Wednesday, 31 January 2018
The Amazing Race 30, Episode 5
Les Baux (France) - Marseille (France) - Prague (Czech Republic)
Product placements on The Amazing Race are usually just extra advertisements for whichever brand of car the racers have been provided to drive from Point A to Point B, or the prize for the pair of racers that finishes first in the episode.
However, one of this week's product placements on The Amazing Race 30 might give real-world travellers a bad idea: the racers were required to use the Travelocity app to choose and reserve flights from Marseille to Prague.
Marseille is one of the places on the short list of favorites from my most recent trip around the world. One reason it remains underappreciated and under-visited by foreign tourists, despite its many attractions and despite being a hub for surface transportation and flights across the Mediterranean to and from the Maghreb, is a paucity of long-haul flights (none to or from the USA, although Air Canada and Air Transat have seasonal summer services to and from Montréal) or even short-haul flights to or from many places in Europe.
Most of the racers ended up making connections through Brussels, one of the small number of major European hubs served from Marseille. The venerable Belgian national airline Sabena was one of those that went bankrupt after 11 September 2001. Brussels Airlines, which inherited Sabena's "SN" code, has only a handful of long-haul flights. But Brussels' role as the de facto capital of the European Union supports flights between Brussels and more other cities in Europe than one might expect for a city its size.
Travelocity won't find the cheapest or any of the direct flights from Marseille to Prague. If you rely exclusively on Travelocity, you won't know they exist, and you will pay more for less convenient connecting flights than you could have paid for a nonstop flight. The same thing is true for many city pairs within Europe.
Travelocity is an online travel agency that is based in the USA and was founded by the Sabre computerized reservation system (CRS). Travelocity is now a division of Expedia (it's generally a waste of time to "comparison shop" between Expedia, Travelocity, or other brands owned by the same parent company, although for marketing reasons they sometimes offer different prices on their different Web sites), no longer part of Sabre, and has built direct connections to some airlines that bypass the CRSs. But Travelocity still relies primarily on CRSs as information intermediaries between it and airlines. Travelocity's priority for negotiating direct connections or agency appointments to sell tickets for flights on airlines that don't participate in the major CRSs like Sabre is Travelocity's customer base in the USA.
Online travel agencies and Web sites with more customers in Europe have more of an interest than do their U.S. competitors in finding ways to include information about airlines that operate only within Europe and not to the USA. Almost anywhere in the world, you are better off starting with whatever Web site, app, online travel agency, or aggregator of travel information has the largest local user base and scope of information, rather than relying on U.S.-based sources. For flights within Europe, you'd be better off starting with the Europe-centric Skyscanner Web site or app than with U.S.-centric sites or apps like Travelocity or Kayak.
No online travel agency offers tickets on every European airline, however. Many new airlines, including many within Europe, only sell tickets directly and not through any third parties.
For the cast of The Amazing Race, price is no object when it comes to airline tickets. The TV producers pay for their tickets at any coach fare. For real-world travellers, self-described "low-fare" airlines aren't necessarily any cheaper than "legacy" airlines. But within Europe, as with Southwest in the USA, they offer direct point-to-point flights on many routes between secondary cities and airports where "legacy" airlines with hub-and-spoke route systems only offer connecting flights.
Volotea, which operates the only direct flights between Marseille and Prague is typical of this new crop of European airlines. You've probably never heard of Volotea or many other new airlines like it, and you won't learn about them from the likes of Travelocity or Kayak.
How can you find these airlines and routes? Flylc.com offers one of the more comprehensive directories of intra-European airlines and flight routes. Once you choose a departure or arrival country, you can pick airports from a map -- a helpful feature if you don't have a mental map of the locations of obscure and provincial airports.
If you have a specific airport in mind, Wikipedia's crowd-sourced lists of airlines and routes, like this example for Marseille (MRS), are often more comprehensive than any other single source. Don't count on the existence of a flight listed on Wikipedia, though. Some flights are seasonal but not labeled as such, some services were announced but never materialized, and others have been discontinued. Wikipedia is generally much more quickly updated when a new route is announced than when plans for a new route are abandoned or service is temporarily or permanently suspended.
Do your homework before you buy airline tickets to or from an unfamiliar provincial airport. Public transit and intermodal connections (trains, buses, rental car offices, etc.) to and from smaller European airports vary from excellent to abysmal, and may not operate frequently or at all hours of the day and night.