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Should we scrap our holiday plans due to the rail strikes?

Q We are flying from Manchester to Guernsey, but are returning to Exeter airport with a train booked from Devon to Manchester on 18 August – one of the rail strike dates. We have to cancel our hotel a week before to avoid being charged. Our flights with Aurigny are non-refundable. So do we cut our losses and lose (a lot!) of money on the flights? Or go as planned, hope for the best and try and stagger home on the train a day later?

Elin 2011

A Rail strikes are falling thick and fast, with all three railway unions taking action over the next three weeks. Today and again on Saturday 13 August, train drivers belonging to Aslef who work for a wide range of train operators will walk out. The next action by the RMT union, largely representing other trades, will be on 18 and 20 August – augmented by members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association working for a number of train operators.

The key disruption on those later dates will arise from a walkout by Network Rail signallers who belong to the RMT. Yet you should still be able to get home. Your flight arrives at Exeter good and early at 8.30am. That gives you the whole day to do battle with the railways. No timetables have been published yet for 18 August. CrossCountry is unlikely to be running trains from Exeter via Bristol and Birmingham to Manchester, but I believe a journey between the southwest and the northwest will be feasible.

Great Western Railway is likely to run trains from Exeter to London Paddington between 7.30am and 6pm. There is no London Underground strike (that happens the following day) so you can smoothly travel from Paddington to Euston Square on the Circle line. Avanti West Coast is likely to be operating one or two trains an hour from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. The journey will be more cumbersome than you anticipated, but should still be manageable in seven hours or so.

Will your CrossCountry ticket be valid? It is not clear yet, but I believe staff on GWR and Avanti West Coast will accept it (you will probably have to pay the Underground fare across London).

Finally, you might want to explain the situation to Aurigny and see if there is any scope for moving you to the Guernsey-Southampton flight. If that were possible, you would save a great deal of hassle because there is a station right next to Southampton airport, with an hourly service to London Waterloo. Personally, I would pay £30 or £40 for the easier journey. Again, there is no clarity about accepting your rail ticket, so I suggest you simply explain the problem and solution.

Flying from Manchester to California via London is counterintuitive since it involves going 150 miles in the wrong direction


Q If I have a flight from Manchester to London Heathrow to Los Angeles and the Manchester-Heathrow part is cancelled, and the airline can’t find anything else suitable, can I insist they cancel the Manchester-Heathrow bit and insist on keeping the Heathrow-Los Angeles segment, finding my own way to Heathrow?

“Cheese Mason”

A It looks as though you are booked to fly from Manchester to London Heathrow to Los Angeles with a good connection, but fear that British Airways – which has grounded around 30,000 flights so far this summer – might cancel and not be able to offer a reasonable replacement.

In that hypothetical case you must not drop the Manchester-Heathrow segment without express agreement from BA, otherwise you risk being classed as a no-show and losing the whole itinerary. Your options rather depend on how you define “suitable”: for example, an earlier flight with a four-hour connection at London Heathrow, rather than a comfortable 90 minutes, is far from ideal.

If that is the situation, you will need to speak to someone at BA to discuss the other options open to you. Perhaps the airline could buy you a rail ticket from Manchester to London and onwards to Heathrow. If, however, there is no way of getting you on the same day from Manchester to LA using British Airways, then you can argue that the carrier must find you an alternative that allows you to travel on the original day.

The obvious choice would be Aer Lingus from Manchester via Dublin to Los Angeles (also allowing you to clear US Customs and Border Protection while at the Irish airport). The two-hour stop is convenient, and the overall journey is 14h 20m – probably quicker than going via Heathrow.

For future planning: flying from Manchester to California via London strikes me as counterintuitive since it involves flying 150 miles in the wrong direction and then flying back over Manchester on your Los Angeles departure. Going via Dublin adds only 35 miles to the direct path between Manchester and the Californian coast.

Flight risk: scenes of extreme stress have dogged transport hubs since the spring


Q I am flying from London Heathrow to Edinburgh in two weeks, with two toddlers. How early should I arrive at the airport?

Name supplied

A Never before has there been a summer with such airport anxiety. It’s entirely understandable that prospective travellers should be feeling apprehensive about the possibility of missing flights, after scenes of extreme stress at some UK airports over Easter – with passengers missing flights because they could not get to the gate on time.

Across in Amsterdam, long queues are so chronic that the Dutch airline KLM has a special protocol in force for passengers who fail to make it to the gate on time: “In the unfortunate event of missing your flight, you can choose to travel on another flight or cancel your trip and receive a travel voucher.”

London Heathrow is in much better shape. There are two obstacles between you and your flight: checking in baggage and the security search. (This situation applies equally to international departures from Heathrow and other UK airports, since unusually there is no passport check to go through. In most other locations, frontier formalities comprise a third hurdle.)

I flew out this week in the “first wave” of flights at 7am on Tuesday. I turned up at the departures level at Terminal 5 at 5.30am, carrying cabin baggage only; British Airways has a ridiculously generous 46kg hand luggage allowance, making it easy for people who can bring their belongings through security to swerve bag drop.

I recognise that with two toddlers, you will have quite enough on your hands without wrestling bags into the overhead lockers, and will probably want to check cases in. Even so, if you have an early flight I would arrive no earlier than two hours before departure. If you are due to leave later, from around 9.30am onwards, you need not allow more than 90 minutes.

Next time, though, consider the train: turning up at London King’s Cross five minutes before departure to Edinburgh is just fine.

Heading to the village of Azoia will find you at ‘the most westerly point on the European continent’

(Simon Calder)

Q We have eight days in Lisbon, our first time in the city. Do you have recommendations for some day trips?

Andy P

A The Portuguese capital makes an outstanding base for day trips – so good, in fact, that you may save some for your next visit to Lisbon. The easiest is the short hop by rail along the north shore of the Tagus out to the Atlantic at Estoril and Cascais. Estoril feels like a throwback to holiday glamour in the 1930s, while Cascais is chic but with a wild side.

From Cais do Sodre station at the southwest of Lisbon city centre, trains to Estoril take barely half an hour, a few minutes longer to Cascais. For some adventurous walking you can go one step beyond – to the western end of mainland Europe. Take bus 403 from Cascais bus station to the village of Azoia, and follow the road to the rocky cape, presided over by a lighthouse on the edge of a towering cliff – where a needle announces it is the “Ponto Mais Ocidental do Continente Europeu”.

A short way northwest of Lisbon, also with a good rail connection (from Rossio station), is Sintra – with a spectacular palace complex to explore. “A hilly version of Windsor,” my notes say.

If you are prepared to rent a car for a day, the obvious choice is the Setubal peninsula immediately south of the 25 April Bridge (Lisbon’s take on California’s Golden Gate). Beach and seafood at Caparica; a gorgeous corrugated coastline; the drama of Cabo Espichel, location for a vast, windswept monastery; and the city of Setubal itself, a relaxed fishing and ferry port with an atmospheric old quarter. The highlight: the old Camara Municipal (town hall) with a bar on the top floor overlooking the main square. Bliss.

One final option: Obidos, an hour north of Lisbon, a gorgeous walled city that has preserved its medieval soul despite all the visitors.

Via the latest Ask Me Anything at independent.co.uk/travel

Email your question to [email protected] or tweet @simoncalder

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