The USA: Getting there and getting around
Friday 19 October 2012
Britain has far more links with the USA than any other European nation. The main departure point is Heathrow, with around 50 daily departures to American cities. Non-stop destinations include Boston, Miami, San Diego and Seattle – the cities at each corner of the continental United States – and around 20 other airports.
Several other UK airports have non-stop transatlantic links. Key hubs for connecting flights are New York (JFK and Newark), Philadelphia, Washington Dulles, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Many airlines allow "open-jaw" itineraries for no extra cost, enabling you, for example, to fly out to Denver, cross the Rockies and visit the Grand Canyon, then return home from Phoenix.
Most British visitors need only register online for the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which you can do at esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Apply early in the travel-planning process, before you commit to air tickets – and at least 72 hours before departure. The fee of $14 covers multiple trips within a two-year spell or until your passport expires, whichever occurs first.
Fly-drive is ideal for many trips; if you organise the trip in advance, complete with comprehensive car rental, you can be more certain of the cost of transport – and also benefit from package-holiday cover.
Public transport is improving fast in the USA. For city visits, subways (underground), buses, and trolleys (trams) usually suffice.
In the Northeast Corridor, high-speed Acela trains connect Boston and New York with Philadelphia to Baltimore and Washington DC. These services, like longer-distance trains elsewhere in America, can be booked through amtrak.com.
Greyhound remains the backbone of bus travel across the US, but there is also competition nationally from Megabus and regional players such as Peter Pan Bus Lines in the Northeast Corridor.
The USA has far more domestic flights than any other country, and for longer distances air is the natural choice. Your transatlantic airline may offer good deals on connecting internal flights. This often has the advantage of upping the baggage allowance to international levels. Alternatively, carriers such as Allegiant, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and Virgin America offer competitive fares, though the European habit of adding extra charges is creeping in: make sure you compare like with like.
Finally, ferries provide important links, whether between Manhattan and Staten Island in New York City, across the mighty Mississippi in rural Louisiana, or connecting Alaska with the "Lower 48".
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