Stuck in traffic with a plane to catch — reader mistake story

Oct 25, 2020

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Stanza, who almost missed her flight thanks to morning rush hour during a pre-COVID era:

“About a year ago, I took a trip from my home near Orlando (MCO) to Atlanta (ATL). I’m lucky to be able to work from home on most days, and if I do go into the office, I normally wait until lunchtime to avoid morning rush hour traffic. I have had both Clear and TSA PreCheck for a few years now, and had grown accustomed to going from the drop-off point at departures to the gate within about 15 to 20 minutes with just my backpack, carry-on and phone in tow. For this flight, however, I wanted to be there earlier to spend more time with family, so I booked a 9:30 a.m. flight.

At 7:55 a.m. the morning of the flight, I hailed a Lyft and was shocked when I saw 9 a.m. as the arrival time, right when the boarding call should be set to start. Thinking perhaps Lyft didn’t have enough drivers at the time, I jumped over to Uber, and my heart sunk when I saw the same exact arrival time. Then I checked Google Maps, assuming there must be some sort of accident on the way, and immediately facepalmed when I saw the sea of red across the city. Of course the drive time was longer — it’s morning rush hour, and I totally neglected to include that in my time estimations!  My driver did his best, but arrived precisely at 9 a.m. as the GPS advised.

Inside the airport, I saw the snaking security line, and felt a big relief that I had Clear. I told the Clear agent my predicament, and once I was verified, she rushed me right over to the TSA agent and made sure I was the next person he checked. TSA PreCheck was thankfully a similar breeze, and I was on the People Mover within about five minutes on my way to the terminal. I ended up making it onto my flight with 10 minutes to spare, and arrived in ATL without issue.”

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Thankfully Stanza’s story had a happy ending, but I’m sure the experience must’ve been quite stressful. The important takeaway is that whether you’re in your hometown or a foreign city halfway around the world, you need to always pay attention to traffic when deciding when to leave for the airport. If you’re especially far from home, you should always keep an eye out for any local holidays or major events (conferences, political events, sporting tournaments, etc) that might mess with traffic patterns. If you’re unsure, you can always ask your hotel concierge for guidance as they’ll be intimately familiar with the traffic patterns in the city.

What I like to do, to minimise as much of the guesswork as possible, is open up Google Maps and use the “arrive by” feature. If you know you need about 30 minutes to clear security on a given day, Google will use its vast amounts of historical traffic data to tell you what time to leave your house to arrive at the airport on time.

One of the best investments you can make as a traveller — and what saved Stanza here — is enrolling in an expedited airport security programme like TSA PreCheck or Clear. TSA PreCheck (or better, Global Entry, which normally gets you TSA PreCheck) usually offers a shorter security line, and you won’t need to remove your shoes, belt, liquids or laptop.

Featured photo by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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