Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Too Many Choices!

menu in monzeWe talk about how much stress there is in our lives.  One of the main contributors to this large amount of stress is all the choices we encounter everyday.  Choices require making a decision, weighing factors, gathering information.

I loved shopping in Zambia.  Need toothpaste?  Get the only one available. Milk? Choose between Cowbell or Nido.  Want cheese?  Too bad; it’s too expensive.  The small corner stores were easy to get to and easy to navigate.  They may have only had a little of anything, but they had some of anything.  In a building the size of a hotel suite, I could purchase food, fabric, candles and even farm implements if I wanted.  In and out and no hassle.  It’s quite the opposite of our US stores filled with 100 different kinds of laundry detergent and half an aisle of toothpaste, not to mention the two aisles of soft drinks.

My adventures booking my flights for Angie’s funeral perfectly exemplify how much stress choices can induce.  On each side of the journey, I had three airports to choose from. Oakland, San Francisco San Jose and Regan, Baltimore and Dulles.  For each set, there was a preferred airport but there was more to consider.

For each airport, I had to gather information about ease and cost of transit to and from the airport.  This also differed based on what time a flight would depart or land.  For example, I would normally take BART to OAK or SFO, but if the flight leaves before 7am, that’s not an option.  San Jose (SJC) had cheaper flights, but driving there from my house can take between an hour and 3.5 hours depending on traffic.  There’s Amtrak, but then that’s another schedule, etc.  You get the idea.

Aside from weighing airports, I had to look at departure and arrival schedules for each flight.  And, as mentioned above, this could impact whether or not an airport made sense in terms of being able to get to it or from it.  That’s not even considering lack of sleep.

Then there’s the flight schedules themselves.  How many layovers?  How long are the layovers?  In which airports are the layovers?   This means also needing information about the airports, how far apart gates are, their reputations for flight delays, wi-fi and food options and such.

And of course, there’s also the factors by which airlines differentiate themselves. What’s the airline’s reputation for service and being on time? How much seat room do you get?  Where are the nickel and dime points? Etc.

Oh yeah, and cost.  That one’s so big it does the first narrowing of choices and then goes off the table.

Amenity considerations like airport wi-fi and airline reputations went out the window first.  There were just too many more important things to consider.  The cheapest flight was out of San Jose and into Baltimore. Two inconvenient airports.  After some research and math, I found that once transit costs to and from the airports where added in, the cost savings was marginal.  So I was at least able to narrow the list of choices down to my preferred airport on each side.

But, there was still all this schedule stuff.  One flight had good departure and arrival times but had 2 layovers that were both only 48 minutes.  That means leaving one flight when the other is boarding, running through airports; if the first flight is delayed at all, possibly missing the second.  Another had better layovers but went through ATL.  That airport is a nightmare. Gates are far apart, flights are often delayed.

Trying to minimize the stress associated with the flight itself, I was getting stressed with the options to the point of almost just giving up.  I called a friend who I knew would understand both the frustration of trying to find the best flight option and the need to go.  She was super helpful.  By helping me prioritize the factors that had overwhelmed me, we narrowed the list to just two or three flights where schedule was the only meaningful difference.  Now I could easily decide which non-ideal was the least worst and pick a flight.  I decided that having to get up at 3:30am was a lesser evil than having short connections, and I was set.

Then the airline nickel and dimed me – all “free” seats were gone and I had to purchase special seats on 3 of my 4 flights – so I almost had to start over, re-comparing costs.  Luckily (I guess), the extra $100 in seat fees didn’t bring any other flights into the equation.

Had any one of the flight options been the only option, I would have taken it.  But having so many different choices required a whole lot of thinking.  It’s nice to have a few choices, but when I’m faced with a whole boat load of them, I really miss Zambia.


Wendy said...

This is scary, I was talking to my boss today about how sometimes too many choices can be bad thing, and then I get home to see that you wrote a blog post on the same topic.

goldenrail said...

@Wendy - if it frightens you less, I wrote it over a week ago ;)