August 15, 2009

Another marathon down the tubes

I posted a few days ago about how sometimes marathons just don’t work out. If you’re trying for 50 states, you have to recognize that things will get in the way of even the best-laid plans and push your timelines back. Unfortunately, it’s happened again.

Today I was supposed to be en route to Alaska to run Humpy’s Marathon in Anchorage. I was supposed to be on a flight from JFK to Seattle at noon, landing at 3 PM, and then trying to fly standby on one of Alaska Air’s almost hourly flights to Anchorage. I thought it was a great plan (despite the fact that I was flying so long for such a short visit). On the leg from JFK to Seattle, I could be pretty confident about my odds for success in getting on the flight, because it’s one of my own airline’s flights, and therefore I get higher priority and also have the ability to check the load factors and know exactly where I stand. Flying other airlines can be risky, but because Alaska Air had so many flights to Anchorage from Seattle, I figured I had a really good shot at making at least one of them as long as I was willing to wait a bit.

When I woke up this morning and checked in online for the first flight, I saw that the last several seats on the plane had booked up. Yay for revenue management (JFKSEA is one of the markets that I manage), boo for my travel plans. I was second on the list of standbys, so as long as two people didn’t show up, I would get a seat and be fine. Furthermore, even if everyone checked in and boarded in full, I would most definitely be assured of a jumpseat. The question – did I really want to accept a jumpseat for a transcon flight, or would that make it not worth it and I should just skip the race?

There were a few confounding factors in all this. First, the flight coming home was completely sold out. If a seat didn’t come up, I’d again have the choice of jumpseat (double ugh to jumpseat on a red eye flight, because you’re not allowed to sleep and have to remain alert and awake and sitting bolt upright), or routing myself through Boston, which wouldn’t get me into JFK until 11 AM on Monday. My job is very flexible and understanding about coming in late, particularly when it’s due to flight problems, but I would have to stay until 8:30 PM to make up the time, and I knew that the morning after a marathon and a red eye, I’d be fading fast by late afternoon. So the flights coming back were a bit risky, but doable – if that was the only factor, I’d dread it but wouldn’t consider skipping the trip.

However, the other confounding factor was the weather: Anchorage was slated for a 96% of pouring rain all day on Sunday. Boyfriend tried to cheer me up about this possibility by pointing out how badass it would be to say that I ran a marathon in Alaska in the pouring rain (he knows how to psyche me up for something!), but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would suck. My least favorite marathon I’ve ever done was Honolulu, and that was in large part due to the pouring rain that plagued the race for the first few hours. My feet became a sea of blisters, my arms and chest had awful chafe wounds all over them, and it was just plain uncomfortable. To make things worse, there was the temperature: Honolulu had been 80 and rainy, so at least the rain cooled you off a bit. Anchorage, however, was slated to be low 60s and rainy – aka chilly and hypothermic. Okay, maybe not hypothermic, but I definitely pictured myself running through the backroad trails all by myself and shivering – not a fun time.

All of this was going through my mind as I packed and got ready for the airport. If I got stuck with a jumpseat for the outbound trip, was that a sign that the rest of my trip was going to go badly and be a disaster? Or should I just suck it up and take the jumpseat and try to make the best of it for the outbound flight? I wanted to get the decision made in advance, as once they start calling standbys for jumpseats, you only have about ten seconds to either accept it and board or decline and they’ll offer it to someone else.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter. It takes me a few subway transfers to get to JFK, and to hedge against train delays, I opted to walk to a station further from my apartment but with a train that goes directly to my airline’s headquarters (where I could get a shuttle, if I timed it right) or to Jamaica (where I could catch the AirTrain to JFK). Boyfriend walked me all the way there and said a very sweet goodbye before sending me down the steps to the platform. I was cutting it a bit closer than I would have liked, with only 1.5 hours until my flight, but it should have been fine. From that station, it would be 30 minutes to one of the shuttle points, and then only 15 minutes to JFK from there – leaving me 45 minutes in which to get food (I hadn’t eaten yet) and relax at the gate.

When I reached the platform, though, I found out that there was no E train service today. What?! I listened to announcements and read the posted signs, only to find that I would need to take the B/D down to Rockefeller Center, then transfer to the E local that was being routed through there in order to get people to Queens. I started to panic a little as I headed down to Rockefeller Center – delays like this were NOT a good thing as far as getting me there on time – but I still had a little leeway.

At Rockefeller Center, I waited for a train. And waited. And waited. By the time the train came (a local, no less – express trains weren’t running), it was now 10:40, and my airline’s shuttle leaves on the hour, so I soon realized I wouldn’t make it there for that. No problem – I’d head for Jamaica instead. Assuming 40 minutes transit to get there and another 10 on the AirTrain, I’d be getting to JFK at exactly 11:30. Definitely cutting it way close, but I’d use my airline badge to get through security quickly, and they don’t call standbys until everyone else has boarded anyway, so I’d probably still even have time to grab a quick bite at the terminal as long as I picked something premade and took it with me. Still, it was making me nervous.

We got to Kew Gardens (about four stops away) at 11:08, and I was cursing myself for cutting it so close, but still thought I would JUST make it. Then the automated voice came on with the dreaded words: “ladies and gentlemen, we are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher.” Translation for those of you not familiar with the NYC subway: you’re not being held “momentarily,” you’re being held indefinitely, with no idea when you’ll be going. Sure enough, we waited at Kew Gardens for ten minutes (ten frantic moments for me) while the announcement kept replaying every minute or two. In good news, I magically had cell phone service while sitting on the train, so I called Boyfriend and asked him to check on the flight status. In bad news, the flight was on time, so I had next to no chance of making it. He encouraged me to try anyway, and then the doors finally closed, so I decided to take his advice and to go for it. With only three stops, I’d make it by 11:25, and if all timed out perfectly with the AirTrain, I’d still be to JFK by 11:35. I’d be starving, with probably no opportunity for food, but maybe I could make due with the snacks on board and maybe even some soda for extra calories.

But then we got “momentarily held” at the next station. And the one after that. By the time I reached Jamaica and the AirTrain, it was 11:40, and I knew the plane was already boarding. Even if I was able to immediately get on the AirTrain, I wouldn’t be to JFK until 11:50, and they would be closing the cabin door before I could even check in and get through security. I was done.

Dejected, I turned around on the platform to wait for the next train home. With all this stupid construction on the rails, it would probably take me another two hours just to get back home and start to cancel my hotel, car, etc. On the bright side, because I had been planning on spending over 18 hours on a plane this weekend, I had plenty of reading material to keep me busy! 🙁


6 thoughts on “Another marathon down the tubes”

  1. Sorry the marathon plans got ruined. I also work for an airline, and have a strong love/hate relationship with the “benefits” of standby travel. I can’t imagine flying jumpseat across the country though. You’re a braver person than I for even trying to get to the airport.

  2. Sorry you didn’t make it to Alaska. I’m sure that you’re just meant to run Alaska when it will be a fantastic and breath-taking experience – not just another one to knock off the list with long flights and cold rain. It’ll be that much better when you do get there.

    My great-grandmother visited all 50 states, and Alaska was her favorite by far. It’s one to do the right way 🙂

  3. I think that should count for a marathon in itself. Sorry it didn’t work out, but now you have time to update your marathon map. How many have you done so far?

  4. I hate that panic “I’m going to be late!” feeling. Humpy’s marathon is the one Sarah Palin did back in the day, so go get that race at full strength one day.

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