Getting to the airport on time

IMG_1433My husband and I both decided to work one day during our week of semi-vacation, and swap childcare coverage for each other. I took the kids on Wednesday (it involved the aquarium and Wegman’s, where an elderly gentleman asked if I had room in the cart for him too — ha ha ha). I spent Thursday traveling to and from Orlando to give a speech. I have done this before in one day, and while it is a long day, it is relatively painless. The speech went well and the trip home was great. I read Alain de Botton’s new novel, The Course of Love, on the flight (review to come soon).

The way there, though, was a different story. Not even the flight. Getting to the airport!

I left the house at 6:20 a.m. for my 8:05 flight. That was cutting it a bit short for my tastes. Even though I am familiar with the PHL airport, and I have TSA pre-check status, and no bags to check (ever) I am in the category of people who get stressed and anxious about getting to the airport on time. On the other hand, given the toddler sleep fun going on in my house right now, I had no desire to wake up any earlier than I had to. So 6:20 it would be.

I can take one of two routes to the airport: around the city on I-476 south, approaching the airport on I-95 northbound, or through the city on I-76 east, approaching the airport on I-95 southbound. Around is longer, but generally has less traffic. Early in the morning, through, the city should have been fine. So looking at Google map predictions of 30 minutes and 35 minutes I elected to go the quick route through the city.

Unfortunately, Google lacks predictive power. Shortly before, unbeknownst to me (and apparently to Google), a truck had crossed several lanes of traffic on I-95 south and slammed into a fire truck that was responding to an earlier accident. Fortunately, the news reports I read later said that no one was seriously hurt. But the accident completely shut down I-95 south through Philly.

Driving down I-76 east, I saw flashing alerts that the interstate had been closed. My normal route to the airport (the Platt bridge over PA 291, which meets up with I-95 later) was designated as the detour, so while it wasn’t clear where I-95 was going to be open, even if it was open right by the airport, I knew the bridge would be slammed with I-95 evacuees. So I was pondering a new route, and flustered with the rapidly building traffic. Then it started to rain. Traffic stopped and started, sometimes stopping quicker than other times. One time was too quick. I hit the car in front of me.

The other driver got out and was incredibly nice about the whole thing, checking multiple times that I was OK (he was fine – and mostly our cars were fine too, I think I just looked a little shook up. I was incredibly mad at myself for not slamming on the brakes faster). We pulled over and exchanged info and then I took off again, determined to make it to the airport.

Then it started pouring buckets. I could barely see in front of the windshield. While taking the exit off I-76 to my alternate back route to the airport I drove through a huge puddle of water and started gliding. Was I seriously going to have a second accident on the same morning?

I got control of the car again, but meanwhile the minutes were ticking by.

I finally got to the parking lot at 7:30, and was through security by 7:40. There were no lines. Why would there be? The major highway leading to the airport was closed so no one could get there! At least that part worked out. And so I walked straight onto the plane.

On some level, I think this was a good reality check on timing for me. Even on a morning when everything went wrong (a 30-minute trip takes over an hour and includes an accident?) I did make my flight. That’s with leaving later than I normally would. Perhaps I can start being more casual about when I leave for the airport. That’s probably a strange lesson to take from cutting it close for a flight, but there we go.

Are you in the leave early camp, or do you subscribe to the theory that if you never miss a flight you’re wasting too much time at the airport?

Photo: At the aquarium the day prior 

21 thoughts on “Getting to the airport on time

  1. I am early to everything usually but always bring a book to read. It’s too stressful for me to rush. My husband is a “just on time” type and it usually works for him.

  2. I am afraid I am ridiculously early for almost everything. I build huge buffers of time into everything. I think it comes from years of small children and everything always taking twice as long because of it. I also love to be early and acclimate myself to things. I’m always anxious in new situations so extra time allows me to get my bearings. I married my polar opposite though and more fights have been over when we are leaving, showing up late, and just general time issues than any other topics combined!

  3. So glad you made it!

    I’m in the be-early camp, for two reasons:

    1) The stakes are too high for missing a flight. It costs time and money to reschedule and often means I’ll miss out on something on the other end by arriving later than planned.

    2) I don’t like the emotional cost of rushing. I can’t flirt with cutting it close and feel relaxed inside. This is stress that is (typically) within my control, and I choose not to have it.


  4. I’m definitely in the early camp, especially for airports. In general I see being late as disrespectful to the people who are left waiting. But for airports, missing a flight is just not worth the hassle.

  5. Traveling, and getting to the airport specifically, is the one area where my husband and I have some tension. I much prefer to go early and then relax at the airport, knowing that we’re not going to be late. He is usually a punctual person, but hates sitting in an airport. So, temperatures rise a bit in the house when we’re getting ready to leave, but we’re usually fine once we get on the plane.

    (Our kids are usually not a reason for being late. I think I’ve drilled into them from an early age that they should not waste any time getting ready to leave the house. Poor kids. 🙂 )

  6. So … I’m glad all is OK and that you got where you needed to. I’m not sure that I’m comfortable, though, with the conclusion you draw from this experience. I mean, sure — stochastic processes and small sample size, but you were in one accident and hydroplaned in a way that caused you to think you might be in another? I think the conclusion I’d draw from that is that I need to allow more time to get to the airport (etc.) safely.

  7. Glad you’re OK!
    Definitely in the “early” camp – and I drove to NY through that same rainstorm and managed to spill my coffee so I sat in it. Ugh. Do you have WAZE? If not, you should. It will reroute you for stuff like that, often through short-cuts you didn’t know about. Yesterday, WAZE took me to my mother’s doctor’s appointment through areas of my hometown I’d never seen before because the main roads were backed up.

    1. @Jenni Levy- I just used Waze to drive to the beach and found it good. Thursday was just a confluence of bad events – I expected traffic, but didn’t expect for a major highway to be closed!

  8. I’m often late – not badly, but usually 10-15 mins. I put important meetings or appointments in my diary for 15 mins earlier than they actually start to allow a bit of a buffer. But not for flights. Flights I am always super early. I’ve learned that once I’m packed and ready to go, the rest of the time before I leave (or the taxi arrives) feels like ‘dead time’ – I find it hard to settle into work when I’ll be leaving soon, and need to keep an eye on the clock. But once I’m safely checked in, through TSA, and seated with my Starbucks, the time until boarding feels like ‘bonus time’ and I fly through my work, with the added incentive of getting things done before my boarding call. Funny how the brain works. I should try to exploit this tendency more!

  9. I am decidedly in the “not early” camp. I have missed a few flights over the years, although sometimes I’ve missed them *because* I got to the airport so early – I felt like there must be time to browse in a gift shop, or sit and eat something . In one case they actually closed the doors 5 minutes early for the flight!

    Another time I’d left so early I decided I had time to drop off some video tapes to avoid the late charges for a two-day trip (years ago, obviously!) . That one was disastrous because I missed the single non-stop flight traveling from Seattle to Orlando, and so my quick trip that was going to allow some sightseeing time that afternoon, turned into many hours in airports and two layovers, finally arriving at midnight.

    I do enjoy relaxing around the gate but I like sleeping, more.

  10. Looking forward to the book review! (And glad you’re ok.)

    I downloaded The Course of Love audiobook on Tuesday and am excited for next week’s commute hours! Currently working through de Botton’s Status Anxiety, and downloaded The Architecture of Happiness as well. A de Botton binge?

    And Wegman’s… man, it doesn’t get any better, even if you are pushing a massive car cart. My children don’t realize what normal grocery stores are like. May they never endure a Safeway!

  11. This stressed me out just reading about it. I always leave too early for things ESPECIALLY the airport. My on time is early. Glad you made it unharmed!

  12. I used to have a tendency to be late and I’m definitely not in the early camp in general, but I’m always very early at the airport. Two hours for domestic flights and three for international. Your story made me think about leaving even earlier, it was so stressful just to read it. I like airports and even have favorite restaurants at some where I spend the pre-flight and layover time. I even have a special ritual when I fly to Europe from SFO, once I’m past security I get a massage and then eat at favorite sushi and ramen place (they have a great International Terminal), and I finally pick up a new book and a magazine so by the time I get settled in the plane I’m so relax I fall asleep easily. I actually look forward to this. If things go especially smoothly I might even check out the exhibits and use the meditation room before hitting security. I know, I’m weird, but it makes travelling so much more enjoyable. I’ve been through some stressful situations where I even had planes held for me twice (in Europe), so at some point I decided to go the completely opposite route with airports. And since I sleep on the plane getting up early is not an issue.

  13. I used to not like waiting for too long inside the airport during flights so I usually don’t arrive too early. Until I’ve tried missing my flight. There was an unexpected problem going to the airport and I missed my flight. So I realized getting bored at the airport is better than missing my flight altogether.

  14. What a morning! I have a very flexible sense of time and am generally late for everything…. except for the airport, where I overcompensate and get there really early. If it’s an early morning work flight I catch a taxi and might cut it a bit closer, but if i’m travelling with the kids… no way i want to rush.

  15. I’m in the leave early camp. I live about 30 minutes from the airport via car, but prefer to take the train if possible. I’ve had crazy stuff happen over the years (train breaks down between stations, etc) so I always anticipate a potential issue.
    For domestic flights I leave over 2 hours before departure, international a solid 3 or more. I’m basically paranoid.

    1. You’re not as paranoid as my mom. We flew to California for Easter break the year I was twelve. My mother was worried about holiday traffic so she made sure we got to the airport early. Six hours early. Six hours in an airport with a seven-year-old and a twelve-year-old. And it was Good Friday, so we couldn’t even stop for a burger (no meat that day for religious reasons).

  16. When I flew out of Philly last week I had to wait an hour for the bus because SEPTA being SEPTA, scheduled buses never came and the plane train was delayed and the best part was TSA thought I had a detonator in my carry on.Bit of a delay there as you can imagine.Thankfully I had allowed myself margin.

  17. I have been traveling from NC to PHL most weeks since mid July. I leave my family on Sunday night and fly back home on Friday’s. Now, my husband will tell you that I am always late everywhere I go. I call it “running behind”, trying to juggle too many things, I am always 5-10 minutes late. The airport is no different except, I purposely plan to leave as late as possible to get to the Raleigh airport when I am leaving my family. I realize that I feel better when I am early or on time, but that little bit of extra time with my family means the world!

    1. @Erika- this is my husband’s perspective. He’s flying at least once a week and often more. Getting to the airport 2 hours earlier than he needs to is a significant chunk of his week. I have seen him leave our house on Sunday afternoon at 4:25 for a 5:45 international flight and make it (and make it just fine, he would point out). Obviously this requires no checking bags and Pre-check. But it generally works. And while leaving the house at 4:25 on Sunday kind of stinks, leaving the house at 2:15 to be at the airport 3 hours early would stink far more.

  18. I am definitely in the camp of “if you never miss a flight, you’re wasting too much time at the airport.” When I am going to the airport, I always end up leaving later than I intended. I have cut it VERY close many times but have never, ever missed a flight, so to me there’s no good reason to start getting to the airport earlier. I also think that deep down, I enjoy the adrenaline rush of cutting it close. I agree with previous commenters that I would much rather have more time at home before my flight than be stuck in an airport waiting around.

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