When Flying from South Carolina to Wisconsin Takes 14.5 Hours

Ok, so technically I didn’t fly the whole way. And I definitely wasn’t on a plane or in airports the entire time. But I did take a plane, and I started at 9:00 am Charleston time and didn’t get to Madison until nearly 10:30 pm Madison time. So the title is technically mostly true.

This weekend I had planned to fly to Madison to visit boyfriend, who was unveiling the Formula One car he and his team have been working to build from the ground up for nearly a year. This is why getting there was so important – if it were just any regular old weekend, I probably would have given up earlier.

But anyway. There are two really important details to know about this story. The first is that I am extremely lucky to have a family member working for United which allows me to take United flights relatively cheaply – as long as I fly standby (in other words, I only get on the plane if there are extra seats available). Secondly, because neither Charleston nor Madison’s airports are hubs, it’s impossible to fly direct between the two. As such, I fly from Charleston to Chicago O’Hare and then from there to Madison.

So the plan for the weekend was for me to take a 1:26 pm flight out of Charleston on Thursday and then a 4:00 something pm flight out of O’Hare. This would allow me to easily work a full day on Friday, virtually from boyfriend’s apartment. When I went to bed on Wednesday night, there were four seats available on the flight to Chicago and ten on the flight to Madison. When I woke up Thursday morning there were zero seats available on either. This is unfortunate, but not necessarily a show stopper as people often miss their flights for one reason or another a flight being full is not a guarantee that a standby passenger won’t make it on. However, it is worrisome.

Additionally, I knew that there was a flight at 9:46 am which, the night before, had had six seats available. On a normal occasion I may have tried to make that flight, and then made up for the missed work hours later that afternoon once I arrived in Madison, but my manager, who lives in another city, just happened to be in town this week and was meeting with me from 9:00-9:30. I resigned myself to being unable to make the early flight and waited, anxiously, for the afternoon to arrive in hopes that I’d be able to make it in the afternoon.

Or at least that was the plan. When I got into the office in the morning, I had shared my concerns with my cubemate who, in a botched but sincere effort to help, shared them with my manager. Because my manager is generous, he reacted to this news by offering to meet with me a half hour earlier so that I could leave the office at nine and rush over to the airport (which is plenty of time since Charleston rarely has a line to get through security) rather than getting mad at me for flying to visit my boyfriend in the middle of a workday… which is what I would have expected since I had originally planned to meet my hours by leaving the office at 12:30 pm, not 9:00 am.

So now it’s about 9:30 am, I’ve made it through security and to my gate, and there’s a huge line to talk to the gate agent and I notice the seating area is still suspiciously full for a flight that’s supposed to be leaving in 15 minutes. I asked a woman sitting in the area what was going on and found that, due to severe weather in Chicago, the flight was going to be delayed 3-5 hours. Given this news, I promptly left the airport and went back to office to get in more hours. Shortly after getting back to my cube, I received a text message from United saying the flight was now planning to leave at 12:11 pm. Not a problem, I thought. I’ll just head over again around eleven. Except then I got another text saying it’d been delayed again to 1:15. And then a third text saying the flight had been canceled… or so I thought (more on that later). So I switched myself back over to the 1:26 pm flight that I had originally been on, and quickly learned that flight had been delayed to 4:06.

I did my best to concentrate on work for the rest of the day, actually exceeding the number of hours I needed (which just meant I got to work a little less on Friday) and then headed over to the airport a little after three. When I got there, it seemed as though the flight was still going to leave, but just in case I asked the gate agent for her opinion. She responded, “Yeah, the flight from this morning just left, so yours will go.”

Wait. The flight from this morning? I knew for a fact there had only been one other flight that morning that didn’t fly when planned, and that was the flight I had listed for earlier – the one I thought had been canceled. I called my mom, an expert on standby flying, and learned that it was not canceled and had never been. I went back and read my texts again and… learned that I’m apparently illiterate. The text I had received very clearly said “You flight to Madison has been canceled,” but I was so anxious about getting to Chicago that I had completely missed that distinction. It turns out that had I stayed on the original flight, I could have made it on and would have left Charleston around 3:30 pm, landing in Chicago around five. Instead, I ended up leaving Charleston around 4:45 and landing in Chicago at about 6:15.

Now at this point I still had to get from Chicago to Madison. There are several ways to do this, but I generally prefer to fly because it’s the fastest method. However, at this point, every flight to Madison for the day but one, at 7:30 pm, had been canceled. And that flight appeared to be overbooked by anywhere from two to ten people. The alternative was a three hour bus ride which was also leaving at 7:30. In other words, I had to make a choice because trying the plane would likely mean missing the bus and having to wait for the next one at 9:00 pm (which wouldn’t get me to Madison until after midnight).

After some discussion with my mom, we decided it would be best for me to take the bus. And, wouldn’t you know, just seconds after taking my seat on that bus I got another text from United that the last Madison flight had been canceled. So I made the right choice. And although I’ve been avoiding it up to this point, I was pleased to find that the bus, although longer than the half hour flight, wasn’t too bad of an option.

So ultimately I was able to make it to Madison, but not until 10:20 CST, five hours later than my originally planned time and almost nine hours later than when I would have gotten there had the 9:46 am flight left when planned.

But, I made it. And boyfriend was appreciative that I did. (At least he’d better be. :-))

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