Monday 16 July 2018

It's less stressful to cross the pond than travel to Europe

Passengers queuing on walkways to get to T1 passport control after midnight last Wednesday
Passengers queuing on walkways to get to T1 passport control after midnight last Wednesday
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

What's more gruelling ­­- a 12-hour round trip from Dublin to New York, with just two nights in Manhattan, or an overnight in Italy, with under five hours' total flying time?

I did both in the space of a week on business, and the contrast was startling. Pre-clearance in T2 was a five-minute affair of fingers and thumbs on the scanner, then arrival into a domestic terminal in Newark Airport, and fast passport lines on arrival home.

Meanwhile, a quick turnaround to Trieste, the elegant and largely unvisited former home of James Joyce, revealed just how true those complaints of long summer lines around Europe are.

Tiny Treviso, a secondary airport for the Venice area, is a breeze to arrive into, but flying back out is a different matter. Chaotic, with massive queues for security, it's a nightmarish vision for departing passengers - and made worse by the fact that it's in Italy, a country where queue-skipping is an Olympic sport. Treviso is a place so bad that passengers with soon-to-depart flights are directed to longer lines, while the security personnel alternate between charming and rudely inefficient.

A popular choice with Irish business and leisure passengers, it handled just under 287,000 passengers in June - up 24pc on last year - but, to me, it looks woefully ill-equipped to handle crowds.

It's hugely reliant on Ryanair, and the irony is that the frequently unloved carrier is actually getting better. Much better. Despite the pushing of scratch cards and the grim tootle at the end for on-time flights, it's efficient and, yes, friendlier. The baggage Gestapo are nowhere to be seen, and Ryanair's latest Boeing 737-800s, despite their wafer-thin new seats, are bright, comfortable and even offer a welcome touch of legroom.

Whatever about Treviso, a small fish in a small pond, the passport queues at Dublin's T1 arrivals are as bad as has been made out on social media of late. Long lines way beyond the passport hall into the walkways beyond aren't the nicest of welcomes - and it's baffling that despite having a decent number (half-dozen plus) of passport officers, keeping EU and non-EU passport together in an initial, snaking queue is nuts.

So strangely, despite the awful west-east return jetlag, New York is a doddle compared to a trip to a fellow EU nation.

n Speaking of New York, I caught up with veteran Irish hotelier, John Fitzpatrick, who's celebrating a quarter-century in business on Lexington Avenue.

Fitzpatrick and his association of New York hoteliers have survived the worst of times - 9/11, the economic crash, Trump in power - but there's an unwelcome game-changer in town: Airbnb.

Fitzpatrick and co argue that while all hoteliers are tightly regulated on fire safety and standards, and pay a whack in rates, it's not a level playing field with the online operators. Small-time room-letters aren't the problem, he says, rather it's entire condo blocks being used as hotels in all but name, and without the same rules and regulations to force down their bottom line.

And while Irish business travellers might welcome that kind of competition, Fitzpatrick argues that the Big Apple has added plenty of new hotel stock in recent years, pushing down prices. So much so that he says his own price comparisons have revealed that under-supplied Dublin has often been more expensive for overnight stays than similar hotels in Manhattan this year.

n Midwestern businesses were left out of sorts recently with the announcement that United Airlines would be suspending its Shannon-Newark service during the winter. But it's better news for connectivity on the western seaboard this week, with American Airlines to expand its service to Philadelphia next year. More than 38,000 passengers use the daily Boeing 757 service each year, and capacity on the route is to jump by 18pc.

n Meanwhile, American Airlines has warned passengers at Dublin that it's now closing its check-in counters 75 minutes before flight departure times. The move is designed to give intending passengers enough time to get through security and pre-clearance in time for boarding at Europe's fifth-biggest gateway to North America.

n It's still a waiting game for that much talked-of direct route from Ireland to China. Suggested frontrunner Hainan Airlines hasn't included Dublin in its plans to open six international routes despite reports of ongoing talks. Getting the go-ahead first are Shanghai-Tel Aviv, Beijing-Prague-Belgrade, Shenzhen-Brisbane, Chongqing-JFK, Chengdu-JFK and Shanghai to Brussels.

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