It goes without saying that commercial aircraft cabins are as acceptably clean as most other forms of public transport. However, the main infectious risk lies in over-used toilet and personal hygiene facilities that are well trafficked at the close of meal services and for that refreshing wipe-down before landing. There is no opportunity at these peak periods for staff to clean contaminated toilet seats and one is prone to stepping on dirty, wet floors. Pants around the ankles need to be hitched higher to avoid absorbing unsavoury contents lapping the floor. Don't even get me started on the potential spread of germs inherent to breathing recycled refiltered air during long-haul flights. With these issues in mind, the odd problem with coffee or food stains on tray tables pales in comparison.
Catherine Burrows (Traveller Letters, March 7-8) says the filthiest toilets she encountered on a south-east Asia tour were in Sydney Airport. I am not surprised. Melbourne Airport toilets have greeted passengers with a characteristic reek for decades. An especially offensive miasma saturates the first toilet en route to the international arrivals hall. Presumably the management and staff enjoy private toilets, avoid their public loos, or are inured to the stench.
We have travelled to Europe many times with Singapore Airlines with no problems, but this year's booking experience has left us very angry. I wonder if other travellers have had similar experiences. At the end of January we booked a return ticket to Istanbul departing Sydney in early June, paying $1822 per person. In past years we have paid a similar fare to Europe which included a two-hour stopover in Singapore. When we booked this year, it was only available with an eight-hour stopover. We booked it begrudgingly. I recently checked the price to see if our advance purchase fare had increased. Surprise, surprise, you can book a return Sydney/Istanbul fare with a two-hour stop-over for only $100 more per person. I rang Singapore airlines to ask if we could pay the extra $100 per person to transfer to the later departure from Sydney to cut our stop-over from eight hours to two hours. We could, but they advised it would cost $700-plus per person! I pointed out that if we made the booking afresh today it would only cost $100 per person more and that they had been earning interest on our early fare since January. No luck. What is the point of paying an advance-purchase fare?
PUTIN YOUR MONEY DOWN
Apparently plenty of readers see no problem holidaying in Putin's Russia. Remember that while your tourism dollars were bolstering the Russian economy, Russians were committing mass murder in Ukraine and rendering well over a million Ukrainians refugees, 12 of them my relatives. You may not have been there to visit the dictator or the military, but your money sure helped them out.
WEST ON TEST
I recently flew from Sydney to Perth with Jetstar and returned with Virgin. On Jetstar, there was no entertainment system – you had to pay $12 to hire an ipad. There was no meal service. You had to pay for food and drinks and the only "meal" options were pies or toasted sandwiches. By contrast on Virgin, meal, drinks and entertainment were complementary and the Virgin plane was much smarter. The staff on both airlines were equally good, but overall Virgin won hands down. Come on Jetstar, get your act together and stop playing the Qantas' poor cousin card. On a 4.5-hour flight, complementary food, drinks and entertainment should be a no-brainer.
CAUGHT IN THE WEB
We recently booked flights to Adelaide and back with Webjet. Once the booking went through, we were directed to Tripview, which was very confusing to use. We got to Adelaide without any problems, but coming back, Tripview informed us we were flying with Virgin. Unfortunately, Virgin had no record of our booking. Mae at Virgin was extremely helpful and professional, and in the end we booked two more tickets through her, and arrived home late and tired. Webjet do not accept any responsibility and have refused to refund the cost of our extra tickets (total $403). Next time I will not trust Tripview, I will use a pen and paper to take notes of flight times and reference numbers. And I won't book through Webjet.
CUBAN VISA CRISIS
With regard to Lesley Heffernan's comment about visas for Cuba (Traveller Letters, March 14-15), it's true that flights from Canada provide a tourist visa for Cuba, but that's only from Canada. I usually fly via Mexico and buy my visa at the airport, for about $20, compared to buying it in Australia for $110. However, I was nearly caught out at Santiago airport once. I was informed that Lan Chile provided Cuban visas, but as I was about to board my flight to Cuba and asked for them to sell me a visa, they told me they don't have visas, and wouldn't let me board without one. After considerable argument and arriving at the stage where they were about to remove my luggage from the aircraft, one of the Lan Chile counter staff came rushing up with a blank visa which she had found at the Copa Airline counter next to the Lan counter, and sold it to me for $40. One would think the staff there would know that, but it nearly cost me my flight and delays. I travel regularly to Cuba and now just buy an extra visa every time I'm in Mexico, and use the last one I bought, so I always have a spare visa in my pocket in case of unexpected stuff-ups.
I strongly disagree with Lesley Hefferman's comments about not pre-arranging a visa for Cuba. On our flight from Lima in Peru to Cuba, four passengers were refused boarding because they did not have visas for Cuba. What the Canadian Airlines do as part of their service is their business, but most Australians and Europeans would not enter Cuba via Toronto. After spending thousands of dollars on a trip around the world, a major complication as a result of not having a visa is simply not worth the risk. The Cuban Consulate in Canberra is small but efficient; there is no difference in obtaining a visa for Cuba as there is for China, for example.
Unless things have changed dramatically since 2012, not all flights into Cuba offer the necessary travel documents while on route. We flew from Cancun to Havana, and were able to purchase our visa at Cancun airport for $25, considerably less than what we would have had to pay in Australia. The documents certainly weren't offered by the cabin crew of Hahn-Air. I believe that Cuba and Canada have a close relationship that would seem to entitle those flying from Canada special treatment.
LETTER OF THE WEEK
Just reading the name "Trollstigen" (the "troll's road", Traveller March 14-15) makes me break out in a cold sweat. Absolutely stunning, but we were caught on the bends going up, when a long vehicle coming in the opposite direction couldn't make it around an S bend. In heavy traffic, he couldn't reverse because of vehicles backed up right behind him and we were perched on the edge of a precipice for more thanan hour, (thinking at any moment the road would collapse,) while the mess was sorted out. When we finally arrived at the top, our guide gave us not one, but two generous shots of fire water to steady our trembling knees.