Skip Flying (Even Without Volcano Fears) And Really See The World

Train entering a Circum-Baikal tunnel west of ...
Image via Wikipedia

Loved this op-ed in The New York Times:

Airplanes are a means of ignoring the spaces in between your point of origin and your destination. By contrast, a surface journey allows you to look out on those spaces — at eye level and on a human scale, not peering down through breaks in the clouds from 35,000 feet above — from the observation car of a rolling train or the deck of a gently bobbing ship. Surface transport can be contemplative, picturesque and even enchanting in a way that air travel never will be.

My girlfriend and I recently set out to circumnavigate the globe without the aid of any aircraft. Along the way, we took the Trans-Siberian Railway across the wilds of Russia from Moscow to Vladivostok, and drove a car through the empty doomlands of the Australian outback. These journeys take less than half a day if you go by plane. Each lasts nearly a week when you stick to the ground. But taking to the air means simply boarding, enduring the flight and getting off at another airport. Going our way meant sharing bread and cheese with kindly Russians in a shared train cabin, and drinking beers with Australian jackaroos (we’d call them cowboys) at a lonely desert roadhouse. These are warm, vivid memories that will stay with us forever.

Think of the trans-Atlantic flights you may have taken. Do you remember anything about them? (Turbulence, bad in-flight movies and screaming children don’t count.) Because flying is an empty, soulless way to traverse the planet, the best flights are in fact the ones you forget immediately after hitting the tarmac.

Now, imagine floating across the Atlantic on a ship. Do you think you might enjoy those days of transit — the joys of a starry night in the middle of the ocean, or a round of drinks with new friends as you look out across the stern railing at the glimmering water — and hold them in your memories well after your vessel made landfall?

Fellow True Slant writer D.D. Cook wrote, back in January, about  his cross-country train trip.

I’m pretty evangelical about travel — my Mom and I share the fantasy of true wealth being a deep drawer filled with pre-chosen tickets to places we haven’t even thought of into which you’d dip your bored hand, then go! — and especially about non-airplane locomotion. I love trains. My Dad loves buses. I once dragged my horrified high-end sweetie onto a series of buses in Mexico (we all know how horrid much bus service is in the U.S.) and showed him the deluxe travel, complete with movies and clean comfortable seats, first-class carriers offer there.

(Although, and we have a the photo to prove it, we were less amused when each bus showed a video, sort of like pre-flight announcements on a plane, showed a bus rolling over and crashing and telling us what to do. Hmmm, pray?!)

I recall most of my non-flying moments vividly:

A 2.5 hours bobbing under a blazing sun traveling by boat from southern Thailand to Ko Phi Phi, tropical paradise.

Five fragrant days traveling across northern Corsica on a mo-ped — inhaling the smells of sun-warmed maquis — which I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal.

Gabi and me jumping into the back of a pickup truck in Jaji, Venezuela to attend a local dance, so high in the mountains we were literally shrouded by the occasional cloud.

Eight days in a truck with Pierre, the French trucker who spoke no English and let me share his cab from Perpignan to Istanbul, no showers along the way; cops confiscated my film in Bulgaria and thieves siphoned gas from the tank while we slept in the cab in (what was then still) Yugoslavia.

What has been your best non-airplane journey?

Air Canada Considers Nut-Free Buffer Zones — Maybe Not The Sort We Most Want

Air Canada A319 C-FYJG
Nut-free? Image by BriYYZ via Flickr

Is this as crazy as it sounds? Air Canada is considering nut-free buffer zones on airplanes.

Reports The Toronto Star:

Air Canada said it is willing to create “nut-free” buffer zones on its flights to accommodate passengers with severe nut allergies.

Passengers with allergies would simply be required to notify the airline 48 hours before they intend to travel to be seated in the buffer zone, Air Canada wrote in a proposal released Tuesday by the federal Canadian Transportation Agency.

Air Canada’s submission is a response to a recommendation made by the federal agency in early January to have a buffer zone on its airplanes, after two passengers complained about the inconsistent and difficult experiences they faced when they asked the airline to accommodate their severe nut allergies.

The airline agreed to the idea of a buffer zone, but said that the zone would not necessarily be on every flight, and would only be created when required.

The buffer zone would consist of the seats immediately adjacent to the passenger with allergies, and the bank of seats in front and behind the passenger. Other passengers in the area would be notified and would be invited “to refrain from consuming” nut products.

“If after the briefing there is objection from other passengers sitting in the buffer zone, the flight crew would try, if possible, to reseat passengers,” according to the proposal submitted to the CTA on Friday, after a 30-day deliberation period.

Two Women, Not Feeling Well, Manage to Kill 58 People. Talk About Sick.

Flight 3407
Image by cra1843 via Flickr

Today’s newspapers, where I live near New York City, carry two awful stories echoing an ugly avoidable theme — a local woman driving a vehicle full of small children and a professional flying a commercial aircraft filled with 50 paying passengers, both doing so after telling others they were feeling ill but handling the job anyway. In both instances, those inside the vehicle and those aboard the plane were killed; only one five-year-old boy, the driver’s son, survived. In both instances, the passengers, naturally, assumed complete trust in the prudence, competence and sense of responsibility of the two in charge of transporting them — both women. The car’s driver was 36, the co-pilot 24.

Their passengers were wrong and they died for it.

The driver of the minivan, Diane Schuler, called her brother to say she wasn’t feeling well, and faced a long drive south from a camping trip. He offered to drive north, a good hour’s’ distance, to come and get her. Stay put, he suggested. She did not. She had three young nieces, his daughters, and her own two children with her. At 1:30 that day, she drove the van the wrong way into the northbound lane of the narrow, busy Taconic State Parkway, drove 1.7 miles, and crashed head-on into another vehicle, a Chevy Trailblazer, killing the three men inside and the children, her two-year-old daughter and her three nieces, ages 9,7 and 5.  The ramp she mistook for an entrance is clearly marked with signs saying Do Not Enter. A police officer quoted in the Times said “She seemed a little disoriented” when she called her brother.

Rebecca L. Shaw, the young and poorly-paid co-pilot of Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo that crashed on Feb. 12 wanted to call in sick,  but didn’t. “If I call in sick now, I’ve got to put myself in a hotel until I feel better,” a transcript now released reveals her saying, coughing and sneezing while in the cockpit during that flight. On her annual gross pay of $15,800, a night’s hotel stay was an expense she wanted to avoid. That crash killed 50 people.

Other than better judgment, could anything have prevented this?

This is The Sound of Recession…Salvation Army Bells in July


I heard the sound tonight in the food court of The Westchester, an upscale mall in White Plains, NY, where manicured shoppers browse costly stores like Neiman-Marcus, Barney’s, Tiffany and Gucci, cruising the usual suspects of conspicuous consumption. It costs $9 to park for five hours at this mall. The parking lot is always jammed with Mercedes, Lexuses, Range Rovers and Escalades, many of them with the license plates from nearby Connecticut, where the still-wealthy enjoy a 20 minute drive from enclaves like Greenwich, Darien and Westport.

Bells. Bells in…July?

Two older women were sitting there, volunteers ringing the Salvation Army bells, a sound we’re used to Christmas but I’ve never heard out of season. It’s never been done out of season in 35 years.

Turns out, no surprise to anyone who lives in the New York City area, where subway and train fares and tolls recently went up yet again and where the maximum weekly unemployment payment is a fat $405, this is the first time in three decades that the Sally Ann — as it’s known in Canada — has put out their kettles mid-summer.

It’s a week-long drive, and one they hope will alleviate the double whammy of huge demand for their services and a drop-off in donations.

I watched a squealing gang of eight-year-olds holding a birthday party a few tables away from the kettle and those jingling bells. Squeals of joy, bells of despair. That’s the sound of recession.