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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Great shortcut for air travelers

A flight on an Airbus 380 is like none other, with nearly 600 passengers aboard a 2-level plane that's 78 yards long with a 260-foot wingspan. A 25-member flight crew services passengers on two levels.

I flew both ways between Washington Dulles Airport and France aboard an AirFrance A380 and largely enjoyed the experience. I don't know how many airlines have them but even for a frequent flyer like me it was something different.

When this behemoth hits turbulence, for instance, it moves from side to side rather than the bouncy up and down motion most familiar to passengers. As usual my westbound flight from Paris back to Washington D.C. took about an hour longer than the eastbound flight, because the plane must fly against the prevailing jet stream. (Scroll down four blogs for more about the flight to France on the A380) 

When the flight is over everyone really wants to get off, stretch their legs and get on with their lives. In my case it meant a $65 transfer by taxi from Dulles to Reagan National Airport to catch another flight home to Cleveland so I was probably a little more anxious than others. The window of time between the two flights was close enough that heavy traffic on the Beltway around Washington, D.C. might cause me to miss my  flight from National.

But unloading a plane with that many passengers seated on two levels is not a quick process. I wish they had thought to open a rear door as well as the front one so it could have gone more quickly.

We may have been the only flight unloading passengers to retrieve their bags and go through customs or perhaps there were passengers from another fight or two there that afternoon. But the lines were really long, making me wish that I'd fulfilled a promise to myself to join the Global Entry program, a partnership between the TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection that whisks its members through the process.

Membership is $100 for five years and requires an interview for eligibility, but after that it's a matter of checking in at a kiosk and forgoing the usual lines and interview with a customs officer. Not all airports participate but more and more are joining up and the advantages extend to those traveling domestically.

Members also can leave their shoes on, keep their liquids in the plastic bag without removing it from the carry-on, and leave their jacket and belt on when they pass through TSA checkpoints.


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