Some musings on 50 years of air travel
Flying back from Genoa the other day, I mused over the quarter bottle of Spanish wine offered to me by British Airways. It wasn’t a bad wine at all – I noticed that it had been sourced for BA by Bibendum, an independent wine merchant. Not that I have any problem with Bibendum, I have always admired them for the quality of wines that they handle and I am sure that BA have made a good choice here. It seems (perhaps someone can correct me if I am wrong) that they now have a monopoly on supplying wine for BA.
It’s a far cry from the days when BA employed Masters of Wine to make the selections for them and it caused me to muse further on how cabin service has developed over the years that I have been flying.
My first flight recollection was as a teenager, I flew on holiday to Copenhagen. Sitting next to the wing I noticed flames coming out of the turbo prop engine, but I was comforted by a nice hot meal on the flight. Right up until the nineties, I think, airlines prided themselves on getting a famous chef to devise meals on long haul flights – even in Economy. Wine flowed and the meal was always rounded off by the offering of liqueurs or Port to make these flights you could really enjoy instead of the platitude you get from the Purser stating that “we hope you enjoyed your fight with us” nowadays.
Also now, I have had some pretty disgusting food on a plane – seemingly grudgingly given out on long haul flights, usually a choice of chicken or beef (pasta if you are a vegetarian) all of which horribly overcooked. With some airlines you get a glass of wine and some not, all in all it sometimes seems that the cabin crew are doing you a favour! Some airlines are better than others, of course, and on balance I suppose British Airways is still my favourite airline. Certainly, their loyalty programme is one of the best around.
In the sixties, seventies and eighties, I had the occasion to fly from London to Inverness a couple of times each year. When I first flew, we always had a splendid cooked breakfast on the morning flight up – then it was changed to a cold breakfast and then, nothing at all! Another great flying recollection was flying my car from Lydd to Le Touquet for the princely sum of £21 return and getting some food and drink on the flight as well!
The advent of the budget airlines really started to change the scene. Long haul budget airlines soon found out that they could be undercut by large commercial and State owned airlines and Laker and the all business budget airline, Maxjet didn’t take long to finish up in money heaven. A pity – I flew both, and I thought they gave good value for money at the time. On the short haul side, Ryanair came in with a bang and I used them a lot at the beginning of the century, because they really were so much cheaper and you could put up with the discomfort, as the flights rarely lasted more than 2 hours. But of course, Ryanair found out that in order to survive they had to make lots and lots of hidden add-ons, which brought the price up to unacceptable levels for the comfort and experience provided, especially at check in. I haven’t used Ryanair for three or four years now, as the price difference doesn’t warrant the excruciating discomfort one has had to suffer.
So where does air travel take us now? Well, the big airlines have cut their margins to the bone, it seems. On my recent flight to Genoa, I noticed that the basic fare was £46, but taxes, fuel supplements etc., brought this up to £118. The big winners here have been the various governments imposing these stealth taxes and they will have no compunction in raising them so that in order to keep prices reasonable, the airlines may have to cut their margins even further. This will probably mean less food and drink on the plane (unless you pay for the poor value fare you will get in this respect), or some airlines will inevitably go out of business.