Transportation update

Scott McCartney has a nice piece over at the Wall St. J. (subscription required). The title pretty much says it all: “Passenger Rights? What Passenger Rights?”

Got me to thinking. You have a lot of rights.

  1. You have the right not to fly. A previous post talked about the advantages of being there, physically, when you’re trying to build Einheit. Once you have it, though, you may be able to dial back the travel. Now, options like FaceTime, Google+, Go-to-Meeting and even Skype start making a lot of sense. Especially when the alternative is a $4,200 business class ticket plus hotel and M&IE, and likely for more than one person.
  2. I’ve also mentioned alternatives like the bus for shorter trips. Greyhound, for example, is rolling out what might be called business-class busses. For trips of 4 hours or less, the time difference with air travel is negligible, and the cost difference can be enormous. I assume that if rail is an alternative, you’ve already looked into it.
  3. If you must go by air, look at options like Delta’s Economy Comfort or United’s Economy Plus. They’re better than steerage, survivable for trans-atlantic runs, and MUCH less expensive than business class. Put the savings into a nicer hotel or Business Premier on the EuroStar. You can make a whole lot of EuroStar and TGV trips for the difference between Economy Comfort and Business Class across the pond.
  4. If you don’t want to get stranded and stuck with hotel and meal costs, buy travel insurance. Delta won’t let you complete an on-line ticket without making an explicit choice about trip insurance. And there are good third party policies — I use Travel Guard, but there are many others. Plus many premium credit cards include such services, and if you’re a member of the Marine Corps Association, they have an emergency assistance program that includes such things as medical evacuation, vehicle and dependent children return, and interpreter services. They don’t, unfortunately, send in the Marines to get you out.
  5. I’ve left out mileage/coupon upgrades. With current airline load factors running above 80% across the board, I can’t conceive of flying enough to get high enough in a loyalty program to actually get a seat. If you are Diamond, though, they’re certainly worth a try. In three years of Platinum level on Delta, I had a grand total of one international client who would spring for a full-fare coach ticket, instead of a much cheaper “lowest price,” and then a grand total of once was able to find a suitable flight that had an upgrade available. Once.
  6. Take the QM2 across the pond, esp. if there’s more than a couple of you going. The cost will be less than business class, you won’t arrive with jet lag, and you can get a lot of work done in route.

It seems that the airline industry has bifurcated into a typical pattern, perhaps reflecting our economic situation, of “price is no object” on the one hand, and “buy the lowest priced option” on the other. Assuming that you’re not a one-percenter (I seem to have few readers in this category), this bifurcation is something of an illusion — you do have options that can get you out of eight hours of fetal position.

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