Blame it on the airlines. Maybe the TSA too. However it stacks up, lately I find myself doing a calculation I never thought I would do: is it just easier to drive?
In a few weeks I’m in Los Angeles and, from my Phoenix base. Google tells me that is 385 miles, maybe 5.5 hours driving.
Of course I could fly – about an hour. Add in 90 minutes waiting at the airport. Plus 30 minutes to get there on the lightrail. Oh, and at least 30 minutes – more likely 60 – to get from LAX to my destination. Call it four hours.
Yes, flying is faster (it may even be a little cheaper) but the sheer – monumental – unpleasantness of the flying experience in 2015 decides this.
In a few months I plan to go to Taos, NM – where I have some land and many personal ties – and I’ll drive that too, about 550 miles, 8 hours. Of course getting to Taos involves flying into Albuquerque, then driving two and one-half hours (add in 30 minutes more, to rent a car). Put in the flight, the airport time, the commute and that easily adds up to 5.5 hours and that’s assuming best case scenarios.
But I have my limits. Obviously I have no plan to drive to San Francisco – 11 hours, 750 miles – or Dallas, 1050 miles, 15 hours. That’s out of my driving comfort zone except under duress.
But Las Vegas? 300 miles, 4.5 hours. You bet.
Ditto San Diego or Orange County.
My new rule of thumb: if I can easily and comfortable drive to a destination in one day (8 hours) I am behind the wheel.
If it’s longer – if need to put in a night in a highway motel (much as I like them) – probably I’ll fly.
The deciding factor: comfort.
Years ago, maybe I calculated around money and if driving was cheaper I’d do it. Now it is simply about comfort, or lack thereof.
I just do not like much of anything about the flying experience these days. I personally know and like a few TSAs, I have no gripe with them – but I do not like the probing and prying that’s involved in checking into a flight. That’s just the first on a list of gripes.
I fit fine in airplane seats, thank you very much, Dr. Atkins, but I still feel something approaching claustrophobia when I am crammed into a snug seat on a plane stuffed to capacity.
I dislike logging minutes in airports – except where there is a Centurion Lounge – and Phoenix Sky Harbor just is not on my like list.
I could go on but you know the drill because you fly too.
This drift away from flying is not all new.
I detected a shift in my sentiments as far back as five years ago when I found myself booking, first, a train trip from Newark NJ to Baltimore, then another train trip from Newark to Washington DC – even tho flying would have been a little cheaper and a lot faster. But I climbed aboard Amtrak and will again if the opportunity presents itself. It just is a more comfortable trip.
Really, what has happened is that – in their tireless quest for profits – airline executives have squeezed all the fun out of flying, at least for those of us who fly in back. Upfront is a different world, I know, and bring me clients with generous expense allowances (as I had in bygone times) and I will probably sing the praises of first class, maybe even business class.
But there really is nothing to like about coach.
So it becomes a calculus of inconvenience and discomfort. There is no comfortable way to get from Phoenix to New York except to fly, that is plain. Really long drives – and I have driven x-country twice in the past decade – are exercises in endurance.
On shorter trips, however, my new philosophy is anything but flying.
Now, if enough of us begin to think that way, well, flying would of course become attractive again. But I am not counting on that anytime soon.