Friday, March 5, 2010

Wanderlust Interrupted

Whither those friendly (and cheap) skies?


By JON DUVAL
Express Staff Writer

In preparation for yet another summer of whirling around the country like a dervish to partake in Round 4 of nuptial ceremonies (I get it, you're in love, but give me just one summer off, please!), I've begun the exhaustive process of scouring the Interweb for "cheap" airfare.

If I were telling you this in person, I would have even put air quotation marks around cheap in my best imitation of Chandler Bing. And yes, I used to watch "Friends" religiously. We all have our skeletons.

Anyhoo—early September wedding back on the East Coast. Booking many, many months in advance. Mid-week departure and return. Using a popular search engine, I found a flight from Sun Valley to Boston for $615. If I want to shave another $200 off the ticket price and make two stops, I can drive to Boise.

Not too bad, says the seasoned Wood River Valley resident traveler.

But then, for some odd reason, I begin thinking about how easy it was to travel from London to any destination in Europe. Last-minute airfares for less than a dollar, maybe a total of $40 after taxes were included.

Of course, that was nearly a decade ago, so let's run a modern-day comparison of a trip I took, flying from London to Athens. My own version of the Coke-Pepsi taste test.

Flying on the same dates, I can go from the home of Mama Mia! the musical to the home of nude wrestler sculptures for $160.

OK, I understand that certain caveats must be included. Boise to Boston is about 600 miles farther than London to Athens (although you still cross two time zones for each trip). It's right around Labor Day in the U.S., whereas in Europe it's simply another week for unionized workers to shut down the public transit system. And, sure, there's a slight difference between the population densities of London and Sun Valley that impacts the correlation between supply, demand and price.

But seriously, almost a $450 difference? Not only is it going to cost me four times as much to travel within a single country, but I'm also going to get charged per peanut?

As my dad would say: That sucks, big time.

In addition, should you desire, you could just as easily jump on a train and cross a significant body of water and around a dozen countries and arrive in Athens three days later. I'm not sure you can take a train from Boston to New York in that amount of time and arrive in one piece.

Of course, an argument can be made that the U.S. is at a disadvantage in terms of cost of traveling simply because we don't share Europe's advantage of having so many developed countries and cities concentrated in a small area. And airlines here are having a difficult time, requiring the businesses to look to increase margins wherever possible, such as implementing charges if you deign to check a bag that contains more than a stick of deodorant and a clean pair of underwear.

Still, it's hard not to get a little upset when it would cost me $300 to fly from Hailey to Salt Lake City this weekend, a total distance of 290 miles. It's the same distance as London to Belfast, but that trip you can take for the price of dinner for two at the Christy. And that's without good wine.

Then again, I get to live here, the best place on Earth, so maybe I should just stop complaining. But still, it does feel good to vent once in a while.

Jon Duval is a staff writer for the Idaho Mountain Express.




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