The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Transport in and out of London

I love the night buses in London. Given my habit of staying on Chicago time, I've ridden my share of them. (If American 90 arrives after 11:30pm, I'm guaranteed to do so.) So today's story in the Atlantic's CityLab blog about the phenomenon made me smile:

You see, London’s night buses are actually the great, unsung glory of the city’s travel network. Compared with cabs, they’re dirt cheap (they cost the same as a regular daytime bus), come extremely frequently and cover a wide area, and go quickly through the mainly car-free nighttime streets. This could be why they’re so popular, carrying 42 million passengers a year. There’s more to them than even all that: Night buses have played a huge role in opening up London’s nightlife to everyone, especially to people whose modest means or far-flung suburban homes make cab fares seem exorbitant.

It is true that night buses often smell of kebabs, London's alcohol-sponge of choice, and they can be noisy and crammed. They’re popular with a certain group of British exhibitionists that can only really enjoy themselves by seeing their revels reflected in other people’s eyes. “I exist! I’m fun!” their behavior screams, making fellow passengers disbelieve the latter and wish the former wasn’t true. You also rub up against people you might not choose to. I was part of one ugly incident in which some guys apologized for flicking ketchup sachets at my sleeping friend, explaining that they’d only done so because they “thought he was homeless." Still, the party-on-wheels thing can be fun, and almost cozy at times. A fellow passenger once sewed up the ripped hem of my friend’s 1950s ballgown, and I’ve been not-disagreeably hit on with the immortal opener, “Would you like a chip?” Most of the time, I’ve just sat down, not been bothered by anyone, then hopped off at my destination.

Meanwhile, over at the Economist's Gulliver blog, a reminder that it can be cheaper to take Eurostar to Paris and fly from DeGaulle than to fly out of London, and what an independent Scotland might do about this:

It is a complicated issue. Although British airlines hate APD, especially as tough competition from continental European carriers for transatlantic passengers means they find it hard to pass on the whole cost to customers, there is not much evidence that low airline taxes are correlated with broad economic success. My colleague has called for a rethink of the tax; I would like to see some more evidence of its impact before joining that campaign.

Nevertheless, Alex Salmond, Scotland's nationalist first minister, clearly thinks cutting APD is a winning issue. And Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways, seems to agree. He has warned that English travellers will simply drive across the border to avoid the tax if Scotland becomes independent. Perhaps the real question is whether Mr Salmond's campaign promise, and pressure from airlines and travellers, will force David Cameron's government to reconsider its own support for Britain's high air travel taxes. I wouldn't bank on it.

London transport: always an adventure. And still better than anything in the U.S.

Lessons from Transport for London

The Atlantic Citylab blog today had a good item explaining why London's transport system has the best finances, and how other transport systems can learn from them:

In U.S. cities, politicians often defer fare increases until there's a funding crisis too big to ignore. That leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouth about the transit agency's ability to manage its finances. It also leads city residents to believe that fare hikes are only something that should rarely occur.

In London, on the contrary, TfL fares rise every year—the only question is by how much. There are loud objections over there just as there are here, but the critical difference is that TfL has set an expectation in the minds of travelers, not to mention politicians, that fares must rise on an annual basis to meet costs. "That's the way we keep the system properly funded year after year," says [Shashi Verma, TfL's director of customer experience].

Other improvements, like pay-as-you-go travel cards (TfL's Oyster and Chicago's Ventra), could also find their ways over to the U.S.

Another reason to take Eurostar

Maryland dentist Edward Gramson got taken for a ride by British Airways:

When a North Bethesda, Maryland, dentist planned a trip to Portugal for a conference last September, he decided he'd quickly swing by Granada, Spain, to see the famed Alhambra and other historical sites.

But carrier British Airways had other ideas, and instead sent Edward Gamson and his partner to Grenada — with an E — in the Caribbean, by way of London, no less.

Gamson, who said he clearly told the British Airways agent over the phone Granada, Spain, didn't notice the mistake because his e-tickets did not contain the airport code or the duration of the trip. It was only 20 minutes after departure from a stopover in London that he looked at the in-flight map and asked the flight attendant, "Why are we headed west to go to Spain?"

I'm scratching my head over this one. I travel a lot, through Heathrow sometimes, on BA other times, and I'm just not sure how so many things could go wrong no matter how many letters are different. What about the flight schedule? Departure briefing from the pilot? Passport control? Size of the bloody plane? (You don't take an A320 to the Caribbean and you don't take a 747 to a regional Spanish airport.) This guy had at least 350,000 frequent-flier miles; how did he not notice any of these things?

Gramson has sued BA pro se for $34,000, which he estimates to be the losses from hotel and travel reservations. I can't wait to hear the disposiiton.

Kennedy Airport on a Friday evening: never again

The flight from New York to Chicago takes two hours in the air, and is on-time if it takes three hours from gate to gate. Yesterday my flight was not on time:

  • Late crew arrival: boarding starts at the scheduled departure time.
  • APU inoperative: mechanic inspection and sign off takes 40 minutes.
  • JFK on a Friday evening: 55 minutes from push-back to take-off.
  • ILS inoperative on one of O'Hare's runways: take a 10-minute holding loop over Michigan.
  • Landing runway 9L: spend 17 minutes taxiing to the gate.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: 35 minutes from gate arrival to bag delivery.
  • Friday night at O'Hare: taxi line takes 20 minutes.
  • Cabbie forgets the biggest traffic news in Chicago: miss two available exits because the Ohio ramp is closed.

Total time from leaving my hotel in New York to arriving at dinner an hour late: 8 hours, 28 minutes. (On average, my door-to-door time from New York is just over 5 hours.)

And none of it was American's fault, except for the bit about being one of 40 airlines to schedule a 5pm departure from Kennedy.

I chose the departure from JFK because, using miles, my options were limited, and spending 20 hours in my third-favorite city in the world seemed like a good end to the week. It wasn't until I tried to leave that random events started conspiring against me.

Still, it was a fun trip. I read four books entirely, got most of the way through one and started a sixth. And I had two new beers at Southampton Arms: Jones the Brewer's Abigail's Party Ale and a special pale whose name I forgot to write down, apparently.

Really pissed at Orlando's baggage handlers

My bag has arrived at Gatwick. This means, instead of sleeping in, getting a leisurely brunch, and hopping on the Eurostar at St. Pancras (just a few blocks away), instead I have to get up now, hop the Victoria line from St. Pancras to Victoria, spend £40 on a needless trip to Gatwick, then reverse the process back to St. Pancras. And brunch will be some kind of pastry and some tea on the run.

My friends assure me this is why they hate traveling. I don't think this has anything to do with traveling per se, simply because it hasn't happened to me in 30 years. I do think this has something to do with MCO.

This never gets old

I am here:

Actually, despite being content to read on most flights, and despite being without a full-time job until Monday, I actually have some work to do for my oldest surviving and most loyal client. If I'm lucky, Orlando has WiFi, and I can upload the changes I'm making right now. If not, I'll have to do it tomorrow night in London.

This will be an unusual trip for me. Because I didn't know for sure if I'd have this week off until just a few weeks ago, it was challenging to book this trip on miles. I wound up booking two one-way trips, with indirect routes and with the return trip originating in a different country than the outbound arrival city. So today I'm going to London's Gatwick airport via Orlando, then Wednesday I'm taking the Eurostar to Lille, France, Thursday on the TGV to Paris–De Gaulle thence New York's JFK, finally returning Friday, again through JFK.

This will be the first time I've traveled through Gatwick since 11 June 1992, my first visit ever to Europe. American no longer travels there, and British Airways doesn't fly many North American routes from there. In fact, my flight tonight will be on the rare 3-class 777—so rare that SeatGuru doesn't even have the right seating plan for it.

Other than this patch that my client needs this week, I plan to do nothing of value for the next three days except read and ingest. (Writing blog entries counts as "nothing of value.") Allons-y!

Stuff I didn't get to this afternoon

Busy day, so I'm just flagging these for later:

Back to the mines...

Back in Chicago, drinking tea

I got home with no difficulty and bypassed the dead El train at O'Hare through the simple expedient of taking a taxi.

I'm catching up on work right now, so further comments will issue later. It also turns out, apparently, that a virus had made a beachhead in my nose, so I will have to fight that off before my wit and verve returns.

In totally unrelated news, today is the 30th anniversary of the fictional Breakfast Club.

Minor delays on the El this morning

I'm now at Heathrow where I've got a really great perch overlooking the approach end of runway 9L. A JAL 777 has just floated down to the runway and a BA 747 is taxiing past the window. It's a little piece of aviation heaven in Terminal 5 as I wait for the 787 to Toronto.

As I mentioned earlier, however, my trip home tomorrow morning may end a little differently than usual because of this:

(Photo credit.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, the El still missed its flight. Never try to carry too much baggage up the stairs; use the elevator instead.

Boarding starts in a few minutes. Time to boogie. But I'll wait for this BA 777 to land. They're really amazingly graceful when they touch down.

Week ending in London

It's 11pm on Sunday and everything is closed, so I'm taking a break from my break. My body still seems to think it's on Chicago time, which will help me rejoin American civilization on Tuesday, though at the moment it means my body thinks it's 6pm and wonders what it will do for the next three and a half hours or so.

I have accomplished what I set out to do this weekend. I visited the British Museum, the Southampton Arms, and another pub a friend recommended, The Phoenix. I've also finished Clean Coder, read Snow Crash cover to cover, and have gotten mostly through High Fidelity. The last book in the list connects Chicago and London—specifically, Camden and Gospel Oak, two neighborhoods I spent time in this weekend—more completely than any other book I can think of.

Tomorrow evening (morning? it's hard to tell) I'm flying out on a 787, about which I will certainly have something to write. I'm quite jazzed about it.

Now, back to Nick Hornby...