On Driving, not Flying

Rather than fly to San Francisco this weekend to attend Cindy & Matt’s Wedding 2.0, I decided to drive.
Generally, I prefer to drive than to fly. I don’t like the expense and hassle of flying. It isn’t just the cost of the plane ticket & fees but also do I park my car at a protected pay lot or do I ask a friend or family member to drive me & pick me up from the airport? What about the time it takes to get to the aiport, through security, etc? I own a 2007 Toyota Prius that gets between 46-52 mpg when driving; yes, I can go 460 – 520 miles to a 10 gallon tank of gas. For short trips, there is a definite time savings to driving, as well as money savings.
Las Vegas from SoCal? Drive. If you plan it right, it is 4 hours door to door via the car. I dare you to beat that with driving to the airport, going through security, being at the gate 45 minutes before the flight, plus the 45min to 1 hour flight time & additional taxing to the gate & getting out of the airport & to your destination time. Get a road trip partner & just go.
Phoenix? Also, just drive.
San Francisco? Ooh, that one is hard. It usually is 4-4.5 hours door to door if you fly, plus a minimum of $110 for ticket & fees if you book two weeks ahead. It is 6.5-8 hours door to door from SoCal to SF and less than $60 total in my car, if I drive. But dang if the the drive through the Central Valley on the I-5 is not a mind-numbing haul, even if it is really shorter in the terms of time than one’s brain perceives it. In the end, it is time and how much I need my car when I am in SF that determines if I drive or fly.
The last two trips to San Francisco, I have flown, as I was only in the city for a day or two and was only at one location both times. The trip before that in April, I drove up by myself as I did need my car to get around, and I drove back with my brother who needed to visit a series of commercial real estate properties for work in the Silicon Valley. I picked him up in SF, we drove around for a couple of hours, hit Chinese food in Sunnyvale, looked at a few more buildings and then drove home to LA. Easy peasy.
I like flying Virgin America, it is fun. I like flying American, even if others don’t. I *actually* like LAX. So, if I was only going to be in San Francisco for a weekend wedding and visiting of friends, having to leave late Friday or early Saturday and then be back by Monday morning, wouldn’t flying be easier?
Ah, no.

In early October, I flew up to San Francisco on Virgin America to attend the CTIA Nokia Developer’s Day so that I could learn more about Qt and determine if it was worth it for me to learn C++ and the Qt framework. The Virgin America terminal at LAX, Terminal #3, is marvelously sleepy and very quick to get through on all respects. I arrived at SFO around 7:25am and was able to get to the Moscone Center in downtown SF before the Nokia event started at 9am. Delightful.
Going back the other way the next day, not so much.
Virgin America at SFO uses the International terminal which seems to be chronically understaffed, under spaced/machined, and overly full of cranky TSA agents. I arrived two hours before departure, checked in at a deserted Virgin America counter, went and had some lunch at the food court, and then decided to brave the teaming, spilling out into the check-in area security line. All the TSA agents were either indifferent or angry with the various folks of various nationalities who were saying goodbye to loved ones or were panicked that they wouldn’t make their flight on-time.
The line was long, there were only two entry points into the screening areas, and three open machines of which one of them was the new Porn-O-Scan (aka BackS-catter Xray) machine, plus one line at another Porn-O-Scan for 1st class passengers and plane crew. Trust me, when the 1st class passengers saw what machine they got at the end of their short line there was much complaining amongst the Chanel Suited crowd.
As I waited nicely and patiently in line, I had three TSA agents come and chat me up, one even flirted with me. Yes, flirted. I thought, “Hey, it is San Francisco. Whatevs.” I was nice, courteous, and thought nothing of it, until at the end of the 25-30 minute line, I was diverted to the “Put your Arms above your Head and Spread your Legs” Porn-O-Scan machine and then given a pat down by a surly female TSA agent. As I stood bewildered by the betrayal of my chatty and flirty TSA agents, in the next aisle over – the ‘special’ 1st class line, a woman in a sari with an elderly relative and three children under 5 was in tears as the agents put her and the kids and the grandma in the Porn-O-Scan machine and then patted them all down.
Really, people? Really?
As my pat down was done, the Chanel suited rail thin blonde 60-something right behind me started shrilly yelling, “This is an outrage, you are only sending white women to x-ray and pat down.” Then there was threats of her husband’s Republican connections etc., all while the Indian woman continued to cry while trying to console the little ones.
America… Really? Does this type of security theater that brings out the worst and most terrorized in all of us really make us safer? Does the TSA terrorizing passengers to make us all safer? Really?
As I got to my gate, I had the agents asking me, “Are you Ms. Hanen?”
Me: “Yes, I am.”
Agents: “Where have you been, we have been paging you, the plane is ready to leave!”
Me: “Security gate from hell.”
I got in the plane, sat down, and then tried to check in on Foursquare when the first place that came up on the Foursquare listings was “Security Checkpoint From Hell SFO“. I checked in.
The flight to LA was uneventful, but dang if I am now reluctant to fly into and out of SFO, especially the International terminal. In contrast, going to Austin, Texas, a week and a half later could not have been more different. Austin-Bergstrom Airport has thorough but laid back TSA agents, even in the madness that is the Sunday 6pm flight home from SXSW, I have never encountered anything but quiet courtesy from the Austin TSA agents.
All of that is to say, that last week when it came time to decide, do I want to spend a total of 16 hours in my car driving up and back from LA to SF or do I want to take the chance at evil security TSA agents from hell at SFO to supposedly save time, I decided to drive. And I don’t regret it.