The Race is On…

So I was using a “free” ticket for my current trip to Walt Disney World.  The only flight that I could use for the free flight was at 1:30 in the afternoon, getting into WDW at 10:30 at night.  It was free so who could complain.  The more I thought about it though the more I wanted to suck every last minute of vacation time out of my trip.  So I decided to risk it and try getting on an earlier flight by going stand by.

There were a few things to consider before taking on this stand-by challenge. The first was availability of the flights.  I had been monitoring the flights I wanted to get on for about 2 weeks prior to leaving.  I knew there were open seats.  One-way tickets were still available the day before so I was sure the flight I was wanting was not over sold.

The odd thing was I could not get the flights to book together on their booking engine.  I could book them as separate flights, but not together.  That seemed a bit odd to me, but sometimes common sense is not your friend in trying to understand the airline booking websites.  The next only remaining risk was the extremely short layover time.  To get to Orlando the earliest possible time, I would have to make an 18 minute layover.  18 minutes to get off my plane, find out the new gate, dash to the new gate, get to counter, ask to get stand by, get a seat assignment, and get on the plane.  I decided that getting closer is better than sitting at home for the morning. If I didn’t make it I would camp out, have a little breakfast and read.  But the challenge of making it happen was too tempting.

I considered the airport I was flying through, the time of year, and how reliable the airline is for on-time departures.  Using my favorite site (Kayak.com) I could see how reliable the flights were.  They had a decent enough track record for on-time departures.  I then thought about the time of year and the weather.  It’s May, so there should not be a need to de-ice the plane. (Although it has been rather cold in Iowa this spring so it would not surprise me if they got snow)  The last final risk factor was the airport.  I was flying through Milwaukee and not changing airlines.  Usually the gates for departures on the same airline are all located together in the airport.  It was not like I would have to dash across O’Hare or change concourses.  All the risks seemed to be in order.

One final thing to consider was luggage. If I were checking luggage I would have to get back to airport to pick it up.  Checked luggage would not make it with me.  Three days before leaving I did the packing dry run to calculate if I could get 11 days of clothes in a carryon.  Using the vacuum packing bags and being a guy who was determined to streamline and make it work, I got it all in.  I even had room to spare in the suitcase.  (I needed to think about having extra room since I knew I would be bringing home more than I took and somehow dirty clothes seem to take up more room than clean ones).

So all the risks are calculated and challenge stand-by was a go.  So I had one of my best friends take me to the airport at 4:45 am.  The counter and security open at 5 am so I would be ready.  I got to the counter and asked to get stand-by.  The quirks of the online booking system were also happening at the airport.  Eventually with 3 agents work, they could get me on the first flight.  I was even able to get a seat in the front of the plane to make my fast dash off.  The problem was the second leg of the trip.  I had 3 options. My first choice was the 18 minute layover, but would get me into Orlando before noon.  Their system would not let them book it with that short a layover.  Plan B was having a 4 hour layover and getting into Orlando at 5:30 pm.  Plan C was I am on my original flight and getting in at 10:30 at night. They said if everything went well I could hit the gate and try standby when I got to Milwaukee.

When I got on the first flight I hit my first potential glitch.  I was getting on a regional jet to Milwaukee.  You know, one of those tiny planes.  It doesn’t pull up for a jetway, you have to climb down the stairs built into the door.  If I had to gate check my bag that would slow down my time.  I had my standard rolling carryon which is too big for the overhead bins.  Everything is too big for those bins.  I was able to get it under my seat and the plane was not full so I had 2 seats to myself for the flight.  Everything was on time.  We landed and then the race began.

I was the first off, dashed into the terminal and sprinted up the stairs.  I located a ticket agent and found out the gate for my Orlando flight.  I arrived at gate 24 in Milwaukee; the Orlando flight was departing at gate 21. I could see the gate and the door was open but no one was loading, there was no line.  I then hear the announcement for final boarding call.  My heart skipped a beat.  I’m close, so close.  I race to the counter in the classic OJ Simpson commercials of the 70s.  The agent is able to get me on and gave me a seat assignment.  I even get exit row for a little more leg room.  Coming in right behind me was a family of 5, and we were the last ones on with the door closed behind us.  I considered doing the touchdown dance down the aisle of the plane to celebrate the victory, but since I was getting the dirty look of “we had better not been sitting here waiting for you to get on” from other passengers, I decided against it.

As I got on the plane I knew it was going to Orlando, it’s was half full of kids (4 screaming babies), and announcement of a passenger with a nut allergy so no nuts allowed on the plane.  These are the telltale signs that you are on a flight to Orlando.  I grabbed my seat and proceed to take a nap.  The challenge accepted and pulled off.  I wonder if I should have videoed this so I could become a contestant on the Great Race.

Tips if you want to try going stand by.  Be prepared to have it fall through and spend some quality time in an airport.  Don’t do it if you have to be to your destination by a specific day and time.  Be aware that checked luggage most likely would not make it with you at the same time/flights.  Keep an eye on the weather and if there have been lots of delays there will be a lot of people trying to get out on stand by.  Also 1 or 2 people going stand by is possible, getting your family of 4 stand by on all legs of a trip is very difficult.

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