Thursday, February 9, 2012

Two on the Aisle, Please

This came tumbling off my baggage carousel, dented and scuffed a bit, but clearly marked COMMENT AND PASS ON.
The REDTAPE Chronicles on MSNBC.com, by Bob Sullivan

How much would you pay to be sure you wouldn’t get stuck in a middle seat on a 3-hour flight? Would you pay $2,000? You know airline fees have been a little crazy lately, but this sounds pretty extreme.

Famed consumer advocate Ralph Nader says American Airlines tried to charge him nearly $2,000 extra recently to get an aisle seat for an upcoming flight.

American Airlines says there is no such thing as $2,000 aisle seat fee.
  But Nader was informed , repeatedly, that the only way he could be sure he’d be able to get an aisle seat to accommodate his large 6-foot, 4-inch frame on an upcoming Hartford, Conn., to Dallas-Ft. Worth flight was to buy a different ticket than the $750 ticket he already had -- one that would cost him $2,680, or almost $2,000 more.
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"I knew that it might be $50 more for aisle seats. But they said, 'Oh no.  The only choice is pay $2,680 or be an elite traveler,’" Nader said. "It's extortion. They are charging you for knee lengths."

It’s an entertaining article and Nader finally gets his aisle seat for no extra charge, but then he’s Nader and neither you nor I would likely get that treatment. Bob Sullivan’s final line is worth a read . . . “But really, the only way to avoid such Draconian airline fees is to take the train.”

And so I checked it out and without bringing a travel agent into the mix, it appears that the train from Hartford to Dallas takes 49 hours and costs $450 (including a bedroom Chicago/Dallas) one way. Not too speedy, but comfortable and roomy, with a chance to stroll around and perhaps visit the dining car for a leisurely meal. Now, if we happened to have high-speed rail in place (or even on the horizon), we could look forward to making the trip easily and conveniently overnight.

Overnight is better than two days. Overnight is competitive to and far superior to wasting half a business day on either end of a flight. Overnight is much more soothing to the spirit than the possibility of a weather related cancellation or diversion to a nearby city. Overnight suggests a journey to the dining car, time to relax with a book or catch-up on paperwork, the lovely clickety-clack off into dreamland and a well prepared hearty breakfast prior to arrival.

And we could have it if we took an Eisenhower approach and built it with federal funds and used the federal land we already own as a result of the Interstate Highway network. Nobody’s house to tear down, no difficulty over rights of way, no grade crossings to deal with, no problems accessing major downtowns and most importantly, no reason not to do it.

Japan, Germany, France, China, Italy and Spain all have serious high speed rail operations and not one of them have the American interstate highway network as a basis—yet America dithers like an old maid on her wedding night. The good old U. S. of A. no longer has national interests, tied down like Gulliver by interlacing private and corporate interests, apparently happy as a clam to take off our shoes (two million pairs a day) and hobble off to our overpriced aisle seat.

And so it goes, if it goes at all. But there’s a place for air travel in the mix and that place is generally flights over 1,000 miles (which would actually include Hartford-Dallas by an extra hundred miles).
  • Chicago-New York City, absolutely a better deal by bullet-train
  • Chicago-Los Angeles, grab a plane
But what’s missing in the equation, is what the 2 ½ hour flight from Chicago to NYC actually means in point-to-point time. In order to arrive at O’Hare in time to actually slip those shoes off in something other than a state of panic, you better be there 45 minutes ahead of the flight and even that’s cutting it close if two or three flights are departing the same terminal and ‘security’ is backed up. I’ve run after more than one flight with untied shoes in such circumstances. Getting to O’Hare is itself an unknown, highly dependent on time of day, weather, an unexpected accident up ahead or occasional lane closures. The 45 minute trip by car can often take twice that time.

So, as we’ve all experienced at one time or another, the preparation to fly can often take as long as the flight itself. Ditto on the NYC end, except for the fact that you’re merely dumped off at that end and left to fight your way into Manhattan, probably 45 minutes. But if your meeting’s important and it’s set for 1pm, the whole dynamics of the flight schedule changes and you’ll for sure find yourself at O’Hare before dawn. The 2 ½ hour flight has taken six and left you frazzled, stressed and constantly checking your watch. How much simpler to depart Union Station in downtown Chicago at 9pm and awaken in the morning, refreshed and relaxed in time for breakfast and a stroll before that meeting.

How much more civilized.