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

Trip Reports

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.

Driving to LAX

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.

Bridge from Parking at Terminal 1 LAX

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.

LAX Terminal 1 Security

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.

Boarding the Outbound

October 25, 2014
Southwest 4151 Lv Los Angeles 705a Arr San Jose 810a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 9, Runway 24L, Depart 3m Early
San Jose (SJC): Gate 24, Runway 12R, Arrive 9m Early
N7702A, Boeing 737-7BD, Canyon Blue colors, ~99% Full
Seat 4F, Coach
Flight Time 50m

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?)

Browsing the Southwest Inflight Mag

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.

Pushing Back at LAX

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.

Spectacular Sunrise Over Southern California

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.

Crossing Over Moffett Field

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.

A Rainy Mineta San Jose Airport

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.

Inside San Jose Terminal B

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.

My National Ford Taurus Rental Car

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.

Stanford Encina Hall

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.

The Presentation Begins

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.

Stanford Football

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.

Back to the Ford Taurus

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

Returning the Ford Taurus to National

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.

Security at San Jose Terminal B

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.

Bathrooms at San Jose Terminal B

October 25, 2014
Southwest 1947 Lv San Jose 4p Arr Los Angeles 510p
San Jose (SJC): Gate 22, Runway 12R, Depart 5m Late
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 8, Runway 24R, Arrive 5m Early
N774SW, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue colors, ~90% Full
Seat 16F, Coach
Flight Time 49m

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.

Lifting Off From San Jose Airport

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.

Browsing SkyMall

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.

The LA 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.

Gate 8 in Terminal 1 at LAX

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

My Car at LAX

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.

Back Home

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.

21 comments on “The Miracle of an Ordinary Day Trip to the Bay Area (Trip Report)

  1. I once took a flight landing at midnight into Columbia, SC after being bounced around and delayed most of the day. I was exhausted after covering the length of Denver probably about 10 times just trying to keep myself from being bored. When I got on board I expected to have the lights shut off, and to have everyone get to sleep. I was wrong. I was sat next to a freshman from South Carolina (my alma mater) who quickly turned the overhead light on and proceeded to strike up a conversation on where I was, why I was there, and after mentioning my fiancee was living in Milwaukee for residency, started talking about her long distance relationship.

    I was starting to get annoyed when she dropped about five minutes in that this series of flights was her first flight on a plane; being a therapist, I realized that she was probably freaked to be on a tiny CRJ, in the dark expanse of the flight from ATL to CAE, and was probably needing someone to talk to. So we shared stories about going to SC, the changes that have happened over the years. She was alot less nervous with someone else talking to her.

  2. Loved the format with pictures. Always enjoy a vicarious trip through your trip reports and the pictures just make it that much more enjoyable. Would like even more in plane pics too if possible. But sounds like a fantastic trip. Thanks for sharing!! And congratulations SF Giants!!

  3. Reminds me of a day trip two friends and I took to Durham, N.C., maybe a decade ago for a Northwestern football game at Duke. DCA-RDU-DCA – on Midway, if I recall correctly. Overtime threatened to screw up the plan, but everything worked out.

  4. The day trip was spawned with the advent of the jet age 50+ years ago. What makes it possible is scheduling and frequency by the airlines themselves. My experience is they have made that harder with less frequency and scheduling times than it used to be. I used to do day trips to secondary cities all the time, today it’s impossible. Still do day trips to places like Boston and DC, but not happening to most of the places work takes me.

  5. The blue sign above the urinals says that they, and the toilets, are flushed with recycled water. As if anyone would drink it.

    The automatic towel dispensers are placed funny, way too low, must be an ADA thing (not that you could reach them with a wheelchair since they are quite far across the counter). They always wind up wet on the counter before I can catch them.

    My favorite thing about SJC: The Club lounge near gate 15. Accessible using PriorityPass (got mine through Amex Platinum card).

    My least favorite thing about SJC: TSA, specifically PreCheck. For some reason they set their metal detector sensitivity very low compared to other airports (I keep on beeping with just a normal belt buckle). Their nude-o-scope gets quite a bit of use yet there’s always a delay getting someone to man it.

    For LAX, check out Park@One by Park’n Fly. It’s right next to Terminal 1. You can walk to it. I can usually get it for $16-18/day by reserving/pre-paying on their website. Almost as convenient as the official short-term parking but much cheaper.

    1. canuck_in_ca – Yeah, I’ve used Park One before, but I just didn’t want to mess around at all on this one. I always find that I have to drive around for awhile looking for a spot over there, and it ends up being near Sepulveda. If this were more than one day, I definitely would have done that though.

  6. I fly Southwest and have had similar trouble with the TV, both on my tablet and phone. I downloaded flash, downloaded their recommended app, but it wouldn’t click for some reason. I fly Southwest often and never get it to work. I should really call them and ask rather than commiserate.

  7. Weird, I’ve used the TV service on my iPhone a couple of times, and it’s worked just fine (though I prefer to watch on my laptop with the bigger screen). Must be some bugs that still need to get worked out. And that flight map rules, though I wish you could zoom in a little closer.

    That is also quite irritating that you’re basically locked out of getting an “A” boarding pass unless you pony up for the EarlyBird check-in these days. Twice in the last month I’ve checked-in 24 hours prior on the dot, and twice I’ve ended up with a B-2 boarding pass. It hasn’t been a major deal, but annoying nonetheless.

  8. Your trip report reminds me of when I commuted by air between LAX and SFO (and on to or from Stanford or UCBerkeley) for an academic year in the late 1960’s. That commute was possible only because of very low-fare tickets for students. I’m glad to hear that even in today’s drastically-changed world of commercial passenger aviation, it can be fast and smooth to negotiate travel by air between LAX and the Bay Area!

    I doubt that it would be sustainable today to commute to work daily by air between Portland and Seattle as a standby commercial passenger, which I did for one year in the mid-1970’s. In those pre-deregulation days, my flights usually were flown on 737’s (as well as 727’s, DC-9’s and an occasional 707), and the block-to-block time usually ran about :45. Despite airport security and heavy passenger loads, it was far less time-consuming and nerve-wracking than it would be today, and I was late to report for work only once.

  9. Great report! Out of curiosity, how was the Taurus to drive? I realize you didn’t put too many miles on it, but did it have any character? Or was it a boring old rental car?

    1. Hajime – It was pretty nice to drive, actually. Though I have to say that the automation with the radio/air con/etc is pretty overwhelming if you don’t know how to use it. Took me a bit to figure it out.

      1. The totally redesigned 2014 Impala was a huge improvement over the outgoing model. It is nice to hear the Taurus seems to be following a similar path.

  10. This reminds me of the trips I used to do as a non-rev with my dad when he worked for US. We got tickets once to an Cleveland Indians game. We flew CLT-CLE in the morning. Got there in time for the game. We had to leave at the top of the ninth to get back for our flight home to CLT, but while we were on the train back to the airport, a guy wearing headphones (this was back before smartphones) yelled that the Indians hit a bottom of the ninth HR to win it.
    I’ll never forget that experience. I felt so lucky to be able to travel so far away just for a few hours to watch a baseball game. I will also never forget it because we flew on 9/9/01. My last trip before air travel changed forever.
    Anyway, I really enjoyed the pictures with the time-stamps. I think you should do your trip reports like that from now on. Thanks!

  11. I’ve had a few weeknight overnight trips where I’ve flown to a city in the late afternoon or evening, gone out with friends late, and caught the first flight back in the morning. Many times it’s the same crew recognizing me bleary eyed and ready for a shut eye on the ride back :)

  12. Neat report, thanks. Sounds like you need to ask your wife for a Kindle for Christmas so you can read something other than the in-flight mags!

  13. Thanks for that report. I’ve done that same LAX-SJC day trip itinerary several times so it was fun to see it laid out in pictures.

    My only quibbles about that itinerary are the jam-packed and kind of run down Southwest terminal at LAX, and the apparent lack of TSA Pre-Check (at least as of August) in the new terminal at SJC.

    1. responsible D – Southwest is just starting on the renovation of Terminal 1 at LAX, so it’s going to be hugely improved by the time it’s finished. (Or so they say.) As for Pre-Check, they do have it in Terminal B now, so if it wasn’t there in August, it has changed since then.

  14. Cranky – I do the day-trip between OAK and BUR on Southwest about three times a month. Usually leave my house in SF around 6am, park in front of the OAK terminal by 6:30, sitting on a plane between 7 and 7:30, and in the office in Hollywood between 8:30 and 9. I usually leave the LA office around 5:30 and am home by 8:30. Both OAK and BUR are super quick airports to get through, and there are rarely delays on these flights. Flying through SFO or LAX would add about an hour each way for me, not to mention increased risk of flight delays. All in all, it’s a pretty easy day trip.

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Cranky Flier