Tuesday, 10 August 2004

The Amazing Race 5, Episode 6

Giza (Egypt) - Cairo (Egypt) - Luxor (Egypt)

The most interesting lesson for world travellers in this week’s episode of The Amazing Race may have been in the decision the racers weren’t allowed to make for themselves: whether to travel by air, land, or water from the Great Pyramid at Giza to the temple of Karnak near Luxor, Egypt.

Most people in the USA unfamiliar with travel in other countries would assume wrongly, as did the racers, that:

  1. Flights on such a domestic route as Cairo-Luxor would be more frequent than they actually are, on more airlines. (There are 3-5 scheduled flights per day, on only one airline, the national carrier, Egypt Air. In Egypt as in the USA, foreign airlines are forbidding from flying domestic routes.)

  2. If there are several flights, they will be spaced throughout the day. (There are flights early in the morning, in late afternoon, or late in the evening, with none in the middle of the day, a typical schedule to suit the preferences of passengers who want a full day in one place or the other. Even where several airlines fly the same route, they often do so at very similar times.)

  3. For a 650 km (400 mile) journey, flying will be dramatically faster than ground transport.

On this last point the racers were right, but not by much — and, although the race teams don’t have to pay for airline tickets or charters out of the cash they are given (the sound technician accompanying each team along with the camera operator carries a credit card used for scheduled flights at any coach fare, and in this case the producers chartered a plane), at considerable additional expense to save only a few hours.

Starting shortly after the Great Pyramid opened to visitors at 6 a.m., the first of the racers, after making their way from Giza across the Nile, through Cairo, and to the airport on the other side of the city, missed the last of the morning flights to Luxor departing at 7:30 a.m.

They and several other teams could easily have made the express train which, after leaving Cairo at 7:30 a.m., crosses the river and stops in Giza (much closer to the pyramids) at 7:50 a.m. According to Table 2655 of the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable (one of the more important references for the racers to try to pick up if they get a chance along the way, although it’s hard enough to find that real around-the-world travellers should consider bring a copy with them, or at least, as I always do, the pages for the countries they plan to visit), that train is scheduled to arrive in Luxor at 5 p.m.

And the train is a good deal more likely to arrive on time than a flight, as the racers find out: having missed the scheduled morning flights, and there being none until late afternoon, the racers all take a flight chartered for them in advance and scheduled to leave at 11:30 a.m. It actually leaves at 1:45 p.m., not atypically, and arrives at Luxor airport at 2:30 p.m.

As I say in The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World :

Outside the First World, with certain exceptions, flying anywhere can be expected to be an all-day project no matter how short the flight: you go to the airport first thing in the morning and hope that by the end of the day you have gotten to your destination. In many countries, any flight that operates at any time on the scheduled day is considered on time.

The charter flight pre-arranged and standing by for the racers the got them 650 km (400 miles) only two and a half hours faster than the train. For a shorter distance, say 500 km (300 miles), it would have been a wash. Any shorter and the train would have been quicker than a plane. That’s actually a reasonable rule of thumb in most of the world: for less than 500 km (300 miles), especially where there’s an adequately comfortable train, flying will only cost you more money, not save you much if any time. And wouldn’t you rather spend the same amount of time talking to people and looking out the windows of a train than in an airport waiting room?

A car would have been less comfortable and dramatically less safe (even without racing) than the train, but could have been faster. It’s even conceivable that with a sufficiently crazed (or desperate for an extra tip) driver, they could have made it as quickly by chartered taxi as by chartered plane! The racers are stuck with the decisions made in advance by the producers of the television show, but let this be a lesson for your next real trip.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 10 August 2004, 23:51 (11:51 PM)
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