Travel makes you stupid.
I don’t sleep the night before a trip anymore. I used to – B.A. – before Anchorage. We had a crack of dawn flight from NY to Alaska to begin a family cruise. I was startled to hear the doorbell ring. I stumbled downstairs and found my mom, dad, and van driver standing on the porch, wondering why the 5 of us weren’t ready to leave for the airport. Apparently I’d forgotten to set the alarm clock.
I’m not alone. One of my co-workers, an attorney, regularly sleeps at the airport the night before a flight. Why? He woke up at home to hear a jet passing overhead, looked at the clock, and said to his wife, “Um. That’s our 7:15 flight to Jamaica.”
Once you’ve hurdled the alarm clock obstacle, you face the real stumbling block to every trip: getting to the airport. Death and taxes are two of life’s icky inevitabilities, but I dread the airport journey even more. Until it’s possible to teleport (I’m counting on you, Stephen Hawking!), there’s no avoiding it, if you want to travel beyond the limits of a car road-trip. There are plenty of options available; here are my 5 go-to routes – each has a bit of good, bad, and downright ugly.
1. Take Public Transportation. If you’re blessed with access to dependable, inexpensive public transportation, then this is definitely the way to go. Most cities offer airport shuttles from transportation hubs with direct terminal access. Reliable and cheap, I’ll use this option, if it is train-reliant. I won’t bus it, because the only thing worse than getting stuck in traffic in your own car is being stuck on a bus. The drawback to airport public transportation? It always feels like I’ve made my trip longer by adding another schedule-driven leg to the journey.
2. Enlist a Friend or Family Member. No one volunteers for this duty. You ask your adult children in the whiny voice they used when they wanted extra cookies: “Daddy and I have a 6 a.m. flight to the Caribbean. We have to leave for the airport at 3 and please don’t forget to pick us up next Friday in the middle of rush hour. Please. Pretty please.” It’s even worse when you ask a friend. Because some day, they’ll look to collect on the favor, and, like “The Godfather”, it’ll be an offer you can’t refuse. However, the price is right – It’ll cost you only gas and tolls since you can’t assign a dollar amount to agita.
3. Drive Yourself – Daily Parking. This is my favorite option, but it wasn’t always, because I had one too many traffic-related close calls. Coming to a standstill and watching the minutes tick, tick, tick is no way to start a vacation. My advice? Leave for the airport much earlier than you think you need to. On good days, you’ll have to entertain yourself – that’s what the bar is for. On bad days, you’ll still make your flight, since the daily lots are the closest to the terminal. Your punishment? You’ll feel it in the wallet since the prices for those lots are generally the highest.
4. Drive Yourself – Long-Term or Off-Site Parking. This can substantially reduce the parking fee but involves giving yourself even more time. Airport-operated lots are FAR AWAY; technically, I believe Newark’s lot is actually in Pennsylvania, not New Jersey. If you’re traveling solo, it’s not so bad, but moving a family onto a tram is like herding distracted cats with a lot of stuff. But it’s cheap. And private off-site lots are even cheaper. The problems I’ve had with them are self-induced. The services I’ve used request that you phone for pick up AFTER your luggage arrives. My travel companions refuse to accept this and phone BEFORE, assuming their bags will spontaneously arrive. We’ve made more than one driver mad. Really mad. If you play by the rules, this is a cost-effective alternative.
5. Car Service. It’s the most expensive option but also the hassle-free way to get to and from the airport. The limo silently appears in your driveway the morning of departure and your bags are loaded by a kind driver looking for a tip. And it really is fun to be greeted in the arrivals area by someone flashing a sign with your name on it. It’s a worthwhile indulgence if you have a special trip planned or are traveling with a group to split the expense.
I was curious to learn how others deal with this chore, so I conducted a scientific study; I Doodle-polled my Facebook friends. The majority choose to take themselves and park on-site or get a relative to drive them. As for the experts, Budget Travel Editor-in-Chief Robert Firpo-Cappiello says, “I live in Westchester. When I fly solo out of LaGuardia, I love taking Metro North to Harlem and getting on an MTA bus to the airport. But when my family of four is traveling together, we are willing to splurge on the convenience of a car service. The price is often comparable to the fees we’d pay for parking our car at one of NYC’s airports.”
My advice is to consider each trip on an individual basis and factor in your personal peeves and preferences. If budget is your top priority, than phone a friend or hop on the train to the plane. Want to avoid a fight in the pre-dawn hours with your spouse about why there isn’t gas in the car? Reserve the limo. Since I’m a control freak, I prefer to captain my own ship and drive myself. Whatever choice you make, factor in plenty of time and remember to breathe. The only other choice is to stay home and that’s not really an option, is it?