American Airlines recently generated news when it said that it had set up a special service for its passengers bound to North America from London.
A passenger can check in for a flight from Gatwick Airport at a special American Airlines counter at Victoria Station in central London. There, one can drop off baggage, get boarding passes and buy a ticket for a Gatwick express train. At the airport, the passenger has only to go through immigration formalities before boarding.
But American is by no means the only airline offering such a convenient service in Europe.
Lufthansa German Airlines takes the same kind of service further, operating trains between Frankfurt Airport, its principal international hub, and Stuttgart and Duesseldorf. Swissair passengers can have their baggage routed from any of 114 rail or bus stations in Switzerland to any of Swissair's destinations.
All these airline services point up the convenience and savings available to European air travelers trying to get between airports and city centers.
Although the checking of flight baggage at rail stations isn't widely available except in Germany and Switzerland, numerous Western European airports have express rail service connecting major center-city train stations. In some cases, trains go directly from airports to other cities.
U.S. cities haven't been left out of this movement. In Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta and Washington, city-transit or commuter-rail lines go directly to airport terminals or have station stops within walking distance of a terminal.
At several other major U.S. airports, including those of Baltimore, Boston, New York, Oakland, Calif., and San Francisco, a traveler can connect to a subway or commuter-rail train with a short bus ride from the terminal.
Information about all such rail services, and numerous other forms of airport-to-city transportation, is packed into a concise, paperback, "How to Get From the Airport to the City All Around the World." The $4.95 book, written by Norman Crampton, was published by M. Evans & Co. in New York.
Mr. Crampton's book is full of details about 370 airports, noting, for instance, that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority airport rail service between Philadelphia International and Center City Philadelphia runs every 30 minutes and connects to Amtrak's 30th Street Station and three other commuter-rail stations.
The book also contains useful commentary, such as the time each mode of transportation takes, and advice on whether riding public transportation is worth the hassle if you have much luggage.
For instance, Cleveland's transit service has "clean bright coaches and stations and ample baggage space," Mr. Crampton says. Chicago's subway-elevated trains to O'Hare International Airport can be faster than cabs during rush hours and have "fairly clean stations," but a train ride "may be a tight squeeze in rush hour" and is recommended for those without much luggage," he said.
His advice seems to fall down only in the uncontrollable area of changes that occurred after the book was published.
In the 1989-1990 edition, fare information can be outdated because prices have gone up since publication -- Philadelphia's service is an example. Or services may have been canceled altogether, such as the express subways from midtown Manhattan to New York's Kennedy International Airport, which stopped running this year. Also left out is the fact that Amtrak trains now directly link Philadelphia International and Atlantic City.
For the best combinations of transit service to and from airports, it's hard to beat services offered by the national flag carriers of Switzerland and Germany.
The Swissair Fly Baggage service uses the excellent and extensive Swiss transportation system, including federally owned trains, private railroads and Swiss Post Office buses. Passengers leaving the country present their Swissair tickets and their baggage, a full day to a few hours before their flights depart, at any of 114 rail and bus stations.
Use of Lufthansa's airport service is treated as a connecting flight within Germany, with tickets issued by Lufthansa and trains leased from the German Federal Railways exclusively for the airline's passengers.
Amtrak has cut running times of two trains in each direction on its Boston-New York route by 25 minutes in an effort to lure more business travelers.
The New England Express service will make the trip in three hours and 50 minutes.
Like Amtrak's Washington-New York Metroliner service, the new Boston runs will have all-reserved seating. Amtrak offered Metroliner service on the Boston route before but the four-hour, 15-minute trip time dampened interest.