Mole Factor winner, Mike Stones, introduces himself and then wonders whether Michael O'Leary's latest publicity-seeking quote might come back to haunt him...
"They could not get Simon Calder â€“ he was busy editing the travel section of the Independent, writing pieces for umpteen other publications, simultaneously pontificating on several radio/TV programmes and undertaking a couple of fam trips. Is he really only one, or has he been cloned?
Instead, you have me as the new Travelmole fortnightly columnist (or at least, until the ratings drop or the travel muse jumps ship).
My name is Mike Stones, I am the wrong side of 50, and I am part Victor Meldrew, part Basil Fawlty â€“ the Grumpy Old Man of travel.
In my chequered career I have sold unit trusts to people who did not want them, served in the Army as a member of the â€œGreen Slimeâ€ (Google it if you really want to know!), been a Customs officer, a computer programmer and a college lecturer. I have spent, or misspent, the last quarter of a century in the retail travel industry.
In my latest and hopefully final incarnation, for five years I have been a home-based agent for Future Travel, the homeworking arm of The Co-operative Travel. Unlike other columnists, I will not be regaling you with a stream of witty anecdotes about the eccentric characters who visit my shop â€“ being telephone based, I am somewhat of a hermit. When my firm said I could grant extra discount to my 10 favourite friends/relatives, I had to dig deep even to reach the bottom of the form!. So, I will attempt to amuse, entertain, provoke and even annoy you with my views on our great industry.
Being a lazy writer, I was hoping to recycle the test piece I submitted when the â€œCompetition for a Columnistâ€ was announced â€“ but if a week is a long time in politics then a month is an eternity in the mouth of Ryanairâ€™s Michael Oâ€™Leary. I had composed a light satire on the debacle over the â€œturnstiles on toilet doorsâ€ but the editor suggested that this looked quite tame compared to the subsequent furore over the â€œpay by the passenger kiloâ€ suggestion.
Before any of you berate me for giving the oxygen of publicity to the Lord Vordemort of the aviation world, let me point out that the â€œRyanair fat taxâ€ snippet on Travelmole drew 50 comments from you all instead of the average response of 1 or 2.
Obviously, humiliating passengers onto the airport scales is not administratively feasible here in the real world. Nonetheless, it is a genuine issue â€“ there are thousands of complaints from individuals squashed by their horizontally-challenged neighbours, and when my seven stone wife is surcharged for having a few extra pairs of shoes in her bag, her logical sense of grievance is hard to dismiss. However, I will save a full debate on this for another issue because....
.... Oâ€™Leary has done it again! Swine flu will not affect people flying short-haul around Europe â€œit is a tragedy only for people living in slums in Asia or Mexicoâ€. Seasonal flu kills at least 1 sufferer in 300, and Ryanair flies over 4 million passengers a month. If there is any credence in the widespread belief that recycling cabin air to save aviation fuel causes viruses to spread, then this could be one tasteless and publicity-seeking quote that returns to bite him in the coming months."
Tuesday, May 5, 2009