Friday, September 26, 2014

ATL to DCA via BWI

Before anyone even starts to read this blog I feel compelled to warn you that it's a bit of a rant.  It's also a note to my future self.  I want to make sure that I never forget what a pain in the ass traveling can be if I allow myself to get distracted again.  As to not bore you I've marked the point below where the rant ends and, while still boring, the rest of my blog continues.

On Monday, September 21st I was supposed to board a flight from Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson Int'l Airport (ATL) to Reagan National Airport (DCA) at 8:40 a.m. for a 9:20 a.m. departure from gate T5.  However, the Delta ticket agent marked my boarding pass as departing from gate T3 so that where I setup camp.  I realized I was at the wrong gate at 9:10 a.m., only 10 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart.  As I raced to gate T5 I could hear the door to the gangway close shut.  I was too late and I would not be departing ATL as planned, but I would be getting to Washington DC, my final destination, somehow.

My day started simply.  I woke up at 5 a.m., took a shower, got dressed, and put my suitcase in my truck.  I had some coffee with my wife Susan and I ate a blueberry muffin with my dog Max.  Susan heated up two muffins for me knowing full well that Max would get the lion's share of a single muffin.  I was on the road headed toward the Atlanta airport at 6:05 a.m.  That gave me over three hours to do all I needed to do before my flight was scheduled to depart at 9:20 a.m..  I parked my truck at the airport Park and Ride lot.  I hopped on the shuffle and, when prompted, I called out my airline - "Delta".  The shuttle was packed full with business travelers.  That's to be expected on a Monday morning.  No worries though, I had plenty of time.  The airport is only about a 30 minute drive from my house.  I checked-in, printed my boarding pass and dropped-off one piece of luggage with the Delta ticket agent.  He checked my ID and boarding pass marking the terminal and gate number on my boarding pass before sending me on my way.  I was then off to the TSA security check.  My laptop, jacket, belt, shoes, wallet, pocket change, and anything else in my pockets was removed and put in its appropriate bin.  I was well versed in the process and the lines were surprisingly short so I was through and the check point in a few minutes.  Re-dressed I got to gate T3 and checked the monitor.  At the time it displayed the earlier flight to Washington DC, DAL2538 which had not yet boarded.  The DAL2538 flight was scheduled to depart exactly 1 hour before my flight.  That flight boarded and the gate clears out.  Now it was my turn.  I checked the boarding pass once more not looking at the monitor a second time.  As far as I knew I just had to wait for DAL2438 to board.  I sent a few texts to my friends and coworkers while I waited.  I read a magazine.  I was using my time wisely, being productive.

Before I knew it it was 9:10 a.m. and no one at the gate is moving.  My flight is supposed to depart at 9:20 a.m.  I glanced up at the monitor and to my surprise it read - Raleigh, NC departing at 10:20 a.m.  I'm going to DC not Raleigh!

Needless to say I ran over to the T3 gate agent before running to gate T5, my correct gate.  As I neared the gate I could hear the door slam shut.  I was too late.

That's okay I thought, I'll just wait for the next flight.  The gate agent put my name on the standby list.  The next flight came, filled, and departed, leaving me and a dozen other souls behind.  It was overbooked.  In fact, all the flights to DC for the foreseeable future were all overbooked.  I thought to myself, that's the perfect way to run a business.  1) Get politicians to approve a bunch of tax breaks for your company in the hope that you won't go bankrupt, 2) go bankrupt anyway, 3) keep your tax breaks, 4) get rid of your liabilities, and 5) buy up your competition so you can charge what you want and provide the worst service possible.

Delta had years ago convinced the Georgia legislature to "cap" the taxes they pay to purchase fuel.   At the time I believe it was only Delta that qualified for the tax break.  More recently, as Delta contemplated bankruptcy they convinced legislators that paying any additional funds into their employee retirement funds was a waste of money so they were allowed to forgo the payments.  The airline eventually went into bankruptcy protection and gave its retirement liabilities to the government.  After coming out of bankruptcy the airline purchased Northwest Airlines.  Don't get me wrong, I like Delta.  I can fly almost anywhere non-stop from Atlanta and it's difficult to put a price on that little convenience.  What I don't like is people or companies that want to change the rules.  It just seems like everyone wants some sort of unfair advantage.

Now, back to my flight situation.  You might be thinking "what the heck are you crying about?  It was your fault that you missed your flight."  Yes, you are probably right.  It was partly my fault but for one big exception.  The agent that took my luggage and checked my ID marked gate T3 on my boarding pass.  He's the expert, he's supposed to know what gate I'm supposed to go to.  I suspect that I arrived at the airport so early that he thought I was there for the earlier flight.  The only differences between my flight and the earlier flight were time 9:20 instead of 8:20, the flight number DAL2438 instead of DAL2538, and the gate T5 instead of T3.  Just three numbers, 8, 5, and 3.

The flight the airline agent thought I was taking
The flight I was suppose to take
The flight I took
So now I'm still in Atlanta and all the flights to DC are overbooked.  The gate agent recommended that I fly to Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) instead of DCA.  It's only 40 or 50 miles away she said.  From Baltimore I could take the bus to the Amtrak-Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) rail station.  From the Amtrak-MARC station I could take the train to Union Station (Red line).  From Union Station I could take the DC Metro rail to Reagan National Airport (DCA) to get my luggage, of course.  And finally, from Reagan National Airport I could get back on the DC Metro rail (Yellow line) to finally get to my hotel in Alexandria, VA.  And that's what I did!

I turned what should have been a 6 hour travel day door to door into an 11 hour adventure.  I kept a positive attitude.  I asked a lot of people for help.  A few people asked me for help.  As my day progressed I kept chipping away at the task at hand.  Each segment was a new adventure, a multi-stage travel adventure.

As I bumped along I thought to myself, there must be a formula to calculate the percentage of travelers that actually know where they're going and how to get there.  I can't imagine the percentage being greater than 50%.

BWI Marshall Amtrak-MARC rail station
Southbound to Washington
The MARC train from BWI Marshal Rail Station to Union Station 
Regional MARC rail map 
I thought it odd that of the 22 windows depicted only 4 of them are not emergency exits
My DC Metro card
DC Metro map
DC Metro rail station
The lessons here are; check your documents, stay alert, and make sure that you are where you need to be well before you need to be there.  But don't be there too early or you might screw things up worse.

(End of rant!)

Fortunately, I arrived in Alexandria with plenty of time for a short run.  My running buddy Scott and I took off on a 4 mile run from our hotel east toward the Potomac River.  Along the river we wound our way from one tiny park to the next, onto the street, and on and off a smattering of trails.  Scott was recovering from the Napa Valley Ragnar Relay run two days earlier and I had run 15 miles the day before.  We were lucky to get in 4 miles.  We both found our first outing in the area to be less than perfect.  The danger of running in and around heavy traffic was only outdone by the hazards of the uneven sidewalks.
Scott taking a picture of the Capitol across the Potomac River 
I thought I'd include a few images of my hotel room, the Residence Inn on Duke Street in Old Town Alexandria, VA and the view from my window.  The rear of the hotel overlooks a cemetery.  Many of the graves are those of Civil War soldiers and date to the 1860s.  My room is adequate seeming more durable than plush.  It's clean, quiet and the bed is comfortable.

The kitchen area

The living room area
The bedroom
The bathroom
Looking South - the cemetery view from room 746
Looking East - the view from room 728
So ends my first day in or near Washington DC.  The rest of my trip consisted of far more walking than I'm used to.   Unlike the "A Saturday in Manhattan", known affectionately as the Gopher Tour, I walked so much that an evening run was considered out of the question.   The Gopher Tour was named after our small group's propensity to use the New York subway as a means to criss-cross the city only to stop, exit the subways to the street above, and look around a few minutes before retreating back into the dark underground.

Thanks for reading.