What The Independent's travel correspondent Simon Calder has learnt this year

At the end of another extraordinary year on Planet Travel, our travel correspondent reveals some of his discoveries

Simon Calder
Thursday 27 December 2018 16:45
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Simon Calder reviews air travel in 2018

Airports can be closed by some top-end toys

In August, a screening team at Berlin Schönefeld Airport, one of the six busiest in Germany, mistook an Ann Summers vibrator for a hand grenade and ordered an evacuation of part of the terminal.

In December, though, it was an external rather than internal threat that robbed 150,000 passengers of their pre-Christmas flights at Gatwick: rogue drones closed the world’s busiest runway.

Yet a few days later the Sussex airport was valued at almost £6bn by Vinci, when the infrastructure giant took a majority stake in Gatwick. Expect swift expansion in order to justify the valuation of a single-runway airport at more than the GDP of several top destinations combined: St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada and the Seychelles.

Eurostar is serious about the half-hour check-in deadline

The cut-off before the departure of a train through the Channel Tunnel is just 10 minutes for Business Premier passengers, 30 minutes for everyone else. After chancing my luck more than once and concluding that 20 minutes is probably OK, when a delayed Belgian rail train delivered me to the check-in desk at Brussels Midi station only 16 minutes before departure, I was confident I would be able to travel. But even though premium passengers were still being waved on, those of us in the cheap seats had no such luck. So I ended up on the following train – which, ironically, I had spent £134 to try to avoid, with a late-notice switch to the earlier departure.

It is possible to get a free drink on Ryanair

All you need to do is be booked on a departure from Liverpool to Dublin immediately after the Grand National at Aintree, and hope that the airline’s boss, Michael O’Leary, has another winner and decides to repeat his 2018 gesture after he won half a million on the steeplechase. Buying everyone on board a drink (except the crew) is believed to have cost him £900.

Some cruise agents are shockingly bad at explaining Chinese red tape

Many cruises begin or end in Shanghai. To avoid the kerfuffle and high cost (£150+) of a Chinese visa, most cruise passengers can qualify for the marvellous 144-hour visa-free transit permit. The rules are easily stated: the traveller must arrive to the city direct from country A and leave direct to country B by midnight on day six after arriving in Shanghai. It doesn’t matter whether transport is by land or sea, and Hong Kong counts as outside the People’s Republic for the purposes of the permit.

Yet I have lost count of the number of travellers who have contacted me to say their agents insist a visa is necessary when all the available evidence shows it is not. I imagine the offending cruise firms may sharpen up if a few customers who have squandered time and money unnecessarily challenge them under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

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Some people adore airports

The sale of the contents of Heathrow Terminal 1 in April was staggeringly lucrative for the airport (and auctioneers). A sign for the ladies’ loo made £1,000 (£50 more than the gents’ sign) and even a modern airport recycling bin sold for £700.

Aviation remains an extraordinarily safe form of transport

Tragically, several hundred people lost their lives in civil aircraft crashes in 2018. But the safety record of aviation remains remarkably good, especially when compared with road travel. According to the Dutch safety consultancy, To70, the five-year average is approximately one fatal accident for every 30 million flights.

In terms of the number of passengers flown without a fatal accident, Ryanair is the safest airline in the world, followed by easyJet.

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