Huckleberry's Lessons in Life
Last week my wife, son and I rented a campervan for a tour of the Isle of Wight. Not being ones to do things the easy way, we stayed away from those enormous American "RV"s and the European luxury campers and instead rented Huckleberry.
Huc' is a Blue 1979 VW Combi T2 with a Westfalia 4 berth, lifting roof conversion. Huc isn't fast and anyone that has piloted a 40ft narrow boat will know how Huc is to steer and stop. His gear box was like a that of an old farm Land rover stuck in low ratio - imagine changing into third at 15mph and in top by 25mph but don't think of coming down to second above walking pace or into first whilst moving. Frankly put, there are more cost effective, more comfortable and more efficient ways to travel. But we loved him and enjoyed every journey.
In the coming months, my family will be taking a trip from the UK to the USA and I'm really not looking forward to it. I'm really going to enjoy being there, but not the travelling. More specifically, I'm really, really not looking forward to the flight. Now, let us continue on the understanding that I love airplanes and aviation. I have no fear of flying and I even enjoy being in airports. So why did I find myself looking for one way crossings by sea?
Not withstanding that my son at two years old has about as much desire to sit still for 7 hours as a Marine before a fitness exam, my own experience of long haul travel has not presented me with a strong wish to make the event a regular occurrence.
I'm not a frequent traveller and for the purpose of this discussion we will have put to one side a return flight in Business Class with Continental a few years ago that wasn't my money and was a very pleasant experience.
I've flown to Australia on Singapore Airlines which had great service and no leg room. Actually, they are the one airline I have been on that I recommend. The one airline I haven't been on that I recommend is Emirates as they were such a tough customer they MUST be good to fly on.
Flying Delta to the USA was pleasant enough after their Paris Airport rep decided for himself that even though I'd been in France for three years I had no right to live there and hence no right to board his plane. No I don't have a French passport, no I don't have a Carte d'Habitation this is the EU and you don't need one any more, no I don't have my ID badge from work as I don't work for a French company and I'm on holiday. Yes, you have just kept my 6 months pregnant wife standing for 45 minutes. By the time his boss came over to tell him it was OK, we were last in the queue and my opinion of his airline was ruined.
Continental took my good opinion of them and shredded it too. Coming back from Baltimore they cancelled my connecting flight from BWI to Newark and put me on the Amtrak. No problem, I can understand and I'd rather not fly through a thunderstorm either. What I cant understand is that having taken the earliest train, why did they close the check-in desk for my flight to the UK 5 minutes before the train got in? And why did they treat me like I hadn't bothered to get up in time to get there? I'd like to say that I complained...., what I actually did was spend an hour in the Customer Services queue waiting to complain before I decided to give up and talk my way onto the next flight. That in itself wasn't straightforward and I was amazed just how much suspicion and distain I was met with.
I quite enjoyed my flight with TWA all those years ago, but mostly as they were flying me out to Kansas City for a job interview. That flight was notable for my economy class sleeper seat - the 747 was so empty I had the middle 5 seats to myself so could lift the arm rests and lie down.
I don't want to make it sound like I have something against US airlines, I have had interesting experiences with UK airlines too. A couple of years ago I booked a flight with British Airways from Paris to London and found myself on a British Airways Connect Embraer 145. Now that aircraft is fantastic, a business jet with more seats, but it doesn't have much overhead locker space. So into the hold went my carry-on luggage and in with it went my wallet. On the flight when I asked for a cup of water I was told I could buy a bottle for £1, but they couldn't give me water in a cup. No wallet, no water... on British Airways?
So, I don't want to email myself to the USA and I dont want to sign away my family's right to be human beings in return for being handed a boarding pass.
I guess that what I'm looking for is the Huckleberry of air travel. Find me a classic airline with DC4s, Britannias, Handley-Page Heralds or better still Empire class flying boats. Fly me in several stops, as this will break up the journey. Much longer of time to get there? No problem, I'm in no hurry. More noisy? OK, I'll live with that, just give me 1950s levels of service. I'd be happy to pay for the privilege as long as there were no hidden fees just for turning up.
This is the journey I'd look forward to for months and I'd never forget once we'd arrived.