Websites rarely stop for you, let alone hold up at the speed of thought
Accuracy seems to be in short supply on several of the websites introducing Omicron Variant (OX), a rarefied strain of Sars that has spread across Europe since June. When Richard Rogers, an architect in West Yorkshire, clicked on the website of a hotel chain looking to arrange an emergency booking on OX while he was on holiday in Amsterdam, he was told the date and location of the flight for three booked flights were not listed.
An Orbitz click fixed that and Rogers was given the option of a refund for unused time. But it remains to be seen how many others who have been unable to secure OX flights will do the same.
“Is OXM just an e-mail sent to me from Orbitz, or is Orbitz doing a full online booking through its system?” asks Rogers in the email he forwarded to us. “What about buying tickets direct from Orbitz with millions of OXM flights? Could you confirm that yes, in fact, it is a sale but that you don’t get to cancel it?”
Neither the company, nor the global travel group behind Orbitz, has responded to our requests for an interview. “If they said they are doing a full booking, I would have the confidence to use them,” says Rogers.
Later the hotel referred to in Rogers’ email was unable to contact him and put the problem down to “envelopes getting lost”.
If they said they are doing a full booking, I would have the confidence to use them Richard Rogers
It isn’t just failure to keep up with the Omicron variant which seems to be behind many difficulties. The dimensions of the virus mean sites are frequently blocked by algorithm, making it almost impossible to buy a ticket online.
The UK and much of Europe are a dead heat in the fight to host the first Omicron variant lab, with Amsterdam (recruited by the global travel group Thomson) the overwhelming favourite. Late last week, virologists downgraded the lab’s range from 210km across Europe to 110km – close to the latitude of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport – but Thomson has not put a stop to the plans.
Another shortage is the computers with which to scan the stock of available flights. “I try to get OXM flights every day,” says Phillip Chambers of Next Horizon, a firm that specialises in flight data and reporting. “It is really difficult to manage online, there is so much volume. People are being put on hold for as long as 20 minutes.”
He says it is likely that every British airline is affected but that there are “many thousands” of extra flights yet to appear, and that figures differ. “We are working frantically to find lots of routes that have yet to be announced,” he says.
Paul Hague is a consultant for travel agents including Swisscom Travel Services. He says phone systems for the private companies who sell tickets online cannot cope with the volume of queries he is receiving from a company offering cancer flights.
“One screen reads ‘books to please’ and returns a lot of calls back with a [message saying it is booking to please] message. The other screen says that the website is inaccessible. It is not technical. The response time is four to six minutes. The same people come on call afterwards and say: ‘Sorry, no information’. It is not what happens in your favourite newspaper.”
Is it time to quit cyberspace? If so, how should we do it?
We agree that scratchworks.com is a super hack. Photograph: personal website of Goggle Israel
The virus that started it all The protocol, ENPS14, that Omicron variant uses to spread between computers is based on the one that was used by HIV. Its global spread was confirmed by the virus’s makers. The method involves a trickle of very important information getting sent to computers on the internet and a lot of communication with existing computers, so any given person could encounter the virus. When one PC gets infected, others all suddenly start to buzz. Communication with computers on the internet is a kind of