Thursday, 27 August 2015

Ten things I hate about air travel

Whenever I'm getting close to departure on a long flight my thoughts turn to the many frustrations of air travel. Some, such as the hassle at security and the invariable kicking of heels in terminals, are unavoidable. Other's aren't - or ought not to be. Here are ten of my recurring gripes:

Those persistent airport updates that blame delays on the late arrival of the incoming aircraft. Why can’t they tell us the reason, whether it’s air traffic congestion, bad weather, a technical fault or some other problem? It wouldn’t get you away any more quickly but it might soothe our irritation a little and make us a bit more sympathetic if the problem is out of their hands.

Rip off rates at airport currency exchanges. The cost of changing money is already an unfair burden on leisure travellers – without penalising them for leaving it until just before departure.

Being asked for my boarding pass in airport shops - particularly for something costing peanuts such a bottle of mineral water or a snack - and that was before I learned the VAT discount I was supposed to get was going straight on to the retailer's bottom line.

Cabin staff who announce that you are about to arrive into your destination. It’s an abominable abuse of language and, sadly, its use is spreading like Japanese knotweed.

People who carry on ludicrous amounts of cabin baggage - in defiance of the maximum dimensions set by airlines.

Passengers who ram their seats back, especially on short flights, with no regard for the person behind. How I cheered when the traveller opposite me, who had falling victim to a particularly aggressive recline assault, shoved the woman in front’s seat upright again twice – first when she went to the lavatory, then when she leant forward to get something out of her bag. Long legged sympathisers – please copy.

Parents who don’t stop their kids kicking your seat back.

Passengers who hog the in flight lavatories. The toilets should not be used for shaving or applying make up.

Travellers who insist on moving as far as possible towards the exit while they wait for the doors to open – making it difficult to get your carry on bags out of the overhead bin.

And - probably worst of all - people who crowd close to the baggage carousel forcing you to squeeze between them when you luggage arrives before theirs.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Wild mushrooms: learn to identify what's edible

Alert for fellow fungus fanciers: the Forestry Commission is organising an outing to learn about wild mushrooms in Alice Holt Forest, just south west of Farnham in Hampshire, on October 20. It runs from 10am - midday and costs £9 per adult. Booking is essential as spaces are limited - and no dogs are allowed.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Indian city breaks launched as E-visa cuts travel costs

Gujarat (courtesy
Tempted by the thought of a winter trip to India? The cost of travel there has fallen following the country's decision to launch of new e-visas. The price of US$60 - or about £40 - is more than than 50% less than than of the paper version. It's valid for citizens of the UK, US, and over 30 other countries. You need to apply at least four days before departure - and once you've been approved you can depart at any time in the following 30 days. Applications can be made at The move has prompted tour operator Western & Oriental to launch four night short breaks in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad at prices from £749, £849 and £999 per person respectively, based on two sharing.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Antwerp: the perfect city break

Antwerp's Central Station

Antwerp may not leap instantly to mind as a short break destination - but there are few more rewarding choices. Go for the lovely old city centre and the paintings of its favourite son, Peter Paul Rubens. Go for the excellent museums, the huge choice of restaurants and pubs and – of course – the frites and the beer. And go by train. 

Taking advantage of a deal from Eurostar allowing travel to any station in Belgium we started at St Pancras International and switched smoothly to Belgian Railways at Brussels Midi/Zuid (note that Eurostar does not run to Brussels Central). It took maybe 6hrs from home to the hotel lobby against a realistic 4hrs if we had flown from London City Airport but that extra 2hrs was spent relaxing, reading, watching the countryside flash past and – as we were travelling in Standard Premier – enjoying continental breakfast at our seats in both directions. You could take a tram from Antwerp's breathtaking central station but a taxi to our hotel, the Rubens-Grote Market - a short step from the cathedral - cost around €10Eurostar has just launched a range of new fare deals, including travel to any Belgian station for £35 in Standard class or £87 in Standard Premier. Tickets will be on sale from August 27 until September 8 and will be valid for travel between September 25 and April 25 next year. A word of advice: Eurostar’s website says you may travel on any service except those by high speed Thalys or ICE (Inter City Express) trains. You may be confused by the designation of Belgian trains as IC.  Don’t let this fox you. Tickets to Antwerp or any other Belgian destinations are valid on those trains.

Airlines extend delay payouts

Two UK budget airlines have agreed to compensate passengers for delays caused by ordinary technical faults, says the Civil Aviation Authority. Jet2 and Wizz Air are no longer limiting payouts to flights disrupted by unforeseen problems. The Authority announced in March that it would take action against them. It was concerned they were not compensating customers for hold ups caused by routine technical problems despite an earlier Court of Appeal decision that they should. The authority said Jet2 had also addressed another issue, by no longer refusing to process claims more than two years old - in defiance of another Court of Appeal ruling. The airline is now processing claims dating back six years. But, said the Authority's chief executive Andrew Haines, "Hungarian airline, Wizz Air, has refused to remove its two-year limit on claims, and the CAA has now referred this matter to the Hungarian Authority for Consumer Protection (HACP), which is the local regulator best placed to take forward this enforcement action." The HACP had greed to take up the case. “We are determined to stand up for passengers and will continue to review how airlines are treating, and responding to, their customers in practice. “Furthermore, while we recognise not every claim for compensation will be eligible, we are keen to hear from people who feel they have not been treated fairly and where we believe airlines are not complying with the law, we will pursue all available enforcement options.”

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Car rental warning - don't risk damage charges

Car hire remains one of the weakest links in the travel chain. It should come as little surprise that more than one in four travellers (28%) in a new survey claimed to have spotted damage that wasn’t recorded on the sheet handed them at check out. Six per cent said that after they retuned their vehicles they had been wrongly accused of causing damage. These statistics serve as a sharp reminder to inspect the vehicle meticulously before driving it away – mentioning the tiniest mark or dent if it's not shown on the sheet and even looking at the wheels and tyres. It would be only a slight exaggeration to suggest using a magnifying glass. The survey reminded me of an experience at Calgary Airport when I was informed that the four wheel drive vehicle I had booked well in advance – at significant expense – was not available. I was visiting five different ski resorts quick succession and a conventional front wheel drive just wouldn’t have cut it. Cue controlled rant. I believe I told the employee at the desk they would get me one if they had top go out and steal it. He then said there was a 4x4 I could take – but it hadn’t been cleaned. With bad grace, I gave in. When I returned the vehicle they pointed to some tiny pockmarks on the windscreen – for which I might be charged. The damage hadn’t been there when I drove the vehicle away, they claimed. But the windscreen had been so dirty I could hardly have checked, Foolish, maybe, but I had just flown in from London, was tired, and had a long drive to my hotel. I refused to sign anything – and nothing came of it but was left fuming. More recently I found on checking my credit card that a rental firm in Sicily and docked the full excess of £750 for a couple of tiny scratches you would have rubbed out with T-Cut on your own car. Call me an old cynic but I don’t believe they would have bothered to send the car to a body shop, waiting instead for some other unfortunate customer to return it with more minor damage – and upping their rake off to £1500. The survey I mentioned above was commissioned from YouGov by, which covers drivers against the often heavy excess fees charged by rental firms. Since the Sicilian trip I’ve used Insurance4carehire, though I’ve not yet needed to make a claim.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

BA clamps down on excessive hand luggage

British Airways has responded to an increase in the amount of baggage economy passengers are taking on board by imposing a new limit. The size of the main carry on bag allowed is unchanged at 56x45x25cms, anything else will soon have to be no bigger than the average handbag or laptop at a maximum 40x30x15cms*. Provided it doesn’t exceed those dimensions, it will qualify for a yellow tag that will guarantee it can be carried on boar. If cabin bags exceed the limits travellers will be asked to check them into the hold. 

*On flights to Brazil - exceptionally - it's 45x36x20cms.

For more news visit