In-flight magazines are experiencing a surge in popularity. For the past five days, every airborne almanac from Aer Lin-gus's Cara to FlyBe's Un-m covered has been pored over by dispossessed travellers with no reading material besides the emergency evacuation instructions and the sick-bag. The most widely read is High Life, British Airways' glossy mag.
Several hours into a laptop-and paperback-free journey, the average passenger will probably reach page 97 and the Pilot of the Month feature (the airline equivalent of Playmate of the Month, only a little less racy). August's captain-with-cachet is David Norris- Warton. "Do you enjoy being based at Gatwick?" he is asked. "Yes, it is a lovely airport to fly from, with few delays."
Passengers whose flights from the Sussex airport were very late or cancelled in the past five days have not been amused. From this morning, the pilot will step out of the limelight' B A passengers are now allowed to take through the central search area this copy of The Independent or any other publication of their choosing.
But, since the discovery of an alleged terrorist plot to attack aircraft flying from Britain to the US, and the extraordinary events that followed, travellers are rapidly reassessing their priorities.
Our leading airports have resembled refugee camps rather than gateways to the world. For thousands of weekenders, a short hop to an alluring European city became a long battle with overstretched infrastructure and misinformed personnel. Crossing the Atlantic can take longer than Alcock and Brown achieved in 1919, by the time Homeland Security and a stray mobile phone have disrupted the journey.
"Is your journey really necessary?" is now planted in the mind of every traveller who previously flew on a whim, a wing and a prayer. Where and how we travel 10 years from now is sure to be shaped by the impact of the meltdown at Heathrow airport.
For a decade, many of us have concluded that the future will be orange, in the shape of jasyJet and its emulators. The no-frills revolution in the skies, which began at Luton airport on a bleak November day in 1995, has transformed our perceptions of Europe - and, starting this summer, North Africa and western Asia, now both on the low-cost map. With easy Jet, Ryanair and newly competitive BA urging us to take everything for the weekend in the cabin, we've grown used to a flying start.
No longer. Between 31 July and this morning, B A passengers have ex-perienced no fewer than five different cabin-baggage regimes. From today, the future of the average "suitcase-on-wheels", designed to be rolled on board, looks bleak. The dimensions of the single piece of baggage allowed through central search have been fixed at less than half the volume of the internationally agreed maximum, and the average wheelie-bag busts the Department for Transport's limits.
Given the absurd inconsistencies that previously prevailed, the "one-piece, no compromise on dimensions" policy must surely continue for a decade. And, as anything from cosmetics to toothpaste is outlawed, you had better get re-acquainted with that baggage carousel - or contemplate alternatives to fast and furious travel, now that it is no longer fast, merely furious.
Promiscuous weekending has become the norm because the rising number of "time rich, cash poor" travellers has coincided with a rapid expansion of airline networks to embrace places-you-never- knew-you-wanted-to-go.
No matter that you got ripped off in Reykjavik or rained on in Rzeszow - next Friday you could look forward to wheeling your suitcase in another hotel hall in a city whose name you can't pronounce and is probably nowhere near the airport anyway.
Not any more. Air travel has become, by an order of magnitude, less comfortable and predictable One positive result could be that the average flyer's sense of value returns. …