1987

Cold weather in the Northeast

8 January 1987 Pan American 248 Washington National to New York LGA

Arriving at Washington National Airport's metro station at twenty minutes past the hour, it seemed doubtful whether we would be going to New York straight away. How wrong we were! A short walk across the car park saw us to the Pan Am terminal, a simply decorated place with a large number of automatic teller machines waiting to print tickets for us. I put my American Express card in and waited. Please enter the number of passengers. 3. Do all passengers have the same last name? No. Please enter the names of the passengers. So we did that. My name it read from the card automatically. Is anybody here a member of Pan Am Worldpass. No. (though I would be soon) Please wait. Roundtrip or one-way? One-way. Please wait. Three tickets were soon printed, and I hadn't had to sign anything, or enter a pin number. It was the same when buying train tickets too.

A similar system for buying rail tickets was introduced by one of the British banks, but it didn't catch on. Only their VISA credit card and a couple of banks with which they had an arrangement were accepted, and only full fare adult tickets could be bought from the machine. Not surprisingly, the system was not a success. Perhaps they didn't even want it to be. A pity, because with co-operation from the major card issuers and a little imagination, it could have become the success story that the automatic ticket issuers in the United States have become.

Please take your tickets and proceed to the gate. We did. When we got there, the gate officials urged to walk to the aeroplane. When we got to the door, we got straight onto the aeroplane. Five minutes and we were airborne, flying between the White House, the Capitol and the Pentagon, taking care to avoid the frozen Potomac River. A light snack, and thirty-six minutes later we saw the Big Apple (that's New York to you) for the first time, with the tall skyline of Manhattan. Our travelling companion did not enjoy the journey much. Toothache is never good for flying. He never liked New York either.

On arrival at La Guardia, we didn't get much chance to look at it. After walking out from under a canopy, we found that we had reached the taxi rank. The dispatcher was most officious in his actions, and before long we found we were sharing a cab to the city centre, or rather center. This wouldn't have been too bad if the other lady in the cab had been going to the same part of the city as us.

It was a freezing cold day, and there was ice on the ground. We did many of the things tourists do, marvelling at the tall buildings and walking up and down the streets we had only previously heard mentioned. Truly, it is a great city, though I did notice that scarcely anybody with a brain ever drove there, unless a taxi driver, a delivery man or a service provider. You really shouldn't drive in New York unless there is a pretty good reason to do so!

This is mainly an air travel log, or at least it started that way. However, I feel obliged to say that of the places we visited, the Empire State Building was indeed worth a visit and walking down Broadway in the snow was also an interesting experience. I must also assure readers that the New York Subway, although horribly run-down in both condition and reputation, is efficient, and by day, relatively safe.

Surely this is obvious. If the New York Subway carried even a 1% chance of death or serious injury to the passenger, then nobody would use the system. The fact that it continues to be used is surely an indication that, generally, it must be safe. Of course, if you choose to travel alone in the middle of the night carrying large amounts of money and jewellry, then you might indeed have a chance of 1% of being damaged. Possibly even higher.

We chose to return to Washington by rail, and for reasons which will later become apparent, you should do the same. However, the Amtrak is based so closely on an airline, that it is often difficult to tell the difference. The seats are as on an airliner, all facing the same way, the windows are small, and you are generally expected to check in in advance. I fear that the same will soon happen in Great Britain, if it hasn't already. The economists tell us that more passengers in the same space mean higher profit.

During our trip, we chanced upon one of the things that would be of minor significance for a long time to come. We saw some advertisements around Washington advertising the musical Les Miserables and thought that it might be worth going to see. At the time we knew very little about it, but thought we might go and see it, if tickets were still available. I don't know if they were freely available or whether an obviously English accent on the telephone helped, but we secured front row seats in the circle with only a couple of days notice. The show was one of the finest things we ever saw, and the music haunts us to this day.


10 January 1987 British Airways 216 Washington Dulles to London Heathrow

As well as the usual tourist attractions and monuments, I can particularly recommend the clean and new metro system in Washington DC. As for places to eat, I cannot speak too highly of Enriquettas Mexican restaurant, serving genuine Mexican cuisine, not American-Mexican. For something lighter, you cannot beat the Chesapeake Bagel Bakery.

Now, at the end of a truly wonderful visit to the District of Columbia, including some visits to the National Airport just outside town, we duly set out from central Washington to the international airport at Dulles. Reluctantly, we were travelling in another cab because there is scarcely another way to get there. As we arrive at the terminal, we notice that duty free sales are possible, but in an open concourse to which anybody can be admitted. However, the goods are not given to you until you are stepping onto the aeroplane, an unusual system, symptomatic of the American belief that international travel is not the norm, but domestic travel is.

After check-in, we wait in the area for the motorized lounges to depart, but while we do so, an announcement is made. The flight is overbooked. An offer is made for anybody who wishes to postpone their trip until tomorrow. Economy Class passengers are offered a guaranteed seat on tomorrow's flight, hotel accommodation and USD 200 compensation. Business and First Class passengers are offered a guaranteed seat on tomorrow's Concorde flight, hotel accommodation and USD 200 compensation. The Concorde offer is not extended to Economy Class passengers.

Even so, the offer is very generous, and I am sorry that I was not able to take advantage of it. One mystery that I have never solved is why flights from the United States always seem to be overbooked, when flights to the United States always have seats available.

Once we had boarded the motorized lounge, driven the couple of miles to the airliner and got on that, everything seemed to run smoothly. The flight was, as usual, an overnight one, and we didn't trouble the cabin staff more than might be expected.

On arrival in the UK, the weather was not good. To be precise, it was just as snowy as New York had been, though still a few degrees warmer. After travelling up to Birmingham, where it was still bitterly cold, we went for lunch at our usual haunt, but when I was asked whether I wanted peas or green beans, and whether I wanted jacket potatoes or French fries, I found the questions too difficult. All Berni Inns are the same, but I find them good and modestly priced. The Waggon and Horses in Sheldon, Birmingham and the Exchange in the City Centre are both good.

Five hours lag doesn't seem too much travelling west, but it is a very long time travelling east. We didn't bother with a dessert, but walked home from the restaurant in the snow. I went to bed and didn't get up until the next morning. It was very soon after this that I decided that if I ever had the opportunity to fly around the world, I would certainly fly west all the time.


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