My daughter, Erin, was home on a recent long weekend to enjoy some skiing with her boyfriend and spend some quality time with her family. Mother Nature smiled upon their ski outing with fresh powder at the higher elevations and after a home-cooked dinner with the usual family banter, our wayward daughter planned to fly from Portland, Maine, to New York City to visit friends before heading back to Florida and her next yachting gig.
Mother Nature, however, had other plans and that fresh powder, which made the day so enjoyable, wreaked havoc with air travel the following day.
No stranger to travel disruptions, plans were changed to fly out of Boston. If you’re paying attention, you noticed the departure location change. That adds a few hours to the round trip, and I, the chauffeur in this case, needed to get back to work. Add the requisite one hour prior to departure time arrival at the airport to account for TSA — Delta suggested adding three hours at busier airports during the partial government shutdown — plus the 2 1/2-hour drive in addition to a traffic factor, and suddenly driving to New York seemed like it might be more efficient or at least, more economical.
Some quick internet research reveals some resources for our comparison, but first, a couple of assumptions. Since I’m making this hypothetical comparison using the circumstances of my daughter’s trip, a few variables can be ruled out. Her trip was one-way, so no leaving a car at the airport to drive home upon return and no personally owned vehicle to drive to New York, unless it is being abandoned or sold upon arrival there. Also, no EZ Pass or toll tag and no extensive personal belongings — just a small carry-on that will fit in an overhead compartment.
The window of departure had little flexibility, so taking advantage of cheap airfares was limited. Similarly, points of departure are equally limited unless a family member or close friend is willing to spend an entire workday driving around.
The times and mileage used here are based on speed limits and quickest routing, taking into account average traffic and delays. Yes, I know, travel times can be greatly reduced by driving at mach 8, but they also can be lengthened by waiting for an arraignment. Gas prices are the current average, and tolls were figured at their current rate. Cost of a rental car and airfare are base prices — no additional insurance, comforts, food, drinks or extra baggage calculated.
Flying out of Portland or Boston, costs are pretty similar, and a quick search shows rates between $69 and $259 non-stop. Other routes included stops in D.C. and Philadelphia, with correspondingly longer flight times if you’re desperate enough to hop one of those planes.
On the day of this scenario, the cheapest flight was $259 leaving Boston, flight time an hour and 23 minutes, about 15 minutes shorter than the one from Portland but an hour and 15 minutes’ longer drive. Add another $15 in tolls and gas for the 2 hour, 45 minute-drive each way, for a total of $274. Total time en route, including TSA, and providing everything else goes on schedule, totals about 5 hours and 10 minutes.
Our hypothetical alternative is to rent a standard car — in this case a VW Jetta was available. Cost of the car varies with rental agencies and pick up locations, but the range was from $38 per day to $90 per day one-way with unlimited mileage. The driving distance from North Conway to LaGuardia airport is about 335 miles. Average travel time is 5 hours 43 minutes, with a cost of right around $40 for gas and tolls. Driving the more conveniently located $90 car brings the total cost of the trip to around $130, with a total time en route of 5 hours and 45 minutes.
An apples to apples comparison in this case reveals very little difference in overall travel time — about a half hour longer by car — but a more pronounced difference in cost. Now, if we factor in a second passenger, as was the case with my daughter’s boyfriend, the total cost of the flight doubles and the total cost of the trip by air would be $533 versus $130 by car and with two drivers, the car trip might be less fatiguing and less stressful.
Of course, there are alternatives to each method of travel, including buses and trains, or a hybrid trip combining planes, train and automobiles or some combination of any of these. Flying privately or charter might also be an option under certain circumstances.
I limited my comparison due to space constraints and my quick and dirty research. This comparison was under ideal circumstances with no delays or problems — how often does that happen? Your results and luck may vary.
Personally, given the choice in this scenario, I would have opted for the road trip. In addition to the flexibility of leaving whenever the mood strikes and timing permits, the convenience of having a car upon arrival in New York might be beneficial on the other end.
Also, my personal dislike of commercial air travel based on the “hurry up and wait” experience, and my preference to drive myself sways my choice. All things considered, I’ll take the car.
Eric and Michelle Meltzer own and operate Fryeburg Motors, a licensed, full-service automotive sales and service facility at 299 Main St. in Fryeburg, Maine. More than a business, cars are a passion, and they appreciate anything that drives, rides, floats or flies.