This is a not a story about leaving the City for a fun-filled winter vacation. Rather, it details how I managed to get home ahead of the sixth big snowstorm to hit the area this season.
This last week I was in New York City to speak on a panel at the SIIA Information Industry Summit. I flew down from Rochester, NY, on Tuesday and although there was a two hour delay on my flight, I got to my hotel in Times Square with no major problems.
New York City and many of the towns and cities along the US northeastern seaboard have been hard hit with snow storms this winter. These have caused quite a bit of travel disruption and loss of school for children in the Mid-Atlantic and New England States.
In contrast, where I live in northwest New York state, my son has not had any snow days off this winter, though some schools did take a day off when the temperature was below -10 F last week. This surprises some people, I believe, because they think Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo are just slightly below the Arctic Circle. (I jest.)
My panel was late in the morning on Wednesday. When I awoke in the hotel it was clear that it was already snowing. Due to some confusion on my part, I had several long blocks to walk to the conference site, as my hotel was on West 42nd Street and the conference was at Cipriani on East 42nd Street, across from Grand Central Station.
It wasn’t worth trying to find a taxi during the morning rush hour and I figured it would be quicker to walk than getting stuck in the slow traffic. I still thought this was true even though I had a rollerboard suitcase and my backpack.
I got down to the street and immediately noticed that it was indeed snowing quite heavily. But, wait, look at all those silly people with umbrellas! Where I live, in the northern snow belt, real men and women don’t use umbrellas in the winter. So I walked half a block and got pretty much coated with wet sticky snow. I stopped under a store awning and pulled out and raised my umbrella.
It was a slippery walk for 15 minutes, made worse by my wearing dress shoes. I got to Cipriani without falling, gratefully checked by bag and coat, and settled in to the conference. The meeting was focused on the publishing industry and my panel dealt with some of the issues in moving to digital publishing for mobile devices. John Patrick put up a good summary over in his blog.
The panel ended around lunch and I called my assistant for the second or third time that morning to see what the travel situation was. I was due to fly out of La Guardia airport around 5:30 that afternoon. One of my options was to stay another night in New York and fly out the next morning when, presumably, travel would be less affected by the snow. There were already several canceled flights on Wednesday morning.
We decided that it would make sense for me to head out to La Guardia airport, so I grabbed a taxi out front of Cipriani, once again managing not to fall on my butt in the slippery snow. It was a slushy but easy ride out to the airport in Queens, helped a bit by our going through the Midtown Tunnel and so avoiding some of the snow on the road.
La Guardia was oddly unbusy since many people had checked on their flights, realized they were were canceled, and stayed away. Security was a breeze and I was through it in about 15 minutes.
It was then around 1:00 and there was a delayed flight to Rochester leaving at 1:20. My flight at 5:30 still showed up as on time, but that really only meant that it was too far in the future to show an accurate schedule. At least it had not been canceled, yet.
To me it is oddly excited to get to an airport and find out that you might be able to take an earlier flight, especially if you are homeward bound. I went to the gate for the 1:20 and learned that the plane was going to be coming from Portland, Maine, but it had not yet left. There were, however, plenty of empty seats and the gate attendant put me on that flight in addition to the one at 5:30.
Time went by and the gate attendant to whom I had spoken left when her shift ended around 3:00. I decided to doublecheck on my dual seat reservations and so went back up to the desk. It turned out that I had not been put on the correct earlier flight at all.
The gate person offered to move me to that flight but warned that I might be bumped if they had weight restrictions. This happens in bad weather when the planes have to put on extra fuel to allow for takeoff or landing delays, or if their flight paths are changed.
If I did shift to the earlier flight, maybe I could get back on the 5:30 if I was bumped. I asked how it was that I had gone from having two seats to possibly having none, but she just shrugged. So my choice was to wait and see if I could grab a seat on the late 1:20 or, failing that, just take the 5:30 home. Meanwhile, it was still snowing.
A third option then presented itself. A flight to Buffalo started boarding from that same gate. I asked if I could have a seat on that, and I snagged one. I ran back, got all my bags and coat, and got on the plane. My seat was 13A, that coveted last row window seat opposite the bathroom, but it was a seat!
We went through normal de-icing, took off after a little delay, and landed in Buffalo 5o minutes later. By 5:00 I was driving out of the airport in a rental car. At 6:15 I was returning the rental car and getting my car from the parking lot. By 7:00 I was home, earlier than I would have been if I had taken that 5:30 plane.
Well, much earlier, it turns out. The 5:30 was canceled as the weather got worse. The delayed 1:20 did eventually fly but I have no idea if I would have had a seat on it. At that point, I didn’t care. I was home.
The snow picked up in New York City and along the northeastern seaboard overnight and many places had 10 to 20 inches of snow by Thursday morning. Almost all flights out of La Guardia were canceled until Thursday afternoon. Had I waited, I would have been in far worse shape than if I were aggressive to find some way to get close to home on Wednesday evening. It worked out this time, but that wasn’t completely an accident.