The Oystercard Doesn’t Get You to London Airports, and other London Travel Tips

More about the benefits of an Oystercard and why you should by one in London here, but it’s a little known fact that it doesn’t cover transport all the way to ANY of London’s major tourist airports: Gatwick, Heathrow or Standsted. Instead, each airport offers its own express train. 

For flying into London Gatwick, please note, it’s about two hours from London City Center, so please calculate an additional $70 USD/ £40 for two people for the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station. From there you can buy an Oystercard and get just about anywhere in London via the tube/ underground. 

For flying into London Heathrow, it’s about an hour from London City Center. The Heathrow Express travels to Paddington station in 15 minutes for about $30 / £21 if you purchase in advance. To buy the Express ticket upon arrival into an airport it’s an additional $8 / £5 per ticket. 

For flying into London Stansted, there are two public transport options to get near city center. For $14/ £9, a 55 minute bus ride will take you from the airport to Liverpool Street. For $27/ £18, a 45 minute Stansted Express train will get you from the airport to Liverpool Street. 

NOTE: once you get to Liverpool street, you can use your Oystercard to get anywhere else on the tube, the overground, or the bus system. 

If you’re traveling with a group or you don’t want to deal with inevitable crowds, a third option is a taxi from Stansted which costs between $120-150 (£80-£100), though I’ve never taken it. You’re better off downloading the Gett app and hailing a taxicab that way. 

This is important so I’m saying it twice: buy your Oystercard in London. Do not get a travel card. Do not buy one-way tickets.  And please look hard at the London Pass before subscribing. The Oystercard lets you travel like a Londoner through nearly all the zones and you can refill/ top up the card as you go. 

Happy travels! 

How A Missed London Flight Became the Best Day Ever

We had a flight from London-Gatwick to Oslo scheduled to depart at 6am. Following the guidelines of international flights, we decided to be there about 90 minutes early: 4:30. We were staying at Masslink Guesthouse so across the street from the airport. The alarm is set for 4am.

It doesn’t go off. Something wakes me up around 4am, but it’s not the alarm. I go back to sleep.

I wake up about an hour later, suspicious of how rested I feel. Light is peeking through the curtains. I know it’s not 4am. My eyes glaze over to the clock and in big red letters it proudly displays… Continue reading

Why the TSA’s Recommendations are Ridiculous

We’re aware that, per TSA recommendations, we are supposed to arrive at an airport about a year before the plane takes off. Last I was told, it was two hours for a domestic flight and three hours for an international flight. This is nothing more than a nefarious plot to get innocent air travel patrons to pay obscene prices for food, drink, and entertainment pieces. If you arrived at the terminal five minutes before boarding, you would have no time to shop!

My theory regarding this silliness proved true when I received a text from my beloved stating his wallet was missing. He was driving a newly purchased car from New Jersey to Florida, and was driving somewhere around Maryland; he reaches for his wallet to find it’s not there.

Big problem. No plastic money. No driver license. Limited cash. He couldn’t stay in a hotel even if he wanted to, because hotels require ID now… It’s Saturday afternoon. Banks don’t open until Monday, and even then, have you ever tried to prove you’re you at a bank with no ID or any evidence of it?

Cue text to me. I’m headed to tutor another student; he has enough gas to travel another hour and a half.

Solution? I whip the quickest U-turn and head straight for the airport. No going home to pack. No changing clothes. No time to bring a charger. Nothing. Everything in my purse is what I could bring. As I’m waiting feverishly at a light, I’m using the hotels.com app to determine whether to fly out of Fort Lauderdale or Miami. The chosen flight was departing exactly one hour from the time I whipped the U-turn. I had about 25-30 minutes travel time to the airport. I couldn’t book a ticket online or over the phone; I had to take a shot with the Jetblue reservationist at the airport.

I’m pretty sure, in this afternoon, I clocked the fastest speed for a Toyota Corolla. I made it to the airport; the flight departed in 30 minutes, which means the gates closed in 20 minutes. I had to park. No time for economy parking – it’s a ten minute bus ride. Can’t risk it. $36/ a day parking? That will have to do. I park my car. I run to the Jetblue reservation desk. A woman calls me over; completely out of breath I say, “I need to be on the flight that’s leaving in 20 minutes.” She gives me a “Are you $% kidding me?” I say, “Can you do it or not?” She makes the reservation. I’m dancing around like a cat on a hot tin roof.

What is taking SO long?

Finally she hands me a ticket. She asks, “Do you know where you need to go?” Before I can answer, she says, “Make a left here.” And I say, “Then what?” And she says, “Then you run.”

And you know what? I ran like hell. Fort Lauderdale airport is not small. There’s a distance to traverse. My lungs were on fire. But it was the most movie-like scene I have ever been a part of. This was an exceptional moment. I’m running, I’m sweating, my lungs are burning. People are letting me skip them in the security line.

I get to the gate, completely winded, feeling victorious, like I had just crossed a finish line.

All of that running, and for what? Did I miss anything? I didn’t miss anything. The plane was boarding on time, but not one person felt compelled enough to form a line. No Mosaic members had boarded. No priority. No parents and children. Nobody.

With my spare minutes, I had enough time to go buy a $12 pack of Twizzlers and text my beloved that I was at the gate, ready to go.

Everyone boards. It was as if I had been there the entire 2-hour pre-board window of time. The only difference in my experience and everyone else’s is that I got a damn good cardio session from it.

#5: Depart, Connect or Land at 10 New International Airports

The Day Zero Project is a platform where people everywhere create a list of 101 things they would like to do in 1001 days. It’s just shy of three years and can be anything from learning a skill to completing an old goal or something like finishing the Krispy Kreme Challenge (eating a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts and then running a mile!)

One of the things on my list is the title and purpose of this blog: depart, connect or land at 10 international airports that I have never been to. As of today, 10/15/2014, I have been to the following:

Louisville: 07/07/2013
Denver: 09/02/2013
Baltimore: 09/22/2013
Houston Hobby: 01/31/2014
Austin: 01/31/2014
Nashville: 02/02/2014
Seattle: 05/21/2014
Chicago O’Hare: 09/06/2014

There is something very magical that happens at airports; I frequently get odd looks when I mention this to someone as, for the average Joe, an airport brings about a lot of stress: waiting in line after line, sitting in uncomfortable airport seats, paying $12 for a pack of Twizzlers, sick people everywhere, and the jostling and general annoyance when people begin to board the plane and insist on sitting in their designated seat even though it makes absolutely no difference where you sit. This is why I like Southwest’s style of “sit wherever the hell you want. We just have to get this plane in the air.”

I digress. A life of a person reads much like a chapter book. Some chapters are better than others, but an airport is a platform for a serendipitous moment, an exchange, an opportunity to meet someone who resides thousands of miles away from you but is a kindred spirit. It’s a platform where sharing the armrest and asking someone “Are you visiting or going home?” establishes a long-forgotten human connection. It’s almost liberating. The odds of seeing that person again are slim. Something is weighing heavily on your conscience, and here you are in a plane with infinite non-biased third party perspectives. Each story a person tells me is akin to ripping out a page from his or her book and handing it to me.

Here you are. I won’t see you again. Here’s where I am right now. Here’s what I’m thinking. What I’m worried about.

How beautiful that is. You’re now in that person’s book. A guest star. 5 minutes. 5 seconds.

So many things happen before you get to an airport. You pack. There’s feelings of enormous intensity both good and bad. Some people are leaving home; some people are in search of it. Some people are reuniting with their beloved. Some are running away. Some are pursuing an opportunity. Others are leaving one behind. Some are moving away. Some are moving back. Some are ending relationships. Others are trying to fix them.

All beautiful stories. All honest scripts of the human condition. Together in a stew that is an airport.

I wanted to depart, connect or land at 10 international airports for this reason. Seattle passengers were more outdoorsy, down to earth, and more liberal than the people in Miami. People in Austin were fun-loving, food-loving, beer-loving people. Nashville was rife with that famous southern hospitality and amazing sweet tea.

A follow up to this blog, Airport Moments, will be crafted shortly after I post this.

Maybe this makes sense. Maybe it’s poetic. Maybe it’s far out and I’m seeing a disaster area through rose colored glasses. I won’t deny any of these sentiments. But an airport is one of the places that excites me: a raw hive of half-written stories.

MM.

New US Customs Procedure for International Flights: 2014

The customs procedure when landing at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has changed quite a bit. Our experience was unpleasant because five or six international flights landed at FLL at the same time. This increased a typical 5-10 minute wait at customs to over an hour.

There are two lines for customs: one for visitors to the USA and one for residents. So far, pretty standard. There are two rooms where lines form. The line for the visitors goes much faster but that’s likely because there are well, a lot less visitors than US citizens.

The most surprising advent in the customs procedure is the passport check is completely automated via a kiosk. The customs agents are of no help, but this is to be expected. The prompts on the kiosk are less than clear, also. To pass the kiosk, you must put your passport over a scanner. The machine scans the document page of your passport (document page has your name, picture, birthday, issue date, et al) and shows a picture of the scanned page to you. You verify the information and then…

You look directly into a camera on the kiosk and take a picture. If you do not look straight into the camera, the picture will not take. Once the kiosk takes a picture of you, a receipt prints out with your picture and the same information that’s on your passport plus your arriving flight information.

Once you get to the customs agent, the agent compares the photo you just took at the kiosk and the photo on your passport. I did not see anyone get pulled aside for discrepancies, but I imagine it’s a more…investigative look into why the two pictures do not match to the liking of the customs agent. The agent then finishes the routine questions: “What countries did you visit?” “Are you bringing any fruit, firearms, tobacco, etc?”, stamps your passport and you go to baggage claim to collect checked bags.

People were very confused by this entire process. I imagine once an agent or two comes in that actually assists first time international travelers with the kiosk, the procedure will go a lot smoother. People who travel frequently will find that this procedure more closely matches the customs process of say, China.

Have you traveled internationally and experienced a similar customs process? Or was yours completely different? We’d love to hear from you!

#MarkandMelody