Monday, April 29, 2019

The Gamble

It's been awhile since I had to run through an airport. I took a gamble, and won, though I'm still not sure if it was something I'd do again.

On Saturday morning, I was cutting the grass at home when I got a text. Neither is a normal occurrence, especially on a day I'm getting ready for a business trip.

"Your flight has been delayed 20 minutes. Your new arrival time is ..."

I fly a decent amount. A lot for many, not much compared to some. Last year I flew on about 50 planes and 100,000 miles. I don't have many delays, at least not many that come to mind. Not enough that it really impacts my travel and I'm generally happy with United, whom I fly most of the time.

In this case, I wasn't too worried, but as I was riding in the bus from the parking lot to the airport, I got another text that the delay was now 30 minutes due to inbound aircraft lateness. Looking at the cloudless, windless sky, I was slightly puzzled. Then worried. I checked my connecting flight for the boarding ends time, only to discover that it was 1 minute before I was due to land.

No panic, but concern. Fortunately I have access to the elite 1K desk and thought they would be more sympathetic than someone on a customer service line. I walked over and talked with them a bit. The lady there checked the flight path of the plane, and calculated some times. Given the current path, she thought I wasn't likely to make the flight and reserved a spot on a flight the next day. That was the best option to get to London if I didn't make the trip Saturday.

She was very helpful, and I regret not remembering her name. I need to send a note to United about her and thank her for her help. She looked for wheelchairs, service animals, unaccompanied minors, and more. All of which slow the de-planing and boarding process. She calculated some times and gave me a "drop dead" time for our plane to leave. If we didn't leave by then, I wasn't likely to make the connection. With that in mind, I thanked her, and headed to security.

I waited for the plane, got a drink to calm a bit and did a little work that needed catching up on. As I watched the path of the plane, the estimated times changed a few times. I finally went to the gate and asked the agent about the latest time. She noted that the plane was down at 3:15 and taxiing. They expected to board at 3:30 and leave at 3:50, only about 15 minutes late. They'd made up 20 minutes on the flight in and expected they might make up more.

As I watched people board, I debated with myself. As of now, I had a 20 minute cushion to change planes. The landing gate in LAX is about 200-300m from the boarding gate, assuming that doesn't change. If it moves from 71 to the 80s, I'm screwed. That's a separate wing of the terminal and would easily double or triple my distance.

I decided to chance it. An upgrade to 1B meant I could be first off the plane and boarding was going smoothly. No kids, no disabilities, no military even, so I got on. We closed the door at 3:48 and were ready.

Then we didn't push back. The galley was late, though they finished by door close. Maybe some bags? No idea, but at 4:00, I was starting to worry as we finally pushed back. Like a watched pot, it seemed like forever until we disconnected, an eternity until we turned towards the runway. A lifetime until we got to the takeoff spot and finally moving in the air at 4:16.

I got another drink as we got on the way, with estimates back to a landing time of 4:31, which was a minute after the doors closed for the connection. I expected we'd taxi up to the gate as I watched my flight to London depart from me. Somewhat resigned to a night in LA after a long debate with rebooking with Customer Service, I had a third drink.

We made up some time, and I could see us coming down over Los Angeles at 5:15PDT. We were coming down E to W, which saves time over circling over the ocean. It was going to be close, though I was sure it would take forever to taxi over. I've landed on the N side of the terminals, slowly watching a plane drive in a semi-circle to get to Terminal 7.

My luck held. We came down on the S side at 5:19, and a short drive to T7, gate 71. As we passed Gate 77 (my gate), it was 5:20. A taxi in to 71, which is closest to the main building, and an impossibly slow turn in a tight space to the gate in the corner of the building. My heart is pounding a bit as I bound up quickly and pull bags down. I'm in the galley and if not for 1K status, the flight attendant might have said something. I gave her space and didn't press her to hurry, but I'm sure she knew I was worried.

The door opened, the gate agent was talking to the flight attendant as she stepped back to allow passengers out. A hurried thank you and I started a jog up the jetway. Getting to the top, I pushed the barrier to the side at the gate as it wasn't opened and I didn't have time. My jog increased speed as I turned to the right and went around the corner, orienting myself to be sure I remembered the way.

Rolling a bag along, I knew a sprint was a bad idea, but a fast steady jog was good. Three drinks today, older than ever before, and thinking I had 5 minutes and should keep a steady rather than declining pace, I huffed along. Chest tight. wheezing a bit, I kept pushing, threading through a not-too-busy terminal. As I approached the end, I felt slightly annoyed by the not clear signage. Sometimes terminals don't make sense where they've put their gates. It's even odd, but I'm not thinking clearly and 77 is slightly buried and not visible until you clear the last vestibule in the terminal. I hear "Mr. Ross, please return to gate 77, the doors are closing. Last call" on the intercom.

As I finally slow down, relaxing slightly as I see the open jetway door, there are 6 agents standing there. "Mr. Ross?" they ask.

"Huffing and puffing, out of breath, I take a few before I reply, "Jones."

"Oh, wow," they say, "We didn't think you'd make it.". The plane had touched down 8 minutes ago. Luck held and they got the plane to the gate, and the jetway connected in a few minutes.

They scanned my ticket as I tried to get a few more breaths and then I walked onto the plane. Lucky I was in business class, front again (1E) as all overheads were closed. There was space for my bags, and I could sit. The last person on the plane. I don't think Mr. Ross made it as they closed the doors before I could get bags stowed and take my seat. A few last minute prep things and they actually gave me a drink before we took off, which I gulped down and they collected as were taxiing to the runway.

I took a gamble, really needing to get to London and start adjusting and prepping for my Tuesday talk. I was beat Sunday and trying to talk today would have been tough. I'm still beat, struggling to wake up and get going.

I'm not angry at United, despite being sold a ticket with a 45 minute layover, despite the tardy plane when the skies over and between Denver and LA were clear. Things happen. I was frustrated, but understanding. No person is trying to make a plane late, and small delays ripple through the day.

I'll still take late flights when I can, because that gives me some time during the day with my wife. I'll still chance some short connections because the number of flights I take mean that I spend too much time in airports already. I'm not sure I'll gamble on a flight delay like I did this past weekend. I might just go back home and mentally prepare myself to be exhausted and drink a lot of coffee to find the energy to present.

Still amazed that things worked out, and flying low over LA at 4:15 and in a business class international seat on another flight at 4:29 was incredible. I haven't run through an airport in a long time, and hope I don't have to anytime soon again.

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