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Avoid the scramble for a mere £10? I don't think so

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 08, 2012

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Low-cost air travel may feel like a relentless series of slaps on the face, but it's cheap. So you can't complain. Those are the rules.

Knees around your shoulders, a portly gentleman to your right and £2.50 for a can of pop. It's hell in the skies. But what have you paid? £25? £10? Just the taxes? Pop into Tesco for a pint of milk and you'll come away having spent more. It's the bargain basement bonanza, the balm to ease the pain.

You could fly with another airline. One that treats you like it's the 1950s, the decade when only Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor were allowed on planes. But you're not made of money. And you've got two children to get to somewhere hot, because that would make a nice change from staring out from a rain-lashed car towards an empty, forlorn beach. Eating cheese and tomato sandwiches that have curled up slightly at the end.

So you've booked months in advance, opted to fly at a time when only the milkman has stirred, and made a pact not to buy anything – not a thing – from the trolley wallahs. The sacrifice has been made – what I think airlines call "choice" – so you fully deserve the bargain.

Except there's one final indignity. No seat. Well, there are seats. One airline did flirt with the idea of selling people tickets to stand. But it was a marketing wheeze that no aviation authority would have sanctioned. I assume. The point is there's no guarantee you'll all be able to sit together. Not a crisis, but not ideal. Some families might like the separation, I suppose. Though from the moment you arrive at the airport the evolutionary tendencies will kick in. Only the strongest survive. Check in. Get to gate. Pounce.

Yes, cut-price air travel is many things. Many things, but not glamorous. No screaming fans when you leave the plane via the airport apron (that was The Beatles). No reclining chair-turned-bed with cashmere blanket (that was the BA advert in the 80s). No endless flutes of champagne (Elizabeth Taylor again).

At this stage it is traditional to write an ode to rail travel. To evoke the romance of the age of steam, praise the high engineering of electric engines and Pendolino carriages, and wax lyrical about the majesty of the peeling countryside. But, no, I'm not going to do that. Mainly because I was on a train last weekend and I didn't like it. More specifically, I didn't like the toilet. Or, more specifically still, the lock on the door. I should explain.

To lock the door on this particular train you needed to follow six instructions. Six. My friend took a picture. A lock should need no instructions, it being one of the most simple, universally understood inventions man has ever created. But this was electronically operated.

The door involved pushing a button so it swept and closed with a Star Trek-like "swoosh". Once closed, you had to push the button again to make sure it locked. The door was secure once the yellow light went on. Ablutions complete, the instruction was to press the button again to unlock the door (yellow light goes out) and once more to open it. There is worrying potential for embarrassment throughout. I genuinely believe it would be easier to land the Curiosity rover on Mars.

Let's not dwell on the questionable wireless internet, the barely edible food and the loud, feather boa-sporting hen weekend. The lock hit new levels of idiocy, a symbol of disbelief that leads you to wonder if anyone is in charge. David Cameron wants to send high-speed trains thundering between London and Birmingham, eyeing the future of rail travel and economic growth. Passengers, meanwhile, just want their private moments to remain that way. Mercifully, the landscapes between London and Edinburgh have the charm to soothe the beast in me.

Perhaps we've reached a line in the sand. A turning point where travel is – whisper it – made enjoyable. easyJet, pioneer of the everyman for themselves seating arrangements, has changed its tune. On the back of strong polling, the firm is looking to introduce allocated seating to a limited number of passengers willing to pay an average £10. Will it herald the end of the sharp-elbowed scramble that is the hallmark of boarding gates across the land? Probably not, because it's more expensive. But we can change the world. One lock at a time.

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