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COLIN CAMPBELL: Bargain flight deal reminded of travel pleasures of past

By Colin Campbell

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Colin Campbell talks about flight prices soaring
Colin Campbell talks about flight prices soaring

A retired friend of mine scanned the map for a spring holiday destination, and after due consideration liked the look of Cape Verde, not a place that very readily comes to mind.

It’s a group of islands off the coast of Africa far out in the Atlantic, with long hours of sunshine, glorious sandy beaches, and relaxed and colourful surroundings. These features alone marked it out as being an “E” type holiday – exotic, and expensive to get to.

Rather than trying to book online he prefers to use a travel agent, so he went to an Inverness travel shop, and emerged with a return flight deal to this distant hotspot for just £377. It didn’t fully sink in until later how much of a bargain that was. It’s a six-and-a-half-hour flight across continents from Glasgow. Furthermore, they arranged a visa for him, which costs £35, and allocated a seat of his choice, which also costs extra, included in the price. He’d bought this exotic islands flight for not much more than the cost of some return rail journeys to London these days.

In this stroke of good fortune we speculated that booking just two weeks in advance may have been a factor. Airlines hate, above all else, flying with empty seats. Not many people are likely to make a late decision to travel to Cape Verde, or will go there for an emergency business meeting. Maybe with a handful of seats left it was decided to give them away at low prices, fill the plane and get ready for take off.

Ryanair and easyJet may still offer a few cut-price deals here and there but after the tough times of Covid these seem few and far between. And prices for long-haul destinations have soared.

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My pal landed very lucky but for a host of reasons air travel is not the cheap and easy and quite enjoyable experience it once was. Now the word frequently attached to it is “nightmare”.

I flew return to New York with Laker Airways in 1976 from Heathrow for £56. Freddie Laker was the original cut-price entrepreneur of the skies, and a hero of his time, although his airline sadly perished after two or three years. In 1984, I went to Thailand on a return with Bangladesh Airlines for £139. Given the stress and tension of air travel nowadays, the appeal of travelling on flights via Dacca operated by such an impoverished country must now be very limited.

But air travel was not viewed back then as a daunting challenge to be overcome. It was an adventure and it was fun.

Booking was straightforward and easy. You didn’t have to study every detail of a ticket for a raft of hidden “extras” added on. There weren’t any. When you got to the airport there was no tension in the terminal. No armed police. No long security queues. Maybe a cursory pat-down but no more than that. And you didn’t have to scrutinise every detail of airline rules to find out if you could carry a tube of toothpaste or an aerosol spray in your luggage.

Booze flowed freely and was dished out by stewardesses on request. But in all the flights I took, there wasn’t one “incident” where a passenger got out of control. That may seem unlikely given what happens today. But I attribute it to the genuinely cheerful and upbeat atmosphere on board a plane back then, rather than the fraught mood of stressed passengers liable to be over-indulging now.

My friend’s bargain-basement deal to Cape Verde was a partial throwback to the old days, as far as the price goes at least. He’s out there now. Whether or not his journey to the remote mid-Atlantic turned out to be an enjoyable experience or yet another air travel “nightmare” laden with frustration and delay, I’ll no doubt discover on his suntanned return.

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