Monday, February 12, 2007

Airlines -- Domestic (USA) vs International

In January I had my first real opportunity to fly internationally as I traveled to IJCAI (International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence), which was held in Hyderabad, India. The trip overall was great, and I realized that flying internationally has many perks over flying domestic.

One of the great things about a long flight is that they actually feed you. I've spent most of a day flying from the east coast of the USA to the west coast of the USA without being given a single meal on board the flight (coach class). However, when flying to India via London (Boston -> London Heathrow -> Mumbai -> Hyderabad) I was given more meals than I actually needed, due to the time changes. Even when flying back to the USA, when the time change did not bring meal time quicker than usual, I was still fed enough to not have to find food in the airport or risk starvation.

Another great thing is that you have better movie/tv/radio choices, at least versus many of the US domestic planes. The only flight I think did better was the Song flight I had last year. On my Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Mumbai I actually had video games to play as well, so that does improve on all of the others. I would fly them again just to have that sort of entertainment available. Not to mention the fact that they give you a bag of essentials: toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, and a mask to cover your eyes when trying to sleep and all of the lights are on. When you get stranded overnight in London on your way home with no extra clothes or toiletries in your carry-on bag, Virgin Atlantic becomes the best airline in the world.

I also found that with being on a bigger plane there was less chance of motion sickness. One of my landings was a little rough, but otherwise it didn't feel nearly as choppy as most of the domestic flights I've taken in the past few years.

Granted, those perks are rather minor when compared to the large difference in cost, with my total bill being about $1600 for a round trip from east coast USA. However, this large price was due to two factors beyond my control: the location (Hyderabad) does not have an international airport that is cost effective to fly into, and January is tourist season in India so all of the prices hike up and all of the cheap plane tickets are bought long before we found out our work was accepted at IJCAI.

International flights could also be less enjoyable if you were stuck in the middle of a row of 5 people, especially if you had to use the restroom in the middle of the night. Luckily for me I was sitting in the aisle on every single flight, and the only time I slept on the plane I was in a front row so no one had to wake me to get through. So although that could be a negative, it doesn't apply!

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