Last night, after a productive meeting in Indianapolis, I flew home to Monterey. Well, not quite to Monterey. That was the plan. But the plan didn't work out. And the reason it didn't work out is a tale of regulation.
I was scheduled to fly from Indy to Phoenix. That worked out well and we got in 10 minutes early. Then, after a quick cup of delicious chili at Wendy's (although I know that Sheldon on The Big Bang Theorywould correct me for calling it chili when it contains beans) I went to the gate for Monterey. There I saw a local Monterey politician who once got up at a Rotary talk I gave and angrily challenged me. I've got a thick skin and there are actually things about him I like and so we got talking in a somewhat friendly way. That will matter in a few minutes, as you'll see. He also introduced me to a colleague of his, a local Monterey resident who used to be a commercial pilot.
When we boarded the flight, the airline pilot announced that the fog cover in Monterey was low (I think I've got the term right) but that we would probably be able to land in Monterey. As we got closer, we went from very clear over Salinas to very fogged in over Monterey. We made our approach. Finally, I could see some lights but we were very low. The pilot powered up and pulled out of the landing. He then came on to tell us that he couldn't even see the runway. Good call! A few minutes later, he announced that we would land in San Francisco, a 2-hour drive from Monterey.
We sat on the runway at SFO for about half an hour waiting for a gate. Finally we got one. As we stood to get off the plane, I asked this politician, who was sitting two rows behind me, a question. I would name him because I actually thinks he comes out good in this, but I don't know that he would want me to. I knew, from other information, that this politician knew a lot about the Monterey airport. I asked him why the pilot couldn't use instruments to land. He answered that there was construction going on at the airport and while it was going on, it was not possible, for some reason I don't totally understand, to have the beacons or whatever on the ground be working. (In comments, if you want to correct my understanding, please do.)
I asked what the construction was about. He told me that Congress had mandated, for safety reasons, that some runways be lengthened by 1,000 feet. That's a lot, and if you did that in Monterey, it would destroy a huge swath of the cities of Seaside and Monterey. So instead, they were installing a very expensive technology that would allow a plane that went too far to stop in a short space, kind of like those steep gravel turnouts you see for trucks in the California Sierras, except without the incline. Regulation. I suggested that there wasn't much of a case, cost/benefit wise, for this mandate in the first place. He didn't disagree, but he basically said it's the law.
Also, he explained, a local suit by someone who objected under the California Environmental Quality Act had slowed it down and raised already high costs even higher. Regulation.
So because of regulation, we had to land 2 hours away. On the way from the SFO gate to the baggage carousel, I started talking to a young corporate pilot with whom I hit it off. I suggested to him that we ask this politician and his friend if they wanted to split a rental car rather than wait some indeterminate time for a shuttle. They did.
Then we had to find the rental car place. At many airports, you go to a counter and choose the rental car company you want, and then go outside and hail a dedicated shuttle, that is, one that is marked with the logo of the company you chose. Not at SFO. Instead, they have socialized the process. You walk a long distance through the airport and then get on a government-owned monorail that takes you to the counter. So what normally would have been a 5 to 10-minute process was a 15-to-20-minute process. Regulation.
This politician and I did have a mainly pleasant conversation on the 2-hour drive though. But if I say more, then Monterey Peninsula readers of this post who pay attention to local issues will quickly figure out who he is.
Had the plane been able to land in Monterey, which it would have if the pilot had been able to use instruments, I would have been at my home by 10:00 p.m. I actually got in at 1:40 a.m. this morning. Regulation.
One note: I thought the pilot who didn't land made the right call. I asked the two corporate pilots. It was definitely the right call, they said.