The week of June 30th was insanely busy. I was traveling from Austin to New York for work, then back to Austin to start our move/drive to Portland and, to top it of, the end of the week was the Fourth of July. My trip started smoothly and it was a relatively standard week at work until Wednesday. The northeast was hammered by a large storm on Wednesday night and those same storms were predicted to flare up again on Thursday.
Knowing that I had to be home on Thursday night, I decided to look for seats on earlier flights out of New York but found nothing, probably due to the storms the previous night. I made my way to LaGuardia a little early, hoping to get on any flight that would get me out of the New York metro area earlier. Different agents did their best, but every single option was full.
My routing to Austin was LaGuardia-Chicago O’Hare-Austin and we actually boarded the LaGuardia-Chicago segment right on time. Then we sat at the gate. And sat some more. Then kept sitting. In all, we spent about 45 minutes parked at the gate with the door closed. When we started our taxi out to the runway the captain announced that it would be a while and we were free to use our cellphones. I started looking at the later Chicago-Austin flight on United, deciding that was a good backup in case things did not improve in New York and booked myself on it.
After another hour and 45 minutes the captain announced that we were ready for takeoff but that we were really close to the FAA three-hour tarmac rule and he was not sure if we would make it to the runway in time to be in compliance so we would be returning to the gate. By this point, I was in danger of missing my newly rebooked later flight from Chicago to Austin and was really worried that the beginning of our move was in serious jeopardy. I used different websites and the United iPhone app to look at different options to Austin, Lubbock, Albuquerque, Dallas, and Houston to see if there was any way to get to that region either late at night or early the next morning. In my experience, holiday travel, or travel on an actual holiday, is usually pretty light but from my searches, July 4 was the complete opposite. There were barely any seats out of New York at all.
When the crew opened the door to the plane to allow people to buy food, go to the restroom, and talk to the agents, I searched even more frantically for a seat on any airline from NY to the general Austin region. I was in luck, JetBlue had a non-stop flight from JFK leaving at 9:30pm and arriving in Austin at 11:45pm and there were two seats for sale. I spoke to the lead flight attendant and he said there was no way we were going to make it to Chicago in time for my connection. My options were JetBlue, be stuck in Chicago with very few seats available, or be stuck in New York with a few more options the next day. A few of the passengers around me asked what I was worried about and I told them. I also expressed my concern about beating the Van Wyck at 7pm. They understood and helped me weigh my options.
Just before the door was going to be closed to attempt another go at getting out of NY I grabbed my suitcase and told the gate agent my intentions. She was fine with it and walked back into the now chaotic terminal with me. Other flights were being cancelled left and right and I told her that there was a JetBlue flight I was going to catch. She told me that United could not move my ticket over to JetBlue and let her know that I was fine with that and to just uncheck-me in, which she did.
Before heading to JFK I made one last attempt to see if there was anything out of Newark or that evening but had no luck. The agent at the United Club “protected” me on the July 4th evening flight non-stop from Newark to Austin. I knew I was not going to use that but it at least gave me options. I then headed straight for the taxi stand at LaGuardia. The one in front of the central terminal was very crowded but the one at the end, near the American Airlines gates was completely empty and I was quickly on my way to JFK. While changing airports, I tried to book the JetBlue ticket online but it kept failing. When it finally looked like it was going to work, I was within the 1.5 hour before flight time cut-off for online bookings. I would have to try my luck in the airport.
The cab driver knew I was in a hurry and was more than willing to speed, arriving at JFK only twenty minutes after leaving LaGuardia. Yes, you read that right, twenty minutes from LaGuardia to JFK. I have never departed JFK, only arrived, and I had definitely never been to JetBlue’s Terminal 5, but I quickly found one of the ticketing/check-in lines.
The line was long, but not nearly as long as the line for cancellations and rebookings. I was also on the phone calling JetBlue, just in case I could get through and book the ticket that way. Luckily, the line moved relatively quickly and thirty minutes later I was being called to the counter. I asked the agent, Neomi, if I could buy a seat on the non-stop to Austin, to which she replied, “I am not sure we have any seats left, but I will check”… A few tense seconds go by, she raises her eyebrows and says, “Look at that, we have two seats, let me get one secured for you”. This all took place about forty five minutes before the scheduled departure time. She took my credit card, ID, and my Known Traveler Number and printed out a boarding pass, with PreCheck! I told the agent how much it meant to be getting home that night and told her “I could hug you” and surprisingly, she obliged, coming from around the check-in counter and giving me a huge hug.
Through security in no time, I decided to charge my now dead phone and give my wife a call to let her know I would be getting to Austin that evening. As I watched the flight status boards, I noticed my newly booked flight become delayed. This wasn’t a surprise, there was a large storm cell passing nearby and there was a lot of lightning.
After giving my phone a little more life, I went to the gate and learned the delay would extend until 11:30pm ET, with a scheduled arrival into Austin at 2:30am CT. Hey, at least I am getting there. I checked the status of my original flight and it too was delayed until 11:30pm, so I made the correct decision. Being really late into Austin is much better than being really late into Chicago in need of a hotel room.
The delay gave me a little time to explore Terminal 5. I walked around a bit and found that there were a number of seating areas with a decent number of places to charge devices, though I would prefer a few more. The food options are good and I was able to buy some fruit, a granola bar, and some water without much of a wait. I did not visit a bar but there appeared to be a number of options there as well, including the little kiosks near some of the gates that allow you to order food and have it delivered to where you are sitting.
Eventually, boarding was called for our flight and being in an Even More Space seat, we were called to board near the beginning. Unfortunately, everyone else was tired of the delay and decided to make boarding very chaotic. No big deal, there was plenty of space in the overhead bins for my rollaboard and the seats were so spacious I had no problem putting my backpack under the seat in front of me with room to spare.
The seats were comfortable and spacious, my only complaint being the lack of “wings” on the headrests. If they had the adjustable headrest the product would be unbeatable, even if it is a little older. Without the wings, it was very hard to rest my head in a manner that was comfortable. I didn’t watch the free DirecTV but the picture looked fine before I turned it off.
Our flight landed in Austin at 2:30am and I was quickly on my way home. The next morning we started our drive to Portland delayed just over an hour due to me needing a tad bit more sleep. We kept our schedule pretty well and arrived in Portland just about exactly when we had planned, all thanks to a speedy cab driver and JetBlue.
My first experience on JetBlue, even with taking a delay, was extremely positive. The staff were friendly and helpful, the plane had nice seats, and, most importantly, the flight got me to Austin. Given all of the weather that had moved through the northeast, it was very likely I would not have reached Austin before 6:30pm the next day had it not been for JetBlue.