The plan is a rail and air one day extravaganza from Philadelphia to Boston and back. Drive to Philadelphia International Airport; take SEPTA R1 to Amtrak 30th Street Station; Acela #2250 to Boston South Station; the T Blue Line to Logan, US Airways #1027 back to Philly, and drive home. The clincher for this plan: a dirt-cheap return airfare. AirTran invaded the PHL-BOS air market and drove prices, even one-way prices, way down. The air return (as cheap as $45, my ticket was $65) makes the whole trip manageable both time and cost-wise. So, that’s it: one day, train ride, plane ride, a quick look at downtown Boston, and maybe even some food enroute. Let’s go!
Saturday, March 13, 2004
Weather is perfect. Nice cool morning, bright sunshine, a little windy. It’s a good day for travel.
9:02am - On my way.
Leave home (Cherry Hill, NJ) and head down I-295 destined for Philadelphia International Airport. I take my usual route across the Walt Whitman Bridge and onto I-95 south. Passing by the Philadelphia stadium complex it occurs to me that, in just eight days that view will be altered permanently when Veteran’s Stadium is imploded on Sunday, March 21. Kind of sad to see the old dump leveled. It was a dump (at least in later years), but it was our dump and had some charm in a dumpy sort of way. Meanwhile, the new Phillies stadium, Citizen’s Bank Park, is racing against time to be ready for opening day. It will be a close race. It will probably be ready for play but not nearly finished.
9:24am - Arrive Philadelphia International Airport, Garage D, Level 3
Garage D is my favorite at PHL with good availability almost all the time (connects to the new E garage) and good access to not so crowded Terminal D security. Being a Saturday, parking is wide open. I place the car more-or-less in my usual spot and walk down to the terminal level and out toward the terminal D. The security lines at Terminal D are non-existent this morning, but today my friends with the TSA will have to wait a few hours to work me over. This morning I’m using Philly International as a glorified SEPTA train station. I take a quick walk across the connector bridge to the E concourse to check out the airfield and the soon to be PHL home of Southwest. Terminal E is the end-of-the-line stop for the SEPTA R1 airport line. The next train for center city is ready and waiting.
SEPTA R1 #1118
9:40am [scheduled 9:39am] - Leave Philadelphia International Airport
The SEPTA ride from PHL to Amtrak 30th Street Station is quick and efficient.
10:38am – Acela 2250 arrives Philadelphia 30th Street Station
Acela Trainset 12, Powercar 2006 leading east.
10:40am [10:38am] - Leave Philadelphia by rail
Acela is Amtrak’s attempt at modern, high-speed rail transportation. It has been reasonably successful with passengers, but has had a myriad of technical and operational problems. This Saturday trip is full or nearly full all the way from Philadelphia to Boston. The cars are clean and very comfortable. The on-board crew is professional and helpful. The windows are huge and real, distortion-free and scratch-free glass and give passengers a great view of the passing sights. And yes, there really is scenery in the NE USA as the glorious shoreline of eastern Connecticut proves.
But the technical issues also are exhibited with a ride quality that varies wildly from smooth to nearly violently rough. An increasingly annoying interior message board alternately flashes ads and incorrect station announcements. The speed varies from two short bursts of 150mph to what seems like a near crawl. And the trip time for the 322 mile route is over five hours, barely averaging 60mph: not exactly what most would define as high-speed.
All in all, however, it is a pleasant and relaxing ride on Acela. But if the goal is just to get to Boston as quickly and as cheaply as possible, then air is the only way to go.
For a complete description of the rail portion of my journey on SEPTA, Amtrak Acela, and the MBTA Blue Line see my rail trip report at:
It should be posted in a day or two (from 3/30/04).
3:56pm [scheduled 3:47pm] – Arrive Boston South Station (BOS)
Time PHL to BOS, 5 hours, 16 minutes
T-Blue Line: State to Airport
MassPort Bus 22 to Logan Terminal B
Exiting the Blue Line train at the appropriately named Airport stop, I follow the excellent directional signs and head for MassPort bus route 22 stop. This is the free shuttle for Logan Terminal B. The Route 22 bus arrives in only a minute or two. I hop on unencumbered by luggage (that is a VERY nice change of pace from my usual airport trips). The bus is well laid out for airport use with a nice-sized luggage area. We leave very quickly and take the short trip to Logan. I am soon at Terminal B.
4:41pm Arrive Boston Logan International AirportTerminal B
The trip from Acela arrival at South Station to Logan takes just 45 minutes including lingering at South Station for a while and no rushing. I had booked my return flight at 7:30pm, the last Boston to Philadelphia trip of the day. I could have booked a 5:30pm flight, but I felt there was too much uncertainty with Acela and the transfer to Logan. Even on-time, the scheduled 3:47pm Acela arrival was cutting it pretty close. A late arrival would have been way too close. Booking the 7:30 flight gave me a cushion to guard against train troubles, transfer snafus, or other foul-ups. My air fare is restricted, advance purchase, no refund, so I did not want to risk having to pay full freight to get home due to missing the early flight.
But here I am, it is still well before 5 o’clock and I technically have time to spare for the 5:30. I consider trying to bump-up (and definitely could have) but decide to stay with the 7:30. I have a great reserved seat on the later flight, can linger at the airport, have something to eat, and fly home relaxed. Besides, hanging around an airport for a while is no chore for me. With security barring entry to non-passengers, it is a treat.
Having made that momentous decision (and it took a few minutes of serious pondering), I go to the US Airways check-in kiosk. I pull up my trip record and, being a preferred US Airways mileage member, find I can upgrade to first class for free. Now first class for a short flight is no big deal, but for free, why not? So I bump to seat 1F (right side window front bulkhead) and out pops the Boarding Pass. I love technology!
Next is TSA security. No line at all. None. So here we go. Jacket off, shoes off (I don’t even try shoes on anymore), cell phone, sunglasses, and keys in the tray and all through the x-ray. I head through the detector: no beeping (that’s good!), no issues with the x-ray scans of what little I put in the tray, and with a nod and smile to the inspectors, I grab my stuff, squeeze my shoes back on, and off I go. Having a one-way ticket can sometimes tag your boarding pass for the dreaded “secondary inspection”, but not this time. I am through security and at the gate 10 minutes after hopping off the bus, and that includes agonizing over which flight to take. Quick and clean.
I watch the 5:30 flight board and leave for PHL, and then I head over to the airport outlet of Legal Sea Foods and have a cup of chowder, some scallops, fries, slaw, and two cold draughts of Sam Adams. This was my meal plan and it lives up to expectations. Good food, cold beer, some NCAA B-ball on the tube, and the airfield action out the window. It is a delightful way to kill an hour or so.
Terminal B is really quiet tonight. Saturday evening is a slack period for travel. My 7:30 to Philly is it for the day for this building, so things are winding down. The vacuums are already at work at the other gate areas. Just after 7:00 my flight is called at Gate B6 and, with the early boarding for First Class, I am first down the jetway. I settle into seat 1F and call my wife to say I am running on-time. The light Saturday night load is at most 25% of the 126 seats. I am offered a pre-takeoff beverage (Coke) and wait for departure.
US Airways Flight 1027 Boston (BOS) to Philadelphia (PHL), continuing to Chicago O’hare
Boeing 737-3B7, N384US, Manufactured 1992
7:25pm [7:30pm] - Leave Boston Logan International (BOS), Gate B6
Photo © Radomir Zaric
The doors close (with some muscle required) and we push back at 7:25pm, 5 minutes early. We take a nice tour of the Logan airfield and finally arrive at the business end of Runway 27. Number one and only for takeoff upon arrival, we power up and headed down the runway.
7:43pm - takeoff from BOS Runway 27
Climb out is steep and affords a spectacular nighttime view of downtown Boston from the right side (my side!) of the plane. We turn toward the south and pass just east of Providence and head out over the Atlantic near Newport.
Travel on a plane or a train places you in your own little sub-environment. The world is what’s inside the vehicle, and everything outside is like television - half real and half fantasy. At night that sense of isolation from everything going on outside is especially strong and makes an evening flight or train ride a particularly unique and enjoyable experience. Tonight, the plane is nearly empty, it is very quiet on board (no screaming kids), the lights are off, and for the next fifty minutes or so this 737 is the world for the thirty some passengers and five crew members on board.
Now, if the cloud cover is such that there is nothing to see, then things can be a bit dull in that night flight world, but tonight the phrase “visibility unlimited” does not begin to describe the view out that little window. It is absolutely awesome (and I use that word very sparingly). At one point I can see from Boston to New London to New Haven to Hartford to Springfield to Worcester and back to Boston. A good portion of southeastern New England is laid out like a twinkling, high-tech map. I had considered the flight segment of the trip to be simple transportation home, but this flight tonight is something very special.
First Class has its perks, and besides the big seat, an entire can of Coke and a choice of snacks (my choice is a bag of cashews and a bag of chips) are the perks. But the real show is sightseeing from 20,000 feet. The eastern tip of Long Island passes beneath and our course takes us back out over the ocean with the Hamptons and multi-million dollar beach homes just off to the side. A little while later New York City is in the distance off the right side of the plane (that’s why I chose a right-side seat: the left is looking at the ocean). Ahead are lights that I figure is Philadelphia with an unusual single point of a very bright light in the midst of the glow. What is that light?
Decent begins and we come inland near Seaside Heights, NJ; pass just south of Hammonton; and swing roughly parallel to the Black Horse Pike toward Philadelphia. Approaching the Walt Whitman Bridge, we turn left onto final for PHL. Now the source of that bright light visible from east of New York is obvious. It is one of the light towers of the new Phillies stadium with the bank of lights on for testing or some other purpose. What a beacon that light tower makes! Easily visible for literally a hundred miles or more.
8:39pm - Landing at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Runway 27R
Time in flight from Boston 56 minutes.
We touch-down at Philadelphia International on runway 27R, the usual landing runway in good weather. A very quick taxi brings us to Gate B8 where we pull up to the jetway and cut the engines.
8:42pm [9:00pm] - Arrive PHL Gate B8
Time gate to gate from Boston 1 hour, 17 minutes.
Our early arrival apparently catches the gate agent napping and it takes about 5 minutes to find someone to move the jetway and open the door (these sorts of things only seem to happen at PHL: Southwest beware). The agent finally arrives, the jetway is positioned, the door is opened, and I am back where my first train trip started about 11 hours earlier.
A stroll through the B concourse, past the B-C Marketplace, and up to D and the parking garage get me to my car. After I pay my debt to the Parking Authority, I retrace my morning drive and arrive home none the worse for 600 miles of wear.
9:22pm - Arrive home!
Total trip time 12 hours, 20 minutes.
It was a really nice day. A good ride on Acela, a nice meal at Logan, and a surprisingly entertaining flight back. What more could a travel junkie want?
[Edited 2004-03-31 04:57:04]