Having just completed a 48-hour trip to Shanghai – traveling by high-speed train down and by air on return – I am now forever swearing off plane travel on all routes where travel by high-speed train is possible. There is just no reason to suffer the primitive, cattle-like treatment offered during a typical air trip anymore when making a trip to Shanghai now that the speed train exists. A typical high speed train trip will take 5-1/2 hours, but with the standard delays (and the fact that you’ve got to turn up an hour early to catch a plane), the plane is going to take you nearly four – and with twice the aggravation.
I present to you the ten reasons why you should never travel to Shanghai via plane again:
1. Predictability. When a train says its going to leave at 7:01, it rolls out of the f***ing station at 7:01. When taking the plane, the only time you are absolutely sure you will not take off is the scheduled departure time. Add to this the fact that the airlines seem to derive pleasure in keeping you in the dark about when you’ll board, and once boarded, when you’ll take off. It all adds up to anxiety and frustration that makes waiting around a chore.
2. Fewer lines. Think of how many lines you need to stand in to get on a flight. At minimum, three: 1) check-in line 2) Security clearance and 3) Boarding. God knows how long you’ll have to wait, standing, in each of these three levels of hell. On some trips it’s a breeze; on others its nothing short of purgatory. The train? Boarding is a breeze – security is rational and efficient and there are no lines at boarding due to multiple points of embarkation. Speaking of that:
3. No anxiousness on boarding. It’s inevitable on an airplane that someone in Seat 13A is going to board first with his massive oversized luggage and immediately clog the aisle as he or she attempts to hoist his or her jumbo bag into the overhead bin while 120 passengers wait behind him. Meanwhile, the other 75 percent of the passengers with seat assignments beyond Row 13 stand in silent fury. This scene will repeat itself for the duration of the on-boarding process, then again during deplaning. With a train, there are entrances on both sides of the train and more than one place to put your luggage, so boarding is quicker and smoother.
4. Freedom to go digital/mobile whenever you want. Just about the worst thing about being stuck on the tarmac for an hour in line for a plane to take off is the cabin crew coming to tell you that if you listen to music or use your laptop while the plane takes off, you’re certainly going to kill everyone when the pilot is distracted by your tunes floating in over the air traffic control tower or whatever. So you must sit in mind-numbing isolation sans distraction unless you are the type that reads in-flight magazines (and if you do, you’ve got bigger problems, my friend). Then, 30 minutes before landing, you are asked to stow your electronics once again for fear that your mobile phone’s Flappy Birds game is going to permanently disable the landing gear, causing the fiery death of all passengers and crew on board.
5. Plenty of leg room. Hey, I fly coach in an airline and I’m 186cm tall. I’ll admit I’m on the tall end of the scale, but I’m no Yao Ming. I’m rarely even the tallest guy on any given flight, even in China. The legroom I am afforded on a typical passenger plane has been scientifically engineered to be exactly 1mm longer than my femur, which guarantees an uncomfortable journey no matter what seat position I am in. On the train – even second class – I’ve got room to spare … so much so that waves of agoraphobia come over me in my seat, as I silently calculate the air time my body will experience before striking the seat back in front of me should the train slam on its breaks.
6. Electrical Plugs at every row. Need I say more? The second-class cabin has plugs in every row of three seats. If you remember to pack a small adapter with extra outlets, you won’t even have to fight with a seatmate for plug use.
7. Beijing’s South Railway Station. How is it that the train station makes T3, the shining showpiece of Beijing’s 2008 Olympic party, look primitive? The South Railway Station positively glitters, functions more as shopping mall than railway station, and has a variety of food choices that make T3 look third world. I am having a hard time naming a food franchise not represented at the station. And let’s not get into T3’s obnoxious size, where you need to take a train just to get from check-in to your gate. The South Railway station is expansive yet compact, so you won’t need to walk farther to your departure gate than to actually reach your destination.
8. Wider aisles. There’s nothing quite as mind-numbingly ridiculous as two passengers trying to pass in an airline aisle that is slightly less wide than the average shoulder span of a pre-teen. Not so with trains – passengers can pass with ease without the necessity of ass-swiping the face of the person in the aisle seat as you move past someone coming the other way.
9. The dining car. Yeah the food’s not great, but what’s not to like about a special car where you can hang if the person sitting next to you has horrendously bad breath or is excessively talkative at the time you want to read? Just the fact that you can get up and walk around on a train without being hassled by the cabin crew to get back to your seats is pure bliss.
10. Speed is so much more precious at ground level. So what if you travel at bazillion kilometers per hour in the air? Except for a precious few moments on takeoff and landing (if you’ve got a window seat), there’s no sensation of speed on the airplane aside from the irritating non-stop white-noisy whoosh of jet engines and air rushing by. Nothing gives you the feeling of speed more than seeing the landscape race by outside massive picture windows on both sides of the train, visible from every seat.
This post originally appeared on thebeijinger.com on September 18, 2014.