Note: This is part of a series covering my mega trip to East Coast USA. There were many facets of the trip to talk about, so I’m breaking them down in some posts and providing an overview in others. The individual articles will make better sense if we read them as a whole.
I’m not a big fan of Singapore Airlines (SIA, or more affectionately known as SQ), but I’m still a fan nonetheless. However, the brisk business at SQ meant that the airline has no intention of bringing down their ticket prices. So, even though I was still a staff of SQ last winter, I was reluctant to fork out a premium of up to S$800 to make my way to NYC for the Macy’s Parade.
That was when N unleashed his aviation geek acumen and found the best travel option for us: one that is cheap and yet did not require us to spend a month in the air. All it needed was for us to take a kangaroo route.
We first took Thai Airways (TG) to do a hop to Oslo via Bangkok, and then switched to Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to fly to Washington DC via Copenhagen. The return was similar, except that we departed from Boston to get to Copenhagen and Oslo, before transferring from SAS to TG to do the Oslo-Bangkok-Singapore route.
Confusing? I made a route map out of this.
Or perhaps the flight numbers of my trip?
Alright, the trip report isn’t all about the route itself, but also about the prices, time, convenience of travel and comfort of the aircraft. And yes, on this route, we managed to take 3 different types of aircraft, with the good old dame Boeing 747-400 being one of them!
Like I mentioned, compared to taking a direct flight on Singapore Airlines, we would have saved about SGD800. The cost didn’t just factor in the absolute price alone, considering the itinerary we took.
For example, we wanted to visit Washington DC, Boston and New York City, all of which were along the East Cost of America, which meant that no matter how we planned the order of the cities to visit, there would be back-tracking on the rail in order to arrive at and leave from the same city.
In the case of taking SIA (without transferring on codeshares), that would be New York City.
If we think out of the box and arrived in DC and departed from Boston like we did, there would be no back-tracking and we would have saved on the railway tickets and travelling time. These are indirect costs that were factored in when we were deciding on whether to abandon Singapore Airlines.
The math said, yes.
We Saved on Cost, Gained on Experience
Our option of hopping around cities and transferring to different airlines, though cheap, involved complex coordination of timing and wayfinding; let’s just say we used our brainpower to compensate for the savings, which might not be palatable for those who just want to travel simply (and willing to fork out the extra cash). To us, however, it added another dimension of fun in our travel.
We passed through 3 more airports than necessary, but we also visited 4 airports we never went to before. Until you transit at Copenhagen, you would not understand that you can still build an airport out of sustainable materials. At Oslo, we got some time to steal a short trip to a nearby lake and breathed some non-airport European air (or like what N said, his luggage touched Norwegian soil).
DC’s airport was a breeze to pass through compared to the convenient, gargantuan, but choke-filled with people JFK. Boston was super convenient, as we could choose to either reach it by their subway, or via an airport shuttle, all under an hour.
And guess what? Even though Oslo looked like it is further from Singapore than Copenhagen, the flight time is actually shorter!
Such extra experience challenged our current knowledge and assumptions of our surroundings, and yes, it added more hassle to our holiday, I found it more interesting than to stay cooped up in a tin can for 24 hours.
I covered the individual flight time in the articles posted previously. The risk involved was to set aside sufficient time in between flights, without causing us to spend more time than necessary on travelling.
Therefore, during the transit in Oslo where we transferred from Thai Airways to SAS, we catered for a longer time. It was not just because we were arriving from long haul and many things could have happened in between to increase the travel time (or cause diversions), but also because if we did miss our onward flights, it would be more difficult to arrange for an alternate flight as we were transferring from a different airline.
For the transit at Copenhagen (or Bangkok), we took a calculated risk with the same consideration mentioned above: the airline is more likely to take responsibility to help us book alternate flights should we miss our flights. There are also many more alternatives for short haul flights that we can quickly hop on.
Therefore, where we spent longer transit time in between airlines at Oslo, we caught up at Bangkok and Copenhagen with shorter transit time catered.
I also mentioned in one of my posts that travelling on Star Alliance airlines reduced that risk; that being said, we can’t count on it fully to resolve our problems when the transfer between Thai Airways and SAS did screw up. I guess making decisions on the timing really depended a lot on weighing of priorities and consequences of the different options.
Convenience – Ground Service
As my individual trip reports focused mainly on the inflight experience, I decided to lump all my thoughts on the ground services in this consolidated post.
The main comparison was actually on that of Asian and Western airports. For example, during boarding, the European airports used electronic gantries like that used in Changi Airport’s Terminal 4; you scan your boarding pass yourself, instead of passing it to the ground staff. That was real and effective use of automation.
Also, unlike in T4, the gantries did mean to stop people from the “wrong” boarding groups to cut queues. I mean, in Oslo and Copenhagen, if your boarding group was not called, the gantry door would not open for you. In T4, it didn’t matter what boarding group you are in as they only segregated premium and economy passengers during boarding.
The strict system in Europe made boarding more orderly, as those on later boarding groups didn’t try to choke up the queues. And since boarding groups were assigned to ensure that those seated at the back of the plane boarded first, it meant that the chances of having passengers choke up the middle of the aircraft due to jumping queue was reduced (I said reduced, because there were still people seated near the front or middle of the aircraft who got to board earlier, like those passengers with kids).
Yes, the European system seemed impersonal and cold, but it made the boarding experience a lot more pleasant than the chaos one finds in Asia.
On the other hand, the lean manpower at the Western airports meant a veeeery long wait for luggage, even for premium passengers. What was worse, Western airports were rather dull. Unlike Asian airports where one can consider dropping by the DFS to do some shopping while waiting for their baggage, there was none of these in the Western airports. The only solace was the free WiFi to help us while our time away as we waited for our luggage.
Side track to baggage carousel, the one at Oslo was freaking huge, almost felt like we were waiting for the building stones of the Great Pyramids than our luggage!
For those ground staff we did meet in Europe, like those at the check in counter, they were warm and friendly… friendlier than cabin crew, I would say. I can’t remember my encounter at Boston airport, perhaps because they adopted self-service check in.
But guess what? While waiting for our return flight at Copenhagen, which was in the dead of the night, we found self-service Starbucks machine! Yes! You can make your own Starbucks coffee, by yourself, in the airport!
The only gripe I have, which I noticed seemed to be present also in Rome and Madrid’s airport, was how European’s airports like to segregate their transit area even further.
Convenience – Transfer
The best thing about transferring at Oslo and Copenhagen was that they were small airports. Transferring between flights weren’t as nerve-wrecking as when you are trying to navigate the huge, cavernous terminals found in Suvarnabumi and Changi airports.
Because of this, the transit time we catered for was actually more than sufficient; to the extent that we managed to find time to scurry out of Oslo airport, defying language barriers and lack of data connectivity, to do some superficial sightseeing!
For example, when we were stuck in Copenhagen’s airport due to the neverending delay, we had to go to the customer service centre to retrieve our coupons. However, between the gate hold rooms and customer service centre was an immigration check point! Each time we passed through the checkpoint, we had to queue up for about 10 minutes. When the delay information was not clear, we had to scuttle through that checkpoint a few times throughout the duration of the delay, which was frustrating if you realise the cumulative time spent in the queue was about an hour.
However, if everything went smoothly, that additional checkpoint wouldn’t even be on a traveller’s mind, I guess.
Day Trip to Jessheim
I kept mentioning our “day trip” out of Oslo airport… To be honest, Oslo’s airport is too far from the city centre to have a good day trip in that 4 hours of transit time we had. After discounting taxiing after touch down, settling the check in procedures, understanding how to take the buses and actually finding our ways to the ticket offices and bus bays, the actual time we had was slightly more than an hour.
With that in mind, we took the advice of Tripadvisor to visit a nearby lake, just for the heck of it.
I must say it was the greatest surprise of the trip. First, we had good weather; good weather for travelling out of the airport without the hassle of carrying umbrellas or such and good weather for sightseeing. The air was clear that we could see so far out into the lake! Somehow, nobody was out despite the good weather, which made the trip feel so surreal, as though we were visiting an abandoned town that was so well maintained after all these years.
To be honest, that could be anywhere in Europe. However, that was a wonderful icing on the cake, considering that our trip was focused heavily on visiting the metropoles of the United States, where we were bombarded with urban structures. To be there at Jessheim, taking in nature was beyond what I could imagine.
For a more technical aspect of my flight journey, I tabulated a table containing our (scheduled) flight times, cost and aircraft types. Feel free to make reference to it for your own planning to the US East Coast!
This post is part of my series to document my trip to US East Coast, which started with my trip reports on Thai Airways via Boeing 777-300ER and on Scandinavian Air Systems (SAS), heartfelt experience at Washington DC, adventures in the neighbourhoods of New York City and Brooklyn (Part 1), exploring the skyscrapers of the Big Apple, and an overview of the Lobster Rolls I found in Boston. Subscribe to my blog for further updates of my trip!
If you enjoyed reading this trip report, please like and share my post to your friends!
Till then, happy travels!
All photos and videos were taken using Olympus TG870 and Google Pixel XL, and edited with Snapseed.