Even as I pressed the button to charge my credit card, I knew that the night flight would probably end up being my biggest mistake since that unfortunate socks and sandals incident during my sophomore year of college.
With my parents in Pittsburgh and my sisters in Ohio, I find myself inside one of the NYC airports every six weeks or so. And after eight years of flying out of the busiest airports in the country, I have created a set of rules to ensure me a pleasant travel experience.
The rules cover all manner of subjects such as what bathroom to use (the ones just beyond security are always the cleanest), what coffee to drink (definitely none from the coffee stand in the LaGuardia USAirways Terminal), what snacks to eat (Cheez-Its are always an acceptable choice), and where to sit at the gates to ensure optimal access to power outlets.
But the most important rule of all is this: Always, always fly in the morning. Anything before eight is ideal, but absolutely nothing later than nine.
Early morning flights mean no traffic on the way to the airport. They mean I get where I'm going in time to enjoy the entire day. And most importantly, they mean getting out of the airport before flight delays and cancellations stack up and make getting out almost impossible. And when one flies out of LaGuardia, arguably the worst airport in the country for on-time flights, the importance of this rule increases ten-fold.
So it was with great hesitation that I booked us on an 8:00 flight from LaGuardia to Cleveland this past Thursday night. Since I had to work all day Thursday, but had to be in Cleveland first thing Friday, I didn't have much of a choice, but I knew it was a bad idea.
And that knowledge was confirmed when I got the "Orbitz Flight Status Notification" at 2:00 on Thursday afternoon telling me that the flight had already been delayed half an hour. By the time I left work to head to the airport, the delay was holding steady at 45 minutes. Even though it was rush hour we barely hit any traffic, and I thought it was a good omen. After all, a 45 minute delay out of LaGuardia for an evening flight is basically an on-time departure.
We parked the car and made it through security without incident, and as we walked through the terminal I wondered what I ever thought was so bad about night flights in the first place.
But by the time we got to the gate the flight time had changed, and I remembered.
A four hour delay, one failed attempt at stand-by on an earlier flight, one movie, three trips to Au Bon Pain for snacks, four phone calls and nineteen text messages with my mom about picking us up at the airport, and one tantrum when I thought the flight was cancelled later, we finally landed in Cleveland after 1:00 in the morning.
The airport was empty and quiet, but for the rolling wheels of our carry-on bags. And in the silence, I made a vow.
Don't mess with the rules.