Editorials

Air travel isn’t what it used to be

While waiting to meet his sister for the first time, Charlie Herr, 33, looks at the arrival information board for her flight at Sacramento International Airport last year. The airport has seen a 4 percent decline in flights since 2012, and public transit options to SMF are limited.
While waiting to meet his sister for the first time, Charlie Herr, 33, looks at the arrival information board for her flight at Sacramento International Airport last year. The airport has seen a 4 percent decline in flights since 2012, and public transit options to SMF are limited. Special to The Bee

Air travelers know that getting to and from their destinations isn’t what it used to be.

As we rush by the hundreds of thousands locally, and many millions nationally, to visit family and friends or take year-end vacations, too many flights get delayed and canceled, and you must partially disrobe to get past TSA security.

The number of flights in and out of Sacramento has dropped by 4 percent since 2012, but the number of passengers is up by 2.2 percent. Seats are cramped and legroom is a joke. Babies cry, which is understandable. What’s truly annoying are the big babies who look like grown-ups but don’t seem to understand that we’re all in a rush to arrive in reasonably good cheer.

At least we who rely on Sacramento International Airport have the good fortune of having nice terminals where you can get a good cup of coffee or decent glass of local wine, find something to read, and not feel like you’re being pushed through a cattle chute.

The airport management, working with the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, has brought in musical groups to serenade travelers during the Christmas season, taking the edge off the holiday hustle, as The Bee’s Sammy Caiola wrote earlier this month.

Parking hasn’t become too expensive or difficult, although lots will fill this week, and the red rabbit in Terminal B still amuses. Even in the holiday rush, Sacramento’s airport feels a little like a pleasantly uncrowded shopping mall.

Of course, that’s also a problem, as the county struggles to generate sufficient revenue to pay off the $1.07 billion Terminal B construction debt.

It’s still too hard to get from Sacramento to the rest of the country and world. United Airlines exacerbated the lack of nonstop flights by ending for three months direct flights to Washington, D.C., to the dismay of the Northern California congressional delegation and lobbyists who made regular use of it.

Nor has Sacramento succeeded in living up to its status as an international airport, with the exception of a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico. Reno is getting a direct flight to London. Austin already has one. Portland, Ore., has flights to Frankfurt, Germany; Amsterdam; Tokyo; and Iceland.

As Sactown Magazine’s Rob Turner, a regular Bee contributor, wrote last month, Sacramento, the nation’s 27th-largest airport, has the fewest international flights of any of the top 35 metro airports.

The city has been working to build trade relations with Chongqing, in southwest China. Several U.S. corporations including Hewlett-Packard have major manufacturing operations there. Chongqing, with its regional population of 33 million, would seem to be a ripe place for regular flights.

Instead, we depend heavily on Southwest Airlines, the Texas-based carrier that used to be charming and relatively low-cost, but lately has struggled to improve its faltering on-time record.

In your search for direct flights, you might end up using San Francisco International. If you do, we recommend driving to the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station and riding the train to the airport.

Perhaps the wizards at Sacramento Regional Transit one day will figure out how to run light rail from downtown to the airport. Maybe in our lifetime.

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