Monday, March 16, 2009

Remembering the Lockheed L-1011... and how far we've come?

More often than not, the aircraft would push back from the gate on time, and sit. The aircraft would show “off the blocks” on time, but it would sit on the tarmac, waiting for the temperature to fall.

Beverage service would commence, movies would be shown, and many times the wait turned out to be several hours before the aircraft could depart into the falling temperatures of the late afternoon. The plane would turn about every 30 minutes while waiting so passengers on each side of the aircraft could benefit from alternating sun and shade...

This, of course, was assuming the aircraft didn’t have something break while at the gate, which was pretty often."

I've never flown on an L-1011. More of the article segment shown above, by Scott Laird and talking about his favorite airplane, can be found in the Oklahoma City Airport Examiner.

I wanted to share that part of Scott's recollections with you, though, because the segment makes a good point often forgotten: a plane sitting on a tarmac for hours is not a new phenomenon, and in fact, was once more common than it is today. What's different is how people are treated.

In Scott's story, the crew serves drinks and shows movies. Today, passengers are forced to stay in their seats, bludgeoned with threats of arrest if they do not comply. Flight attendants keep passengers from getting up to use the bathroom, claiming that takeoff is imminent, even when they know that it will be hours before anything changes.

That, more than anything, captures the difference between aviation three decades ago and what we endure today.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rail Review: The Ireland-U.K. Enterprise

Looking to get from Dublin to Belfast, fast? You might be interested in the Enterprise train jointly operated by Irish national rail carrier Eirnrod Eireann and Northern Ireland's NI Railways.

We took the Enterprise in February. Gwen and I are always cost-conscious on our trips, but hotel rates were surprisingly low over Valentine's Day weekend, so I opted for First Plus seating at a premium of around €20 over standard €45 Enterprise Class tickets. After retrieving our prepaid tickets from the counter at Connoley Station, we boarded the train at 10:00 a.m. and settled into comfortable seats.

In First Plus, passengers who would like meals order off of menus--there is one for weekday travel and another for the weekends--so we each enjoyed full Irish breakfasts with tea. Unlike First Class on Amtrak's Acela, food is not included in the price of an Enterprise First Plus ticket, but the prices were comparable to what one would spend in town, and the quality was good if not outstanding.

There's also a Cafe Bar car on the Enterprise. We had no reason to visit it, but my understanding is that there are hot and cold snacks available as well as an assortment of beverages, and there's a snack trolley that passes through the Enterprise Class coaches.

Whichever ticket you have, of course, the view is free. En route from Dublin, we saw beaches, towns, and miles of green countryside.

We arrived at Belfast Central Station just after noon for a total trip time of a little over two hours. It's the same time that one would estimate the trip to take by car, and I understand the appeal (particularly among Americans) for jumping behind the wheel of an automobile and hitting the open road.

But if you'd prefer to relax en route and arrive rested without the hassles of tolls and expensive gasoline, check out the Enterprise. It could be just the ticket you want.

Destination: Dublin

Dublin
Republic of Ireland

Currency: Euro (check rates)
Languages: English (prevalent); Gaelic
Per Diem: $271 L / $168 M&IE

In years gone by, Dublin might have been remembered for its exceptionally poor coffee. These days, the city is as cosmopolitan as any in Europe, and the coffee, provided by various multinational chains, is what you'd expect in a national capital.

But then, no one comes to Dublin for coffee. More than a thousand years of history, including the multi-volume Book of Kells on display at Trinity College as well as dozens of museums and cathedrals, beckon those who wander past. There's an endless array of pubs and clubs to be found, especially in the Temple Bar area, and a number of impressive shopping districts, including charming stores that line busy Grafton Street.

While in town, most visitors also tour the Guinness Storehouse; I did, and I'd call it a "must see" for anyone visiting Dublin. The near-religious vibe of the place, combined with several opportunities for free tastings and complete with a free pint served on the top floor against the backdrop of a panoramic city view, make the price more than worthwhile.

How expensive is Dublin?

For much of its history, Ireland has been economically depressed. That changed about a decade ago, and the country underwent its first boom; today, it is experiencing its first recession.

That's bad news for the Irish, but good news for tourists: when I visited Dublin in February, discounted flights were available for less than $300 round-trip and average nightly hotel costs were under $100.

Ireland uses the Euro common currency. (Check current exchange rates at XE.com.) As of March 2009, U.S. government Per Diem rates for Dublin were $168 M&IE / $271 lodging.

Travel Considerations

The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Union but is not a signatory to the Schengen Protocol, which means that you'll need to go through passport control to travel from Ireland to any European country on the continent.

Ireland does, however, maintain an open border with the United Kingdom (which is why it could not adopt the Schengen treaty, as the U.K. does not want open borders with continental Europe), so travel from Dublin to Belfast or other parts of Northern Ireland is transparent.

U.S. citizens do not need visas to visit Ireland.

Transportation
  • Air: Dublin Airport (DUB) is about 10km outside of the city. Buses to the city center leave almost constantly.
  • Rail: Dublin-Connoley Station offers Iarnrod Eireann rail service across Ireland as well as the Irish-U.K. cooperative Enterprise line that connects Dublin to Belfast.
  • Bus: Busarus central bus station, with Bus Eireann coach service across the country.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

JetBlue, direct to Costa Rica

On March 26, JetBlue Airways will begin new service to San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO) from Orlando (MCO) with fares starting at around $99 each way. Adding taxes and fees, that's around $250 for a round-trip.

Later this year, New York-based JetBlue is on track to add service to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. (Check out their route map.) Denver-based Frontier added Costa Rica to its list of destinations in late 2008 and other low-cost carriers are looking to branch out as well.

Given the dire state of the economy and declining passenger numbers for all of the airlines, it's nice to see that these airlines are moving forward with confidence.

U.S. Airways' CEO, meanwhile, is wondering how he can cut further capacity and talking about the need for consolidation. Here's an idea, Mr. Parker: why don't you just go out of business and give your planes to airlines that have a future?