In the early 1990s, my office was a two minute walk from Monterey airport. 10 minutes before my flight I would walk down the hill, stroll through security, and go right on the plane. I could fly to San Francisco, 110 miles away, as easily as I could drive to Pebble Beach, Carmel, or Big Sur. In the same amount of time.
I no longer live in Monterey and I cannot—anywhere in the world—show up a few minutes before a commercial flight and expect to be on it. Now I usually commit to arriving at least 90 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time; the main factor being not knowing how long the security lines will be.
8 Great Reasons to Drive Instead of Fly
Why the heck would I suggest driving instead of flying? For heaven’s sake, I wrote a book called Winning the Airfare Game and regularly write about finding better air travel deals.
Simply, air travel is no longer fun.
When deciding whether to drive or fly, my baseline example is a trip to north central Massachusetts from my home in Northern Virginia. We used to fly most of the time but now choose to drive.
To start, we realistically need to be at the airport 90 minutes before scheduled departure. Before 2001, we could show up 30 minutes prior. Airlines also now pad an extra 15 minutes onto each end of the fight, departure and landing. A 60 minute flight in 2000 is now a 90 minute flight. A 90 minute experience has turned into a 180 minute commitment. How is that for progress?
Oh, and based on some of my recent flights, arriving early is not beneficial because the plane then must to wait for an open gate—due to tight scheduling.
Centralized rental car facilities suck up another batch of time. I used to be able to exit my plane, pick up a rental car, and exit the airport in a few minutes. Now I allow 30 minutes and am often disappointed. What used to be 100 minutes (flight plus car) is now 240 minutes; longer if push back (departure) or finding an arrival gate is delayed.
My 90 minute drive between the airport and the intended destination is unchanged.
If, a big IF, the flight process is smooth (it RARELY is), then this specific trip takes six to seven hours. Plus it is filled with continual stress (what delay will occur this time).
Driving—about 525 miles—takes eight to nine hours, but almost every factor is controlled: when to depart, what route to take, when to take breaks, when and what to eat. My driving trips are relatively stress free, with calm (me) arrivals and better trip transitions—i.e., only one drink needed after driving versus two after flying.
Plus, I have my car rather than a rental. So that is an additional money saving travel tip.
How often does a delay result in flight time lasting longer than the drive? A recent ice storm around Dallas caused massive delays. One 30 minute flight took nine hours to complete.
When making a fly drive comparison, consider the following.
Leave when you want. Stop when you want. Take as long as you want. When you drive, that is. If flying, the exact opposite is the case.
On any given drive, I change my basic itinerary (route) if something catches my eye and I make a detour. Cannot do that while flying, right?
Seat pitch on planes and personal space continues to decrease. Want more legroom? Drive. On a plane? Moo.
Please see some of these road trip articles:
- 16 Magnificent Uniquely American Road Trips
- 8 Great Road Trip Habits of Happy Travelers
- Ultimate US Coastal Scenic Drives Travel Guide