TCS Daily

Want Luxury?
Take the Bus

By Brock Yates - October 15, 2002 12:00 AM

It was sometime during the Hoover administration or thereabouts that everyone decided that the quickest and most pleasant way to travel was by commercial airline. That 'of course' preceded such realities as clogged hubs; aircrafts jammed with fetid hordes of discount-crazed tourists; 9/11 security blockades by blockheads; endless weather and mechanical delays; surly, overworked flight attendants; and the remote but real possibility that the entire cargo bay is packed with a giant wad of C-4. For reasons such as this, the once haughty rulers of the sky like United, US Airways and American are on the verge of joining Pan Am, Eastern and National in the hangar of broken dreams.

Let's face it, air travel has devolved into a travel experience resembling a hobo's depression-era ride in a boxcar, only more crowded and radically more expensive.

Faced with financial ruin, the airlines have cleverly responded by packing more passengers into fewer flights, slashing any frequent flier benefits that might remain and developing in-flight rations recalling the Bataan Death March.

Because of this I have long lived by the adage, "If you've got plenty of time, fly. But if you're in a hurry, drive." That applies to all distances under 300 miles, where portal-to-portal times can be competitive and radically less expensive and irritating.

It was only a matter of time before some bright entrepreneur would devise a scheme to take advantage of such realities. Say hello to Exec Connect American of Aiken, South Carolina. Founder Dale Bunce has introduced a bus service that currently connects Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA with amazing results. Bus service, you gasp? Not one of those Greyhound nightmares filled with winos and runaways driven by over-tired, underpaid myopics often who doze and drive off bridges? Not quite.

Bunce's buses are fancy, 27 seaters suited up like the first-class cabin of a 747; all leather and shiny wood, with Shaq-sized reclining seats, computer terminals, sound systems and cable TV. They are designed to haul business types between the two cities with the ease and comfort that disappeared on airlines about the time the last Pan Am Clipper went out of service,

For $129 round trip, Exec Connect will run between the two cities in about 2 hours and 40 minutes. A commercial flight will do it in one hour, presuming parking the car and avoiding a strip search at the security gate don't consume another two hours. But this will run as much as $600 bucks, excluding cab fares, rental cars, etc. etc. Oh yes, Bunce will also provide his travelers with on-board attendants who serve deli sandwiches and no less than eight gourmet coffee flavors while making hotel and dinner reservations.

Better yet, the distinct possibility exists that the bus will make it, midtown-to-midtown, over the 125-odd-mile distance faster than the jet-powered aluminum tube. In fact, the results are so satisfying that Bunce is exploring other routes up and down the east coast where inter-city travel time is under his predetermined limit of 5.5 hours.

This is a natural evolution of the travel business. With Amtrak bound up in idiotic government meddling, egregious union work rules, outdated trackage and useless routes and most of the airlines in the tank - despite $5 billion in government aid since 9-11 with more on the way - there had to be other solutions. A luxury bus line like Exec Connect America will hardly solve the problems of the travel industry, but it sure as hell can remove some of the misery for harried business travelers who have borne the brunt of the downward spiral in the air and rail passenger business. And that's a start.



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