Around early November 2021, after completing my CPA license requirements and realizing I was going to have a lot
of free time over my extended winter break from work, I got an idea. Like many of you can probably relate, there are aircraft types out there I haven't flown yet but want to. It dawned on me that these types fly domestically on very easy-to-book routes. I didn't need to wait for a family vacation and hope the route was just obscure enough to fly a new aircraft type for myself. I can just find a day, find a cheap itinerary, and book it myself
Living closest to BWI, really any option to fly on an exciting aircraft type requires me to fly to a legacy carrier's hub airport. Browsing flights, I noticed United flies their biggest aircraft domestically between hubs. It became clear that my best bet was to pick routes between hubs. Eventually, I settled on BWI-ORD-LAX for my westbound trip. ORD-LAX would be on my first 787 Dreamliner.
For my return leg back to the east coast, right away I was favoring some of Delta's older heavy metal. A SEA-ATL-BWI itinerary with a 767-300ER on the first half of that journey stood out, and I was able to get that pretty easily with my SkyMiles.
So now, I'm looking at flights that get me into LAX around 5pm PT and leaving SEA around 11pm PT. Now I just have to connect the LAX-SEA dot, two very well-connected city pairs. Sure enough, I found a nice cheap ticket on Alaska flying their A320. Certainly not a new type for me, but I couldn't be picky on this route because I really needed to get to Seattle on time.
And now, set for early January, I'm looking forward to flying this:
Beautiful. My itinerary is as follows:
Depart BWI at 10:59am ET
Arrive ORD at 12:10pm CT
Depart ORD at 2:20pm CT
Arrive LAX at 4:48pm PT
Depart LAX at 6:55pm PT
Arrive SEA at 9:50pm PT
Depart SEA at 10:59pm PT
Arrive ATL at 6:35am ET the next day
Depart ATL at 8:10am ET
Arrive BWI at 9:59am ET
The only slight potential for issue I can foresee is that connection in Seattle. There's a chance I'll have to get from the North Satellite terminal to the South Satellite terminal in an hour and nine minutes. Not difficult by any means, but they're separate tickets and this is a shorter connection than I usually try to book.THE LEADUP
Through the next couple months, I occasionally checked my itineraries to ensure nothing major had changed, like an aircraft swap or a schedule change. Somewhere along the line, UA1774 had been moved up 30 minutes from a 2:20 to a 1:50 departure, but that's it.
Early in January, the operational disruptions had become very pronounced and well-known. Alaska was one of the airlines hardest hit. I, of course, was conscious of this. There wasn't a whole lot I could do unless I heard of a cancelation, and I haven't been canceled. LAX-SEA is perhaps one of their most frequent routes, so even if my flight is canceled, a rebooking onto a different flight isn't too difficult of an ask. It's in my mind for sure, but I'm carrying on unless otherwise is required.
The night before the flight, I logged off of work (virtual) and threw a bag together. I really just needed stuff for an overnight. Packed a change of socks and underwear, a sweatshirt, a couple books, and my computer. In the morning, I'll put my toothbrush and toothpaste in there.
And then this happened.
My Alaska flight was canceled and automatically rebooked onto the flight an hour later.
Because of that short connection in SEA, I really don't want this flight. My connection time has gone from 69 minutes to 19 minutes. Fortunately, I was able to pretty easily move myself onto the earlier AS 1055. This would give me a slightly shorter connection in LAX, but the United and Alaska terminals are right next to each other. Plus, this way I'll be in Seattle in time to grab a bite to eat.
Plus, according to Flightradar24, this flight is slated to be operated by N915AK, Alaska's new 737-9 Max in the Seattle Kraken theme.
Awesome. My first 737-9 Max, and a sweet-looking livery.
That was way too good to be true. A couple hours after this rebooking, I got this message:
Alaska 1055 was canceled and I was put back on Alaska 113 with that extremely tight connection in SEA. It's also a 737-900ER, not a Max, but I really can't be picky on this one.
Ok, deep breath. This kind of connection has been made before, right? I can sprint through SEA, and maybe Delta will hold the door to DL 845 just long enough.
At this point it's late, I have an early workout in the morning, and this situation is out my my control. So I go to bed, don't sleep all that well, and go into the next day not knowing what it would hold.TRAVEL DAY
After my early workout, I headed to BWI around 9. Despite the uncertainty surrounding my LAX-SEA leg, I'm still very excited for this. At the very least, I'll be flying my first 787.
Concourses D and E at BWI, while not all that crowded, have plenty of interesting activity going on.
N468AX pushing back for somewhere, I couldn't tell.
N915NN loading for CLT.
My ride is N815UA, a 1998-built A319-131 coming in from ORD a little bit late.
I flew this exact airframe on SFO-BWI way back in 2013. Not sure if it remembered me.
Still foremost on my mind, right now, is my LAX-SEA leg. At this point, I have mapped out exactly what needs to happen to make my SEA-ATL flight, and what I would do if I didn't make it.
I feel like an NFL team going into the last week of the regular season, mapping out the scenarios needed to make the playoffs. This is a sore spot right now; as I'm writing this my Ravens have just been eliminated from the playoffs by the Steelers. But anyway. To make my SEA-ATL flight, at least one of the following situations needs to happen:
AS113 is on time AND DL845 is delayed by at least 20 minutes (this is probably most likely)
UA1774 is on time AND AS29 is delayed by at least an hour AND there is a seat on AS29. AS29 was delayed three hours yesterday, so this isn't out of the question. But there needs to be a seat available.
If I don't end up making it to Seattle in time for DL845, I can rebook onto the first SEA-ATL flight in the morning, assuming I get to Seattle at all, or I can quickly get a ticket on UA's redeye LAX-BWI and just call it a day, canceling my LAX-SEA and SEA-ATL-BWI itineraries entirely.
I'm closely monitoring the timeliness of AS29, AS113, and DL845. The morning of travel, I see that AS29 is pushed back almost hour, DL845 is pushed back about 40 minutes, and UA1774 is scheduled to arrive quite early.
So that's a pleasant surprise. Both of my "playoff" scenarios are still alive.
It's time to head to Chicago.
Flight: United 455
Departure: 11:18am (10:59am scheduled)
Arrival: 12:08pm (12:11pm scheduled)
An Atlas 747 parked at the Amazon ramp at BWI
Flying past Dulles on the TERPZ7 departure
It's a gorgeous winter day for flying as we head down into Chicago
When I reserved my seat on the left side of the aircraft, I was hoping we'd land to the west and I'd get a nice view of Chicago. Sure enough, here's the Windy City.
Settled down smoothly on 28C and taxiied around the airport to gate B21
I did go into the United Club in ORD, which I will eventually include in the video for this trip, but it was so underwhelming I didn't take any pictures. Just a bar of cold sandwiches and fruit.
As far as my LAX-SEA leg, nothing has really changed yet. A long shot looks like it could be stealing a seat on Alaska 29, which is currently scheduled to depart about 30 minutes after we land in LAX. So I guess right now, my plan is to get off this plane, sprint to the departure gate of Alaska 29, and beg for a seat. I'll take middle, as long as I'm on this flight. Around this time, I sent a text to my friends pointing out that AS29 was delayed almost three hours yesterday. If that's the case again today, we could be golden. But we need to land on time in LAX first, and we need a seat to be available.
A couple gates over, my chariot to Los Angeles was waiting for me.
It's N24973, a 2018-built 787-9.
This will be my first Dreamliner and I can't wait. I snagged seat 24A for this flight, which is in Economy Plus. Great legroom, huge windows, free inflight entertainment, a USB charger, I could go on. I would happily sit here on a SIN-SFO flight.
The window is covered in de-ice fluid, which made the picture a little foggy.
Flight: United 1774
Departure: 2:12pm (2:00pm scheduled)
Arrival: 3:54pm (4:18pm scheduled)
N24973 Boeing 787-9
I was having a grand time playing with the window dimmer. This was obviously new to me.
This window is mostly de-ice fluid
Had a drink of Buffalo Trace bourbon on the ORD-LAX leg. This was my only drink of the trip, and I really advise against drinking too much on planes. Not only will the alcohol hit you harder in thinner air, being hungover on a flight sounds absolutely miserable. Have one if you'd like, but mostly stick to water.
Stunning views of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains, as well as the Grand Canyon as we cut over the northwestern corner of Arizona
Nice descent into the LA area
And a smooth touchdown on runway 25L, then a quick taxi to gate 74.
Ok, now it's showtime. We just landed in LAX, and I checked the status of Alaska 29. It's delayed even further now. If there's a seat on this flight, we can make it.
I book it from gate 74 to gate 62, where I see a long line of people at the kiosk. This was expected, as there have been two canceled flights from LAX-SEA already tonight. However, the line moved quickly and I was able to get to the gate agent soon enough.
I told him I understood it was a longshot, but I'm booked on AS113 which puts me in a very tough situation in Seattle. Is there a single seat on AS29 I could be rebooked to? I explained to him I was on two earlier flights, both of which were canceled.
No such luck, unfortunately. I was not the only person trying to get on this flight, and it's already completely full. I thanked him for trying and began walking around Terminal 6 at LAX looking for dinner. I checked the status of both AS113 and DL845, the former is still on time and the latter is still delayed about 20 minutes. I'll have under an hour in Seattle. Not optimal, but better than nothing.
I ended up only grabbing some water and a souvenir from the Hudson News stand in T6. I wasn't thrilled about having to settle for AS113, so I went back to the gate area just in case
a spot opened up. Unfortunately, nothing was really changing there. Additionally, based off the way the flights have been going this week, I really don't have high hopes that AS113 will even leave on time. I really need it to leave on time.
It dawned on me a couple times that I put myself in this situation because I wanted to fly around the country for fun. I should be on my couch at home right now. There's no reason I should have to care about the timeliness of Alaska's LAX-SEA schedule, but now my sanity slightly depends on it. I'm sure this will be funny eventually. But I'm very stressed right now.
I saw I received a text just now from Alaska, saying they were giving me a $100 voucher for my cancelations. This was a nice gesture and I'm looking forward to using it as soon as I can. I didn't think much else about it and put my phone back in my pocket.
I then got up to look at the departure board. I noticed AS1055, which I was booked on at one point, was still canceled. I also saw, however, a flight Alaska 9946 heading to Seattle at the same time 1055 was supposed to go. I realized pretty quickly this was likely just a repositioning flight, and that the reason for the 1055 cancelation was lack of cabin crew. That aircraft would head to Anchorage later that night, and they had to fly it back to Seattle. They just couldn't fly passengers on it anymore.
Regardless, I noticed there was an Alaska gate agent at the currently empty neighboring gate 60. It can't hurt to go talk to him, right?
I walked up to him and asked him point blank if there was a single seat going to Seattle tonight before AS113 at 7:45pm.
"You're on AS113?" he asked. I confirmed I was.
"AS113 was just canceled." "It was canceled?" "Yeah, like just now, just a minute ago." I then connected the dots - that text I had received was in reference to the cancelation of AS113, not the earlier flights.
I couldn't believe what I just heard. Now
it's time to panic. Both scenarios that would have gotten me to Seattle in time to fly to Atlanta tonight are now gone.
I had been doing my research on other airlines also going to Seattle tonight, and I saw both a United Express and a Delta flight headed up there around 7:30. I didn't have much of a choice, and I was prepared to spend upwards of $400 on a ticket up there. Choosing the Delta flight would mean I would have to leave the secure zone and re-enter security on the other side of LAX. But it would also mean I could make Delta aware of my self-connection and they may be more willing to hold DL845 just a little longer if my Seattle flight is running late.
I asked him what he suggested I do, maybe hoping there was some secret answer I had not considered.
"Don't worry man I got you a seat on this one right here," referring to AS29, which was currently boarding.
I about near kissed the man. I don't know what had changed since I asked the other gate agent about 20 minutes ago. But this man printed me a boarding pass for seat 30A (a window, yay!) and sent me on my way to Seattle. I thanked him more than I've ever thanked someone. I genuinely don't know what I would have done had he not been able to get me a seat on this flight.
And after all that, here we are
In all that commotion, I'm now flying my first A321neo. It's N922VA, an A321-253N that briefly wore the Virgin America livery before the acquisition by Alaska Airlines.
I boarded the aircraft around 4:40pm. Keep in mind, this flight is already an hour and ten minutes delayed. The timing worked for me, but I heard plenty of other passengers very uneasy about making connections in Seattle.
It's about 5:15 now. We're still at the gate. As long as this flight isn't delayed six hours, I'll be ok.
Finally, our beacon light eventually turns on and we push out of gate 62, well over two hours delayed.
Flight: Alaska 29
Departure: 5:51pm (3:30pm scheduled)
Arrival: 9:03pm (6:25pm scheduled)
We taxiied around to runway 25R, held short a couple times for some arrivals, then shot out and turned up the coast to head to Seattle.
At this point, I haven't eaten since a ham sandwich in Chicago about seven hours ago. I was going to eat in LAX, but I boarded this flight as soon as I can and we sat on the ground for an hour. So I asked for one of Alaska's Northwest Deli snack boxes and handed the flight attendant my credit card. As he was running the transaction, he looked at me and said,
"Were you on a canceled flight?"
I laughed and said "I was on three canceled flights"
He shook his head, handed me my card and the box, and said "this one's on us." That was a small but very nice gesture. The Alaska crew both on the aircraft and at the gate were clearly doing the best they could to keep everyone happy. It's a thankless job, especially right now. That put me in a very good mood the rest of the flight.
The snack box hit the spot, especially considering how hungry I was.
We descended shortly thereafter into a rainy Seattly and planted ourselves on runway 16R.
Somehow, even though we were over two hours late, our gate was not ready yet. We waited on taxiway A for about 20 minutes before we finally headed to gate N4. Some passengers were definitely grumbling here.
Because of the tight connection schedule, a couple passengers were allowed off the flight before everyone else. (Un)fortunately, a lot of onward connections were also delayed, so I don't think anyone ended up missing a flight.
So now we're in Seattle, and I have a couple hours before DL845 leaves from the South Satellite terminal. And let me tell you, I'm not feeling as fresh as I was twelve hours ago. My friends were kind enough to check in on me.
I had been on N922VA for almost five hours without standing. I had sweat through my shirt. So I went to a store in Seattle, grabbed a t-shirt and some deodorant, and went to change along with the socks and underwear I already had. If you ever do something like this, please bring a change of clothes.
My mask is also starting to bug me a lot. Whether you're in the airport or on the plane, you really have to capitalize on the "actively eating or drinking" part, or head to the restroom just to take it off there.
I also still
haven't had much substantial to eat. I walked past plenty of open restaurants in Seattle, sure that one would be open in the international South Satellite terminal. Unfortunately, this was optimistic and now I'm in this food-less terminal still hungry. I grabbed a cheese, cracker, and fruit platter from the Hudson News in Seattle and took care of that. I told myself I would grab breakfast in Atlanta.
Not a lot of people here. There was also a Delta Connection flight to Spokane out of the S gates, as well as EVA Air to Taipei.
I noticed there were a lot of planes out in the airfield still. Out of curiosity, I checked FR24 and was appalled at what I saw.
All these planes are waiting for a gate. It turns out I actually got really lucky getting a seat on AS29 and only waiting 20 minutes for a gate. You can see this AS1410 from SNA landed over an hour ago and is still waiting for a gate. I cannot imagine what those people on the flights from Florida behind that aircraft are going through.
Soon enough, boarding was called for DL845. Suddenly, I just got very tired. My internal clock has 1:00am right now, and it's 10:00pm here.
However, I'm still looking forward to my first 767. This is always an aircraft I have admired, and still a very popular workhorse for airlines. It is best known for its passenger comfort even in economy, as there is only one seat per row that is not a window or aisle.
I worked my way to seat 25A. Not much to see out the window now.
Flight: Delta 845
Departure: 11:48pm (11:09pm scheduled)
Arrival: 6:29am (6:35am scheduled)
She doesn't look a day over 20
The captain informed us we had very strong tailwinds and that we'd clock in well under four hours across the country tonight. Works for me. We pushed out of S15, taxiied to 16R, and got on our way.
It was a bumpy climbout but we got out of that pretty quickly.
I put the movie Big on and promptly fell asleep, waking up about halfway through the flight.
Quickly, we were approaching our top of descent into Atlanta. We headed down and swung a right turn to meet runway 8R ahead of schedule.
Quick taxi to gate A19
And it's good morning Atlanta, shortly before sunrise.
I grabbed breakfast at a local southern kitchen and headed to gate B33 through ATL's underground tunnel. I felt like walking instead of taking the train.
Dawn just beginning to break
We boarded DL1411 on time, and I was excited to learn I would not have a seatmate. One could argue that an empty seat next to you in Economy is almost better than being in Economy Plus.
Flight: Delta 1411
Departure: 8:40am (8:20am scheduled)
Arrival: 9:58am (9:52am scheduled)
I'm becoming pretty familiar with Delta's fleet of 737-900ERs.
Before our runway 9R departure, we went and got a quick de-ice. I don't think I had ever done this before.
We rocketed out and my head hit the back of the seat. I woke up to find us descending over southern Maryland.
I assumed we were lining up for another 33L arrival, but we sail right past the airport and turn around to join the arrival queue for runway 28, which I don't think I've ever landed on. Winds are 280 at 16, so I could see single runway operations right now. Baltimore also got a fresh layer of snow the night before, and they may not have been done clearing 33L-15R when we arrived. Either way, it was a nice snowy arrival back home into Baltimore.
And just like that, 23 hours after I took off from here.RECAP
This trip was surreal. Of course, it was cool to be flying this entire time and knock off three new aircraft types.
But I didn't feel like a passenger. It was almost eerie. Everyone else in these airports and on these planes had somewhere to be. I just wanted to be there. I felt like I was just an observer on these flights. Driving home, I was very happy I did this. It ended up being one of the more interesting days I've ever had, and a great story.
Would I do this again? I think so, for sure. I'd do it during the summer with less potential for weather issues, and I'll wait until the mask mandate is over. That was honestly the hardest part. I also highly suggest one of these flights is in a premium class. I really wanted to be able to lay out and stretch my legs. Maybe next time.
Thanks for reading, I hope you found this interesting! Once I put the video together, I'll put it in the replies.