Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

ToolieTravelBlog: Using Mass Transit To and From the Airport

I am a big fan of mass transit, especially while traveling. I've been all over Europe on trains, and loved very minute of it. I take advantage of light rail connections between city centers and airports whenever possible. They are usually clean, fast, and efficient.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I remember all of the grousing about how the Car Capital of the World would never take to the idea of riding mass transit at all, let alone to work. The mass transit agency back then was very smart: they declared that the first two weeks that the trains began running would be free of charge. People flocked to try the light rail trains, and loved them! They've been packed ever since.

Having moved to Seattle from Los Angeles shortly after the Metro Blue Line began running from Long Beach, California, to downtown Los Angeles, I've been waiting for years for Seattle to catch up. I'm pleased to say that as of next month, Seattle joins the legion of cities who have established light rail connections between their airports and the central business district. I just got back from riding round trip on Seattle's Link Light Rail system that has been in service since mid-July. On December 19th, the last leg of the system will finally connect to Sea-Tac Airport. Yayy!

Good for the Environment, Good for Business

Having that light-rail connection is a huge step forward on many fronts. Yes, it gets more cars off the road, but having that 35-minute connection between Sea-Tac Airport and downtown Seattle is fantastic for businesses and for the Meetings industry.

I remember when I set up the Technology Lab for the National Speakers Association (held in September 2007), we went back and forth as to whether to have the event downtown, where we could get good meeting space and accommodations for less, or to have the event near the airport, where there were fewer choices but less travel time for the attendees. Our empty Saturday night was a challenge to fill because Sea-Tac Airport has few entertainment options within walking distance. It was cost-prohibitive to send folks downtown, because it was either a $30 cab ride, or $25/person to rent a shuttle bus. Next month, the cost to ride downtown from the airport will drop to a magnificently low $2.50 one way. (My parking bill today cost me $12; my round-trip ride was only $5.)

Good for Business Travel Also

I have used light rail, regular rail, subways, or airport busses to go from city centers to the airport in the following cities: Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, Orlando, Philadelphia, Newark NJ, New York's JFK Airport, Boston, Washington DC, Raleigh-Durham, London, Paris, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Munich, Geneva, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Sidney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Auckland (and a few others I can't remember right now). I go out of my way to use mass transit, sometimes collecting data for my travel guides, but especially because I like the reliability and the low cost.

What Keeps You from Using Mass Transit?

We could sum it up in one word: time. The reality is though, it probably takes less time to use light rail to an airport than it does to drive. Usually the tracks are elevated or underground. When they're not, the trains are usually timed to have as few traffic stops as possible. A 40-minute rental car drive to an airport will probably take 25 minutes door-to-door on a train, and you won't have to drop off the car and ride the shuttle to the airport.

Because I travel with a lot of gear, I was always concerned about having to lug my stuff up and down stairs at remote train stations. In the USA, all new transit stations are equipped with elevators to allow those needing assistance to avoid stairs and even escalators. Older stations are being retrofitted to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed by Congress in 1990. Other countries recognize the value of making their transit stations accessible also, so more often than not, you'll find elevators when you need them.

What about security? Depending on where you're traveling, that can be a concern. Traveling with suitcases can make you feel more vulnerable even if you're not, simply because you feel like you have more to defend than just a pocketbook or briefcase. The good news is that the drop in the cost of electronics has made it fiscally possible to install video cameras on trains. In fact, I was so intimidated by the overhead mini-dome cameras on today's train that I was reluctant to take a swig of water while on the train (in defiance of the no- food-or-beverage consumption sign on the door), even though I was both parched and tempted to try anyway.

Sometimes it's confusing to find your way around in the station, or even to find the station itself. Again, through the wonders of Google Maps and similar services, you can not only find the station, but also see a photo of the front door. Because downtown subway entrances are usually entry doors in a long row of storefronts (rather than standalone buildings), it's sometimes easy to miss where exactly that entry door is.

The same can be said of exiting train stations. I remember being completely disoriented when coming out of a Hong Kong subway station near Western Market on one of my first trips. It took me a few minutes to regain my bearings; after that incident, I added a compass to my foot-travel pack. But my scenario as travel guide writer is the exception rather than the rule. It's my job to be confused and lost, not yours. I collect the data and share it with you so you always know where you are.

And that's really the gist of it now: the Internet has made it so MUCH easier to find the information you need to plan your use of mass transit at your destination. Most of the major cities have their mass transit information online, including maps, timetables, routes, fares, and passes. I have a smart-card transit pass from both Singapore and Hong Kong that I keep and reuse when I visit. I'm about to order my ORCA card for Seattle area mass transit use (an Orca is a type of whale we see locally). It's the smart thing to do!

How to Find a City's Mass Transit Information

Pick your favorite search engine (I use Google Advanced Search) and type in "[city name] mass transit" with the quotes, and you'll see either the official site or a highly-regarded advisory site within the first 10 listings. I would immediately bookmark the official site and then start looking for links such as Trip Planner or Timetables or Routes and Maps.

When you're coming into town, use to find the address of your destination and the transit website to find the nearest station. Even if you have to take a taxi the last mile or so to your destination, you're going to save time and money by using mass transit to get downtown.

When it's time to return to the airport, give yourself an extra 20 minutes before your usual check-in time your flight to account for walking time between the transit station and the check-in desk. Remember, you'd spend that time waiting at the rental counter or riding the shuttle to the airport anyway, so don't think of it as taking more time to use mass transit than to drive a rental car.

Finally, relax and enjoy the view! I got to see parts of Seattle today that I've never seen in the 16 years I've lived here. You'll be at your destination in no time, and you'll probably pick up some of the local flavor along the way.
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Airline Tests Retail Sales at 35,000 Feet

Below are items of interest to business travelers.

Airline Tests Retail Sales at 35,000 Feet
“Anytime you have customers who are captive, who have nothing better to do, they’ll shop,” says a marketing professor. And who’s more captive than an airline passenger?

A Constitutional Case in a Box of Cash
A traveler used his iPhone to help his case against what he considered overzealous airport screeners.

And a human interest story...

Even in a Terror Attack, Seeing the Best of India
In the midst of a terrorist assault, a traveler sees the selflessness and humanity that draws her to India, the land of her parents’ birth.
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ToolieTravelBlog: The Olympics and the Movies

Vancouver, BC, Canada is just 3 hours from my home. If you're thinking of attending the Olympics, this information may be helpful to you.

Vancouver Between Medals
During an Olympics visit, here's where to find the city's slightly gritty, diverse soul, whether it's biking along the sea wall or sampling neighborhood cafes.

This article was pretty interesting. It combined two of my favorite activities: travel and the movies.

Where Hollywood Takes Flight
Two companies provide dummy aircraft and airline-related sets for filmmakers around the world. Scott McCartney checks out the fuselages.
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ToolieTravelBlog: Staying Healthy When Traveling

For your convenience, here is news that is pertinent to business travelers.

Staying Healthy When You Travel
Fitness expert Jillian Michaels brings along as much as she can of her healthy eating and exercise habits.

Travelocity Plans New Hotel Booking Deal plans to announce that travelers who book hotels on their Web site, and then later find the same reservation at a lower price online anytime before the day of check-in, will be refunded the difference between the prices.

Saving Flier Miles From the Ax
Consumers are letting billions of dollars worth of frequent-flier miles expire unused, in part because of confusing policies. But there are steps travelers can take to protect their miles.

... And a bit of nostalgia...

Pan Am Takes Off in a California Garage
Anthony Toth has built a precise replica of a first-class cabin from a Pan Am 747 in the garage of his condo in Redondo Beach, Calif.
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ToolieTravelBlog: A Better Air-Traffic-Control System

For your convenience, here is news that is pertinent to business travelers.

A Better Air-Traffic-Control System
New satellite-based systems that operate over oceans include frequent automatic position reporting from airplanes and email-like communications between pilots and controllers.

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