Sometimes the travel gods smile on you and sometimes they just laugh at you. I travel often enough that I am pretty confident of what I need to do and when to ensure that I make my flight. Granted, I no longer fly every week for work the way I used to (and oh how I miss my Premier Executive status, but that’s another story), but I retain much of my traveling skills.
As I type, I’m on my way to Atlanta for the Type A Conference. I started packing for my trip last night at about 8:30pm. I finished packing around 8:45pm, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t forget anything I need, though I’ll verify that over the next few days. For my five day trip, I packed a carryon only. I don’t need to check a bag for trips under a week (and yes, I’ve shared my packing tips before – check them out) in addition to packing quickly.
I also know how to get into and out of the airport effectively – and as cheaply as possible. I live in Chicago and fly out of O’Hare, which can be a dicey proposition. I live about 45 minutes from the airport and tend to book flights that I know won’t have me driving into or out of the airport during rush hour (which granted is about 80% of the day in Chicago). I’m aware of the construction going on and how that will also impact my commute to the airport.
Oh, and my best trick? I don’t park onsite at the airport. Again, during my days of weekly work travel, I could park at the garage across the street from the terminal and have that parking expense reimbursed. But at over $30 per day now, I’m not up for paying for that on my own. Even the remote lots at O’Hare have gotten out of hand in my opinion, with the “economy” lots charging $21 per day now. Couple that with the tram that connects the remote lots with the terminals being down for the foreseeable future, and I park offsite. I make my reservation online at a garage about 4 miles from the airport that offers parking for $7 per day and a shuttle that brings me to the terminal within minutes. The parking is valet and they have my car ready and waiting when I return.
I know all that. I take that into account when I fly, but today, the travel gods had just a little bit of fun at my expense.
With a 9:11am flight, I planned to leave my house before 6:45, early enough to miss the worst of the rush hour traffic and give me some cushion time, given the construction. What I didn’t account for was the accident that blocked two lanes on the highway and brought traffic to a dead stop after I’d passed the last exit before my turnoff. When I turned on my navigation to see what the traffic was looking like and how backed up it truly was, it gave me an estimated arrival at my parking garage at 8:46am, leaving me no way to catch my flight.
I knew I wouldn’t be the only one late for my flight given how much traffic to O’Hare comes from this major highway, but that didn’t make me feel much better. I know I can rebook as needed, but it doesn’t make me happy, as grateful as I was not to be involved in the accident myself. But really, an hour and ten minutes to drive 3.8 miles? I could literally walk to the airport in the amount of time it was going to take me to drive there.
Partly because I knew that missing my flight wouldn’t be the end of the world – especially since I was only carrying on my bag and not checking – and partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to change anything, I accepted my situation and instead sat back to enjoy the radio.
And then the gods took some pity on me. After watching a police car come zooming by on the shoulder to my right ten minutes earlier, a fire truck and ambulance finally followed in the left lane, since the right shoulder was now closed due to that pesky construction in the twenty feet I’d moved forward over that time. Lucky me, I was in the middle lane (a trick from driver’s ed that this is often the fastest lane of traffic in a jam) and was able to scoot behind the emergency vehicles once they’d passed, which meant that I was now moving faster than the vehicles in the two right lanes that were still essentially at a dead stop.
It wasn’t fast progress, but it was more than the two miles per hour I had been averaging for over a half hour. And I made it to my exit unscathed and earlier than my navigation had anticipated. At 7:55 – well over an hour since I’d left my house but a half hour plus earlier than expected with the accident – I made it off the highway and onto my last stretch.
Parking my car, there was no shuttle in sight, but it was coming momentarily. The part I’d forgotten? With the construction, the shuttle buses are also forced to take a longer route, which meant my anticipated trip to the airport was over twenty minutes, since they now had to pass the airport and circle around. Our driver had a shortcut that may or may not be completely legal and was able to take it, however, meaning he shaved about ten minutes off our time and I arrived in the airport by 8:20, almost a full hour before my flight – and again me with no bags to check.
The other fun at O’Hare is the security lines. I’ve stood in them for over an hour before, and mid morning is not a fun time. As I approached the security checkpoint, my phone refused to load my mobile boarding pass just for fun and to see what I’d do. Thankfully, it eventually decided to load and I could proceed. When I saw the line, I blinked. Twice. For O’Hare, there was almost no one there. My guess? Lots of people were impacted by the accident and weren’t where they wanted to be, and I thanked my lucky stars!
My total time through security? Three minutes. Yep, three. That’s practically flying through Omaha time and pretty much unheard of at O’Hare, but luckily they were fully staffed with only one security checkpoint not open, so the minimal line moved quickly and I didn’t have any of my bags searched.
Next up was the sprint to the gate because even though it was only 8:26, I still had to get to the C concourse, which is a hike waway from the B concourse where you exit security. It was definitely doable although devilsh of the travel gods to make me walk that far. And yes, I was at C2, which is the very last gate as far down the concourse as you can go.
As for me, I made it. Before they flight started boarding. And my gate was next to the Starbucks kiosk, meaning I was able to also get my chai to wake me up for my weekend before I boarded with Group 2 because I also always use my United credit card to book my flights, which gives me early boarding and priority seating for free, in addition to the free checked bag that I didn’t use for this trip.
While sitting in stopped traffic, my car in park, I posted to Facebook sharing my concern that I wasn’t going to make my flight given what my navigation was telling me. As always, the blogging community is so supportive. I received so many wishes and crossed fingers that I’d make my flight and a text from a friend checking to see how things were going (that I didn’t respond to until I was in the parking garage). I’ll give them all the credit for my luck turning around this trip. The power of positive thinking and good wishes is real, y’all!
So travel gods, I see what you’re doing. And I’ll let you have fun with me – so long as you let me make my flights. But I’ll be sending the bill for any blood pressure medication I need in the future straight to you.