Why is it that certain people need to learn the same lesson over and over again? Hint: This story is about my inability to learn from experience.
To be fair, I did learn one lesson that I regularly heed: Many years ago, I read a travel article about whether it was better to drive or fly from Northern California to Disneyland. The story followed two families making the trek, one starting at the airport and ending up renting a car in Anaheim; the other starting at their driveway and pulling into a hotel within half an hour of the family that flew.
Breaking down costs, convenience, etc., the article came to the conclusion that if you were making a trip that was fewer than 500 miles, driving was better than flying. For whatever reason, this article made a big impression on me and became my travel tenet, and I rarely, if ever, break this rule.
Something that was not part of the original equation was today’s post-9/11 travel practices. The story that has ruled my travel life for years was written before the Transportation Security Administration was involved in flying; before one needed to be at the airport an hour in advance of your flight time — I’m the type who loves to run to the gate as they are about to close the airplane door — and before other added annoyances that are now part of flying.
This is to say, I made the commitment to drive 500 miles or fewer before traveling by plane sucked as much as it does now.
After my family’s recent debacle over Thanksgiving break, I have revised that 500 mile-mark to be closer to say, 3,000 miles. You read that right: All destinations that are closer than 3,000 miles should be reached by car.
I came to this conclusion when flying home from Florida took us 17 hours, door to door. MapQuest tells me that trip would have been 46 hours and 10 minutes if we’d have driven. Twenty-nine extra hours in the car would have been a dream compared to the ridiculousness of the trip we did make.
In a nutshell, to save money on our trip to visit family in South Florida over Thanksgiving, I made every mistake in the book. The lesson I’ve learned repeatedly, over and over, is that nonstop flights are worth the extra expense. Pay whatever it costs to fly from here to there in the shortest amount of time. In fact, I learned that lesson as recently as April when my husband and I flew nonstop to Atlanta. I repeatedly raved about how much less miserable I was on that trip — “less miserable” is the best I can hope for when traveling by plane.
So when it came time to make these Thanksgiving plans, here’s what I did instead: Not only did we not go from Sacramento on a nonstop flight, we flew out of San Jose International, and into San Francisco International with stops in Houston both ways. How lame is that? Besides adding the extra time of dropping off our car at SFO then taking a shuttle to SJC, we had the added expense. Strike one for saving money.
Strike two came when I received a notice from our airlines saying our flight had changed. I took a cursory glance at the email, and promptly forgot about it. I also didn’t read it closely and see that we no longer had seat assignments.
When I finally did look at it about five days before the trip, it was too late to get seats together on two of the four legs of the flights. Although our kids are old enough to sit without us or each other, I wasn’t willing to have us in four totally different sections of the plane … in case of crazed, drunk passengers, hitting a bird on take-off, needing to land in the Hudson River, or more disturbing things I don’t even want to think about.
Thus, we paid an extra $65 per seat per flight — a grand total of more than $500 — to bump up to the slightly better coach section just so we could sit together.
Not reading this notice closely became a bigger issue on our way home. Although I’d known six weeks ago or so that our 7:40 a.m. flight home had been changed to 6:30 a.m., I’d forgotten to write this on the calendar. Long story short … of course we missed our flight(s) home, and getting a rerouted trip home for four of us on Thanksgiving weekend was insanity.
The moral of the story, for me at least, is if you have to travel farther than the 3,000 miles you can go by car, fly in and out of SMF, nonstop whenever possible. It might cost more of your money, but less of your sanity.
— Tanya Perez is an associate editor at The Enterprise. Her column publishes every other week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Reach her at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @enterprisetanya