Two weeks ago, I set off for an overnight trip to London to stay at some friends' place before flying from Heathrow on a trip to California the next day. Over the next week or so, I hope to recount the experiences of my first trip to the USA and specifically to its most populous state.
One of the regular topics on this blog is the overcentralisation of the country in the capital and Heathrow, in particular the decision to build a third runway, has been criticised previously. There were no direct flights from Britain's sixth busiest airport direct to San Francisco, and the indirect flights were as expensive as the direct flights from Heathrow. As such, I was forced to use the busiest international airport in the world despite my disdain for it (although I was also travelling with some friends who were based in London). Even more worrying, originally it looked like we would be flying by BA from a BAA airport; a recipe for disaster if ever there was one. However, our incompetence meant that we missed the cheaper BA flight and ended up flying Virgin Atlantic - a blessing in disguise in my opinion. While BA epitomises the third-rate Thatcherite-Blairite capitalism of privatisation of a publicly-owned service to monopolist profiteers who run it down to the point that it is now a dodgy pension fund which does a bit of flying on the side, Virgin Atlantic represents capitalism at its best; entrepreneurs building a business from scratch and delivering a decent product to attract the masses. Let me say, the flight did not disappoint either; having not flown long-haul since the early 90's, I was amazed at the choice of food and entertainment, over 60 movies and numerous tv shows, numerous games that can be played some against other passengers and even a phone, e-mail and text-message service from the flight (the latter for a premium of course). Discussions with my friends who are temporarily staying in California seemed to confirm that Virgin was indeed better than BA in this respect.
However, flying from Heathrow still left me with the problem of getting to London for a mid-morning flight, which being a weekday could have proved rather expensive had the friends I was flying with not generously offered to let me stay over at theirs. This left me with the option of getting to London by train either pre-booking via Virgin trains for £7 each way, or using the £19.50 super off-peak with Chiltern railways. Unfortunately, Virgin trains tend to be closer to BA than Virgin Atlantic, and the risk that I would miss the train back to Brum by flight cancellations meant I was prepared to pay more for the slower but more flexible ticket by Chiltern trains, which has the added advantage of leaving via the far superior Birmingham Moor Street Station rather than the overcrowded concrete mass that is Birmingham New Street. The Chiltern line is really two local services; a local service from Birmingham Snow Hill to Leamington Spa, and one from Bicester to London Marylebone. Hence the train left packed and pretty much emptied by Bicester, only to fill up again the closer we got to London. We seemed to stop at a ridiculous amount of stations (I think it was 27) meaning the entire journey took 2 hours 14 minutes instead of the 1 hour 24 it would take from New Street to Euston. Once in London, I had to face the tube.
Life would be a lot simpler for the majority of the country if we used the extra capacity at regional airports rather than putting all our eggs in the baskets of London airports and in particular, London Heathrow.