By Noel T. Braymer

In going to Dublin, Ireland for a long overdue trip, I wanted to see how well things would work at least for a long trip if I used rail and bus service for coming and going to LAX. For this trip it worked fairly well. By using a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Dublin with ground transportation from my home some 90 odd miles in Oceanside my travel time was close to what it would be had I flown out of nearby San Diego to a hub airport connection to Dublin. This works on a fairly long distance trip which for me lasted for 2 weeks. Many trips by air are for only one or two days. With jet travel, a business trip of under 600 miles can start early in the morning and a person could be home that night to sleep in their own bed. For such short distance and time trips, taking rail or bus service to the airport wouldn’t work for many people. Besides such trips usually are paid with company expense accounts and are not coming out of the employees pocket. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have improved rail and bus service at airports. Many of the people going to an airport go there to work and their cars add to the traffic congestion and smog around airports. Modest improvements to public transportation could go a long way in reducing traffic congestion around airports as well as making it easier for people to get in and out of the airport, including visitors flying from out of town.

While being car-less for 2 weeks worked for me, it did have its moments of anxiety. I had a 7:50 PM flight to catch in Los Angeles. I got my round trip Amtrak tickets at Oceanside the day before my trip. My plan was to catch Amtrak Surfliner 579 from Oceanside at 2:29 PM and arrive at Los Angeles Union Station by 4:21 PM. I would have time for a snack and bathroom break. I had also bought online and printed round trip tickets for the Los Angeles Union Station Flyaway bus service to LAX which is managed by the operators of the airport. My plan then was to catch the 5:00 PM Flyway Bus from Union Station and to get to my terminal at LAX around 5:45 PM or so. That would give me a good 2 hours before flight time to check in and make my flight with some extra time to spare. One thing I noticed on my train trip was that one of the few doors open for boarding the train was the Cafe/Coach car with seating upstairs and food service downstairs. I had written a few months before about the lack of signage for passengers on the Surfliners to find the Cafe Cars and lack of directions on the announcements for the Cafe Car service to find it. I have seen passengers complaining on board they couldn’t find the Cafe Car not knowing it was on the lower level, not the upper level where passengers walk to get between rail cars. Now there was a permanent sign on the upper level of the car with the Cafe giving directions to the Cafe on the lower level. The electronic signs on the train now also gave directions to get to Cafe at the lower level and the PA announcements now given by the Cafe attendant also gave directions as well as informing passengers that Cafe Service was available.

This is one of the messages on the train to LAUS about Cafe Car service on the Pacific Surfliners. Photo By Noel T. Braymer

I left my house around 1:30 PM and walked about 5 minutes to a nearby bus stop. I have bus service near my place running every 15 minutes during the day on weekdays to downtown Oceanside and the Transit Center which includes the train station. I had time to spare catching the train to Los Angeles. After my quick snack I went to the Flyaway bus stop at the bus station at Union Station. I had read I should be at the bus stop 10 minutes early, so I arrived around 4:50 PM to wait for my bus. The bus arrived a little after 5:10 PM and it took a while to load luggage on the lower level of the bus. There was a good crowd of people on the bus heading for LAX. A Flyaway employee told us the bus was late because of traffic. It was roughly 5:15 PM before the Flyaway Bus left Union Station. The normal travel time to LAX is suppose to be around 35 minutes traveling most of the way in express High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on the Harbor and Century Freeways. But it was now the peak of rush hour traffic in downtown Los Angeles. Traffic was crawling on the surface streets and if anything it got worse as the bus got on the freeway in downtown. It took about 30 minutes to go maybe 5 miles to get on the express lanes on the Harbor Freeway. Even then traffic was sluggish. Instead of arriving at 5:45 PM, I got to my terminal at around 6:10. I still had to check in my bags and get through the security checks.

This is the view of the traffic from the Flyaway Bus shortly after leaving LAUS and trying to get on the freeway. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

When I got to Check In I was the only passenger there for my flight. Most if not all of the other passengers on my flight had already checked in. The airline employees were friendly and relaxed so they didn’t seem worried that I’d miss my flight. At least now the employees at the plane’s gate would know I was there. But I still had to get through the security search train. It was slow and confusing. At least it wasn’t as bad as when I had to transfer terminals at O’hare Airport 2 years ago on my last trip to Dublin. I think the X-ray cylinder from hell that they force you into is a major reason for the slow searches. People have trouble placing their feet and hands in the right position which holds up searches. By the time I got my belt and shoes on and walked to my gate it was almost 6:50 PM which was the time boarding was scheduled to begin. Departure was scheduled for 7:50 PM. But boarding was slow and it was roughly 8:10 PM before the door was closed and the plane pulled away from the gate. Even this took time since we were in a line with other planes waiting to take off. But while the flight was scheduled for 11 hours, the actual flight time was less than 10 hours and 30 minutes which meant we arrived basically on time.

In my next post I’ll write about some of my experiences with train travel in Dublin. After 2 weeks it was time for me to go home. My family in Ireland including my 3 year old grandson came with me to the airport. I didn’t get much sleep that night because my grandson at 3 in the morning wanted to sleep with his grandmother and me. By 8 AM in Dublin by which time I was already out of bed it was still midnight in California. We got to the Dublin Airport hours early by Noon for the 3:00 PM departure. My grandson didn’t want me to leave, but to stay in Dublin. Getting my boarding pass and checking in my bag was very easy and quick. It was mostly self serve, but there was an airline employee to help which I needed since I’m not a frequent flyer. Going through the search train at Dublin was almost a delight. The lines were short and moved quickly. The employees were very polite and the operation seem much smoother than most search trains. I think one major reason for this was while they X-rayed bags and shoes, they didn’t X-ray people. Another thing which sped things up was how they handled the trays you put your stuff in to be X-rayed. Most airports seem to always run out of trays and searching stops for TSA employees to carry stacks of trays often walking through the metal detector in the process. In Dublin the trays are not in stacks. They are on rollers attached to the side of the X-ray machine and are held vertically and not left flat when not moving on the conveyor belt. After you are cleared and have picked up your stuff, you lift the tray and lay it vertically on the rollers along the X-ray machine. If you like you can push your tray and several other trays back to where people need them to get their stuff to be X-rayed. When I was through the Dublin Airport search train I had a Duh moment. I thought, duh!, why don’t all airports use the same system for moving the X-ray trays that they use in Dublin?

My wife and grandson with me on the train in Dublin. Photo by Noel T. Braymer

One thing the Dublin Airport has, which few overseas airports have, is American citizens and permanent residents can go through US Customs and Immigration in Dublin, instead of when you get off the plane in the USA. If you have ever landed at a major airport in this country when several overseas Jumbo Jets land at say LAX and everyone goes through Customs and Immigration at almost the same time, you don’t know what an advantage there is to doing it before you take off. The US Customs and Immigration area is on the right of the hallway on your way to the gates. One thing that is annoying, is first you have to be searched again and then they stick you in the X-ray cylinder from hell. Next you go to machines which scan your passport picture and info, then take a picture of your face to verify your passport with your new picture. Next at the same station you answer 4 or 5 questions on a computer. Last, you talk to a Customs Agent who asks you questions of how much money you spent on your trip etc. The last question was: “Did you take anything with you from this trip?” My answer was “yes, lots of grand memories of my grandson”.

This time I was one of the first passengers to arrive at the gate for my flight home. My flight was scheduled to depart at 3:00 PM. By 3:00 PM everyone was on the plane but we didn’t leave the gate. About 5 minutes after 3:00 PM the plane’s captain came on the intercom to explain that mechanics were working on one of the 2 jet engines and that is why the air conditioning had been shut off. Soon after that the captain announced the work on the jet engine was done and we would soon be off. We left the terminal about 10 after 3 and then got in line behind several other planes in front of us all waiting for clearance to take off. We finally took off around 3:40 PM. But because of padding in the schedule we were expected to land on time in Los Angeles by 6:05 PM. So how can a plane take over 10 hours to fly between Dublin and Los Angeles and leave at 3:40 PM and arrive at 6:05 PM? The eight hours of time zone differences between Dublin and Los Angeles of course.

The plane actually landed 5 minutes early at 6:00 PM. We got to the terminal and then nothing seemed to happen. Turned out they were having problems getting the jet bridge from the terminal to move to get to the plane’s door. It was almost 6:30 PM before we started leaving the plane. By 6:50 PM I had my bag and found the bus stop for the Los Angeles Union Flyaway Bus. The buses are suppose to leave Terminal 1 at 6:40 PM and 7:10 PM. I must have just missed the 6:40 PM bus. At this time I wasn’t sure if the bus would be on time or how bad traffic would be. At 7:15 PM the bus arrived which was basically on time since I wasn’t at Terminal 1. By 7:30 PM the bus left LAX and by 8:00 PM we were at Los Angeles Union Station. For passengers who caught the bus at LAX but didn’t have a ticket for it, they were sent to the Flyaway booth by the bus stop at Union Station which only accepts debit or credit cards, then show their ticket to pick up their luggage. After I got my bag I checked, I went to see the status of the next train to San Diego and what platform it would on.

The Union Station Flyaway Bus at my terminal bus stop. I took this picture before my trip so I would know how and where to catch the bus. Photo By Noel T. Braymer

Amtrak Surfliner 592 was scheduled to depart at 8:25 PM. I got to the train a little after 8:00 PM. Only 2 doors of the 6 cars on the train were open, and a conductor was at each door scanning the tickets and handing out “hatchecks” which are strips of thin cardboard of different colors. The color represented the passenger’s destination and the strips are suppose to be placed in a plastic sleeve overhead above a pair of seats. Usually the conductors places the hatchecks when collecting tickets at the seats. It was a quiet night ride to San Diego. The train reached Oceanside around 10:15 PM. My last leg of this trip was to catch the next bus to get home. I checked the schedule at the bus stop and the next bus was due at 10:34 PM. The last bus of the night was at 11:34 PM. If I had missed the 592 and taken the 796 which if not held would leave at 10:10 PM, I would have missed the last bus home of the night. That would have been a long walk home or a taxi ride. But at least I’d get home even then. I got home around 11:PM and had been awake at least 24 hours when I did. But at least I wasn’t driving.