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

Apr 10, 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:

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 minimize 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 traveler — and what saved Stanza here — is enrolling in an expedited airport security program 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. There are a number of credit cards that will reimburse your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee so even if you don’t fly frequently, it’s worth signing up.

Clear will get you to the front of the line, but you’ll still have to go regular security measures unless you have TSA PreCheck. While it’s not available at as many airports as TSA PreCheck, it does offer expedited entry to a handful of stadiums and arenas as well. Clear normally costs $179 per year, but United MileagePlus members can get a discounted Clear membership (or even free for 1K elites). You can also get up to $100 in statement credits each calendar year when you use your American Express® Green Card to pay for your Clear membership.

Related: The best credit cards for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing us to post it online), I’m sending Stanza a gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured photo by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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