I was sweating through my seat awaiting take off for the flight back home to Norfolk today. I attempted to calculate how narrow of a window I had to be there at that moment. While studying for my SA Pro, I learned some techniques for calculating risk and probability so I decided to quantify the odds.
I left for the airport via the F train to Laguardia in the morning around 10 am. Giving me ample time, over 2 hours, to get to the airport. After a few mishaps to getting to Jackson Heights, I was able to connect and grab the Q70 and arrive at the airport around 12:00 PM. Safe, my flight doesn’t take off until 1:25! I have an airport lounge membership, so I decided to check stay and dawdle a bit. The last time I had flown out through American, I had left for the gate at the boarding time and sat for 30 minutes until 5 minutes before the gate departure. I thought this time would be no different.
I enjoyed some Samosa’s I had procured earlier and washed it down with some red wine while relaxing in the Canada Air Lounge. I daddled for a while and stretched until 12:50, a half hour before my gate departure. Should have plenty of times to stroll from where I was, Gates A to Gates C and filter through the TSA line. When I approached the C gates, they were for Southwest and not Delta. In fact, I was in the wrong Terminal; Terminal B, not C. I asked the airport staff the closest way, and they pointed me to catch the bus or shuttle to the other terminal.
I ran outside, glanced around and saw the Q46 local bus pull up. I jumped on and asked the driver if he was going to the next terminal, he mentioned: “D then C”. What an odd order but I had no choice; Another woman on the bus inquired about the terminals, she was also heading to Delta. She had a single luggage carrier and a casual grey pant-suit and straight blonde hair. She disembarked at D, she looked calm and collected. She probably hadn’t shown up with just 25 minutes to catch her flight.
The bus rounded the terminal, seemingly at a snail’s pace as I anxiously waited for it to arrive at Terminal C. As the bus rolled to a stop, I ran out the exit door onto the terminal and skipped up the escalator to the gates. I walked toward the gates where there was a semi-moderate line. I showed the gate agent my boarding pass and they pointed me to the other end of the concourse. This was a CLEAR checkline and for everyone else, it was on the other end of the concourse. Walking to the other end, the feeling of defeat sunk in as I witnessed 4 winding rows of humans shuffling slowly through the gates of LGA TSA. The gate agent took my boarding pass and allowed me to stand on the very back. This line definitely would likely take an hour to parse.
I felt defeated until a TSA guard came around asking for anyone boarding Boston or Chicago to get out of line and join her. She was in a hurried walking pace and loud repetitive drone. “Chicago and Boston follow me”. I asked her if she could do anything about my flight to Norfolk and she gave a silent nod and waved for me to follow her. I followed behind her very closely, asking half questions, “Excuse me ma’am is this the right way”. She gave me a matter of fact nod and said: “You’re walking with me aren’t you”. We returned half-way across the concourse when she deposited me on another line, this one with only about 10 people on the line.
The time was now 1:10. I eagerly stood on-line and awaited my turn to divest all my goods into the plastic grey tubs and be bombarded by x-rays. I was so anxious at this point, I cut a gentleman in line while waiting to be scanned. Microseconds, it’ll help. I had a backpack, a messenger bag, laptop, my coat, shoes and other peripherals spread in boxes. When my possessions went through the x-ray machine to be examined, everything passed along except my backpack. It was pulled out into the “check manually queue”. Although the line I was standing on was small, the woman who was monitoring the machine was the only one working this line. A few other agents stood on the other end maintaining the larger line that zigzagged through the concourse.
She yelled out “Bag check”. I looked around waiting for another agent to come help her. I was redressing and sat there watching my bag leave unattended. A few moments passed and she half yelled out “Bag Check” once more. No motion from the other idle guards. After a moment, I walked up to the guards and mentioned the gate agent needed some help. He reluctantly followed back to the over-committed agent’s line and prepared to inspect my bag. He flipped through the monitors and arrived at contents of the scan. “You got some food in here?” “Yes, I do sir”. My grandmother had packed my bag full of frozen foods and fruit. It must have looked suspicious but as far as I knew, they were all alright. After a quick check, the agent waved me through.
After collecting my bag, I hurried to Gate C26. As I approached the gate, the sign said “BUFFALO 1:30”. I asked the agent what happened to the Norfolk flight like listed on my ticket? She mentioned the gate had moved and now it was C12.
She told me the Gate was back the way, hanging a left, down a flight of stairs and turning right at the gates. She barely finished when I turned around and started barrelling towards the gate. OK. Left as I rushed the corner. Down the stairs, “C1-14 down below, C-15-C38 ahead” the sign read. I whizzed down the stairs until the gates approached. I scanned quickly as I found an empty gate staffed by a few agents.
“This is my flight, I mentioned” Out of breath. “Zheng?” I nodded yes. They looked reluctant looking down at their watches and at the gate time. It was 1:17, the plane departs in a few minutes. A man with a traffic vest came out with a walky-talky. He told me to follow him and led me through the gate. There a delta bus waited, staffed by a lone driver. The man and I jumped on the bus and away we went. “Spot C2” he mentioned to the driver as we left the gate. “If the Airplanes doors are closed, there’s nothing I can do for you, so let’s hope its open”. The bus winded down the runway, passing by other Delta planes. The man radios ahead, “I’ve got passenger Zheng and we’re heading towards your plane now, copy” After almost what felt like an eternity we approached a small twin commuter plane. Doors still open and the ground crew finishing stowing the luggage onto the plane. As we approached the stop, the flight attendants frizzy hair was visible outside of the door of the plane. The stairs began to fold inward as the stairs were integrated into the door. The plane was preparing to take off.
My eyes began to scream when the doors began to rise. The man radioed into the mic and gestured with his hands “We’ve got the passenger wait a moment”. The attendant quickly repressed the button, and from the middle, the stairs descended back to the ground. The bus stopped and sprinted to the gate skipping every step onto the plane. “Seat Please,” she said as I got on the plane. “13B” I noted, the very last seat on the plane at the end adjacent to the lavatory. As I walked down the aisle, she closed the door and began to prep the cabin for taking off. There were no compartments left so I monopolized stashing my goods in other peoples seats and breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it. I had navigated LaGuardia in 30 minutes.
The time was 1:23, the plane begins to rustle as the engines engage and the plane begins to roll. I realized any seconds delayed in-between any moment in the last 30 minutes I would have missed my flights. If I had been able to navigate any of the circumstances sooner, I would have been able to have enough slack to made the flight. A few seconds later I would have been renegotiating a new flight. But I made it, I was on the flight homeward bound on a short one hour flight from LGA to ORF.
Lesson learned. Never show up at your gate late, no matter how tasty the wine is unless it’s after security. According to my spreadsheet napkin math, I had between a 0-57% chance of making my flight given the seconds to minutes in tolerance. I don’t think I want to repeat this episode but thankful I took off.