Monday, February 19, 2007

Trains & Boats & Planes - Part 1

As well as being a great song best covered by Dionne Warwick way back in nineteen flippity jippety, these are also my favourite modes of transport. Well 2 are anyway.

I have to admit to not having travelled by train in several years and if I preclude the little return trips on the Transpennine Express from Leeds to Manchester airport when I fly to America, then we're talking several decades. As most of those trips were on business and I was usually worried and stressed about the meeting or course at the other end, then I still tend to view train travel with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

I certainly can't imagine taking a train nowadays - unless one of those little steam ones just to be able to say I've been on one. I've never been a fan of trains as such, but I might change my mind if the UK had a well managed, reliable and relatively cheap system. From what I've read over the years, we don't.

I do fancy one of those more exotic train trips though. Say, through the Canadian Rockies or across Siberia (in summer of course) or from Paris to Venice on the Orient Express. Bet you get your feet wet at Venice station ! Or on the Polar Express (if it's good enough for Tom Hanks) or from Seattle to Carlisle. No scrap that last one.

I'd love to have been on one of those old Western trains with the cow pusher contraption on the front of the engine like we see on the movies. I live for the chance to hear someone shout "Alllll Aboard" and then being able to casually grab the carriage handle and swing up onto the slowly moving train. Given my lack of grace in all things physical, I'd probably smash my face on the closed carriage door and fall in an embarassed heap onto the station platform.

Then we have planes. I don't mind plane travel itself but the palaver involved in just getting on and off one is getting to be a right pain in the proverbials these days. We have Osama and his merry band to thank for some of the delays we now face in getting to our plush, wide, comfortable, plane seats (dream on) but mostly they were in place to some extent long before he went into the demolition business.

I don't mind having to check in 2 hours early for my flight. I don't mind having to practically strip naked and still be hand searched before being allowed into the departure lounge. I don't mind having to show my passport and boarding card a dozen times to everyone from the floor cleaner to the man out on the tarmac who directs the planes with his little lollypop sticks. If this is the price we now pay to sit in relative safety at 38,000ft, then I'm all for it.

What I do mind is airlines setting luggage limits and then letting people ignore them. I'm one of those people, rare these days, who read the rules and regulations when travelling and then stick to them. So if I'm allowed 2 cases both under 50lbs and one carry on case of certain dimensions, then that's what I bring. Believe me, packing for a 6 month trip to America and getting everything into 2 cases and a carry on is quite a feat in itself.

So I stand in line at the check-in desk with mounting disbelief and then anger when I see people all around me with enough luggage to stock a small department store. The checked cases are so huge and heavy that they'd give an Olympic weightlifter a hernia and I'm not one for usually feeling sorry for airport baggage handlers who have ruined many a case of mine. As for their carry ons, well the one item limit seems to be taken to mean anything you can attach in any way to your person if that includes being pushed, pulled, in your hands or on your back. I've seen less items clutched by a Crackerjack contestant. CRACKERJACK !!!

Sorry...........had a mental flashback there and images of Peter Glaze floated before my eyes.

So why do I care ? Well for one thing, it's annoying to see people get away with this when I've stuck to the rules. I just know if one of my cases weighed 50.5lbs, I'd be charged for it. But it also affects me when I finally get onboard and try to get my legal carry on case or bag up into the overhead compartment by my seat. That space has been taken up by my fellow passengers and now contains the entire contents of their living rooms. Muggins here has to find another compartment usually underneath the rear gunners seat or in the pilot's snack locker.

This is because I'm always one of the last people to board a plane. Why ? Well again it's because I follow the rules and get up to board only when my seat row is called. Everyone else ? Well they've all shot off to the gate as soon as the announcer says........"we're now boarding first class, business class, our elite traveller passengers (thank you very much for using Air Cheapo once again, fawn fawn), those with small children, any wheelchair passengers and anyone who is grossly obese and needs help to be shoved through the plane doors and squished into our crappy narrow seats guaranteed to give you DVT".

I look up from my Readers Digest and find myself alone in the lounge area and behind me 324 people are standing in line to board the plane. D'oh. Why can't they shout "Allllll Aboard" and let us all scramble to get on first ? The British are used to that ????

Next time, I'm taking a stack of cases, 3 carry on items and a handbag. When they announce that boarding is starting, I'm grabbing the nearest kid, getting into a wheelchair and zooming down that ramp to get inside before the crew. Sorted.

Anyway, for the last 3 years I've forsaken Manchester airport as getting there and back, allied to the rest of the trip, was getting to be both expensive and exhausting.

I'd have to get up very early as most flights to the US take off early and get a taxi to Leeds station. Then I'd get the train to Manchester airport, often having to change trains at Manchester station. Although it was great that the train eventually stopped right at the airport terminal, it wasn't the terminal I needed and so I'd have a long walk to my check-in desk and so onto my departure gate.

If I was using a US carrier, I'd fly to somewhere like Chicago or Washington and after getting grilled at US customs and immigration, I'd be on another flight to Detroit. From there my friends would pick me up and after a 3 hour drive, we'd be at their house in northern Michigan.


I never liked my friends making this 6 hour round trip at the start and end of my time with them and so sometimes I'd add another leg to the trip by taking a short flight from Detroit to an airport only 2 hrs from their house. Hey four hours are four hours.

Speaking of four, it was 4 years ago that things changed when in an attempt to get over there by the cheapest means possible, I flew with Air Lingus, the Irish national airline. No jokes please.

I'll summarise the legs........

Taxi to Leeds station.
Train to Manchester airport, changing at Manchester station.
Flight from Manchester to Dublin.
Flight from Dublin to Chicago's O'Hare airport.
Shuttle bus across Chicago to Midway airport.
Flight from Midway to Flint (Michigan).
Car trip 2 hours to Houghton Lake.

To say I was knackered would be putting it mildly and remember that to get from one leg of the trip to the next one involved me lugging my suitcases and carry on backpack with me. No wonder that with a few weeks to go before the holiday was over, I'd be dreading the return trip.

So I decided never again and looked for the quickest route rather than the cheapest and ever since, I've flown with Northwest Airlines and their Dutch partner, KLM. This involves a 15 minute drive to Leeds airport, a flight to Amsterdam and a flight to Detroit where my friends still pick me up as they say they like to do so. I know it's still a 4 leg trip but I wave goodbye to my checked luggage at Leeds airport and (most times) pick it up again on the baggage carousel at Detroit airport. Much less stressful and not so physically demanding.

In July 2005 I had my 2nd heart attack and when I was given permission to fly again 3 months later, I was very glad to have this 4 leg trip in place. Another journey on that Transpennine train would've finished me off !!

When I returned from America 3 weeks ago, it was my 44th transatlantic flight and you'd think I'd have clocked up enough airmiles to be flying for free now. Sadly I've chopped and changed my carriers so often that I've still not got enough airmiles with any of them to get one free flight, never mind several. Oh I have enough for an internal US flight but I obviously want a transatlantic one. I'm not even going to 'waste' any precious miles on an upgrade to first class as I got a free upgrade once and didn't think much of it anyway. Ironically it was when I flew with Air Lingus and the comfy seat did help a bit.

Nope, I don't mind being in with the rest of the cattle in economy. As long as I've 24 movies to choose from and the plane stays up above the clouds where it's supposed to stay for the 8 hrs or so, then I'm mostly a happy traveller. I still get palpatations with every unexpected pitch and yaw and I'll glance to see if the air stewards are on their knees praying. If they look calm and serene and are still flogging the duty free booze and ciggies, then I settle down again and let my medication take the strain.

So that's trains and planes. Hard to beat. Well actually boats do - but they'll have to wait for another post.

1 comment:

Daphne said...

Oh yes, boats are best, especially if the sea is calm. I really like trains - - or would do, if they weren't so overcrowded and dirty most of the time. Why can't the British do a decent train service? As for planes, I haven't been on one since 1999 and am finding it hard to explain why not when everyone else is whizzing about by plane all over the place - - FORTY-FOUR transatlantic flights? Blimey.

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