced with a high frequent flyer levy rationally (from their point of view) taking a train to Brussels, Amsterdam or Paris, or a ferry to Dublin, to make their onward long-haul journey? This subject will no doubt come up at our next online travel event: do sign up now.

Tunnel vision

Q: Why do you think Eurostar prices are so expensive? I understand they have dynamic pricing but trying to get one of their low-cost tickets is near-impossible. Any tips?

Paul Byrne

A: Passenger loads are very high on Eurostar from London through the Channel Tunnel to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. The company is determined to keep fares healthy (from its point of view) in order to rebuild its finances are the disaster of Covid.

As a near-monopoly supplier, it can behave in that way, rationally. Competition on the Channel Tunnel routes between London and Continental Europe is desperately needed. Meanwhile, £39 one-way fares do crop up from time to time, so make sure you are signed up to Eurostar’s marketing mailing list.

West coast wondering

Q: Planning a trip from London to Manchester in October, if Avanti West Coast trains aren’t running properly by then which alternative route would you recommend?


A: Regardless of the problems facing Avanti West Coast – with just one-third of the normal trains between Manchester and the capital due to staff shortage – if I am not pressed for time, I always use a slower, cheaper option: a combination of London Northwestern Railway from London Euston to Crewe and either Transport for Wales or Northern from there to Manchester. It takes about 60-90 minutes and requires a change, but saves a fortune as well as being rather more reliable at present.

Cruise control

Q: Do you know why MSC cruises are making UK citizens take a pre-embarkation covid test but not US citizens for the same cruise to the Bahamas from Miami for four nights? Do you think it’s fair that fellow travellers are treated differently?

Tracey B

A: I haven’t asked the company, but I agree it looks odd. I can only imagine that it is based on the company’s perception of risk from different parts of the world – or perhaps something as flimsy as the the thought that UK visitors have spent longer on planes getting there, and therefore are more likely inadvertently to have contracted Covid-19?

As I wrote in my Deck Talk column in The Independent, the continuing uncertainties involved with cruising jars with the serenity that the operators seek to deliver. Those of us fortunate to have lives allowing plenty of flexibility may be happy to accept the risk involved in the array of small probabilities. But many will wait until the world as a whole, and the travel industry in particular, agrees global rules on travel with an endemic virus like Covid-19.

In response to the article, someone wrote: “We sat at home in July with our suitcases packed waiting for our Covid tests to come through before heading to the airport. So stressful and none of us slept for three nights before the test. Not sure my nerves would take that stress again.”

Love island

Q: I’m off to Barbados for our 30th wedding anniverary next August. Planning on room only/self catering. Any particularly nice areas? Need affordable shops/restaurants nearby.

Chris Stacey

A: Congratulations on your 30th anniversary, and how lovely that you have a special trip planned. To be honest, Barbados in August would be far from my first choice: it’s the height of the hurricane season; you could choose from a thousand nearer, cheaper and equally delightful locations; and budget travel to Barbados is tricky at any time of the year. But conversely you can see August on the island as a positive, with no crowds: cruise ships are busy in Europe and return to the Caribbean only with the arrival of the dry season in late November/early December.

The south coast of the island, around St Lawrence Gap between the capital Bridgetown and the airport, is the area to aim for. I like staying at the friendly and good-value Crystal Waters guest house. In terms of eating and drinking: Bridgetown (accessible by cheap, frequent local buses) is the best place to pick up supplies for picnics, etc. In the evenings, the fish-frying shacks at nearby Oistins are excellent value. For a special night out try the well-regarded Pisces restaurant in St Lawrence Gap.

Remember the Barbadian currency is locked to America’s at B$2 = US$1), so costs are likely to be challenging. The pounds has lost 15 per cent of its value against the US dollar so far this year, and many economists say it has further to go.

Voucher vexation

Q: My airline is only offering refunds to people who had covid affected flights between March and November of 2020. I booked a flight in December 2020 and was unable to go due to restrictions so was offered a voucher as the only alternative. Now due to the cost of living crisis it’s unlikely I’ll be able to afford to travel at all but the airline says I have to use my voucher before September 2023, with no option for a refund. Can they really just take my money?

Georgie B

A: If your flight was scheduled to depart internationally from early January to May 2021, when all overseas non-essential travel was banned, then you can enlist the view of the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA).

The organisation tackles head-on contracts that were “frustrated” – ie, through no fault of the supplier or the buyer, something happened after the contract was entered into which means it can no longer be performed.

In your case, of course, you were not legally allowed to go to an airport, let alone fly abroad. Consumers “will generally be entitled to obtain a refund” if “lockdown laws in the UK or abroad have made it illegal to receive or use the goods or services”.

Armed with this advice, you can go back the airline and ask for a refund. But be warned that the CMA also says this is not a “definitive interpretation of the law” and a test case will need to run its course before the matter is settled. You might choose to be that legal guinea pig.

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