Budget airlines sell millions of tickets despite the miserable customer experience they inflict. They succeed because they provide cheap and frequent travel to places we want to go to - and even to places we didn't know we wanted to go to until they started landing there. Many a town with ambition to reinvent itself as a tourist destination has extended its runway to accommodate the airbuses.
With our journey to Nice imminent, I thought it best to check the travel documents - you can't be too careful when flying Squeezyjet in case an unwitting infringement of the rules makes you liable for a penalty payment exceeding the original cost of the flight. Sure enough, when it came to the cabin baggage, I found that the overall dimensions specified (including wheels and handles) were slightly less than those of the cases specially bought for our last flight. It was necessary to go out and buy even more bags to add to our collection and, at this time of year with the shops being well stocked with luggage, I anticipated no difficulty. But there was too much choice and when I eventually came across cabin cases labelled "approved by all airlines" I discovered they were actually five centimetres longer than Squeezyjet's specification. I begin to suspect that the airlines have shareholdings in luggage manufacturers.
I remember when suitcases didn't have wheels (porters were plentiful then) but now even the tiniest, lightest ones are fitted with them. It occurred to me that a better option might be a couple of rucksacks since they don't have protruding wheels and they can be expanded or contracted truly to suit all airlines. Rucksack design has come a long way since the canvas and buckled leather originals seen strapped on the backs of ruddy-cheeked youths hiking across the unspoilt English countryside of the 1950s. Now there are nifty designs for specific uses: going to school, commuting with a lap-top, cycling, running etc., so eventually I found one suitable for my purpose. Nevertheless, despite the ingenuity of the design, I wished nostalgically for a simple, old-fashioned duffel bag. It would have suited my purpose admirably.
I stashed the fancy new rucksacks inside the too-big cabin cases and dug out the tatty old hiking rucksacks: we were off to the Lake District for a walk. The forecast was for fair weather and it's been a while since we did anything strenuous so we set our sights on England's fourth highest peak, Skiddaw. The good thing about Skiddaw - on a clear day - is that no map-reading skill is required: the path is well-trodden and visible ahead for most of the way. The bad thing about Skiddaw - regardless of the weather - is that the descent is relentlessly steep and treacherous. Walking poles can alleviate the pressure on leg muscles but since we had left them at home we suffered the consequence - sore thighs for the following three days.
The day after summiting we made our way to the coast for a spot of R&R. We visited Whitehaven, once an important port where ships loaded the locally mined coal. Evidence of the wealth generated by that commercial enterprise is to be found by looking up at the older, grander buildings. But, with eyes at street level, it is hard to see beyond the impoverishment of the contemporary inhabitants and their failing infrastructure. Some money has been found to prettify the harbour and re-fit it as a marina, to fund a museum and to lay acres of fancy block paving but, on that sunny Sunday morning, the only establishments open were a local newsagent, the Costa coffee shop and the monster Wetherspoons pub. Most of the berths at the marina were vacant.
If they are serious about reinventing their town as a tourist destination, maybe they should start talking to Squeezyjet.
And here, for your amusement, is Fascinating Aida singing about budget airlines.