The Miracle of an Ordinary Day Trip to the Bay Area (Trip Report)

Back in July, I was asked to speak on a panel about travel at Stanford’s reunion weekend. I gladly accepted and figured that it would just be an easy day trip. Sometimes, however, it’s a simple day trip like this that makes me step back and truly appreciate the awe-inspiring power of flight. Everything had to go right on this trip, and thanks to Southwest and National Car Rental, it all did.

I was ready to purchase tickets early, but there was one variable that made life difficult. The panel’s time couldn’t be set until the football game schedule came out, and that doesn’t happen until 12 days before kickoff. When the game time came in at 1230p, the panel was scheduled at 930a. This was going to be a challenge to get there in time.

I really only had one option. Though Palo Alto is nearly equidistant between San Francisco and San Jose airports, I was not going to rely on a flight to SFO being on time. That was too risky. And at San Jose, only Southwest had a flight early enough. Southwest also had a return that would get me home just in time for dinner, my goal, so I booked it. A pricey $337.20 later, I was set. I have Executive Elite status with National, so I rented there to make sure I wouldn’t lose any time once I landed.

I’m doing this trip report differently than most. I chronicled my day in pictures, and I’ve put the time stamp on each one to show just how precisely it all happened. So, if you have the time, keep reading and relive my day with me.

Since it was a Saturday, I knew there wouldn’t be traffic. I woke up at 525a, showered, and hit the road at 550a.

I had already decided to eat the $30 day rate to park in LAX short term parking. For a day trip on a tight schedule like this one, it was a no-brainer. I pulled in and found a spot not too far from the bridge over to Terminal 1.

It was still dark when I arrived, and that Terminal 1 bridge is something else. It doesn’t actually go in the terminal as it does in other LAX terminals. It just dead-ends into stairs down to the ticketing level outside. The security lines were pretty light, but I really sailed through since I had Pre-Check.

The gate areas were packed, or at least it seemed that way since most of the shops and restaurants are closed for renovation. The line at Starbucks, however, snaked out all the way toward our gate. I found an empty seat and waited for boarding.

I had checked in right at 24 hours but ended up with B2. Still, I had no problem grabbing a window in row 4 on this former AirTran aircraft. It turned out our flight was completely full, so I ended up with a seatmate in the middle. She apparently decided that 645a is a good time to be extremely chatty. It was about the time she started talking about how bad the pollution was in LA that I realized I needed an out. I picked up the inflight mag in order to find a good doctor. (Doesn’t everyone pick their doctors from inflight mags?)

That didn’t work, so I finally just pulled out my headphones and listened to music on my phone. She took the hint. It was a beautiful morning in LA with a few scattered clouds around when we pushed back a couple minutes early.

As always, it was a very quick taxi and soon we were airborne. I was in awe of the spectacular sunrise as we climbed up to cruising altitude.

Later, I tried to pass the time by watching the free Southwest TV on my phone, but it didn’t work. I even downloaded some player that was recommended, but I still couldn’t get anything. Frustrated with that, I gave up. I opened the flight tracker (which is pretty good), listened to music, and just stared out the window.

The first winter storm of the season was rolling through the Bay Area. We entered the clouds around 10,000 feet and then didn’t fully poke our heads out until I realized we were landing to the south. We crossed over Moffett Field and then came into San Jose on a nasty day a few minutes early.

This was my first time in San Jose’s Terminal B, and it’s a nice (though expensive to build) place. But I didn’t have time to dawdle.

I walked across the street to the rental car center and strolled right into a Ford Taurus. I was on my way in no time.

There wasn’t any traffic so I made it to Stanford a mere 2 hours and 59 minutes after I left my house. The organizers, knowing I was cutting it close, arranged preferred parking for me so I wouldn’t have any issues. We were supposed to arrive at 915a to prepare, but I beat that handily.

At 930a, it was time to start the panel. It actually filled in nicely after this picture was taken and we had a great hour talking about travel.

I hung around after for more than 30 minutes to talk to the attendees and answer questions. At this point, I could have flown back home, but I had never been to the (no-longer-so) new Stanford Stadium and the game beckoned. My friend Josh even arranged for a little pre-game field access. As you can see, the storm had moved out and the stadium is fantastic.

I watched the first half and visited with some other friends at the game. When the half ended just after 2, I stopped to get a Stanford sweatshirt for each of my kids and then I hopped back in the car.

Again there was no traffic and I dropped the car off with time to spare.

It was a quick walk across the street (not true for the other airlines at San Jose in Terminal A), and I went to security. It was empty. The document checker didn’t even see me coming and said he was dreaming. Yeah, it was slow.

I had a good 45 minutes until departure, so I finally relaxed. I first went to the bathroom. Normally, I wouldn’t bother telling you that, but give San Jose an A+ for not only having a shelf in front of each urinal for bags, but also a hook. Airports need more of this.

We boarded on time, and the flight was surprisingly pretty full. They had some issue with reconciling the passengers on board. There was a lot of walking back and forth and requesting passengers to ring their call buttons. It was wrapped up pretty quickly though, and we were only 5 minutes late. There was a mildly amusing Southwest-style safety demonstration which got a couple chuckles, and just like that, we were airborne.

There were a few remaining rain clouds around as we climbed, and these pilots seemed to be enjoying the idea of aiming right at them. You know those pilots that seem to climb and descend at a faster rate than usual? We had those guys up front. It’s time like these that you can really feel the power of the 737. Meanwhile, I still couldn’t get the TV to work and I had already run through the inflight magazine. That left… SkyMall. I know I was exhausted, because I started thinking about buying some of the things in there.

It was a clear day in LA, and we descended in as usual from the northwest. But it looks like we were cleared to turn on to final approach earlier than we expected. The pilots threw up the spoilers, dropped the gear, and turned right near downtown LA. We had a great view of the Coliseum.

After landing, it was a short taxi back to the gate. Despite having had pass A39 on this flight, I couldn’t find a window until after the wing so it took a little longer to get off the airplane than it did on the way up.

Once I was off, it was easy to cross the bridge and hop in my car.

There was no traffic heading home, so by the time I arrived 3 hours and 19 minutes after leaving Stanford, I was able to spend some time with the kids and have dinner.

Every so often, a day trip like this makes you realize the awesome power of aviation. 100 years ago, the idea of a day trip like this was just a dream. Before that, it wasn’t even fathomable. But now, it’s routine. That’s something worth appreciating.

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