Friday, May 8, 2015

Cheap Flying

Once in a blue moon the "economic" way to travel is by air, especially when time is of the essence.
There are many choices when it comes to the carrier. A quick search in the Google browser revealed five airlines with prices ranging from $175 to $231 or more. I prefer non-stop since it is more convenient. Of course the origination airport plays somewhat of a role too as well as the departure time.
In my scenario it worked out to be a flight, non-stop, from Baltimore-International Airport to Fort Lauderdale, Florida at 6:00 AM (in the middle of the night so to speak). Doing some time math it meant to get up at 3:30 AM to get ready, drive to the airport and check in. Naturally there is no checked luggage, just a carry on; also a sign of the times. One carry on, one personal item - FREE. Everything went according to plan, we arrived on time, checked in at the self check kiosk, walked thru security and onto the plane. No delay, one fluent maneuver - encouraging, even the TSA check point was a simple walk through.

The plane's interior left some things to be desired, so did the service. Spirit has a menu of items you can purchase, were the coffee is more expensive than Starbucks coffee (most likely see through coffee in a Styrofoam cup). But it was just a two hour flight early in the morning, there was plenty of real coffee to be had in Fort Lauderdale - Cuban Coffee to be exact.

It is somewhat hilarious how the items are described as a delicious upgrade. It used to be customer service to include free non alcoholic beverages and some sort of snack. I guess the bottom line on the balance sheet needs the $2 to stay in the black.

Yes, it was the cheapest flight available with the desired times. From a comfort point of view and ease of travel it was hideous.

After a week of doing what we came to do it was time to return to the metropolitan area. Yet another early in the morning departure, another quick time math exercise and we departed at 5:20 AM to get to the airport on time. Enter Fort Lauderdale International Airport - Spirit Terminal 4.
Almost taking the usual routine for granted, we checked in at the self check in - flawless. Off to the TSA security. Two uniformed Spirit employees pre-checked the amount of luggage before the ticket check. I guess they were not morning people, no friendliness, lots of barking commands. It did not help that there was a robocop in camouflage outfit right next to them  - let the nightmare begin. 
We had the same luggage as we had departing, yet the barking voices commanded that we had too many items and need to pay an additional $55 for the extra bag. Mind you it is the same airline but a different airport - no consistency at all. Some unpacking and repacking later we reduced it to three total items, paying an additional $55 (important for the bottom line) to take one personal item on board. Not that it makes a difference in weight or anything else if you have one carry on and one personal bag - it is pure penny pinching. Now enter the TSA checkpoint, not only was it inefficient and run purely, it bordered on harassment. We barely made the flight after all this nonsense. Our seat assignments let us to row 2, right after the "first class" seats. There is no middle seat in the "first class", therefore no space to store the carry on luggage. Another inconvenience were the flight attendant offered to store it somewhere else with no access to it until arrival and then an endless wait time to get the luggage back. Luckily it was just another two hour flight with somebody who snored loudly next to me. In addition some constant announcements to sign up for the Spirit credit card to earn valuable mileage points.  

Compared with some of the flights I took earlier this year to Florida with JetBlue this was the worst experience even though I bought a $50 cheaper ticket. I know that this was the first and last time I used this airline. 

It is bad enough that because of some disturbed individuals in the past everybody who uses air travel has to undergo searches, walk barefoot or in socks to the x-ray gizmos to be verified, and, in addition, padded down like an ordinary criminal afterward, luggage being searched, some unidentifiable piece of cloth being swiped across your hand with comments like "if this comes back positive you are in trouble", and extremely unfriendly personal - power tripping at times. Welcome to the land of the "free".

Just for the fun of it lets do some cost comparison 
(calculations do not include accommodations they would be the same in either case, unless you sleep in the car).

Flying/Rental Car 
Flight   $175 per person (not including "fees" and tax to keep it simple)  total $350
Additional baggage fees $55
Rental Car  $184 (not including "fees" and tax)
Luggage - limited to carry on or you can check a bag for $100 per bag, or selectively $55 per additional carry on.

Grand Total for six days $588 

Driving (normally I will gladly drive any distance around 1,000 miles, one way)
Gas (averaged at $2.60) for 2,100 miles at 20 mpg (low average) equals around $273 round trip
Luggage - unlimited, including golf clubs and other items which would cost more to check in than they are worth at times.

Grand Total for six days $273

Okay, so there is time involved. Four hours flying versus 30 hours driving. Let's put a value on the time we spend and pay our self $10 per hour.

From and to the airport: 2 hours total, getting to the plane 2 hours total, rental car logistics 2 hours for a total of $60.

Driving about 15 hours with occasional stops for a total of 36 hours totals $360.

New Grand Total for Flying: $648     -      New Grand Total for Driving: $633  


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