I am not proud to admit this, but I was very close to missing a flight for a work trip last week.

I usually buffer enough time and I usually get to the airport early.  That way, I know I will have enough time to go through security.  If I have extra time, I can grab a bite to eat or stop by a lounge.

A Well Laid Out Plan

My 1 hour and 15 minute flight was scheduled for a 6AM departure.  A nice, short domestic segment. Boarding was scheduled to start at 5:30AM.

Planning was easy.  It normally takes me about 20 minutes to get to the airport, so I figured I’ll head out by 4:30AM.  Since it was the early morning hours, I expect very little traffic on the road.  Based of past experience, I should be at the airport by 4:50AM.  This seemed like a reasonable schedule; I’ll be at the airport a little more than an hour before the 6AM flight.

I already checked in the night before, so I have my mobile boarding pass ready.  I was not checking in any luggage, either.  The only uncertainty was the wait time at the security line.  Since I have TSA PRE, I figured I have budgeted enough time and should even have a little time to grab a bite from the food court!

What happened?

The plan started off well.  I was out the door by 4:30AM. It was still dark and quiet outside, with very few vehicles on the road.  I took the usual roads to the airport, and things seemed to go according to plan.  Until, I got near the ramp I needed to get on to get to the airport.  It was closed!

“Oh no”, I thought, “Seriously? Construction work?  Detours?  This can’t be happening.”

My phone GPS was trying to re-route me, but I had no idea if it was trying to take me back to a closed road again.  I decided to play it safe and followed the detour signs, going through some unfamiliar roads.

Let’s just say by the time I got to the airport and parked at the terminal lot, it was 5:10AM.  I’d like to make it to the boarding area by 5:30AM.

An Amateur Gaffe

I am quite comfortable with airports, but I also made a major gaffe during this trip.  The gate number on my mobile boarding pass says that my flight will be at Gate 22.  I followed the signage at the airport, and I stopped when I saw two signs at the top of the overhead ceiling.   Each had gate numbers on them, one pointing to one direction and the other at the other direction.

There was a line of people waiting on the Gate 20-3x side.  Since my gate is in that range, I started to line up behind those people.  I was a little confused and I kept looking around, even as I waited.  Something doesn’t seem right.

“Isn’t there a separate line for TSA PRE? Why is security happening before check-in?  Is this a new procedure?  Tightened security?”  “And why is this line moving so slowly?”

Another lady lined up behind me and asked aloud, “Is this the line?  Isn’t there a TSA PRE line?”

“Yeah, I was wondering the same thing too”, I responded.  The guy in front of me turned around and answered her emphatically, “Yes, this is the line.  Unfortunately, there is no TSA PRE for this line.”

It sounds like I’m at the right place.  It must be a new process.

Realizing My Mistake

A few more minutes passed and I kept looking at the time on my phone.  Boarding is starting.  I am in Group 5 on American Airlines, and I figured could probably be late by a few minutes since Group 1-4 has to board first.  I just don’t want to miss my flight.

Suddenly, the line moved up a little, and I saw another sign.   “Air Canada boarding”.

“You’ve got to be kidding me”, I thought in my head. I would have laughed out loud if I wasn’t in such a rush.

I politely asked the guy in front of me, “Hi, are you waiting in line for an Air Canada flight?”  He nodded.

“Thanks,  and I’m in the wrong line” I added, as I shook my head and dashed off from the line.  I saw an airport worker and asked him for the TSA PRE line, and he helpfully pointed the way.

TSA PRE To The Rescue!

I rushed to the TSA PRE line, and I was so thankful that there was only one person in front of me.  As I walked through the security scan, the alarm beeped.  In my rush to get to the gate, I forgot to take out my phone.   I stepped back and put my phone in the bucket and tried again.

“I’m already running late.” I thought.  “Please, just please don’t choose me for an enhanced security check this time.”  I don’t usually get selected, but sometimes when it rains, it pours.

Thankfully, I went through security checkpoint without incident.  I rushed to my gate where boarding was already underway.  They were already boarding Group 4.  Less than a minute later, they announced boarding for Group 5 and I lined up for my next adventure.

Summary

I’ve been on both sides of the coin now.  I’ve gotten to the airport so early for a domestic flight that the check-in counter wasn’t even opened, and I’ve gotten to the airport so late (in this case) that I nearly missed my flight.

It’s definitely a bit more stressful to be late than early, due to the potential of missing a flight versus just waiting around. Still, I am not sure if I would have changed my trip planning significantly.  I thought that I gave my trip enough buffer already, but I guess it can’t hurt to add another 10-20 minutes to it.

 

How close have you cut it to missing a flight?