Archive for the Travel Category

Snowy Trip Home

Posted in Travel on January 27, 2011 by Mike Procario

The forecast was for rain turning to snow in the D.C. area, so I looked for an earlier flight home. There was nothing available going to Dulles, but I was able to get a flight to Reagan.  When we left Chicago, the pilot announced that he was expecting minimal acceptable conditions for landing nonetheless the flight went smoothly. When we landed snow was falling, and from that point on my trip home was a slow grind punctuated with complete stops for hours at a time.

There was no gate available for our plane, so we sat on the tarmac for an hour and half, while United tried to figure out how to handle five planes with four gates. The idea of backing an empty plane away from the gate for 20 minutes while we unloaded was dismissed as too passenger friendly. I sat there worrying that the roads were getting worse and that traffic would be bad. By the time we got off the plane, the snow on the ground was visibly deeper than when we had landed.

I had to get Dulles to get my car, so I hopped the metro for Rosslyn where I hoped to catch a bus straight to Dulles. We had a fifteen-minute delay at Arlington Cemetery when the train in front of us broke down. While waiting I overheard a couple talking about checking into a hotel, because they could not get home.  I would later realize that fifteen-minute delays were trivial during the great traffic jam/snowstorm of 2011 and heading for the comfort of a hotel would be the smart thing to do.

I was deprived of an another serious delay when the bus driver warned me that he would not be leaving for at least three hours. I searched for a cab and lucked out to find one fairly quickly. We had gone less than a mile when we turned into a completely blocked road. Eventually the police showed up and did something to relieve the congestion, but we had gone less than a mile in an hour and a half.

The batteries on both of my cell phones were nearly drained. I wanted to call my wife, Margaret, and tell her where I was and how I was making my way home. I searched by backpack and found the charger for my work Blackberry. I plugged into the cigarette lighter. I was able to send Margaret texts and give her call after it charged up. It was reassuring that I would have a fully charged phone for the rest of the trip.  Unfortunately, my Blackberry has very poor internet browsing and my music is all on personal cell phone. So I was left with listening to the radio.

The cabbie had the radio tuned to a news stations and we heard about fallen tree branches, power lines, and jackknifed trucks blocking roads. As we started to move we were counting the rear wheel drive Mercedes and BMWs that were stuck. The cab driver seemed to take some delight in that as our minivan plowed through the snow.  It took a little over three hours to get to Dulles.

I hadn’t had dinner yet, so I had a Cinnabon and coffee at the airport to fortify me for the rest of the drive. Cinnabon was the only restaurant that didn’t have a long line. I was seriously considering staying at the airport for a while, but the roads had seemed clearer as we approached the airport. I got my car and headed out. Margaret and I had swapped cars, so she would have the RAV4 if she needed it. I got to drive her VW Beetle home, which is no a car with good ground clearance.

The snow was tapering off as I took the Dulles Greenway north to Leesburg where I could get US 15 north to Frederick. The Greenway was pretty clear of snow and the traffic was not heavy. I was able to drive at 45 to 50 mile per hour.  There was more snow on US 15, but I soon caught up to a snowplow, which was going slow but made it easier for me to drive. Just outside of Lucketts, Virginia we came to another complete stop. Police and emergency vehicles showed up. The plow driver came to tell me that they had to go help clear a jackknifed truck and to not follow him. This turned out to be another hour and half delay. I sat watching my gas gauge and worrying that I might use all my gas.

I got home at 2:15 AM, which was 9.5 hours after I landed at the airport.  About half off that time was sitting at a standstill. I should have stayed in Chicago. They have lovely weather this time of year.



The Year in Cities

Posted in Travel on December 31, 2008 by Mike Procario

I saw this on Uncertain Principles.  What cities did I spend at least one night in during 2008?

  • Warrenville, IL when I visit Fermilab,
  • Emeryville, CA when I visit LBNL,
  • Irvine, CA,
  • Philadelphia, PA,
  • Pittsburgh, PA,
  • Madison, WI,
  • Annapolis, MD,
  • Geneva, Switzerland when I visited CERN.

Compared to the other folks in my office, I am a real stay-at-home. The majority of my trips are to Fermilab. I pile up those frequently flier miles in 500 mile increments. I went to a big international conference this year, but it was held in Philadelphia, my hometown, at my alma mater.

Miserable Commute All Week

Posted in Travel on December 11, 2008 by Mike Procario

My house is just over 20 miles from work and about 18 miles of the trip in on I-270 from Frederick, MD to Germantown, MD. Unfortunately, many, many other people also drive that route at the same time as I do.  A trip that takes about 25 minutes when traffic is light is now regularly taking me 50-60 minutes during rush hour. This week my grief was increased by a need to go all the way into DC twice. On Monday I had a 9:00 AM meeting across from the White House. I left at 7:00 AM and it took me over an hour to get to Shady Grove Metro station which is 25 miles from house. I was about 5 minutes late for my meeting. When I had a meeting at Department of Energy Headquarters at 8:30 AM, I left my house at 6:15 AM. This time I was 15 minutes late for my meeting.

Computer Friendly Airline Terminals

Posted in Travel on March 15, 2008 by Mike Procario

I took Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Islip recently. It was my time in the relatively new Southwest terminal at BWI. Most of the gates had a power bar set up where you could plug in your laptop and work while you waited. I had seen something similar at O’Hare, but there were many more of these and they were right at the gate.

I have a Boingo on the Go account and Boingo wireless was available, so I was able to get about an hour’s worth of work done.  I was there quite early since I was worried about rush hour traffic and I left early. However, traffic was just fine.

I also had a good experience at the Madison, WI airport. I had a long delay, so I waited outside the security area, where they had a vary comfortable waiting area with comfortable leather chairs and plenty of power. Wireless was available, but I was surprised that there was a charge. I had seen lists of free wireless at airports and most of them were smaller like Madison.

Power Bar at O’Hare

Posted in Travel on November 17, 2006 by Mike Procario

Yesterday when I was returning home from Chicago, I saw a new feature at O’Hare airport. By gate B14 there are is a small installation with four stools and eight power outlets. It is meant to allow people to charge their laptops and cell phones. It seems like a great idea to me, but they need one at every gate not just one.

Speeding through Dulles Airport?

Posted in Travel on September 21, 2006 by Mike Procario

I arrived at Dulles Airport today on a United flight from Oakland, CA. I stepped off the plane at 3:10 PM and I left the parking garage at 4:10 PM. The airport was not very crowded. It was much more crowded on Monday when I flew out of town. There was no line today for the shuttle from the terminal back to baggage claim. When I arrived at the terminal on Monday the shuttle was greeted by a very large crowd waiting to board it. The longest time was spent waiting for my suitcase to arrive at baggage claim. I checked my bag due to the new no-carry-on-liquids rule.

Flying without Liquids

Posted in Travel on September 19, 2006 by Mike Procario

I took my first flight in the no carry-on liquid era. It is clear to me that the airlines and the terminal operators have not yet learned how to adjust on the fly to changing regulations. When I arrived at Dulles for my flight, the check-in line for United was badly backed up. I waited in line for awhile until a United employee came, sorted out the line, and directed us to a variety of shorter correct lines. Apparently one line got badly backed up, and that prevented people from seeing that the other lines were not backed up.

Much of this congestion seemed to be related to people checking luggage that they would not normally check. I checked my bag, since I prefer to extra room when flying a coast to coast. This allowed me to pack toothpaste and shampoo. For my next flight to Chicago I will have to choose between bringing those items or carrying my overnight bag abroad.

There seemed to be an inconsistency in the policies. You are not allowed to carry liquids through security, but you can purchase then in the terminal. I had coffee, while I waited. I did not finish it in time, and I had to throw it away. You cannot carry the coffee on the plane, but there is no check of your carry on luggage at the gate. I could have carried on a bottle of water in my briefcase without anyone noticing.

Both government bureaucracies and large customer service businesses work best with standard procedures that can be slowly refined over time. Neither is good at adapting quickly to new situations, which does not bode well for comfortable air travel in the future.