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‘Honey, I’m home’

by Jan Wheatcroft

 

Yes, I’ve been away on a rather long holiday trip to Europe, mostly visiting dear friends but also exploring a few new places I have always wanted to see. This year, the new city was Prague and the new country was Portugal. But there were other great experiences as part of the whole trip.

One part of taking such a trip is the airplane transportation necessary to get to my chosen destination or destinations—not to mention all the options I need to consider to make the final decision. Cost, comfort, non-stop or not, airline points: all these things are part of the decision-making process. And I am older now.

When I was a young traveler, I would squeeze in anywhere to get to wherever I was going, maybe moaning a bit along the way but choosing economy over comfort. Not any more. Long flights call for more than squashed-in seating, no room for legs and arms, in the tighter-fitting seats. I acknowledge that I cannot afford first or business class—although I was once bumped up to a first class seat on Virgin Airlines and the trip was totally heavenly—but I have opted for Premium Economy, a newer in-between class that is offered by some airlines. Premium Economy offers a larger seat with only two in a row. I get to eat business class food, am located in a smaller section of the plane with two stewards and am able to board first. I can have two to three pieces of checked-in luggage (the third one is usually waived as free). There are many perks but there is also an additional cost. Do I think it is worth it? Absolutely. 

When in Europe, I flew from London to Sweden on SAS, a regular airline, and I was cuddled up to my neighbor with my elbows close to my body like a Pilates position. As it was only a two-hour flight, I felt it was just fine, not like a 10-hour flight from LAX to Heathrow, London. Flying within Europe means short hauls and low prices if one books early enough. My friends booked those flights and they were all under two hours.

To get to Prague from Sweden, we traveled on Norwegian Air and it was a normal flight with one small carry-on bag allowed and seats that did move back. But free food was not served. It was bare bones all the way, though comfortable enough at a very low price. I could do that.

The flights on Easy Jet and Ryan Air are a different story. Everything is cut out or limited. Seats do not recline. Rows are closer together. You get one carry-on—either a backpack or a suitcase—and it is measured and has to be very small. Otherwise they may stop you and charge you to have it checked in. These flights can also be very inexpensive and are short enough to manage this packed sardine-style. The best that I can say is , “We got there.”

British Air has an inexpensive arm to its airline and we flew from Spain to Gatwick, London. They were a bit more flexible in allowing for checked baggage and did not charge at all. All of this boils down to making choices not based simply on destination, cost and time but adding in factors such as comfort, baggage allowance, which can be tough when you are on a long haul trip taking everything you have with you. I was lucky to be able to leave most of my seven-week collection of clothing, gifts and newly-bought items where I was staying so I only had one case with me.  (Sadly, I admit to the fact that this one case was always bigger and more full than it should have been.)

Two years ago I traveled to India via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific Airlines, which was perfectly fine except for the discomfort of tighter seating. The trip was a long one (LAX to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Chennai, India). We traveled economy class due to the higher expense of the upgrade to Premium Economy. I do not wish to do that again for such a long flight. There is quite a difference in the comfort factor, and that is something that I now consider when I plan a trip abroad. I save for that added expense. As for using points gained from traveling or charging on credit cards (as I wrote in a previous article), I have not been successful in booking anything that I wanted even three months in advance. 

Once in Europe, my friend Frances and I tend to travel using trains to get from one city or country to another. Seats are reserved and are not jammed together, many bags can be carried in the carriage, there are toilets available and wide windows to look out of at the scenery, which is most often interesting. In both Portugal and Spain, we discovered that the fares for train tickets were reduced for seniors. That was a special bonus.

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