It turns out we CAN have high-speed trains in the US. It just requires some political courage. Take it from a journalist whose new book was just published. It’s called Train.
While Europeans and Asians zip around on super-fast trains, Americans crawl around at last-century speeds. But author Tom Zoellner says high-speed trains would do well in four places in the US: The Northeast Corridor, between Houston and Dallas, between Minneapolis and Chicago, and between San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The trouble is, politicians won’t spend the money. Take Minneapolis to Chicago. A whole lot of flights serve the cities—a waste of time and fuel. Amtrak links the two cities, as well, but the ride can take several hours longer than the six-hour drive by car. The Obama administration did want to finance a high-speed link, but Wisconsin’s governor blocked it.
And to straighten out the tracks and put in the infrastructure to turn the route linking DC to New York and Boston would cost in the billions, even though that would be the most-traveled leg. And might even turn a profit eventually.
Zoellner says someday our high-speed trains will come, but it could take 15 or more years. It’s just a question of political will and money.
The book is called Train: Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World. More info at here at Tom’s website.
When most of us use miles for an award ticket, we concentrate on flying from our home to our destination and back. But if your award ticket includes an international flight, you may be eligible for another free ticket.
With some airlines such as Delta, United, and American, you are permitted to add another one-way flight to your award ticket from your starting point for a future date. As long as your itinerary includes an international destination. And international destinations can be as close as the US Virgin Islands, Mexico, or Canada.
Let’s you want to secure an award ticket from New York to London and back to New York. Not many people know it, but you’re allowed to book another leg out of New York to anywhere else the airline flies in North America for a future date. Including Hawaii. And you have an entire year to use that ticket.
In my example, you could add a free flight to Hawaii (or anywhere else in the US). You might even be able to add an international destination, such as Buenos Aires, for as little as $10. Don’t know when you might want to use that bonus leg? No worries—just book it in the future, and change the date for no charge when you know you want to travel.
Of course, you have to figure out how you’ll get back after flying that free leg. But that shouldn’t be too tough.
Americans love to talk about the weather as evidenced by the success of The Weather Channel and a new rival that DirectTV is starting up. I’ve lately been struck by how relative weather is to what you’re accustomed to.
I lived more than 35 years in Washington, DC, where winters are so mild, the federal government and schools close down when three inches of snow hits the ground. Bread and milk disappear from store shelves. The last 10 years I’ve soldiered through Minnesota winters, where the morning TV weather reporters make happy talk when the temperature will be above zero in January. A foot of snow doesn’t close schools or government.
But I also spend a lot of time in Los Angeles where locals don down ski vests when the thermometer hits 60 degrees and worry about driving on those rare occasions when it rains.
Not only does travel deliver new experiences in sights, sounds, smells, cuisine, art, language and a dozen of other things, the outlook on something as basic as the weather varies, too, and it’s great fun to see how one man’s spring-like weather is another’s bitter cold.
But I’d still rather be in SoCal in January.
Four of this country’s biggest airlines—American, Delta, United, and US Airways—are digging in their heels about the entry of the low-coast carrier called Norwegian that’s begun offering deeply discounted fares between the US and Europe.
This is going to get messy.
You might think an airline called Norwegian flies out of Norway, and it does. But it wants to hire lower-cost pilots out of Asia so it established a subsidiary in Ireland that is part of the European Union, which Norway is not. The EU has an Open Skies agreement with the US that allows airlines to fly between treaty countries at will
US airlines, along with the US-based pilots’ union, are opposing Norwegian’s application in Ireland to obtain a permanent EU license. Meanwhile, the airline is already flying between Europe and New York and Ft. Lauderdale. Service to LA, San Francisco/Oakland, and Miami is to follow soon with fares at less than $600 round trip. That includes all taxes and fees.
And with US carriers charging hundreds of dollars more, well, you get the picture. Are Asian pilots less qualified than European or US pilots? No. But this is a radical move, and it will be interesting to see who wins this one.
I remember when frequent flyer programs were invented. And while I embraced them immediately, lots of travelers ignored them, likening them to a fad like CB radio or bell-bottom trousers. Programs were simple then—you flew, you got miles. Now airlines micromanage and study them with the intensity of a jeweler.
When the programs started, there were no elite levels. All flyers were created equally. Those days are long gone. And even basic rules are constantly shape shifting.
Take Delta. Beginning March first, even Delta’s most elite flyers won’t get automatic upgrades even if space is available on trans-continental flights between JFK and LA, San Francisco, and Seattle. Even a Diamond Medallion flyer (that’s someone who flies Delta at least 125,000 miles a year) will have to use miles or an upgrade certificate to enjoy those trans-con, lie-flat seats.
But if you’re flying Delta to Hawaii from the West Coast, medallion upgrades are offered. Maybe that’s because United does the same. However, if you board a Delta flight from the East or Midwest and it stops in, say, Los Angeles before continuing to Hawaii, you’re not eligible for an upgrade.
Some days it takes a student of mileage programs to puzzle it all out.