Don’t Go Through Michigan

I’ve written periodically about my travel foibles and yesterday gets special recognition as a bizarre travel day. No, I didn’t have to sit next to a guy in coach eating baked beans, though I am still traumatized by that unfortunate occurrence a few weeks ago. Yesterday’s tale started out with a scheduled meeting today in Irvine, California.

While I pause to sip my coffee, please look up two things: (1) the relative geographic locations of my home in Washington, DC and Irvine, CA and (2) a logical travel plan to get from one to the other. Once you’ve digested these two things, please tell me the best way to make this trip. If you said, “Fly from DC to Grand Rapids, Michigan then take a car service from Grand Rapids to East Lansing, Michigan, then fly from Capitol Regional Airport in Lansing (that makes it sound really big….um, it isn’t) to Chicago, then from Chicago to Orange County, CA” you win the prize!

OK, so in hindsight, that wasn’t the best route, but it is the route I chose when my business partner urged me to join him for a meeting in East Lansing and further encouraged me to meet him at a different meeting in Grand Rapids and ride to East Lansing together. As I now sit at my desk in DC, having never made it to California, thus missing the primary meeting I needed to attend, I kinda wish I had flown nonstop from DC to California. Alas, I did not.

It all seemed to be running smoothly when I arrived at the Lansing airport at about 4:30 PM for my 6 PM United flight to Chicago, which was going to leave me plenty of time for my connection to Orange County, CA. With perfect weather in both Lansing and Chicago and a plane already at the gate, nothing could go wrong. Until it did. At about 5:30 PM, they announced that our flight was delayed to 7:30 PM due to weather in Chicago. Hmmm, the radar showed no rain within 100 miles of Chicago.

It quickly became clear to me that I would miss my connection to Orange County, the last of the day, and quite likely would end up spending the night in Chicago and perhaps the entire next day trying to figure out a way home. My plan B was to fly back home immediately and do my California meeting by phone. So, I quickly rebooked on a 7:30 PM Delta flight to Detroit, connecting back to DC, landing at 11:30 PM. It was a long layover in Detroit and, trust me, you don’t want to ever spend more than 3 hours in Detroit for any reason, even in the safety of the airport. But, it was my best option, so I grabbed it.

Then a series of “firsts” kicked in. The first first was when I was working with the United gate agent (United, recall, was my original carrier) to make sure United refunded my original ticket to pay for the Delta flight home. It was only 6:45 so probably a good 15 minutes before my 7:30 Delta flight to Detroit would start boarding. My cell phone rang and it was the Delta gate agent. She said, “Oh hi Mr. Robertson – are you coming with us to Detroit tonight?” Wait, what? Have you ever gotten a call from a gate agent telling you to hurry up to the gate. I asked why she was calling when it was still 45 min before take off. She replied, “Well, all the other passengers are here and ready so if you’re ready, we can go early.” It sounded more like the departure for a family beach trip than a major airline sending off a flight. Seriously, did you know that all the passengers could get together and vote to leave early? Good to know.

So, I sprinted the entire length of the Lansing airport – all 100 yards of it – and jumped on my flight to Detroit. That’s when the second first occurred. Indeed my 7:30 PM flight did leave early. So early, in fact, that it LANDED in Detroit at 7:29. I’m not making that up. We landed one minute before we were supposed to take off. Hey, I really love this democratic “we the passengers” approach to aviation. I’m going to vote all my flights to leave early from now on (question: is this a majority rules type thing or does it have to be unanimous?).

The other great thing about this was that, instead of spending 3 perilous hours in Detroit, I could make the 8:15 connection to DC and get home earlier. Well, not so fast. The pilot announced that since we had actually arrived in Detroit before we had left Lansing, they had no open gate for us. Natch. No worries, he said, we’ll have you to a gate by about 7:50. We were arriving at Gate C2 and the 8:15 to DC was departing out of Gate A18. A quick check of the airport terminal map in the Delta magazine showed that those two gates are very close together (note to self: those friggin’ terminal maps are NOT drawn to scale).

Indeed, we pulled up to gate C2 at 7:50, with plenty of time for me to sprint the not-drawn-to-scale distance from C2 to A18 and my assistant had confirmed there were open seats on the 8:15. But, as luck would have it, when the Delta agent came out to steer the jet bridge to our plane we got a student driver. You cannot make this up – it took her 10 minutes to get the jet bridge to the plane, thereby leaving my aging legs only about 5-10 minutes to run the marathon from C2 to A18 (seriously, it’s like a goddam mile).

I tried anyway. I sprinted with my suit jacket on, wearing a heavy backpack and carrying my suitcase. I made it! I got to the gate at 8:10. Yay. Perfect timing. Perfect timing, that is, to watch the 8:15 pull off the gate and head to DC without me. I sat panting at A18 for about 10 minutes deciding whether or not to have a heart attack, finally deciding not to. I had a few drinks, caught the 10 PM and was home in my own bed by 12:30 AM.

Next time, I think I’ll take a more direct route.

 

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About brucecrobertson

Bruce Robertson lives in Maryland with his wife, 2 children and annoying dog. He is a venture capitalist and avid sports fan and golfer
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2 Responses to Don’t Go Through Michigan

  1. Ruth Blau says:

    Airlines are simply weird. They run according to rules (?? should they be called rules??) that only they can understand. Tuesday, I was ticketed to fly back from Boston on the 9:00 a.m. shuttle. I was there early enough to get on the 8:00 shuttle, so I asked if there was space on that flight. Yes, there was, but it would cost me $75 to switch. Why? I had a “restricted” ticket. It’s not as if this was a cheapo ticket–it was a last-minute very expensive ticket. My 9:00 flight was overbooked, and the 8:00 flight had space on it. You’d think it would be to the airline’s advantage to get me out of that airport on rather than send a flight to DC with unfilled seats, but I guess not.

    • Ugh, I’ve had exactly that happen to me and that IS their dumbass policy. However, each time it’s happened I’ve pushed back really hard (shocker) and on each occasion convinced them to wave the fee. My logic is the same as yours: If the 8 AM shuttle leaves with an empty seat, it will never be sold. So, if you fill it with my ass, you have 60 min to fill my seat on the 9 AM. If you don’t, you break dead even and make a customer happy. If you do, you make more money. What’s the downside. As an aside, there have been academic studies on the monetary value of happy customers so even if they don’t fill the seat on the 9 AM, they’ve probably created monetary value for the company.

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