Saturday, October 25, 2014

How to Fly From Denver to Baltimore in Under 12 Hours

I just got back from a business trip to Baltimore, it was quite an adventure. My own personal "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles", a comedy of errors.

I was supposed to fly from Denver International to BWI near Baltimore, it's only about a 3.5 hour flight. Flight was scheduled to leave Denver Aug 4, at 10:42am, flight UA 18, arrive BWI 4:12pm (2 hours time difference). I live ~ 30 mins from the airport, so I left the house at 9a (some of you might count that as Mistake #1, but I don't, although I might now count flying on United to be mistake #1)

Mistake #1 - I went to the drive-thru at a McDonald's on the way. It was fast, the order was correct, food was fine, so what's the problem? I'll get to that shortly.

Mistake #2 - I'm not very familiar with the parking at Denver International Airport, I was following the traffic and ended up in the close-in garage parking. It's $7/day more than the economy parking, but it's closer and I'm in a bit of a hurry so I just park in the garage. While this saved me a bit of time, it cost me an extra $21 for the 3 day trip, and as you're about to see, the time didn't help.

Delay #3 - I wasn't familiar with using United Airlines self check-in machines, so it took an extra 2-3 minutes to get my boarding pass.

Delay #4 - The security line is long, but it's moving quickly and I've got more than 45 mins, shouldn't be a problem. Down to 22 mins and just about to go through the scanner. Finally through security, I've got about 17 minutes until scheduled departure, off to the train to get to concourse B. Remember that couple minutes at McDonald's and at the self check-in machine? I sure could use those now. Train gets to me to concourse B, I've got 12 minutes until departure, so about 2 minutes to get to my gate.

Mistake #5 - I'm running to gate B18, the moving walkways help, but I'm not going to make it 10 mins before the flight. Get to gate B18, it's not my flight. Look at my ticket a couple more times before I notice that 18B is my seat #, the gate is in small print a few lines above. I need gate B52, and that's the direction I just came from, should have turned left instead of right.

Knowing it's too late now, I walk to gate B52. While on one of the moving walkways, I notice that gate B39 is a United flight to BWI, It's got my flight number and departure time, but my boarding pass definitely says B52. There is only an agent there, no passengers and the door is closed, if it's my flight, it's too late so I continue to B52 rather than jump over the wall of the moving walkway. I get to gate B52, it's not my flight, they changed my gate while I was going through security. For some reason, they don't announce gate changes in the main terminal where security is, so you don't hear them while you're working your way through security.

I head back to gate B39. The agent is still there, I inform her I'm supposed to be on the plane that is now gone. She checks flights and doesn't find anything direct to BWI or Washington Reagan/National. I can get to Washington Reagan/National on connecting flights arriving around 10pm, or BWI around 11pm. She has to go to her next gate, so I go to the customer service counter next door.

This agent finds the same options, and tells me I can go standby. It's another $50, but only if I actually get on the flight. If seats are available, I can confirm a seat for $150. I don't like the arrival times (or the cost) so I ask about flying into Dulles instead. Non-stop flight leaving in 40 mins, arrives Dulles at 5:09pm, a seat is available. That should put me in Baltimore by 7 or 8. I balk at the $150, she gives me a break, confirms me on that flight for $75. Gate is nearby. Finally things are looking better.

Mistake #6 - There is no #6, messed up in numbering them. 2015-09-12.

Delay #7 - Sitting on the plane at the gate, captain announces they've got a warning light showing one of the doors being open, have to wait a few minutes for maintenance to check it out. Ok, another 5-10 mins won't matter. Maintenance is quick to check it out, and we're rolling out to the runway.

Delay #8 - Captain informs us that traffic control is delaying our takeoff about 10 minutes, these things sometimes happen when you don't leave on time. Again, no big deal, I'll still get to Dulles around 5:30. We make up some time in the air, arrive at Dulles around 5:15, I'm off the plane around 5:30.

I check at the information desk to find out the best way to get to Baltimore. She's not sure, but they've got a flyer showing 8 ways to get to BWI. I know I can take the light rail from BWI to Baltimore, so I look at the list. Shuttle van is about $75, cab will be over $90, and that doesn't count tips. I can take the Metro (bus and subway) to a MARC train for a total of $10-$15, so I opt for that.

Delay #9 - I get to the bus, it's about the leave, I'm just in time. Fare is $6, exact change required, all I have are a $5 and some $20s. Back inside to get change, bus leaves. 30 mins until the next one.

I use that 30 mins to study the routes more carefully, get change, have a beer, and settle on a plan. I look at the menu, but nothing looks good, I'll eat in an hour or two when I get to Baltimore. I get on the bus, it's an express bus, only makes a few stops. The bus is moving well on the freeway, but it's a long distance, and it takes 40 mins.

I Follow the crowds into the subway station. I find the fare to my destination, pay, get my card, and head down to the platform. Train I need is arriving in 2 minutes, great. Things are starting to work well.

Delay #10 - It's supposed to be about a 34 min ride to my stop, it takes 50. I get off the the subway and the exit gate won't open, tells me to go to the "exit fares" machine. While waiting my turn, I see a note at the bottom of the fare chart, as of Aug 1, add $0.25 to the fares shown, didn't see that when purchasing my ticket. Remember that beer I had? I kept a quarter from the change, it's just what I need to get out of the subway.

Delay #11 - From here I'm supposed to take a MARC train to BWI. I don't see any signs for MARC, so I follow the crowds out and finally see a sign. I go in to get a ticket, train to Baltimore is just leaving, sure could use those couple minutes I lost on the exit toll and looking for the signs. It's now 7:57p. I can take an Amtrak at 8:57, arriving Baltimore at 9:30, or a MARC train at 9:11, arriving Baltimore after 10. I opt for the Amtrak.

Haven't eaten since the breakfast from McDonald's, I'm getting hungry. Snack bar and convenience store both closed at 8. Vending machines only take ones, and I'm out of change again. Stomach will have to wait a bit longer.

Mistake #10.5 – I know it's out of order, but I didn't know about it until this point, and it wouldn't have made sense for me to tell about it sooner. Instead of taking the subway to the end of the line as I did, I should have transferred a couple times and caught the Amtrak at Union Station. Probably would have cost more, but I could have caught the earlier train.

Amtrak is on time, I climb aboard and relax making sure I don't fall asleep. 9:30p arrive Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore. I'm here, finally.

Delay #12 - I've never been in this part of Baltimore, so I need to find out how far my hotel is, which direction, etc. I'm also pretty hungry by now. Penn Station has free Wi-Fi, open up my computer, find out that my hotel is 1.6 mi, straight south. It's dark, which way is south? Maybe I want to eat first, look up some restaurants, too far out of my way. After figuring out where I was and which way I needed to go, I opt to walk to my hotel.

I arrive at my hotel just before 10:30pm, eleven and one half hours after I left home, and with about $100 less money. To get to Baltimore, I drove, walked, ran, flew, and rode a bus, a subway, and a train.

An epilogue to this little adventure. On Friday the 6th, I took the MTA light rail back to BWI to head home. I had to change trains at one point, and either left my cell phone on the first train, or dropped it at the station where I changed trains. Now, my phone is somewhere near Baltimore, and I'm back home, tired and several hundred dollars poorer than planned.

Originally written and published in August 2010