When I was a kid in the UK, I used to listen to the shipping forecast on the radio late at night. It felt cozy and reassuring when I was tucked in my bed and thinking of all these ships bobbing around in the harsh waters around the northern parts of the UK and beyond. It has become quite a famous institution in fact. At the London Olympics it was played along with Elgar’s Nimrod to denote Britain’s maritime heritage. There were updates of mysterious places like Tyne, Dogger, German Bight, Fair Isle and the Faroe Islands. I had no idea where most of these places were but like most youngsters in the UK, it became part of every Brits upbringing and it still beams out across the air waves today. This summer I decided to go visit one of these places; The Faroes. I had never been and had not much of a clue exactly where it was.
Getting there is not easy. Perched between the Outer Hebrides and the southeast tip of Iceland in the inhospitable waters of the Atlantic ocean, there is no direct service from London or many other European gateways. You can fly quite conveniently from Copenhagen or Reykjavik on SAS or Air Atlantic (the Faroe national carrier). We chose SAS and that was probably our first mistake in trying to get there.
It’s a two hour and 30-minute journey from Copenhagen. The runway at Vágar Airport in the Faroe Islands is small. It was a cloudy day and when we finally arrived, after some delay, the pilot felt encouraged to make his descent. But the cloud cover ultimately was too much for him. As we descended, I felt the surge of the engines as he pulled out of the landing. After circling above for 10 minutes, he informed us he would have to go back to Copenhagen.
Yes, that really did happen.
According to the locals, only travel on Air Atlantic as the Faroe pilots know how to land in cloud cover on a short runway. That was advice I wish I had earlier!
The next day we tried again. The weather was much better and the views were spectacular. As we descended, the archipelago of 18 islands suddenly appeared as we dropped onto what seemed to be a 50 yard runway that is cut into the edge of a steep cliff. We had made it and so the adventure began.
I have been thinking a lot about Canada recently. We just opened our trips to Canada for school groups and it has already grown in extraordinary fashion. It seems as though Canada is on everybody’s “Places I’d like to Live” list. The healthcare is good, college is great and practically free, and there’s lots of open space. In addition, it has mountains for skiing on both the east and west coasts and a train service that connects the savvy traveler across the country with arguably one of the best rides in train travel that there is.
So, there’s more good news about Canada. The USA dollar is strong – about 25% more than a Canadian dollar – which also means that Air Canada has started to become an interesting player for international travelers. Air Canada has strengthened its Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver hubs, and have made it easier for USA passengers to transit through. As everybody knows, when you pass through Canada on the way to the USA, then you clear customs in Canada. Given the state of the lines at immigration here in the USA, that is a massive boost so as a connect destination it’s a player.
What else does Air Canada have to offer? In addition to the good service and cheaper prices, since every single air trip that travels between the USA and Europe or Asia has to pass over Canada anyway, the transoceanic part of the journey is cut down. The fleet that Air Canada uses has been refreshed with new Boeing 787s and 777s and it has lie-flat business class seats on every long-haul flight. Consumers are giving them the thumbs up by flying them. Increased passengers gives Air Canada the leverage to open up more flights and more access points into the USA.
So, I guess it’s not just the healthcare, the fabulous education, and the quality of life. In addition, it’s about a transoceanic experience that just got better.
Here’s a confession, I like to travel at the front of the plane. But guess what, who doesn’t?
We work on getting our points up, we stay on airline routings that are not necessarily optimal, and we do this all so that we can boost our points with one airline. This way we collect millions of points! But then usually we squander them on a $200 Amazon gift card.
JetBlue Mint Service
As everyone in the points business knows, you never use your points for small dollar items. You use your points to get to the front of the plane on long-haul flights and the airlines know this. The business of flying in business is changing though. A continental business class roundtrip ticket used to cost $2,600. With JetBlue and its Mint service, that price drops by $1,000. Frankly, from a service point of view, JetBlue can easily take on the United’s and American’s of this world. In fact, they have done so successfully that United and American have been dragged screaming into the lower cost option. The problem for these guys is that they have high cost infrastructure and nothing to sell except for creaky old planes and cranky staff. Good luck with that.
Given the recent state of events, it’s not surprising that TSA is tightening its grip on the security checks at airports. There’s not just the possibility that we all may soon have to travel without our computers, but at the screening stage it looks as though we are headed to a process that has us separate the contents of our bags into different bins. The days of simply removing your liquids and creams into a separate bag may soon be over. Now there are going to be bins for jackets, belts, shoes, creams, liquids, plus paper and electronics. If you’re traveling, it probably makes sense to unclutter your bag. The more stuff that you have floating in that thing, the more likely it is that they will want to look inside it. That is what will cost you time and hold up the lines.
In addition, TSA is becoming super diligent on the two bag carry-on rule. I ran into a problem the other day at Logan Airport and had to quickly unzip my main bag and put my man bag inside of the main bag because I had a backpack as well. Of course, all of this is good as it is all planned to make us safe and secure when we fly. This always bring me to the question – why don’t more people apply for TSA Precheck or Global Entry? None of the rules that apply or are shortly to be launched will affect TSA Precheck.
That brings me to the last thing, airlines do a phenomenal job of screening passengers. Soon they will be able to determine through government issued ID whether you have a reason for them to be suspicious. Where is Amtrak in all of this? Take the Acela from Boston to New York or New York to Washington; a well-trafficked route and you wonder why they do not institute an x-ray machine and an ID check before you get onto the train. It’s not perfect but it seems in this ever security-concerned world that it would make smart dollar sense to invest in something here.
Incidentally, TSA has assured us that the extra security checks they are putting in place will be tested not just for security but also for speed for consumers. You almost wonder why people that fly on planes are not forced to get global clearance.