Americans often return from visits overseas asking the question, “Why can’t we have cool, high-speed trains like they do in Europe, Japan, and China?”
AMTRAK is America’s whipping boy. Passengers sometimes suffer mediocre service, meals, and uncertain departure and arrival times. Some in Congress want to shut it down, others grant AMTRAK just enough money to keep operating but not enough to improve it.
The only AMTRAK line that works and makes money runs along the East Coast corridor, linking Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC. Not only does that work, it’s beating the competition, the famous hourly shuttles operated by Delta and US Airways.
In 2001, a third of passengers between NY and DC went by train; today, 75% of them do.
And the airlines’ cheapest fare between NY and DC is $90 more than the average $145 fare on the high-speed Acela train (pictured). I use the term “high-speed” lightly because the ancient tracks keep the train from going anywhere near as fast as it is able to go.
Unless and until Congress commits to spending billions of dollars, America will always have a rail system way behind the times. And not much of it will turn a profit.
Every now and then we hear a news report about some guy banned from an airplane flight because the slogan on his t-shirt was deemed offensive by a flight attendant. Or a woman is denied boarding (as happened to the woman in this accompanying photograph) because her garb is considered too revealing by an airline employee. So what are the rules?
The truth is there really are no rules. At least not hard and fast ones. American Airlines ban passengers who “are clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.”
Southwest Airlines bans garb that is “lewd, obscene or patently offensive.”
United Airlines outlaws anyone who is five years or older who is barefoot or otherwise inappropriately clothed unless required by medical reasons.
You can see the problems here—these are squishy definitions. Well, except the one about everyone over five having to wear some kind of footwear. I guess “inappropriately clothed,” “patently offensive,” or “a manner that would cause discomfort to other passengers” is sort of like good or art—you know it when you see it.
If you want to make a flight, don’t push the boundaries.
What is it that fuels our quest to go around the world? That’s what Harvard history professor Joyce Chaplin wondered one day, and the result is a new, fascinating book titled Round about the Earth.
I know you’ve heard of Ferdinand Magellan, James Cook, and Sir Francis Drake. But what about William Dampier, Louis-Antoine de Bougainville or Lady Brassey?
All wanted to circumnavigate the globe even if they died trying. And many of them did. Magellan left Spain with five ships and 270 men in 1519; only one ship and 35 men returned, and Magellan wasn’t one of the survivors. Many of those 16th and 17th and even 18th century explorers died not because their vessels sunk but because of scurvy.
If only they’d known to pack crates of lemons and limes.
It’s fairly easy to go around the world today—you can do it on a ticket costing less than $3,000 if you stitch your air tickets together right. Many of those folks, however, are in a quest for frequent flyer miles, not new continents.
Pick up Round about the Earth, published by Simon & Shuster, and have a good read.
So you’re traveling to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving. Want to be invited back next year? Here are some handy etiquette tips.
These tips come courtesy of Charles MacPherson, an occasional guest on my weekend radio show who runs a school in Toronto for butlers that want to work in hotels or private homes. I occasionally ask him to join me on the radio to talk about manners.
Charles suggests you call your host before Thanksgiving and ask what you can bring. But be specific—“dessert” doesn’t cut it–you must work with your host to figure out what will work with the rest of the menu. And if you can’t bring any foodstuffs, consider a thoughtful gift such as a book you know your friends might like. Or if they’re great gossips, pick up a couple of tabloids and gossipy magazines at an airport newsstand and bring those.
Always ask what you can do after you arrive or certainly after dinner to make your host’s job easier. That may involve helping with dishes or making coffee. If you’re staying for the long weekend, always make your bed and suggest that you make breakfast or lunch one day.
I know it’s fashionable to bash airlines. But let’s pause for a moment to praise a few things about the American aviation system.
First and most important is this impressive milestone: It’s been 44 months since the last fatal airline crash involving a US commercial carrier. This is the longest accident-free period since World War II. Four more such months, and we’ll reach a four-year period of incredibly safe skies.
Then there’s the price of a ticket. I know prices have been rising, but did ou know that a round-trip, coach ticket between New York and Paris once cost $6,000? That’s what just such a ticket cost—in today’s dollars—back in 1939. As recently as the 1970s, it cost nearly $3,000 to fly roundtrip between New York and Honolulu. In coach.
I think we’re getting the airlines we pay for. We want cheap tickets and frequent service. So it’s tough to complain if there’s not enough legroom and food service in coach is almost non-existent. As for fees, well, maybe they make sense. If I don’t check a heavy bag, why should I subsidize the cost of the fuel for someone who does?