Does it surprise you to know that the three US airlines that offer the most legroom are considered “discount” carriers? Those would be JetBlue, VirginAmerica, and Southwest, though Southwest is less and less a true discount airline unless you include their bags-fly-free policy.
The big boys, however, are packing us in, knees to chin.
JetBlue offers 33 inches of legroom while Virgin America and Southwest boast 32 inches. The big three–Delta, American, and United–come in at 31 inches as they try to squeeze one more row of seats in for some incremental income.
But then there are the real hardship cases: Allegiant with 30 inches, Frontier with 28 inches, and everyone’s favorite, Spirit with 28 inches in seats that don’t recline.
Heck, you can enjoy 34 inches of legroom in coach aboard Aeromexico and 33 inches when flying Air India. If a major US airline took out a row or two of seats and gave us all a couple more inches, would passengers flock to it?
American tried that years ago and marketed the heck out of it, but it turns out most of us base our purchase habits on price and schedule. Then we just complain about being cramped. So American put the rows back in.
And maybe we should pause to remember folks today who are traveling but would rather not be. I’m not thinking about people like I am who, even as you hear this on Thanksgiving Day, are flying to join friends in California because today offered the cheapest fare I could find.
I’m thinking of the tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa who are traveling to escape repression, war, or poverty.
Instead of flying, they’re paying outrageous fees to sometimes less-than-honest smugglers who drive unsafe watercraft to try to reach Europe. We all know that some of those unfortunate passengers never make it there alive.
Most don’t have passports, and even if they do, they know they don’t stand a chance at obtaining a visa from any of the countries they dream about such as Canada and the US. So they strike out for the nearest shore, usually Greece, Turkey, or Italy, with little idea of what awaits them.
No family dinner for those brave travelers today.
The latest is a Copenhagen restaurant that’s long been on or near the top of every list of the world’s best: Noma (pictured). Known for its menu that stresses ingredients the chef obtains by old-fashioned foraging, Noma has been nearly impossible for mere mortals to get into for years.
But this month, Chef René Redzepi announced that Noma would close by the end of 2016. He intends to pursue his dream—he told the New York Times—of using not just regional products but food items grown right on site. He intends to build a new restaurant in a shabby urban area, dig up an asphalt lot and replace it with soil, add a greenhouse to the roof, and even build a floating field on top of a raft.
Reminds me of the closing of El Bulli on Spain’s Costa Brava, the former darling of foodies and critics. In 2011, celebrated chef Ferran Adriá shut down his restaurant that was full every night. He turned it into a “creativity center.”
Given Adriá’s molecular approach to cooking before, I can’t wait to see what comes out of the creativity center.
Last year I talked about a company based in DC that’s working hard to run a high-speed train along the East Coast. You know, the kind they’ve had in Asia for decades that can exceed 300 miles an hour?
DC and Baltimore may be the first testing ground.
A couple of weeks ago, Maryland’s governor announced a nearly $28 million grant from the federal government to study the construction of a train line that uses magnetic technology to allow a train to glide on air above the rails. The line would link DC and Baltimore and enable passengers to transit between both cities in 15 minutes. Today, depending on traffic, it’s at least a 45-minute drive between the downtown centers of both cities.
Maryland’s Republican governor got on board with the idea after visiting Japan and speeding on a maglev train for 27 miles at about 314 miles per hour. If built, this would be the first leg of an East Coast, high-speed train route as far north as Boston.
But don’t get too excited. The cost of a DC-Baltimore leg alone is between 10 and 12 billion dollars. And then there’s the difficulty of gaining track clearance in that crowded metropolitan corridor.
Perhaps you remember that train crash outside Philadelphia last May when an Amtrak train derailed because it was going too fast. Eight passengers were killed. And perhaps you remember that Congress demanded that by the end of this year, trains would have to install a system that automatically slows or stops a train that’s going too fast.
Don’t hold your breath.
The system is called “Positive Train Control,” and it’s standard on trains in Europe and elsewhere. But any hopes it might become reality in the US were dashed a couple of weeks ago when Congress postponed the required installation for three to five years.
And then there’s how Congress did it: By quietly attaching the extension to that last-minute highway funding bill. And by taking a voice vote, which meant no legislator was on the record as for or against. So when the next train tragedy occurs, we won’t know who—precisely—to blame.
Railroads insisted, and some legislators agreed, there was no way they could meet the deadline or afford the systems. And railroads put pressure on legislators, saying they’d have to shut down on December 31st if the extension wasn’t approved.
We’re from Washington, and we’re here to help you.