It has come time for our family to visit our home. Home being, in this case, California. Which, to be fair, is most people’s idea of a vacation. So that’s kind of like winning the travel lottery, really, and it can be quite a money-saver when it all comes down to it.
We’ve traveled enough that we have definite airport preferences – because any traveler can tell you exactly how much an airport can make or break a good visit. Everything – from services, to concession hours, to cleanliness, to available connections, to the attitude of employees, to outside traffic, to the prices of rental cars – EVERYTHING in an airport adds up.
And when I say everything, I mean everything. Like Ebola hand washing stations. Those definitely add up.
California is a huge state, and we do have quite a lot of choices of airports to fly into. There’s LAX – the Gateway to Southern California, Disneyland, and angry airport staff. As put by one article:
As for me, perhaps I am biased because it was my home airport for 20 years, but I will always have special memories of LAX. It stands out in so many ways: an inconvenient location off a traffic-choked freeway far from the city center; aging, dilapidated and and crumbling facilities; a claustrophobic interior; zero amenities; a setting so overcrowded with people and devoid of decent food options you’ll feel like you stepped into a scene in Soylent Green; dirt (the bathrooms make you want to hold it and wait for the flight), constant construction, and awful transit service. (The light rail line stops 2.5 miles from the terminal, meaning you have to take a slow shuttle bus to get to it, with the only saving grace being the fact that the light rail runs nowhere you would actually want to go so you won’t be taking it anyway. No surprise that only one percent of travelers take transit to the airport.)
Let’s not forget the absolute inability to get between one terminal and another to make flights without multiple security experiences and the fact that lines often go down hallways, through waiting areas, and even OUT OF THE BUILDING. Oh, and the “But this is LOS ANGELES” surcharge on your rental car.
It’s pretty bad. And I’m not even getting into the fact that they lost my luggage and my flight reservation while I was actually on my flight last time I flew through.
We try not to deal with LAX.
Then, at the opposite end of the settled state, we have the Empress of the Northern Coast, San Francisco.
SFO generally gets great reviews – it is clean, it is well decorated. And there’s a yoga room, for goodness sake. A YOGA ROOM. In case, you know, you need a yoga moment mid-travel. And who amongst us hasn’t.
But. There’s always a but, right? But. Have you ever tried to rent car and drive in or out of SFO? It’s a nightmare.
If you want to make sure you’re only late for work once a month, you have to allow 3.74 times as long to get there as the trip would take on uncongested freeways. So for a 20-minute drive, you have to allow an hour and 15 minutes.
The only possible thing that could make California traffic worse would be the addition of unannounced jug handle turns, so that people trying to turn left are in the total wrong lane and cause accidents trying to skate across the busy street at the last second. There is a BART station, so if you don’t have to rent a car, you can do quite well. But we do need a car, and it’s expensive to get, plus you waste an entire tank of gas trying to get out of San Francisco (or get back in) at California gas prices. So SFO is another no for us.
The slightly smaller airports are good choices for many people – Oakland, San Jose, and Burbank all have fans. But my favorite by far has to be flying in and out of Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT, which is my favorite airport code next to OMG in Omega, Namibia). For the last several years we’ve always tried to arrange to use Fresno, helped along by the fact that my grandmother lived only an hour away.
Let me illustrate one of the main reasons we ended up devotees of the airport in Fresno:
And then there’s the Fresno check-in:
And then the rental car situation – it is simply glorious. The counters are in the baggage claim. The cars are right outside the door.
The only issue I have with Fresno are the ridiculous charges for the luggage carts. Even third world airports have free luggage carts, can we get with the first world program here and not charge $5 per cart?
Anyway, we’ve traveled in and out of Fresno so often that my kids and I can recite along with the announcement that is frequently heard throughout the terminal, “Hello, this is Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin…”
But not this time. Through no fault of its own except for the driving distances involved we find ourselves needing to fly into an airport closer to the coast, and that’s going to be our travel pattern from here on out in the future.
When I broke the news to my kids last night that I had made our reservations into San Jose rather than our familiar FAT, their sadness was palpable. It was like losing an important ritual in reacclimating to the first world after thirty-plus hours of travel.
“But San Jose doesn’t have giant redwood trees in the airport entrance!” my son said, trying to convince us to change our reservations.
“It better not suck,” Surly informed me.
These children take their airports quite seriously. As should we all.
Our break-up with Fresno’s airport has been rough, not the least of which because it was so unexpected. It really wasn’t FAT, it was us. Not that saying such a thing makes it any better. We really are sorry, though.
But it is time to move on for all of us.
*Sunnya343 at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
**By CDC Global (Handwashing station) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
***TimBray at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
****Sunnya343 at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons