Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson on: flying

Go on, ask me whether to buy one of the new Peugeot 406s or a Rover 600 diesel and I'll surprise you with my answer.

I haven't driven either of them. And nor, I'm ashamed to say, have I tried a Daewoo Espero, a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Nissan Almera or a Hyundai Lantra. Wanna know about the Seat Cordoba? I'm not your man.

So it's a toss up between the Toyota RAV4 and a Vauxhall Tigra. Well I've seen lots but, to date, neither has been to Telly Towers for evaluation.

But ask me whether to fly to the USA on Virgin or Delta, and I'll be in like a shot. Ask me how a smoker can get to Australia without eating their own seat and I'll have a starter for ten.

In the last two years I've been so busy making 12 Motorworld programmes that I've rather lost touch with what's what in cardom.

But at 30,000 feet, I'm on Mastermind with no passes. Did you know, for instance, that if a fresh air fanatic sits in a smoking row on an American airline, that row, under Federal law, becomes no smoking?

And I have worked out why Australia failed to beat us in the Rugby world cup. They're all wimps. I know this because under state law, baggage handlers are not permitted to accept any suitcase which weighs more than 32 kilos. And though you may know how to change the plugs on an '83 Citroen CX, I know how to smoke on a Cathay Pacific 747.

It's not terribly dignified but what you do is bury your head in the lavatory, keeping your knee on the vacuum flush button. That way, the smoke is sucked into the bowl and away from the infernal detectors.

This is important stuff. Well, as vital as knowing how to turn the wiper off in an Audi Coupe, and even the road testers on this magazine can't do that.

"Without exception, US carriers are brash and their stewardesses need Zimmer frames"

As far as quality is concerned, British Airways is simply head, shoulders, torso and thighs above the competition. No matter where you are, when you step on a BA jet it feels like you're home already.

If I can liken airlines to car companies, BA has the efficiency and reliability of Mercedes Benz with the quiet dignity of Bentley. The far Eastern carriers used to have things sewn up with their devastating stewardesses and tasty titbits. But today MAS - the Malaysian outfit - is the only one worth writing home about.

If you need to get to the far east, and BA is full, go via Dubai and use Emirates. I can't say that I care very much for the tan and red uniforms, or the decor but they have TV screens for everyone; even in the back, with the cattle.

If you're going the other way, to America, the first thing you must do is ignore any US carrier. Without exception, they are brash and their stewardesses need Zimmer frames.

South Western, from Texas, have a remarkable ticketing system which makes most airports look like bus stations, but when you get on board and are served a cup of warm brown water by a woman in specs the size of a Triumph Herald, you know they're doing it all wrong. However, even Americans are better than the third world. In Vietnam, the pilot made a number of attempts to hit the runway in Hue, finally opting to land his jet near it instead.

In Cuba they fly planes that would be rejected by Fred Flintstone. One had no windows, and filled with smoke 15 minutes after take-off. Another had windows but was flown by a fully paid-up member of EXIT. He knew his engines were on their last legs but, even so, he flew right into the biggest thunderstorm I've ever seen. We went in at 2,000 feet and came out through some bushes.

However, while Cuba may be the FSO Polonez of airlines, it is not the worst. The Nissan Sunny award for hopelessness goes to... Qantas.

They are incapable of getting a plane off the ground on time. The staff are ruder than French waiters and the food is inedible. Even the appropriately named CAAC - China's airline - which shows 12-hour animated kung fu films through loudspeakers, has them licked.

I'm sorry if you think you've been reading Top Landing Gear this month. However, fear not. Judging by my drive, which is now full of cars, and by my diary, which shows no trips abroad ever again, normal service will be resumed shortly.


Jeremy Clarkson, Column

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