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Update from Shanghai (April 22)

NEWS STORY
22/04/2010

In an e-mail to Pitpass editor Chris Balfe, Bob Constanduros reveals that a lot of the inhabitants of Planet Paddock are still stranded in Shanghai. Bob has given us permission to publish the e-mail in full.

Hi Chris,

You might think from the news that all is well and hunky dory in the world of air travel, now that the skies above Europe are open for business again. Well mate, let me tell you, it aint!

By my reckoning, there are well over 350 F1 people still stranded out here in Shanghai, costing their employers at least 100 per day and that's not including the flight home. To be honest, they are mainly people who should be heading for Britain on either BA or Virgin - and they include the Virgin F1 team.

I'm one of them - although by my own admission, if I'd got off my butt and shelled out the odd thousand quid here or there I might be home now, albeit by tortuous means. Those that are home either lucked into the first half empty BA flight that left here on Tuesday night or went via Dubai, where Emirates had the extra capacity to lay on flights to relieve the backlog. Flights snuck into Nice on Monday and Tuesday and those who were on them, which included a lot of Grand Prix drivers enjoying the delights of economy class, then had to make their way home, usually by car, coach or train - the latter two overcrowded.

But it's that extra capacity that BA and Virgin just don't have. Virgin were very efficient at telling me by e-mail and text that my flight was cancelled on Saturday. They even phoned me on Sunday to tell me that I had a booking on May 4, 15 days later. Since then, things have gone very quiet. The regular bookings are being honoured for the flights leaving at the moment, and there's a backlog to clear if there's any extra space. That backlog starts with the 300-odd people whose flights were cancelled on the first day of the crisis.

I booked my flight via Travel Places, Formula One's very efficient travel company which looks after the majority of the UK-based teams plus others like Formula One Management and Bridgestone, and odds and sods like me. I think most of us were booked back via BA and Virgin and we're all in the same boat. Travel Places have Nick and Marie out here, and the staff back in UK working to get us home, and I think they have given up on our regular airlines because a charter looks on the cards today or tomorrow. It's not cheap though, and will be costing those in the back some 1500.

All the UK-based teams apart from Lotus are seeking space on that charter. Tony Fernandes of Lotus owns AirAsia, of course, and got his guys plus Cosworth and some journos out on a flight to their Kuala Lumpur hub fairly rapidly and wanted to be the first flight into Stansted (ugh) when it re-opened, although I can imagine Ryanair sending up a plane specifically to bring it straight back down to claim that accolade in the kind of cheap publicity stunt they specialise in. I'm sure AirAsia's flight landed days ago, so that was probably a good move.

There are others scattered all over the place. Some colleagues went to Delhi today, with an onward business class booking, so they will jump ahead of all the poor souls camping out there in considerable heat. Another colleague, due to be running in the London Marathon this weekend, has gone to Vietnam to see his brother. Elsewhere there's a guy in New York intending to fly to Portugal today, hire a very expensive car, drive the length of that country and then take a ferry to Portsmouth. Kevin Eason, of the Times, is getting married this weekend. Not sure where he is.

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