Published on November 24, 2007
Question is, while you're busy saving the planet, is that really Natasha? And, schmuck that you are, you've revealed your true identity. James Bond, a supple six footer with rippling abs and a mansion in Switzerland. Anyone could steal your personal profile now. The Internet is a mysterious, shadowy place, yet we invest it with something approaching divinity. If it's posted online, it must be true. Why? The Net can be misleading, malicious and malign just as it can be sensible, salubrious and sublime. It is, at best, a motley potpourri of random information and narcissistic blogs.
Anyone online will have come across a "wiki". Wiki - meaning "quick" in Hawaiian - is a do-it-yourself collaboration where anyone can post an entry or edit a previous work. Its most well known manifestation is the popular Wikipedia claiming more than seven million articles in 200 languages. The power of this knowledge platform is evidenced by instances of students who have used the Wikipedia as their sole reference tool, and failed their examinations. Their facts were wrong. They should have used the Oxford Dictionary, the Encyclopaedia Britannica or called Natasha.
Travellers often make the same mistake.
"Hello Natasha darling?"
"No, you clod, this is your mother on the other phone. Come for dinner before I box your ears."
Remember to dial 70-81 for Smolensk.
A study by the European Commission has concluded that around 200 European airline websites they surveyed were, frankly, "misleading". Among the listed misdemeanours were the failure of airlines to list taxes and hidden charges, compulsory insurance charges, and the fact that several so-called "free" flights were not really free at all.
Austria emerged with its squeaky clean reputation entirely intact, while Belgium stood out, a Continental sore thumb, with 46 of 48 Belgian websites, "breaking consumer guidelines". Ryanair is frequently in the thick of fare snafus, while EasyJet, another low-cost airline, offers tickets as dear as full-service carriers as seats fill up. It's cheaper at times to buy a normal Apex fare from a regular airline albeit with restrictions like advance purchase and a minimum seven-day stay.
Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways stands out as a plucky exception, and not just among Asian carriers, in its clear posting of fuel charges on its homepage. In mid-November 2007 it showed fuel charges set at US$54.90 (Bt1,850) for most flights, with exceptions clearly set down.
Singapore Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, United and Thai Airways do not list surcharges online.
Yet, hidden charges can amount to a fair sum. Forewarned, travellers may not pick the reddest apples. There are airport taxes, an in-flight insurance surcharge (now added to tickets) and, as in Britain, a rather steep security tax (also now included on the ticket).
Britain levies differing airport taxes depending on whether you are flying business class or economy. That's right - tax the rich.
On AirAsia, the region's leading low-cost airline, you will need to cough up an "Xpress Boarding Fee" (around Bt200 in Thailand) for the privilege of scrambling onboard first to grab the best spot. AirAsia does not allocate seats. Onboard it's survival of the fittest and fastest.
JetStar allocates seats, but both carriers are subject to the same fuel, airport and departure surcharges weighing down other airlines. An AirAsia online ticket Kuala Lumpur-Macau return is listed, with some understatement, at around RM550 (Bt5,160). This jumps to RM826 upon completion of the purchase formalities, a 50 per cent increase. Still, all things considered, it is an attractive price.
Some fare calculations.
A Hong Kong-Singapore roundtrip on business or economy on Cathay or SIA, for example, will attract a fuel surcharge over and above the travel agency quoted fare, of $26.60. In sharp contrast, a Hong Kong-Dubai ticket will cost an extra $109.70. And an "M Class" fare - one of the myriad special fares available - on Thai Airways, Hong Kong-Delhi return, with connections in Bangkok, will require a whopping $122.30 extra.
Surcharges are not the airlines' fault. They are simply responding to regulatory trends. It would be far simpler though to quote ticket prices inclusive of all extras.
Which brings us back to the gorgeous Natasha.
"So you're a 25-year-old blonde?"
"No, tell me, honestly."
"Well, to tell the truth, I'm 25 and blonde, but living in Siberia without heating means I now look 65 and my hair's white."
Is nothing sacred?
Vijay Verghese is an editor of Smart Travel Asia - an online travel magazine. Visit http://www.smarttravelasia.com