Transit Adventures

Flying to Snowy Jackson Hole aboard United Airlines making short connections in Washington and Chicago

What made my little side-trip to Jackson Hole before going to Salt Lake City to meet my Dad was the fact Jackson Hole had a hostel and finding an only $200 flight directly there. Normally their close to $500-$600. The downside to a $200 flight was that it had two connections with 50 minutes in Washington-Dulles followed by 40 minutes in O’Hare and a 6:00am JFK Departure Time. These tight connections had made me quite worried for awhile but by buying the ticket I looked at it as a contract to get me to Jackson at some point over the course of the day perhaps not at 11:50
as scheduled. Looking at the Great Circle Maps though, my flights with the connections are only taking me 85 miles out of the way. I’m flying 1,979 miles today instead of 1,894 miles for a non-stop flight (There is a non-stop flight from New York City, Newark though to Jackson Hole, only on Saturdays on United). It’s a lot better than my last flights last month on Southwest to Charleston via Chicago, over 1,000 miles out of my way.


The Flying:

I walk from the bus stop to Terminal 7 ignoring the signs that say “Sidewalk Under Construction, Use Airtrain to get between terminals.”I head into the terminal and rush through, past a crowded United ticket counter, not bothering to stop at a machine to get paper boarding passes. There are just a few people ahead of me at the check point that is a model of TSA inefficiency. Just two lanes are open and one nude-o-scope. The issue is a huge number of crew and employees cutting the line (they are all let through the metal detector). The baggage screener seems to be slow too, with the employee screaming “Hand Check” and the bag not checked until later. I am of course directed to the nude-o-scope and decide to play the fact I broke my left arm a few years ago to my advantage saying I have a hard time holding it up and the nude-o-scope I can’t do quite right. Amazingly this works! I’m sent through the metal detector no pat down for opting out of the nude-o-scope. I know my strategy now!

It’s 5:25 and my boarding pass says boarding begins at 5:35. I head upstairs to the United Club (mainly to ask about a seat assignment – I couldn’t get one for free – on my CHI to JAC leg). I get an agent who has never seen an Amtrak Guest Rewards Card (apologizing that she is new) and am told the gate agent in Chicago will be in charge of assigning me a seat for the final leg. They say I have time to grab a coffee before heading to my gate. I don’t listen and walk in, quickly wolfing down a bowl of the United Clubs only decent thing for breakfast, the granola. I also quickly eat a danish. I leave at 5:35 and walk down to gate 12, the baby jet gate, aways down and around the small Terminal 7 by the entrance. Boarding hasn’t even started yet! so I’m able to run to a (regular, not nice club one) restroom.

The slightly less than 50 passengers board our CRJ-200 at 5:45; all of us at once. There is something wrong with the intercom by the gate and the announcements are barely audible. I see the fuel truck this doesn’t seem normal but I wonder if it has to do with the cold weather, can’t leave Jet-A in a plane on an overnight layover. The CRJ-200 luckily doesn’t have half the plane Economy+/- just regular seats so no getting stuck in – by the engines (I’ve flew the CRJ-700s, the larger awful planes in Economy – (+ is nice, and I got bumped a few times) from COS to SYR a number of times for Thanksgiving)
We Push back on time at 6:00 have a ten minute non-stop taxi and take off at 6:10. I’ve forgotten how oddly angled the baby jet CRJ-200 window are. You really have to strain your neck to see out of them when on the ground. Once airborne it’s a great view of the still dark streets of the city. We follow Coney Island and really see how Sandy Hook is a hook. Eventually fatigue takes over and I doze off the next thing I know its 6:45 and were preparing for landing in Dulles over office parks and cul-de-sacs. Dawn is just visible. We cross a river, I assume the Anacosta. Washington’s sprawl becomes greater. At 6:55 I here the wheels and we land at 6:57, an uneventful arrival.

We get to the gate area at 7:01, 19 minutes early! and have to wait for the ramp agent. We finally get towed in and leave the plane via stairs down to the tarmac, right near my connecting gate with a UnitedClub right there at 7:15. What a ridiculous delay, there goes having another bowl of granola in the UnitedClubto_jackson3 to_jackson4

I immediately head to the nearest United Club. I want to see if I can get a seat assignment for my Jackson, WY flight here. I check in with one agent who tells me to go downstairs to a bank of other agents designed to help customers with their flights inside the club. I go up to a free agent, a friendly old man, who types for a good three minutes before saying “Do You Mind the exit row”. Jackpot, I won’t complain! The agent tells me my flight to Chicago is boarding so I grab a coffee and make a bagel to take with me as I slowly walk upstairs to board at a nearby gate.

I board the 757 and get confused for a minute just seeing coach until I realize we’re at the extra aft door 757s have between coach and first class. A couple idots leave there United Express green tagged bags on the Jetway thinking their supposed to. The flight attendant makes a few announcements saying they are to be taken aboard the plane (and not tagged for travel in the belly of this plane and to please claim them). The flight feels empty, this surprises me and people slowly linger on. We keep sitting, I’m assuming waiting for connecting passengers. I think that were going to have a free aisle seat until someone gets on at the last minute! I settle into my Economy- window seat, the legroom feels less than on JetBlue and Southwest.
Were clearly holding for late connections and family quickly boards right before were supposed to leave at 8:10. They later announce that we were waiting for oil and that it’s -4 in Chicago!
Finally at 8:32, we’ve fully taxied and finally take off into real morning sun.
The flight is more of the same for me. I only drink water, doze off, and then wake-up. Eventually were over Lake Michigan that and I notice and am fascinated by huge chucks of ice.

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Soon we have our approach over the Northside of Chicago (I’m sitting on the north side of the plane and can’t see the skyline of the loop)


We land at 9:10 with “Thank you for flying the friendly skies” from the flight attendant. Then comes a very long taxi. We seem to have landed as far from our gate as possible. They unfortunately say nothing, asking passengers to let those with tight connections to off the plane first. The rampers are there as we taxi into C13 at 9:23.

I’m off at 9:28 as phone dings my connecting  flight to Jackson is delayed 10 minutes. I jog through the pedestrian tunnel with the neon light show O’Hare is known for to get from the C Concourse (an island) to the B Concourse (where the exit is), the gate B8 is right by the entrance to the tunnel. I get there at 9:34, 1 minute before the 15 minutes in advance  requirement (scheduled time 9:50)! The gate agent says there is no reason run, we have 20 connecting passengers and bags so the flight will be delayed a bit. I get on another 757 (what a large airplane to fly into a small airport) and settle into my extremely roomy exit row, thank you UnitedClub agent! I will add there was a period before Continental started charging when I learned that by checking in 24 hours before you could pretty much could let you choose an exit seat, the old days! I especially liked the window seat without a seat in front.

We still sit, as people keep moseying on. Weare told what a skier wants to hear that its snowing in Jackson Hole and with its short runway and we need extra fuel in case we need to do a go around and then possibly divert to Salt Lake City or Denver. The pilot makes an analogy that extra fuel = time because by having it means you can try again for the short runway. We finally leave at 10:25 to head for the runway and take-off for Jackson.

The flight finally takes off at 10:31, and I spend it dozing off (I can’t look out the window in the asile seat), and having a ginger ale and multiple glasses of water. The crew seams good making at least 3 ones (the first one with BOB snacks). The legroom by sitting in the exit row is amazing, I can barely touch the seat in front of me. The seat is so far away that my tray table is in the armrest (not from the seat in front of me).

We eventually have a turbulent landing and at 12:22 arrive at the extremely snowy terminal, that lacks jetways and get off using airstairs. There is even another United 757 on the tarmac in the landing area

to_jackson14 to_jackson13 to_jackson12 to_jackson11 to_jackson10

It’s then under an elk antler arch that are a replica of those found around the Jackson Town Square and into the arrivals area of the Jackson Airport. It’s the first domestic airport I’ve been too where we don’t pass through the departures area and are immediately outside of security.  I know where I am immediately because I once got a behind the scenes tour of this airport.

The Jackson Airport is the only airport located inside a national park (Grand Teton) and unfortunately doesn’t have transit service from the START Bus system that has a shuttle within the town of Jackson and also has frequent service between the town and ski resort village. The cheapest way to leave the airport is to unfortunately take the Alltrans Shuttle for $18 into town, I’m staying at the village but the bus there is $27 and I want to stop in town first.

I find a driver with an Alltrans sign and say I want to get into the village, there about four vans outside and he tells me to go ahead and jump in his, he’ll be right there and will eventually collect payment. In about 10 minutes the driver comes out, I tell him I just want to go to the town center (that surprises him a bit) and were off for a scenic drive by the National Elk Refuge where huge numbers of elk are visible spending there winter enjoying federal government feed-outs.

I get into town, exhausted and stop in a cafe for some coffee and lunch and also to recharge my computer and phone. I eventually rent skis, go to a grocery store to buy some groceries to avoid paying vast sums of money for ski resort food. I then catch the START bus, pay my $3 fare and am the only passenger on a reverse-peak trip up to the ski area when all the skiers and staff are trying to get back into town. I check into The Hostel in its cheep dorm room and have an early evening cooking dinner on the hostel’s hot plates for myself (there unfortunately isn’t a real stove, just fridges, hot plates, microwaves and a toaster.)