I wouldn’t want to be an airline these days. Even more, I wouldn’t want to be an airline passenger.
Those long waits to go through security will feel like recess compared to the technology that will save us from infecting each other before, during and after we fly. This is a certainty in the next few months and could be even a couple of years from now when we’ve all been vaccinated. Or will we be?
Besides, as we all know now, fear operates independent of reality. The odds that the man sitting beside me on the plane has a bomb may be the same as the odds that the same man has COVID-19. But the danger when he coughs in mid-flight somehow feels more clear and present.
So it’s perfectly possible that you will take longer to get to the airport, through the airport and through your flight than it does to drive to your destination. Not fly there. Drive there.
Let’s use Ottawa as an example. You can drive from Toronto in 4 hours and 30 minutes. So let’s say it takes 45 minutes to get to Pearson International, then another 2 hours and 45 minutes to get through The New Security, plus another hour in flight on the plane, and…….voila…….4 hours and 30 minutes.
It’s tipping points like this that make us give up cherished habits for new ones.
Especially today because the fastest possible VIA Rail train from Toronto to Ottawa is 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the average time is 4 hours and 20 minutes.
Now if we were in Europe and not North America, many of us would long ago have given up short-haul flying for the high-speed trains that can whoosh you from Madrid to Barcelona in 2 hours, 45 minutes; and of course London to Paris via the Eurostar in 2 hours and 28 minutes.
The stations aren’t in some farmer’s field, but Centre Ville, in Paris, the Gare du Nord, and in London, St. Pancras. Security is smoother, the seats are plush and the food, fine.
So is the price, as I learned from reading a wondrous New Yorker article yesterday. It’s called The Enduring Romance of the Night Train which puts our own trains in the dark. They are slow, spotty, starved of funding and always forgotten until some politician says: “We need a high-speed train from Windsor to Quebec City.”
But now, when we’re resolving to change so much in our lives, now might be the very time to start re-thinking our relationship with planes and trains. Until now, planes have won hands-down. But not so much anymore. Besides, they’re huge producers of CO2.
In Europe, it’s easy to compare planes to trains for short-haul trips because they’re apples and apples. Here, years of starving our passenger rail system have left it faint and halting at the very start of what could be a new age of short-haul train travel.
I remember years ago when Jean and I took a high-speed train from Rotterdam to Paris (a little over 2 and a half hours). For some reason, we were late in leaving. But when we arrived at the station in Paris, a dozen uniformed men and women rushed at us down the gateway, thrusting pieces of paper into the bewildered passengers’ hands. These were coupons offering a 50% discount on our next journey, with profuse apologies from the company who undertook to do this any time the train was 30 minutes late – and to offer a free trip any time your last one was delayed by an hour.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, the idea of a Windsor-Quebec City High-Speed Rail Corridor has been studied incessantly.
But with the Federal Government’s newly-created Canada Infrastructure Bank (which is funding a study with Via Rail); with Ottawa’s penchant for opening the spigot on billions of new dollars; with interest rates approaching zero; and with a zeitgeist that says “we can’t go back to the old ways”, now seems like a pretty good time to open a different conversation: not the one that starts, “Flying will be even more mind-numbing than before,” but “Is there a better way than flying?”
After all, the railway did bring us together once already.
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Get your tickets to the May 14th RamsayTalks Online with Jared Diamond, “one of the deepest thinkers of our time.”