Tag Archives: flights

Travel Tips For Planes and Trains

Horley, London, trains, express trains, tracks, trams

Horely Station near Gatwick

I’m traveling in Europe and in the process of  finding transportation hither and yon I’ve discovered a few things. If you want cheap, book your flight about two months before your trip and shop around. Airlines will often hide costs so  check to see if they charge for baggage or seat selection and what weight you’re allowed to carry.

I went with Thomas Cook to save on the flight, thinking it might be better than the Air Transat but it turns out they’re just a horse of a different color. So, while the flight over was in a plane more modern than the one I took fours ago (if you have an iPod there is a plug-in for that and the light dimmer is digital now. However they’ve tried to make the most of a flying sardine can it is still a flying sardine can. A man and his 10-11 yea old son sat next to me and not even the boy could curl up or pull a leg  up on seats that are narrow and short in depth. I do not look forward to the return flight.

Headsets haven’t been free for years but now they chinch you on a pillow. You have to buy it and while the price is reasonable, it’s something you have to pack out of there. One deal was  a pillow that came with an eensy spot of wine, to make it more palatable . With a nine-hour flight it was a very uncomfortable sleep. I won’t go into the highly mediocre, greasy plane food served in too much disposable but not necessarily recyclable packing.

Once in England I stayed at a local guest house in Horley, about a 10-mminute drive from Gatwick Airport (more on guest houses later). When I googled how long it would take to get into London, Victoria Station, I got 2-3 hours, no matter how I entered it. Google can lead you astray. Even the people at the guest house thought it would take longer but not that long. Well, it turns out a 10-15 minute walk (instead of a bus here and a bus there and a train) got me to the Horley train station, which took 45 minutes to get to Victoria Station, for 14 pounds.

Victoria Station, trains, trams, London, transit, transport, travel

Victoria Station, London

Vancouver, take note. In recent years there has been much discussion on putting in turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations because too many people get on board free. They now have the police pop on to check tickets. In England, you buy your ticket and you can put it through a ticket checker or walk right through. However, there are people on board who check the ticket, or when you leave they have the turnstiles closed at the smaller stations (or later at night) and you have to enter your ticket.  It’s still people checking half the time.

Back to planes for a moment. When I was looking at taking a train from London to Amsterdam through the Chunnel prices were about $170. On a whim I checked flights, which were half that price. Because I waited until about two weeks before my flight, I ended up paying more but still $105 is better and flying faster. Check all options.

Once I landed in Schipol Airport, the fastest way to Amsterdam Centraal Station was by train in 20 minutes, for about 4 Euros. A tram then took me the rest of the way for about 2.60 Euros. It’s a bit confusing and even the police were wrong on where I was to catch it but the driver of the tram was helpful.

In both Amsterdam’s and London’s stations, shops and even pubs abounded. These weren’t sketchy little kiosks but full-on establishments, making the station part of everyday culture, not some place to hurry into and out of. People had lunch there and shopped. Vancouver’s price may not be as high in comparison to Europe’s but if they want to make the trains viable and affordable then they should look at bringing people in with carrots instead of sticks. Don’t make the drivers of cars suffer, encourage them that the trains are better.

I’m sure to have more adventures on my travels and I’ll talk about other aspects in the days to come. But the biggest thing about travel is to check in advance, check all types of transportation, leave early if you have deadline, and ask the locals. They’ll almost always know the best route and usually won’t mind telling.

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Airport Security: A Make-Believe Tale

“I’m sorry, Ma’am, but you’re going to have to get rid of the water bottle.”

“What? Why? I just bought it at the airport kiosk. They said it would be okay.”

“Nevertheless…” The guard checks her watch. “Regulations changed, again, ten minutes ago. No water.”

“But it’s a long flight.”

“You can buy some water on the plane. Next.”

The guard looks at the man’s passport and runs it through a computer. She pulls out plastic tie downs. “Put your hands behind your back.”

The man does. “But why?”

The guard ties his hands together. “It says you have a black belt in Judo. We can’t be too careful. You’ll have to ride the flight like this.”

“But–”

“Take it or leave it. We could just cut your hands off.” The man swallows and walks through, trying to grab his shoes and briefcase best he can. “Next.”

The guard holds up her hand. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, but your baby must go through alone.”

“But he’s three months old. He can’t walk or even crawl.”

“Sorry, regulations.”

“How do you suggest he’s going to move forward?”

“Just put him in one of these bins and send him along the conveyor belt. The process is painless.”

The baby screams as it disappears into the dark bowels fo the X-ray machine. The mother looks distressed and tries to go through the detector. It whoops.

“You’ll have to go through again and remove your shoes.” The woman does.

“Oh and no liquids. You’ll have to get rid of that.” The guard points to the woman’s chest.

“What?”

“No liquids are allowed on board.”

“Are you talking about my breasts?”

“You’re breastfeeding. No liquids.”

“You want me to get rid of my breast milk?” People are beginning to murmur.

“We can’t be too careful. You can go behind that screen and collect your baby once you’re through.” The baby is screaming, lying in a bin by the guards scanning laptops. One runs his explosives detector over the distressed baby as the woman runs behind the screen. The guard’s earphone beeps. She listens and tells the rest of the guards something. They bring out a box of latex gloves.

The next man has already removed his shoes, watch and ring and steps through. The guard motions him back. “Please remove your tie, belt and socks.”

“My tie and socks? Why?”

“New, updated regulations. Oh and roll your pants up above the knees.”

The man does so and steps through. The guards gets out a magnifying glass and inspects his feet, running the explosives detector up and down his legs. “You should trim your nails. I just have to take a sample from…under…here.”

“Ow!” The man yells and hops up and down holding his toe as the guard takes the gouged out bit of flesh from under his toe nail and drops it in an analyser.

“Okay, open your mouth.”

“Open my wha–”

The guards sticks a tongue depressor in the man’s mouth, shines a light around and swabs the teeth.

“What the fu–”

“Regulations.”

“Look, how long is this going to take? I’m going to miss my flight.”

“About another twenty minutes to analyse these swabs.”

“But I’ll miss my flight!”

“It’s for everyone’s safety, sir. Why are you getting so upset? Do you have something to hide? You should have come four hours before your flight.”

“Four hours!”

“Now please go behind this screen and drop your pants.” Another guard snaps on fresh gloves and grabs the lube.

“What! I’m not carrying anything! You’re metal detector hasn’t beeped once.”

“Nevertheless, we must check everyone now. No liquids, shoes off, pants rolled up, teeth examine and all cavities checked.”

“But why?”

“Someone tried to smuggle in a bomb in their anus. We can’t be too careful.”

“Forget it. I’m not flying.”

“You’ll still have to go through the search.”

Six months later someone swallows a bomb and tries to smuggle it on board.

The guard stops the first person and hands her a hospital gown. “You’ll need to change into this prior to surgery.”

“Surgery? Are you crazy? I’m trying to get on a flight.”

“Regulations. We must inspect everyone before they get on. You should be ready to fly in a day or two…”

Six months later fifteen airlines go out of business and airport kiosks close down. US congress listens to concerns but thinks security still isn’t tight enough. Welcome to the brave new world of enhanced airport security. Of course, we’ll all feel far more protected now.

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Not Quite Kansas: Cattle Call

Last year I flew to Ireland and because of my stupidity in reading the time of departure I actually whisked through the airport in minutes. But basically, in either direction, it was stop at the ticketing counter, check baggage and get boarding pass, go through electronic scans and then give your pass to the airline attendant. It was relatively quick on either side of the boarding or disembarking.

Today, as I tried to board my Delta Airlines flight to Kansas via Salt Lake City, there were as many checkpoints as getting in Nazi occupied territory. I arrived about 11:10 am for my flight at 12:51 and lined up in front of Delta. There were less than a dozen people with three ticket counters open. It took about twenty minutes to get through. Oh and a US customs declaration card must be filled out before you go to the ticket counter. On some flights you do it on the flight to give to customs on the other side.

Ahah! But here we have customs on Canadian soil. So I checked my bag but had to keep it with me. Then I was shunted through the duty free shop along a corridor where they ask if you have your card filled out. Through another corridor there are lines for greeting the customs agents who stamp the declaration form, look at my passport and ask how long I’ll be in Kansas and whether it’s business or a pleasure. But they don’t take the card.

Then I go along another corridor, with my luggage (You think I got to check it yet?) where I hand the card to another customs agent standing before the big cattle clash. Now there are big glass doors, perpetually open and what looks like it’s where I would get screened as well as my carry-on. But not yet. Everyone tried to get in nice lines but we were told to bunch up in a large mass so that we could then funnel back down to a line to drop off any liquids bigger than a dormouse. Then we trundled our luggage over to an area on the right and flopped it on the conveyor belt.

Then we squish together again into a large mob moving to the left, and in the middle of this the guy with all the luggage carts wants to get through, but only whispers his request. One woman chose that moment to bend over and open up her carry-on, effectively blocking everything. Then we bundled up again like a passive Canadian gang and funneled into a thin line to go between the red ribboned rows. These rows first took us all the way back to those glass doors then changed to go left to right and zig us and zag us up toward the screening machines.

It’s interesting to note that while in that long sinuous line you can look down on baggage carousels with luggage arriving from different areas. To my left was one from Tokyo; the other was from somewhere in Canada. The baggage on the Canadian carousel was tossed willy nilly onto the conveyor belts, upside down, sideways, at jaunty angles. The baggage from the Japanese carousel was lined up neatly, each parallel to the other, on the long side, handles sticking up. Every single one.

As I neared the front of the line, somehow managing to suppress the urge to bleat, another customs agent pink markered my boarding pass and then I branched off to a particular screening lines. Where of course one has to take off shoes, disembowel bags or purses of little clear bags with liquids in them, take off chains, coins, jewelry, watches, false teeth, limbs and eyes, remove fillings, pop out brains, splay laptops and wander through.

The corridor for the E gates is long, it goes down a flight of steps where the escalator has a sign saying it goes fast but it would take you five times as long to get down than the steps. Then there is a short, fastish moving flat escalator. Then there are steps and escalator going up, which disgorged me into the waiting area, where I find…my plane is late because of headwinds. I wonder how the connecting flight will go.

And the connecting flight went…without me. And many other people. Salt Lake City is Delta’s hub after all, so EVERY flight goes through here. But guess what? Their last flights out are all around 5:00. Whoops. I arrived and got to the gate but they wouldn’t let us board, mostly because I would have had to sit on someone’ s lap. They do give away the seats after a certain time. But the guys there said, oh the planes left late for Vancouver because of maintenance problems. Hmm… Headwinds or maintenance problems or both?

Anyways, I get to spend a night here. I had to get them to dig my luggage out of limbo and I nearly said, Oh you guys should throw in a bottle of booze when flights are delayed, but then I remembered I was in Mormon country. I just had to kinda laugh through all of this. There were a lot of irate people around me but what are you going to do? Me, I’m going to go use that whopping $7 food voucher that Delta gave me and find something to eat here at the Airport Hilton (woooo). And then I’ll probably drink too.

Connecting flight (hopefully) tomorrow at 8:40 and Kansas at noon.

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