Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Transport: Walking in to San Jose Airport

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Today, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, is traditionally the busiest travel day of the entire year in the United States. According to AAA estimates, 38.4 million people will travel at least 50 miles over the weekend, 2.3 million of them by aircraft, and about 1.7 million today alone. When I was an undergraduate, I developed a very specific routine for my Thanksgiving travel, flying from San Jose to Seattle on the Wednesday evening and returning on Sunday morning, fairly typical for college students. What was not so typical is that my routine included walking in to San Jose Airport.

The first time I traveled using San Jose Airport for Thanksgiving, I decided to include my first trip on Santa Clara County's light rail system, which had an "Airport" station that I knew to be several blocks from the airport. However, the trouble started well before I even reached the public transportation system, as I found I could not walk very far with my wheel-less suitcase before my hands could not take it anymore. Fortunately, a good samaritan offered me a ride to the train station, and I was able to stick to my schedule--and I've never traveled with without wheels since. I took Caltrain all the way to the end of non-rush hour service at Tamien station, transferred to light rail, and rode up to the Airport station. The light rail had been slow in the rain and was late, so I missed the connecting bus to the airport and the next one would not run for an hour. I decided I'd better walk in to the terminal on Skyport Drive. Even having to rest from my non-ideal suitcase along the way and fighting the fact that there were no sidewalks, I probably made it to the old Terminal C in fifteen minutes, and did catch my flight, which was quite delayed.

The next year, besides having wheeled luggage, I decided the smarter way to get to the airport was to deboard from Caltrain at the Santa Clara station--which has a view of the airport runway--and take what was then the #65 bus to the terminal. While my train was on time, the bus ran about twenty minutes late, and then ran into traffic that was backed up all the way past the end of the runway. After realizing that I could walk faster than the bus was moving and starting to worry about catching my flight, I requested that the driver let me off. I walked along Airport Boulevard from the far southeast end of the runway to Terminal C, looking back to see that I was indeed a fair distance ahead of the bus, and again had no problem catching my delayed fight.

The third year, I left campus behind my intended schedule and thus was one train later than I really wanted to be in arriving at Santa Clara, placing me one bus later heading to the airport. On this year, traffic at the airport was not nearly as bad, but I could see that there was a backup around Terminal A, which the bus would serve before serving Terminal C. Again worried about making my flight, I convinced the driver to let me off in the backup on Airport Boulevard right at Skyport Drive, which was a much shorter walk in to Terminal C than the previous two years, but probably saved me at least twenty minutes of sitting in traffic to reach the terminal I wanted. The move may have been traditional, but it was unnecessary, as my flight was delayed over an hour.

My final year of college, I followed the same travel pattern as the previous two years, using Caltrain to Santa Clara and the now-#10 bus into the airport. Airport traffic was again ridiculous, and the bus--now just a shuttle between Santa Clara Caltrain and the light rail Airport station through the airport--was almost half an hour late. When it ran into traffic along Airport Boulevard, I again got off well back along the runway and walked into Terminal C--this time to find that my flight was delayed two hours.

After that experience, I decided I'd had enough of traveling on the busiest travel day of the year. When I moved to the Boston area the next year, I didn't even try to go home for Thanksgiving, and I would not be with my family for US Thanksgiving again until I was no longer living in Boston.

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