Air travel

Trains, planes and wheelchairs: why is this still a route to disaster?

Whenever I take a train journey, I am filled with dread. Despite always booking assistance, I am terrified there won’t be someone at my destination with a ramp to help me and my powered wheelchair on to the platform. Many a time has my travel companion – or a complete stranger – had to straddle the train and the platform to stop the train doors closing with me stuck inside. I have frequently arrived at my destination late and stressed, left with the impression that my time doesn’t matter. What on earth could I be late for – surely nothing important? So I have read with horror, but not surprise,

There is nothing speedy about speedy boarding

When my black passport arrived in the post, I decided to take a trip. I’m not a good flier, so the absence of foreign travel for three years had to be making my fear of flying potentially insurmountable. A one and a half hour flight to Cork felt manageable. The builder boyfriend had already been over to have a look at this farm we’ve had our eye on. Incidentally, I know this passport is meant to be dark blue, but it’s not, it’s black. And to make it more alarming, the picture of me inside it is bright orange. I had slapped cheap make-up on my face and was wearing

Piloting a Boeing Dreamliner can be less than dreamy

Mark Vanhoenacker dreams of my nightmares. Ever since he was a young boy, he fantasised about piloting airplanes. Ever since I was a young boy, well, let’s just say I’ve preferred to take the train. Of course I know that, statistically, flying is safe; but that knowledge doesn’t stop the unnerving sense that at some point the laws of physics will reimpose themselves and we’ll be punished for our former miracles. And let’s be honest, if God had wanted us to fly, would he really have invented airline food? Vanhoenacker has no such worries – which is handy, since he’s fulfilled his dream and now pilots Boeing 787 Dreamliners round

When flying was fun

On the BOAC VC10 flights to Nairobi, the pilots would invite children like me up to sit in the cockpit with them. Once they put me behind the controls and I was very nervous about making a wrong move that could throw us into a tailspin. I had a BOAC badge and a Junior Jet Club book, which the captain kindly signed for me on each voyage. Attractive stewardesses served breakfast, lunch and supper with metal cutlery, the seats were huge with loads of legroom for tall men and the adults puffed away on cigarettes. The cabin was ultra-quiet because the four big Rolls-Royce engines were in the tail, rather

Not just a trolley dolly: the demanding life of an air hostess

Come Fly the World is not the book I thought I was getting. The slightly (surely deliberately) pulpy cover — a glamazonian stewardess, her mirrored cat-eye sunglasses reflecting a runway — promised a Mad Men-era history of silver service and highballs at 30,000 feet, glamour, frocks and sexual shenanigans. Admittedly, deprived of the quixotic delights of a Ryanair snack pack shared with a fractious toddler on a delayed 5 a.m. flight to Alicante at the moment, I ignored the subtitle: ‘The Women of Pan Am at War and Peace.’ That sets the tone more accurately. This is a fairly serious-minded social and geopolitical history of Pan Am, 1966-1975, which takes

We may be locked down but Gstaad’s nightlife is going strong

Gstaad Chekhovian boredom ruled supreme, but the loss of my luggage brought instant relief. Anger beats boredom by a mile, especially when mixed with paranoia about a plot against the rich. Let me explain: On Monday 21 December, I left the Bagel, destination Switzerland, checking in at the first-class counter of Suisse, as the national airline of Helvetia is now called. I was informed by the friendly Afro-Caribbean lady who checked me in that I would be travelling alone up front. Delighted by the news, I assumed that was the reason she attached no luggage stubs to my boarding pass. She had made me wait for quite a while for

How to seduce a Border Force officer

There was only a handful of us arriving at Bristol on flight 6114 from Nice. Oscar and I had the leisure to choose which of the four available UK Border Force officers we most liked the look of. None of them were your usual bruisers. One was a careworn, perhaps broken old man and during the brief wait in the taped corridor we speculated on the nature of the tragedy that had brought him here to this. My speculative theory was that he had impulsively married an unpresentable woman, who had turned out to be an incurable alcoholic who beat him. Oscar’s was that he had been discharged from prison

Would this Marseille-bound flight be the death of me?

‘There’s no need to wipe down your tray table,’ screeched Heidi, chief steward of the ‘amazing team you have looking after you today’. ‘Because for your safety today,’ she went on, ‘the aircraft is deep-cleaned between flights by specialists.’ Which brought to mind the chain gang of depressed women that one sometimes sees filing aboard during a stopover to gather rubbish and flick a duster around. I wondered whether they had been inspired or lashed into devoting their lowly paid attention and energies to the tray-table catch, for instance, or to the overhead ventilation nozzle or to the locker handles. Just as, earlier, I had also wondered how many hundreds

Will retail giants outsmart the online sales tax?

When I worked in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur long ago, my office looked across Jalan Tun Razak, a boulevard named in honour of the country’s second prime minister and ‘father of development’. This week his son Najib Razak, its sixth prime minister (2009-2018), was convicted of charges relating to the disappearance of $4.5 billion from a sovereign wealth fund called 1MDB which he once controlled. More trials await, but 1MDB may go down not only as the world’s biggest corruption scandal but also the most vulgar — proceeds that might have helped Malaysia’s poor having been frittered on private jets, penthouses, parties in Las Vegas and the financing

Letters: What cycle helmets can tell us about face masks

Masking the truth Sir: Matthew Parris is right to laud the importance of embracing the scientific method (‘Why should opinion matter more than science?’, 25 July) to determine the efficacy of face masks. However, his proposed experiment contains a significant oversight — the human factor. That is, how the very wearing of a mask (or a conscious decision not to) may itself result in behaviours that alter transmission risk. Multiple studies into the benefit of wearing a bicycle helmet provide a useful reference. Those forced to wear one by law may do so incorrectly simply to avoid a penalty. Meanwhile they may also indulge in ‘risk compensation’ — more dangerous

Toby Young

How to get into a club and on to a plane

Disaster struck the Young family last Friday. My 12-year-old son Charlie woke up with a temperature. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t matter, but we were in the Dolomites and due to fly back to England from Venice later that day. On the flight out, we’d all had our temperature checked with an infrared thermometer pointed at our foreheads, and there was a similar policy in place at Marco Polo airport for our return journey. Would Charlie’s fever mean none of us would be allowed to board the plane? And would we be interned in some ghastly Travelodge for 14 days? The responsible thing would have been to remain in Italy until Charlie