Take your car and avoid flying

Many are reassessing our priorities after living through the pandemic the past year and a half – everything from changing jobs to appreciating the simpler things and figuring out what’s important and what’s not. As a frequent traveler, air travel, something I did a few times each month, has lost its luster. Many trips can be now be replaced with Zoom calls, making flying much less of a necessity.  We were caught up with the need for face to face meetings, but I suspect that need will never return to what it once was. I flew to China a few times a year, but that’s no longer practical. There are long quarantines, and less of a desire to set foot in what’s becoming a dangerous and unpredictable regime. Yet, I’m finding it’s possible to use email and phone to get the job done.

Once I stopped flying for more than a year, I never missed it. I’ve been weaned from the need to accumulate every last mileage point and could care less about reaching the next elite level. We’ve been brainwashed by the airlines to capture every last point, meet the next tier, and use their credit card for purchases. I’ve now come to the realization that taking more flights and hitting the next elite level is really unimportant.

When I wrote about this a while back, I received lots of emails expressing similar views. So, I analyzed what led me here.

Over the past few months I’ve had to consider whether to fly or drive to another city, mostly for pleasure. Before the pandemic, this was rarely an issue. I took about 30 flights a year between San Diego and Oakland, San Francisco and Las Vegas, mostly on Southwest.  I’ve been in their top tier and had a companion pass in years past.  I was always checking my account to see how close I was to the year’s elite level. Of course, each year the airline moved the goal posts and devalued the points. So I feel better for blowing them off, especially with what’s been happening.

A number of new factors that have emerged from the pandemic. Here are a few:

More flight delays and cancellations
Unruly passengers
No in-flight service
Trodding through a crowded airport to the packed gates on packed planes with many unmasked and unvaccinated
Rental car rates that have doubled and understaffed rental offices with long lines
Uber and Lyft costs have skyrocketed, doubling and tripling at peak times.
Long hold times to reach your airline to make a change or book a flight
Southwest, once the low priced carrier, is now the most expensive
Airlines, including Southwest, that haven’t mandated vaccines for their employees and passengers. (Right now I’m only flying United, who has)

These are in addition to the inconveniences we suffered before Covid, the random TSA searches, expensive airport food, and pricey airport parking.

While all of these inconveniences might be endured for a long flight when there are no alternatives to getting there, they are no longer tolerable for my shorter trips of less than 700 miles or so. That’s when driving becomes a viable alternate  In my case, driving from San Diego to San Francisco takes a lot longer than flying, but the difference is less than you think when you examine the real times door-to-door times:

Home to airport: 1/2 hour
Get to the gate 1 hour in advance: 1 hr
Flight – gate to gate: 1 1/2 hrs
Wait for and take bus to off-site car rental: 1/2 hr
Find name not on board, wait in line to get car: 1/2 hr (happened to me with Avis Wizard 2 out of 2 times)
Drive to the final destination: 1 hr

Total door-to-door: 5 hours

Driving, on the other hand, takes about 7 1/2 hrs with a couple of short stops. In addition, the risk of getting Covid is greater when traveling by air by being exposed to thousands of strangers. And the cost of driving is quite a bit less than the cost of flying, as well.

I find driving to be more enjoyable. I can connect my phone to the car and listen to podcasts and audiobooks. There’s no limit to what you can take with you, and I can leave and return on my own schedule.

Flying was something that we all did for the ability to get somewhere as quickly and conveniently as possible, but with increased inconveniences, annoyances, and costs, it’s lost much of its attractiveness. Much of it is the result of airlines, rental companies, and even hotels, no longer behaving as if they were in the hospitality business, and, instead, looking to get every last dollar from us, with nary a thought of winning us back with good customer service.

As a result, driving has become a more attractive alternative for shorter trips, and that’s a change for the better.

by Phil Baker