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Flying for Free... Well... Almost!
Member Name: ickkate
Date: 05/08/02, updated on 05/08/02 (12614 review reads)
Advantages: Savings of up to 75% on flights flying with reputable firms!
Disadvantages: You need to be clued up, or things might go wrong.
Recently I took a holiday to Japan and Thailand. You may be as shocked as I was to discover that a return flight to Japan costs between £700 and £900 at that particular time of year. I needed to find an alternative, and by surfing the net I came across a website describing air couriering and the enormous savings to be made. Once I had registered, at the cost of £32 for a year's membership, with the International Association of Air Travel Couriers (IAATC), I was able to buy a flight to Japan and one back from Thailand for £250!
My flight between Japan and Thailand was not covered by any air courier flight, and this is one of the disadvantages of flying as a courier. I also had to fly into Tokyo's Narita Airport rather than Osaka's Kansai, which would have been more convenient for me. (In this case, I am quite glad that I did, because I was able to travel by Shinkansen - the bullet train - to my destination, and that was an experience not to be missed!)
I booked around a month in advance, but it is possible to make larger savings by booking later. Although, you do have to realise that this increases your chances of disappointment. (I was flying in April/May - o
bviously flights at peak times will fill up earlier and be more expensive.)
So, what does your £32 entitle you to, and what is the process you go through?
In order to get access the 'Member Pages' (website address below) you need to click in the top left-hand corner on the American IAATC website, on the words 'Member Only-Login'. When requested, you type in your username and password - these are given to you in your introductory pack, which you receive around two weeks after joining. (It is sent from the USA, which is why it takes so long.) This will then give you a list of airlines, their phone numbers and the locations they fly to. You then contact the airline direct and arrange your flights through them. They will give you your instructions, and a contract will be sent to you (including your instructions in writing) which you will need to send back to them promptly. Your tickets will then arrive shortly before you depart or you will receive them when you arrive at the airport.
It may also be possible to arrange your flights directly through the airline without membership of the IAATC. When I arranged my flight they did not require my IAATC membership number. What the IAATC does give you, is an up-to-date list of airlines involved in the scheme, and email notification of short notice flights. (Which can also be found on the 'Members Only' pages.)
This all sounds great doesn't it. Well, unfortunately it didn't work quite as simply for me, but I was only using one particular airline, so I can't possibly comment on the service offered by other companies.
After having arranged my flight with the British Airways Travel Shop a month in advance, I expected to receive my contract fairly promptly. Having waited patiently for two weeks I rang up to enquire where this was. I was told that it would be sent out within the next couple of days. My only thought is that this may have b
een because they often arrange flights at short notice, and may have wanted to send out all of the contracts for a particular date on the same day - it would have been nice to have been notified though. Around a week before I flew I received the contract, I sent this back, and was under the impression that I would receive my tickets when I presented this at the South West Atrium of Heathrow, where I was to collect my package.
On the day of the flight I received a phonecall from my parents (whose address I use as my permanent address.) They had received a letter for me clearly marked with the BA Travel Shop stamp - on opening it they found my tickets! Luckily my parents were coming to London on that day anyway, and were able to give me my tickets - otherwise, I don't know what I would have done. Receiving tickets on the day of your flight is a little risky, especially when the postal service is not always particularly reliable!
In order to ensure that you will be there to collect the documents the airline asks you to ring up before you leave for the airport. At this point they should tell you where to deliver your package on entering your destination. They did not. Admittedly I should have checked, but I thought I would be able to ask someone later.
They also request that you arrive at the airport two and a half hours before the flight. This did seem a little strange, as after having problems with the tubes, I arrived two hours early and was told that I needed to be there three-quarters of an hour before the flight to collect it. (Contact is made with the BA via a white phone, not a person, which meant I was still unaware where to deposit the package.) The documents were then quickly given to me by someone who asked me my flight number, gave me the packet, and ran off before I had a chance to ask any useful questions.
From then on the flight was like any other. On entering Japan I went through passport control.
You actually hand the documents over as you are cleared through customs. In fact, in my case, someone was looking out for me so that we could make the handover quickly.
Thailand was in many ways much simpler. I hadn't been given any instructions about phoning before leaving, and checked on my arrival in Thailand that this was not necessary. Instead all I needed to do was arrive, and make clear I was a courier. On arriving at the departure gate I was given the documents which I deposited at the South West Atrium in Heathrow (using that same white phone before running off.)
So, what could be some of the concerns that you might have over flying as an air courier? Well, the most obvious concern is could you be unknowingly carrying drugs or any other illegal substance - and what would happen if this was the case? In most countries you do not carry the package through customs. In the UK, you do, but are not responsible for the contents of the package, only for its safe deposit. The other question I had, was whether it would reduce my luggage allowance. As you are carrying the documents as part of your hand luggage, you do not have to worry about the weight of your main bag.
Essentially my feeling is that you need to be more organised than the air courier companies. You need to make sure that you have all of the information you need, and not just what they remember to give you. It would also be useful to check what the arrangement is over receipt of tickets, as this did not appear to be the same as the advice given on the UK website. Otherwise, it is a great way of saving an enormous amount of money on flights, and regardless of the hiccups, I will be using it again!
Destinations from the London (Heathrow or Gatwick):
Antigua, Bangkok, Boston, Buenos Airies, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Mauritius Islands, Miami, Newark, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, St. Lu
cia, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington DC.
Warning: Companies will keep track of how you perform as an air courier. Any unreliability will be kept track of.
IAATC UK website: www.aircourier.co.uk (answers other questions and gives information on other destinations.)
IAATC UK contact: Dave Sands (email: email@example.com) (Tel: 0800 0746 481)
Useful to contact if you are not sure whether or not becoming an air courier is for you - he is friendly and very willing to discuss this with you.
IAATC USA website: www.courier.org
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