No trip is all good or all bad, but I had one recently that was more the latter than the former.
It should have been easy: Fly to Kansas late on a Tuesday, attend a gathering on Wednesday and come home that afternoon. Didn’t quite work out the way I had hoped — not for me or hundreds of other airline passengers.
In that 36 hours, I learned things that may help fliers and road-trippers. Here are eight things to consider as you’re planning a trip that involves flying and/or driving. One of them could save your life.
1. If you’re flying, one word: nonstop. Connecting (change of planes) flights may be cheaper, but if nonstop service is an option, take it. (Mine wasn’t an option.)
A connecting flight — or even a direct (stop, no change of plane) flight heightens the chances of trouble wherever you land.
2. If you can’t do nonstop, try connecting through Salt Lake City. At least, that’s what the Bureau of Transportation statistics for January-May 2015 would suggest, citing the Utah city as having the best record of on-time arrivals.
Perhaps more useful, take a look at www.lat.ms/ontime to see where the arrival time trouble spots were in 2015 and 2014. Dallas was 26th out of 30 airports for on-time arrivals in that January-May 2015 time frame but came in at No. 9 for 2014.
I bumped up those stats against historic weather information for both years from Weather Underground: In 2015, Dallas had 81 weather events (rain, thunderstorms, fog or snow) and 40 for the same period in 2014. This year, Dallas has had more than 50 days of weather-related events from January to May.
Among more populated areas: Kansas City, Mo., was No. 1; Dallas came in at No. 10, with an “unpredictability index” of 71, the blog noting that “Scores in the 70s indicate above-average unpredictability.”
All in all, a high unpredictability index or a below-average on-time arrival ranking means trouble. Plan accordingly. I did not.
3. If you must be somewhere, don’t take the last flight of the day. I wanted to stay at work as long as I could (no, I’m not just saying that, Boss) so a 4:30 p.m. flight seemed just the ticket. Fly to Dallas, connect to a regional flight and arrive just before midnight in Wichita, Kan.
Because of weather in Dallas, I was delayed leaving LAX and then sat on the runway in Dallas … as my flight to Wichita took off.
It was the last flight of the day. I had to be in Wichita by 9:30 a.m. Uh-oh.
4. Before your flight takes off, jot down or store in your phone the airline “rebook” number. As my flight sat on the runway in Dallas awaiting a gate, I called (we were allowed to use cellphones), and that’s how I learned I wasn’t making that flight to Wichita or any other flight that got me there or near (Oklahoma City or Manhattan, Kan.). I also learned that the first available flight from Dallas to Wichita was 4:25 p.m. the next day. No dice.
I wanted to yell at someone but I vowed I would ...
5. Try not to yell at gate agents or anyone else. They’re not Mother Nature. Furthermore, imagine being yelled at hundreds of times a day for something that’s not your fault. It makes them defensive, which can escalate a situation; your ire solves nothing.
And remember, airlines in this country are not responsible for getting you a hotel room if the misconnect is weather-related, so you’re on your own.
Four of us arrived too late to make our flight. Three of us spent the time yelling at the gate agent, while the fourth one (me) was figuring out which rental car counter was still open so I could drive the final 320 miles.
6. As you make your way to the rental car counter — whether you’ve missed your flight or you’re taking a spur-of-the-moment road trip, use your cellphone (or call) to reserve your car.
Your car rental tab may be less expensive than if you had reserved at the counter, but more important, it should save you time. I arrived at Hertz around midnight, and my car was waiting for me. (I’m not a Hertz elite member so I have no special privileges other than being a customer.)
7. Make sure you call the airline and safeguard your return ticket. If you are a no-show for a flight, very often the airline will cancel the return part of your ticket.
Yes, it wasn’t my fault that I was a no-show, but the airline couldn’t know that; the agent who took my call as I tried to find my way out of the maze that is Dallas promised me she would make sure I still had a return ticket, and I did.
8. Finally, undertaking such a drive — or any drive — requires alertness. I was tired, and it was dark. I was practically begging for trouble.
The number of people who report driving while drowsy is astounding, said Dr. Arash Tirandaz, chief executive of Internal Medicine Associates of Plano, Texas.
“One in 25 adult drivers reports falling asleep [at the wheel] during the previous 30 days,” he said, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stats that also show that more than 72,000 crashes a year are caused by sleepy drivers.
Among the signs of drowsy driving the CDC noted: blinking rapidly, yawning, drifting from your lane, difficulty remembering the last few miles driven, missing your exit, hitting the rumble strips at the side of the road.
I exhibited all of those signs, except for missing an exit, but only because I never exited until I stopped for coffee 30 miles from my destination. I promptly poured it in my lap, which kept me awake the rest of the trip.
My technique for staying awake before that: opening the window, tuning in a radio station that played rock songs of my youth and screaming the lyrics the last 200 miles of the trip.
Better idea, Tirandaz said: pulling over and taking a brief snooze.
“Even if [drivers] are only able to take a 15- to 20-minute nap, that can make a big difference in their energy level,” he said.
Would it have mattered if I had arrived at 5:50 a.m. instead of 5:30? No. And a power nap might have helped. Given that I was going to a funeral, to have put my life and the life of others at risk now seems ironic, never mind stupid and careless.
My story ended OK — this time. I won’t drive drowsy again. In fact, I hope not to make any of these mistakes again but remember what helped (taking down the rebook number, not yelling at agents, booking a car before arriving, safeguarding my reservation) and what didn’t, including soaking myself to the skin with spilled über-hot coffee. Painful? A bit. But not as painful as the drive could have been.
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