It has been a long 12 months. On the day of the World Trade Center attacks last September, I was in Italy on holiday. Driving through the Marchigian countryside, we became aware from the radio that something awful had happened in New York. We pulled over and went into a stranger's house, where everyone was crowded around the television, and watched the twin towers collapse on CNN. So I'll always remember where I was that afternoon. The holiday wasn't quite the same after that.
I'd been transported to Ancona by Ryanair, having been a solid customer of the Irish airline for some time. Ryanair regulars get used to a no-frills, low-cost existence: you watch its web site like an owl, sensitive to price movements; you get your sandwich in Boots at Stansted and you sprint from the gate to the plane to grab one of the unreserved seats by the emergency exit (more leg room). Its customer service is ropy, but timekeeping has been fairly respectable - one of the only ways in which flying Ryanair is not like taking the bus. But most importantly, it can be unbelievably cheap. My record for an Italian return trip was pounds 3, before Gordon Brown's travel taxes multiplied that figure five times.
Although flying people to Italy and back for three quid won't make Ryanair money, its business model is a solid one, as our cover feature this month shows. If BA were to start up again tomorrow, it would do it pretty much the Ryanair or easyJet way. Their planes are full and overheads are cut to the bone - all just as Herb Kelleher, founder of South West Airlines in the US and the godfather of low-cost, would have it.
Like so many things we have grown to want, cheap flying is an American import. A year into the US 'war against terrorism', however, the Americans are not so pleased with us British or our European partners. As John Lloyd recently wrote in the Financial Times: 'The US, at least at the elite level, and perhaps more widely, has become seized by the idea that we Europeans are weak, whingeing and hopeless; ungrateful, mean and ignorant; guilty, cynical and exhausted.' So much for the special relationship.
A recent Wall Street Journal article gently satirised our 'leisurely lifestyle', describing us as a continent of complacent and feckless layabouts, who kid themselves that a 35-hour week and 40-plus days' annual leave is a birthright. There are two sides to this story. At MT, we've championed the work/life balance campaign for years and return to it again this month. We don't believe that 85-hour weeks are anything to be proud of, especially if they're part of a macho, work-dumb (as opposed to a work-smart) culture. Neither do we believe that America should close its mind to outside argument and turn in on itself simply because it doesn't like hearing honestly given opinions from its friends.