Monday, October 24, 2011


With the University of Wales concluding a significant research agreement with a number of US universities this week, I was invited over to Boston to discuss the next steps forward with partners from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

My previous visits to the USA have always been out of London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic but this time, I decided to give Aer Lingus a go.

Why the Irish airline you may ask?

Well, the main reason is that, in conjunction with their regional partner Aer Arran, there is a service out of Cardiff that connects to the East Coast of the USA via Dublin.

There are a number of advantages to the flight, not least avoiding the three hour train journey to Heathrow followed by the two hour check in period. But it also means I can roll up at a relatively quiet Cardiff Airport around three quarters of an hour before departure, go quickly through security and start the journey relatively stress-free.

The Cardiff-Dublin flight took off at 1130am, landing 60 minutes later, giving me around an hour and a half before the connection to Boston.

Whilst I had looked forward to a smooth transition, there were a number of small problems. For example, there was was no-one at the transit desk at Terminal 1 to give me my ticket for the second leg of the journey as promised in Cardiff, so I decided to go over to the shining new Terminal 2 building at Dublin Airport and check in directly. Fortunately, my bags had already been checked through to Boston (or so I thought) so I could stroll through to my connecting flight.

Of course, one of the key advantages of flying through Dublin is that you go through US immigration in Ireland. And as anyone who has landed in any American airport will know, if you are unlucky, you could wait a further two hours to get through customs. In Dublin, it took around 15 minutes to do this, or would have done if my bags had turned up.

Apparently, US customs need to have a picture of your luggage before they can be put onto the plane as it is treated as US domestic flight. Unfortunately, the bags hadn't turned up so in the transit area so I had to wait, along with the other passengers travelling from Cardiff, in a holding area for about around half an hour.

About ten minutes before we were due to leave, a message came through that, thanks to a cock-up back in Wales, the luggage was still in Cardiff but would be sent through to us as soon as possible. That could have been the cue for a stream of complaints but the Aer Lingus staff were so apologetic that I felt guilty about asking when it would be arriving in Boston. And it has taught me to take carry on luggage the next time I go away for a four day visit.

However, on boarding the brand new Airbus 330-300, the staff couldn't do enough to help and the service was excellent and comfortable. More importantly, the cost was half of the normal price out of Heathrow. Landing seven hours later at Logan Airport in Boston, I walked straight out of the customs hall without going through immigration and I was in my hotel at 5pm local time. So the whole journey from my home in Cardiff to my hotel in Boston had taken 12 hours and I must admit was one of the more stress-free journeys I had taken to the USA, thanks to the relative efficiency of the connections and the excellent service on board.

Of course, it wasn't entirely trouble free given the loss of luggage but I have had that happen to me on numerous occasions previously on domestic flights. Also on booking the flight, Aer Lingus could have given better information on connections on arrival at Dublin but applying a bit of common sense solved any issues on that front. However, those are issues that can be easily managed in the future.

So does South Wales now have a proper link to the USA?

As readers of the business section of the Western Mail have no doubt noted, there has been some discussion on whether the Welsh Government should be subsidising a direct flight to America. Yet, as I discovered this week, there is a hidden jewel of a connecting route through Aer Lingus.

Certainly, if I were the managers at Cardiff airport, I would be promoting this option to businesspeople across South Wales and working with the airline to ensure a seamless service to the East Coast of America.

The Welsh Government, rather than paying millions of pounds to subsidise another airline to come to Cardiff, could also be promoting this route as a Gateway to Wales. In fact, why aren't the powers that be working with Aer Lingus to publicise this as the Celtic flight, linking both Dublin and Cardiff to major US cities including Boston, New York, Chicago and Orlando.

There can't be any harm in trying and I have certainly recommended this to our new academic partners in Massachusetts and Florida as the preferred route when visiting Wales in the future.