In my opinion, when it comes to painful experiences, attempting to book a holiday online ranks up there with being treated by a newly qualified dentist, or worse, shopping at Ikea. All the grand expectations I have before I start are soon eroded by hours of fruitless searching, and usually end with an ill-fitting compromise, a severe migraine and the urge to stab someone when I'm asked to fill out the customer 'satisfaction' form. In the young dentist's case, it's to prevent being sued for malpractice when my new filling drops out on the way home. And in Ikea's case, rather than a form for customer satisfaction, it's a form of riot control intended to keep me occupied whilst queuing to pay for a decade's supply of unwanted tea-lights. Either way, both forms supply the devil with enough paper and collective misery to keep his hell fires burning brightly. Online customer satisfaction surveys also get channelled downwards; to be read out by dancing daemons as light entertainment between operatic arias in Lucifer's hellish variety performances laid on for his captive audience of tortured souls.
Maybe I'm being overly dramatic, but that's how I feel after hours of cyclical searching and repetitious data entry. My needs are simple (my wife can attest to that): flights that depart from Luton airport (which is situated ten minutes away by taxi from my home), a week's accommodation in an apartment in Tenerife, and a reasonable price to pay for a family of four. Simple, or so I thought.
Welcome to Last Choice Travel. Please enter your departure date.
Tap, tap, tap.
Please enter your return date as we don't automatically default it to a week later.
Tap, tap, tap.
Please select your destination which will be hidden under Canary Islands not listed as Tenerife as you would expect.
Please select your departure airport which we will call 'London Area' as we would like to offer you inconvenient alternatives to your local airport.
Please enter your passenger details.
Tap, click, tap, click, tap, click, tap, click.
And ages of your two children, even though all the seats are the same price.
Tap, tap, tap.
Please wait for an indeterminate period.
We are suffering exceptionally high demand at the moment. Please wait a lot longer.
'It's 9:30 on a Sunday evening. How can you be busy when most people are watching the final of Dancing on Ice?'
Thank you for your patience. Thirty unsuitable flights are listed below.
'Fine. I'll try a different travel company that does actually fly to Tenerife.'
Tap, tap, tap.
Welcome to Cosmic Travel. Please enter your departure date.
Tap, tap, tap.
Please enter your passenger details, etc...
...your details are being processed. Please wait.
'Come on. I know you do flights to Tenerife. Your homepage says so.'
Thank you for waiting. We really do value your custom. Twenty three flights are listed below in cheapskate price order, meaning lowest first.
'£1544! I could buy my own plane for that. Why's it so expensive? All I want to do is have a week in the sun with my family at half term.'
Would you like to try alternate dates either side?
Please enter all your details again as we value your custom so much we have deleted them.
Click, tap, tap, click, tap, tap, scroll, click, tap, tap, tap, click!
At Cosmic Travel we pride ourselves on our customer satisfaction. While you are waiting, would you like to fill in our online survey form, so we can pass all your details on to spam marketing companies?
We have found thirteen flights that don't quite match your needs. Here at Cosmic Travel we know that you do not wish to remove your children from school early or travel during the night which is why we show you these cheaper options to pretend we offer cheap flights and a value for money service.
'Okay. If that's the way you want to play. I'll bypass the big boys and go direct to the bucket airlines.'
Tap, tap, click.
'Aha! Sovereign Airlines go from Luton. Let's see what flights they've got.'
Welcome to Sovereign Airlines - a subsidiary of Cosmic Travel.
Two hours of surfing later.
'Double grrr! That's it. I give up. You've worn me out. Return tickets for two adults and two kids flying from Luton to Tenerife for the extortionate price of £1544 it is. It may be double the cost of any other week, but at least it's £100 cheaper than the other carriers for those dates.'
To book, click here.
Thank you for choosing Sovereign Airlines. Would you like to take luggage with you?
'Of course.' Click.
Would you like to reserve your seats?
'Seeing as we have kids, it would help if we actually sat together, so yes.'
Would you like meals included?
'I suppose so.'
Would you like all of the above to apply on the outward and return journeys?
'Doh. Of course, yes.'
Please read the booking conditions below then click confirm to pay.
Booking fee of 4% will be added for all forms of payment except cash, hand delivered, in coins. Travel insurance also added without your knowledge meaning your existing annual travel insurance will be invalidated as each insurer insists the other pay in the likely event of a claim. All flights are subject to last minute cancellation, but not by passengers without forfeiting their ticket money. All rights reserved for the carrier, all wrongs reserved for the passenger.
'Oh, I can't be faffed reading all that.' Click.
Please pay a total of £2,199 which includes all taxes, surcharges and any other fees we can get away with.
'WHAT? Where's my fifteen hundred quid quote from before? And I haven't even started on the accommodation!'
Gillian peeks round the door. 'Haven't you booked something yet? You've been on the computer an awfully long time?'
Three hours and several phone calls the next day later.
'It's booked,' I tell my wife. 'We've got flights for half term from Luton, departing and returning in daylight, staying in a sea-view apartment in Playa de Las Americas for the all-in, bargain price of £1,956.'
'Couldn't you get anything cheaper?' asks Gillian.