By some quirk of airfare pricing, an early morning United Express (Expressjet, formerly Continental Express) plane ticket from BWI to Newark Airport turned out cheaper than Amtrak this Christmas, so we took the flight to visit Amy’s family in New Jersey. The flight turned out to be a mistake which we will not repeat again.
First off, the hourlong drive from NoVA to BWI is itself already one-fifth of the trip, 50 miles of about 250. Throw in the time spent parking, taking the long-term lot shuttle to the terminal, and the whole airport check-in and security deal, and the total travel time is actually a bit longer than just driving the whole way. (That’s time without traffic, but this was at 2AM and the roads were mostly clear.)
We went early in the morning expecting crowds and traffic and got neither, but the United Express BWI check-in counter didn’t open until about 4:15 AM, which cut things a bit close to our 5:16 AM flight. To their credit the staff asked people on the early flight to form a separate line, but then gave that line only one kiosk, such that people who remained in the other line were still able to check in faster.
Going through the TSA checkpoint, a static shock caused me to drop my MacBook back in the bin — a short fall, but apparently enough to kill the hard drive. I blame TSA for this.
The flight itself was 43 minutes long, aboard an Embraer ERJ-145, a tiny regional jet with just one line of seats on one side and two on the other.
Bumpy ride with strong winds, but great views of Newark before an impressively smooth landing.
I had to wait a while in the jetway to get my gate-checked bag, which would not have fit under a seat or in the overhead bins in the tiny cabin. Amy’s bag was the only one that appeared at the baggage claim; apparently everyone else on this flight had brought carry-on.
The return trip was far, far worse. We got to the airport early, but the flight was repeatedly delayed, from 5:12 PM, to 6:22, to 7:00, to 10:30 — and finally simply cancelled. Most annoying part of that was getting a call from the United notifications bot just as we were in the middle of dinner, saying the the flight would leave earlier than expected, 6:30 PM rather than 7 PM, so we cut the meal short and rushed to the gate, only to be notified just minutes later that the flight was instead delayed to 10:30.
We spent most of the evening waiting out the delays in the EWR United Club Lounge, for which I had passes through my credit card plan, and that helped immensely, as the terminal waiting areas were full of people all waiting for their own delayed flights. When our flight was cancelled I didn’t bother getting in the customer service line in the terminal but instead called United Reservations from the lounge, and got a half-refund from the reservations rep while Amy looked at Amtrak timetables out of Newark. (The cancellation was understandable, as a winter storm was whipping the area with high winds, but there were simply no alternative flights out of EWR for two days.)
At the baggage claim we had to actually ask for our bags to be brought up, with claim tags and descriptions of each. United had only one person manning the luggage service desk for all the people whose flights had been cancelled. It took about a half-hour for them to find our bags and send them up to the carousel. We then got on a taxi and headed for Newark Penn Station, where we waited an hour for the next Northeast Regional back to BWI. We had a nice, quiet ride with no delays and lots of space to sit down.
We got off the train at BWI Airport, and had to wait a bit for the shuttle to the terminal. At the terminal we had to wait a bit more for the shuttle to Long Term Parking to fetch the car. The parking shuttle smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. The drive home down I-95 and the Beltway felt especially long, and as we got home at almost 3AM I resolved never to fly BWI-EWR ever again.
To top it all off, we got bronchitis, quite possibly contracted from all the people coughing on the plane. Being sick through Christmas was not fun.