Friday, July 13, 2012

Reflections About Low-cost Airlines During My Trips

As an industrial and system engineer, I am always interested in the airline system. Since I travelled to Barcelona, Paris and Rome during the summer program, I had good chances to analyze the low-cost airlines with both observations and personal experiences.

The low-cost airlines such as Ryanair offer surprisingly cheap tickets. The tickets I bought for my Barcelona trip were only 50 euros, which is 20% cheaper than the bus ticket. In addition, the airplane only took less than two hours to fly from Madrid to Barcelona while the bus from Madrid to Barcelona took more than six hours. The fare of the Ryanair is so low that I hardly believe that Ryanair can make any money. Despite my worries, Ryanair still gained 4.3 billion of revenue in the first half of 2012. Therefore, I became even more interested in the Ryanair’s lost-cost business model.  

There are several keys in the Ryanair’s low-cost business model. The first one is online booking system. Although using Ryanair’s website is a painful experience, I have to admit that Ryanair heavily relies on its website to sell tickets, and the Ryanair’s website system helps to save costs and gain benefits for the company. First, the Ryanair’s website is not fancy, even ugly-looking, but it provides enough basic features. This will save a lot of design fee of the website. The website also provides more than 20 languages thus satisfy many foreigners demands.  During the booking process, Ryanair website would alert you about the expensive charges for oversize luggage and take any possible chances to sell the company’s luggage and other items. The website also prompted information about car rental and hotel booking. While affecting the quality of online booking experience for the passengers, the Ryanair online system did a good job in the online shopping promotion and selling of add-on services.

The second key of the Ryanair’s business model is to provide no-frill services during the flight. Ryanair eliminate all non-essential services such as entertainment systems, free drinks and complimentary food. In addition, Ryanair even charge a big amount of money for using airport check-in desks.  Therefore, Ryanair could reduce the costs of services significantly and decrease the numbers of the crew. I remember there were less than 4 flight attendants in my flight from Madrid to Barcelone. And one passenger was charged 4 euros for just one bottle of water. In order to promote the customers to use its website, Ryanair charges customers who use the airport check-in desks. They even charge heavy for the checked bags. A poor guy in Barcelona airport was charged one hundred euro by Ryanair in my flight because his luggage was overweight. In addition, there were no seats assigned on the boarding passes, so passengers usually have to form a queue before boarding to get desirable seats.

The third key is the location of the airport. Ryanair usually flies from more remote airports. For example, the flight from Madrid to Barcelone actually landed in a remote airport in Ginova. And there was one and a half hour driving distance from Ginova to Barcelona. That airport was only occupied by Ryanair and the airport was small and outdated. This can save the company a large amount of money in investment of airports because the cost of the land in this area is much cheaper.

Although I did not have a pleasant experience with the low-cost airline during my flight from Madrid to Barcelona, Ryanair’s low-cost business model is successful and attracts many customers to choose this company every day, because the company provides a really affordable options for passengers. Ryanair’s system is meaningful for me, an industrial and system engineering student to analyze.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Royal Architecture

Royal Architecture

The Parque del Retiro is situated in the most populated area of Madrid. It is located east of the city’s center and accessible by train from different points of the city. The park serves as Madrid’s main recreation area in a city where green space is limited and exclusive to households. The park was created in the early 16th century at the request of the Spanish monarchs as an area of retreat for the royal court. It went trough several additions and renovations through out the years, as did the city of Madrid. The city eventually expanded outward and surrounded the park with busy city streets and densely populated buildings. The park was design by architects at the request of the monarchs for their private use. This is is why there are many royal artifacts such as statues and symbols throughout the park.  It was not open to the public until the late 19th century and since then there has only been the creation of new rose gardens. In a sense the park has been shaped by the extravagances of Spain’s Kings and Queens since the 16th century. Today the park serves as the cities lungs and green space, which brings a healthy lifestyle for Madrileños. The name Parque del Retiro or Park of the Retreat serves its purpose as a place that draws people away from the hustle and bustle of city life and into a zone of relaxation. It is a reminder to the Spanish people of a once powerful and wealthy monarch as well as their democratic and modern present day society. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Public function of the Retiro Park

The Retiro Park used to be a property of Hispanic Monarchy. I think the Retiro Park has done a really good job to transform the original royal retreat park to a public park, and let it fit into the local Spanish community very well. There are several amazing attractions such as the beautiful artificial lake, the Retiro Pond, the magnificent monument of King Alfonso XII, the fountain of the Falling Angel, the museum and the crystal palace. I like the park because of its very considerate design and layout. Those attractions are in a comfortable walking distance between each other and there are clearly two different zones in the park. The first one is the north area. It is a more dynamic area because it combines the Retiro Pond, the monument of King Alfonso XII and the fountain of the Falling Angel. People can hang out here, jogging, rowing, and walking. The second part is the east part which is more tranquil. This part has the museum and the crystal palace, and garden. People who prefer tranquility can enjoy their leisure time by walking on the serpentine sandy paths, breathing the fresh air, exploring the crystal palace, and visiting the modern art gallery. In general, Local people come to the park very often. 

In China, there are many royal retreat parks in Beijing, such as the Royal Garden and the Summer Palace, and the Houhai “back sea” park. There are two types: with admission fees and free admission. Some places like Royal Garden and Summer have admission fees, so most of the visitors are tourists. Besides that, the sizes of the attractions are much larger. The Royal Garden is 12000 and the Summer Palace is 70000 , which is almost 50 times the Retiro Park. So people going to the royal park in China are rather to complete a “must-do task” than to enjoy it in leisure time like the Retiro Park. And others like Houhai “back sea” park, the local government turned it into a bar and restaurant area. So the atmosphere is more commercial than tranquil. Local people usually go to these places to enjoy themselves. I think Chinese government can learn some lesson from the Retiro Park and find a balance between the two extremes. 

I Miss Backyards.

Retiro Park is usually compared to Central Park in New York. The park is huge, green, in the heart of a city, and actually makes you forget you are in a city. One other major comparison is that it is everybody’s back yard. The 7 story apartment buildings and close quarters remove people from nature. Grass is a commodity in Madrid. Retiro does an excellent of serving as Madrid’s backyard. When you think about what you do in backyards, you conjure the following: relaxing with friends, eating food, tanning, and maybe even exercise. What you don’t think about is that your backyard also serves as not only a place for you to be by yourself outside, but also a place for a pet such as a dog to have its own space as well. These last two are less explicit, and you can see that the engineers while designing the park had them in mind. Retiro seemed to be the place people would run and work out, tan, have a picnic, and most other activities associated with massive parks. While having the necessities like benches and shady grass, there were also bags to clean up after dogs everywhere, cafes to meet with friends, and a general place to escape the city. In my opinion, this ability to escape the city is what is most crucial about Retiro. While in the middle, you cannot tell you are in a hustling, bustling, breathing place of concrete, brick, and asphalt. It gives the citizens of Madrid a place to unwind and spend some time with their dog, friends, and their thoughts.

The Retiro Park Experience

Retiro Park is one of my favorite places in Madrid, and a must see when visiting the city. Originally a park for the royal family, Retiro has transformed into a central  icon of the city. It is a perfect place to spend a weekend afternoon walking through the gardens, having a picnic on the grass, going rowing on the lake, or running down the many trails that surround the park. One thing that I have noticed about Madrid in general, compared to the other cities we have visited, is that Madrid has actual parks with grassy areas that form the center of the city and create a public recreational space. The other cities have plazas and squares spread throughout the commercial and residential areas, which are excellent in creating a sense of communal space, but lack the traditional park aspect. Having a public space such as Retiro park makes sense when considering that most Madrileños spend the majority of their time outside of their small apartments. The park is centered around the large lake close to the main entrance of the park, with the pathways radiating outward from the fountain circles spread throughout the park. The park also has large monuments, such as the Crystal Palace, rose gardens, and numerous statues, including the one dedicated to the Angel Caido. These monuments are located further within the park, off of smaller, winding, shaded paths from the main lake and fountain junctions. The park is designed so the lake forms the major public space, while the fountains, monuments, and grass areas spread throughout the park provide more private spaces. This is important to create a variety of unique park experiences for tourists and Madrileños alike, in the recreational center of the city.

Civil Engineering in the Planning Phase

            Retiro Park is the product of contemporary thinking in a city whose life has spanned several centuries.  The spider web of a street layout that in Madrid is typical of older European cities that have grown in response to citizens’ needs instead of according to a premeditated block system organization.  Parts of the business district to the northwest of the Accent center are developed in blocks, but in general, the city follows an old style of randomized development similar in manner to other older metropolitan areas like Athens, Paris, or Rome.
            It is curious then, to experience a place like Retiro Park in such an old city.  Retiro is a textbook example of a “green space” designed by civil engineers into a large metropolitan area.  Another example of such a space would be Manhattan’s Central Park.  What is interesting to notice though, is that Retiro is roughly shaped as a rectangle.  Central Park is a perfect rectangle, but that is understandable because of the more recent thinking—with respect to Madrid’s age—that went into planning Manhattan as a uniform system of streets and avenues.  It was curious then, to experience Retiro Park in all its “green space” glory.  Retiro Park is a functioning respite for all Madrid’s citizens to enjoy as it has its own lake, museum, turtle pond, variety of different grassy fields, and crystal palace modern art exhibit.  With all these different features conveniently squeezed into shape that looks like it fits between a few city blocks, Retiro Park is a juxtaposition of a new idea in an aged city, and one could not help but feel a little bit of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome after wandering back toward the Atocha metro station for some delicious Cien Montaditos.

Ben Harstad
June 11, 2012
WRIT 340
Retiro Park Blog Post

Soccer Fields & Associated Civil Engineering

            The art of creating soccer fields comes down to the perfect balance of engineering and landscaping, and the Retiro park soccer fields are no exception.  The natural landscape of the Retiro park area is naturally very hilly and differentiating in terms of altitude, so the ability of creating the perfectly flat fields in the middle of the park shows the capability of the civil engineers who designed it.  The basic layout of the soccer fields include a total of two indoor-sized (smaller than outdoor regulation size) fields that lay parallel next to each other.  In the designing and construction of this facility, the civil engineers needed to take into consideration everything else that was being constructed in the park, including the excavation necessary for the lake, and the addition of land to be added to the spiraling path to summit the highest (man-made) elevation in the park.  Through all the construction of the park, dirt needed to be properly distributed to the location in the park where in was needed, and pulled from the placed that had extra to give.  In the case of the soccer fields, they are in an overall elevated area compared to its immediate surrounding, and the rest of the park.  To create this perfectly flat, elevated space (that is large enough upon which to place multiple soccer fields), the engineers would have had to realize that they extra dirt would need to be removed from the equally large man-made lake that was created in the park.  It is this desired balance that needed to be planned for and achieved, not solely between the fields and lake, but all other aspects that were included in the construction of this park.