Weird things that bring down planes

House_mouse-1Anyone remember the first episode of The West Wing where a cabin crew member tells Toby Ziegler to turn off his mobile phone. The president’s aid says: ‘Are you telling me something I bought for $10 at RadioShack can really bring down a plane?’

Now while I’ve always believed that mobiles affecting a jet’s navigation systems to be a little far fetched, it actually became reality yesterday when a passenger dropped a mobile phone down a vent on a Newcastle bound Jet2 plane. The plane had to be dismantled until the phone was found…. not apparently because it was a phone in a vent, but because the phone was switched on, of course.

Meanwhile a packed jet heading for Heathrow from the US had to be grounded as a mouse was seen on board. The Delta Airways flight from JFK stayed on the ground at the behest of the pilot until the rodent was found on Sunday. No, it didn’t have its mobile phone switched on but there were apparent fears the mouse could chew through vital cables.

Remember when air travel was glamorous?

Candy girls
Candy girls

So Panorama vs Ryanair turned out to be somewhat a damp squib and you can’t help wonder what all the preceding fuss was about. (Although the correspondence between the two at makes some interesting reading and I like the new verb ‘to Ryanise’).

But it did make me think how much the travel industry has changed since I took my first flight as a seven-year-old in 1975.

We were on a Singapore Airlines flight bound for Athens. The plane was an old 747 and it was in the days when the bubble still retained an air of mystery rather than being farmed out to increase revenue from premium economy passengers.

The air hostesses and stewards – long before they were PCed into ‘cabin crew’ – looked smart, chic and were ever attendant, to the point where it took almost two decades of flying and a free upgrade to stop me from citing Singapore as my favourite airline.

There’s a wonderful post on the blog with a host of pictures from travel’s glory years, when the female crew looked like glamour models (and spent an inordinate amount of time standing on the wings) and pilots looked like action heroes. The above pic is one of them, the rest can be found here.

The most expensive no-frills flight ever?

Interesting talk just now at the Abta Travel Convention in Barcelona by a chap called Mark Hudson of Price Waterhouse Cooper.

The gist was people’s purchasing habits have changed over the course of the recession and some companies are having to adopt the low-cost airline model of stripping out some non-essential services and charging extra for them. He also said that people would still shop at the higher end of the market if they thought the luxury element was worth it.

Both would seem to be in direct contrast to my flight out here to Barcelona yesterday with Iberia, which has to be the most expensive no frills flight  in the world.

I have to say I was pleased with the welcome onboard the Iberia plane: ‘Turn that phone OFF’ was one of the first instructions barked to me by one member of crew; the second came a while after take off when the seat belts sign went off. I was in the row just behind Business Class and it seemed a relatively easy solution to use the loo at the front of the plane. ‘Go to the back’ shouted the dragon who was serving the upper class customers.

Even better was the food and drink trolley that came round. My ‘jamon’ sandwich had no cheese or salad (as shown on the picture on the menu card) and, on inspection, no butter either; the beer was warm and, if you ever needed proof that packing is the same while portions get smaller, the 10 crisps in my mini carton of Pringles would bear great witness. The sum paid for this princely meal? €11 and I didn’t even get to try out David Whitley’s RyanAir exchange rate scam (see here) as they would not accept a £20 note.

Now the Spanish Tourist Board (links and info below) paid for all the journalist’s flights to Abta and I am grateful to them for doing so… Because the price of this sub-Ryanair treatment was an absolutely extortionate £790.70!

Hudson said that people have purchasing zones which range: bargain, value, indifference (price makes no difference), switching (people change suppliers)  and insult (people get pissed off). If I’d paid for the flight, I’d be well in the last zone.

SPANISH TOURIST OFFICE, PO Box 4009, London , W1A 6NB, Tel: 020 7486 8077

24 Hour information and brochure request line: 08459 400 180,

Everyone secretly loves Michael

American Airlines announced earlier this week that they are to charge passengers and extra $10 on airfares, because they are flying on certain dates and, well because they can. And yesterday, the US’s other three carriers, United, Delta and Northwest, followed suit.

The extra charge will be applicable on November 29 and January 2, 3 – or the post Thanksgiving and New Year key travel periods. And you don’t need to be Einstein to work out that with millions of people travelling to see family on those dates and flying being the normal method of transport thanks to some of the huge distances in the States, the big four are going to make another killing.

Here in the UK, we’ve had British Airways and Virgin announce they will soon start charging people up to £40 for extra suitcases above the usual allowance, while BA will next month be fleecing us for an extra £10 in order to pre-allocate where we’ll sit on the plane.

The latter practice is now so rife among airlines flying from the UK that flight comparison website has published a summary table of charges of what you have to pay in order to sit where you want when flying. It makes interesting reading and is here if you want a look click here.

The thing that annoys is that airlines are just finding increasing ways to squeeze revenue from sources that were normally rolled into the price of a flight a decade ago. So why can’t decent airlines just offer a flat fare (even if a little higher) and stop us having to do all this mucking about when booking?

The answer, of course, is the Ryanair affect with boss Michael O’Leary long leading the way on the extra charges front. Where Ryanair has been successful is in squeezing every last penny from passengers. And when one company proves they can do it and get away with it, others will follow (as was the case in the US earlier this week).

The biggest cheer at the TTG Awards on Tuesday came not for any of the winners but when guest host Austin Healey said: ‘We have a lot in common, you and I. I hate Ryanair too.’

O’Leary has become the bogeyman of the travel industry – a role I suspect he quite enjoys – but the same people who hiss and boo at the mention of his name are the same people who adopt his methods as soon as it suits. And underneath they are either glad that he’s there to lead the way, or secretly wish they had his guts when it comes to introducing the next extra charge. In truth, everyone secretly loves Michael

This should keep me busy for the day

I’m quite enjoying – and no, they aren’t paying me to say that – Cheapflights’ new game, Travel Pursuit, that’s just been released.

There are three levels to play and the more points you get, the higher up a leader board you can go. You can also avoid tricky questions or play 50:50.

Some of the questions are incredibly simple to get you going (‘Where is the Leaning Tower of Pisa) but as the game goes on, it gets harder, especially the interactive questions where you have to plot where a plane is flying around the globe.

My main concern is that travel geeks keen to show how much they know (and that includes me!) might spend most of the day playing the game and prizes on offer are pretty standard (a Mac Book Air, a couple of Wiis and five iPods).

You can play the game by clicking the image below but turn the sound down unless you want to annoy colleagues with the looped Cafe Del Mar style tunes.