Decisions, decisions. New York via Chicago or a non-stop flight to Washington and skip New York? I had a room booked for two nights at the Millenium Hilton that could not be cancelled, but that was not my concern. Rather, I wanted to show her New York City–a Broadway show, skating at Rockefeller Center, the top of the Empire State Building, a UN Tour–all those wonderful touristy things that people pay far too much for.
So I chose New York.
Thankfully, the flight to Chicago had some room in economy class and she received a decent Economy Plus aisle seat. So far, so good with the actual standby flights. I opted to book her into La Guardia, as it was the closest airport to our hotel. She asked if I would be waiting for her in Chicago…
Imagine coming into America for the first time. To Chicago O’Hare. A separate terminal, long queues for immigration, then upstairs to a train to another terminal, then downstairs and into a winding security line, then navigating the behemoth B/C/F concourse to get to the right gate.
It seems so trivial to me–I do it all time–but I imagined what the experience would be like for someone used to the order and civility of a German airport. I had to get to Chicago to meet her.
Off to the airport I went, Philadelphia International, to try my luck on standing by to Chicago. Being a Friday, I thought back to my last attempt to standby to Chicago and hoped my luck would be better this time.
I missed the first flight. Then the second flight. The third was overbooked and had a waitlist a mile long. A flight to Newark was leaving ten minutes later, so I quickly booked a ticket and flew up to Newark. The 20-minute flight operated by a Dash-8 featured a portly but very jovial (perhaps too jovial) flight attendant who thought she was working for Southwest Airlines.
But she was the only one who laughed at her jokes…
Safe in Newark, I had about an hour before my friend landed in Chicago and four hours before she was due into LGA. Using a club pass, I set up shop inside the United Club and tracked her flight as it approached Chicago. I tried calling her about 20 minutes after the aircraft landed but there was no answer. It seemed her SIM card did not work in the USA.
I had sent her an SMS letting her know I would not make it, but I had no idea if she received it. I thought about flying from Newark to Chicago–there was space on the flight–but that reached Chicago about 20 minutes before she was supposed to leave for La Guardia. Wouldn’t that have been great if she had made it onto the LGA flight and I got trapped in Chicago?
So I decided not to go. I stayed in the club a bit, monitoring the LGA flight until I confirmed that she made it. I still had not heard from her–no e-mail, phone call, or SMS. But I was watching united.com and was elated to see that she was cleared onto the flight.
I called two companies who were supposed to run shuttles between Newark and LGA but neither answered the phone (it was 7:30p). I proceeded downstairs to try to find a shuttle and found one–but they weren’t leaving for two hours. There were no other shuttles around.
A $90 cab ride or a more ingenious route to LaGuardia? A New Jersey Transit train bound for Penn Station was leaving in 20 minutes and I started running, recalling how aggravatingly long it can take to get from Terminal C to the Amtrak/NJ Transit Station. I made to the station with seven minutes to spare and the train was a couple minutes late.
Soon enough, I reached New York Penn. She was due in 40 minutes–plenty of time to find a cab and get to the airport, right?
There were over 100 people in the cab line at Penn Station. I’m not a New Yorker (and never plan to be) but I took off walking toward uptown, trying to flag down every cab that passed. At one point a guy in a Town Car rolled down his window and asked me where I was going. I told him LGA and he told me to hop in and he’d get me there…for $200. I laughed. He was serious, though. Another black Town Car pulled up and offered me a ride for $80 to LGA. I countered at $40. He went down to $70. I countered at $40. He went down to $60. I countered at $40. He told me to take a cab.
Time was passing quickly and she was now due in 25 minutes. I still could not find a cab. I had made it to Grand Central Station, where I once took a shuttle bus to LGA several years ago, but no one inside was familiar with any shuttle service to LGA.
Up the street was a taxi rink with only a few people waiting. I ran up to it and was sitting in a cab within five minutes on my way to the airport. Had I remained at Penn Station, I would have still been 50-60 people back in line.
The race was on. Who would arrive first, the plane or the taxi? Racing down side streets and through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, we finally made it on the Long Island Expressway and soon the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Turning onto Grand Central Parkway, signs for LGA began to appear. It would be a photo finish!
The taxi pulled up to United arrival’s at 9:05p, about ten minutes after the plane had touched down. I paid the man and ran inside. Moments later, my friend appeared down the escalator.
I was waiting to greet her. Little did she know…
Tomorrow: The conclusion