Today was the day that all my planning would be put to the test. Today was the day that I attempted to complete my JetBlue challenge in order to garner 75,000 TrueBlue Points.
As a reminder, here is what my itinerary looked like:
As you can see, the turn in Seattle was a very short one. Luckily through my research, I found that Seattle was one of the best of the major airports in all of North America to connect in. While I asked many people through forums whether a 50 minute (in reality a 43 minute) turn would be too quick. Most said that a minimum connection time they would chance would be 25 minutes, so I had a whole 25 minute buffer.
If I’m speaking the truth, that 25 minute buffer was a little too tight for my liking and here’s why:
- A 25 minute buffer is something that can very easily and very quickly get eaten up by weather delays, mechanical issues … heck … if an elite Alaska Airlines status member was running late and had already checked in, they might even hold the flight for him. In any case, there were so many different things that could go wrong that I didn’t want to think too hard about it.
- My tickets were on two different airlines and were booked separately as Alaskan and JetBlue do not share an alliance nor are they partners. This mean that if I missed my connection, JetBlue would have no legal requirement to protect me on a later flight (of which there were none … unless I wanted to overnight in Seattle or Long Beach … I didn’t).
- While I hold a lot of credit cards that afford me protection and reimbursements on delayed flights, I do not believe that I would have been covered due to the tight connection times. When using ExpertFlyer, I determined the minimum connection time for an international to domestic connection at SEA was 1.5 hours … I was not even close to being compliant to those times. Long story short, I wasn’t too hopeful of getting any money back if I missed my connection.
So what could I do to help me understand and de-risk my connection?
Well in truth, not much, though there were certain steps that I took to make sure that I at least knew what I was dealing with. The first thing I did was to check FlightAware to see what the historical on-time performance of the route was:
With the flight scheduled to arrive at 6:20AM PDT, I could see that historically, the flight is often delayed but not too badly. Only one of the days listed above had an arrival after 7:00AM. According to my boarding pass, the connecting flight (JetBlue 1207) had its doors closing at 7:20AM so in my mind, if I could get out of the gate, I could sprint almost anywhere in the SEA airport in 20 minutes.
Using ExpertFlyer and Google, I was able to determine that the incoming Alaska Airlines flight would land at the A terminal and the JetBlue flight would depart out of the C terminal. Armed with this information, I knew that I needed a couple of things:
- I needed to be light on my feet, which meant no luggage and a personal carry-on that I could run with if needed to. Because this was a 1 day trip, I didn’t need a change of clothes, only entertainment and my trusty laptop so I could blog about the experience. As I ONLY travel with carry-on anyways, this was no stretch at all.
- I needed to be near the front of the plane so that in the event I needed to sprint, I wouldn’t have to wait for a bunch of people to disembark first. This might be a problem as I was scheduled to sit in the middle of the plane in seat 13E …
Being stuck behind a bunch of people just wouldn’t do, so what’s a guy to do? Well it looked like there were some preferred seats available up front but I absolutely detest paying for seating assignments. So what’s the next best thing?
This next part is why I love the game. You continually learn. After much research, I found out that Alaska blocks a BUNCH of seats for handicapped flyers and families that need to sit together. In fact, Rows 5-8 are blocked for this purpose. Those seats are denoted in blue with an X through them.
Knowing this, I knew that those seats would be opened up once check-in opens (24 hours before the flight). So I set my alarm to make sure I was among the first to check in … and here’s what the seat map looks like after they open up availability:
See the occupied seat in 3D? That’s me! Turns out the “preferred” seats are actually handicapped seats that they open up 24 hours prior to the flight. The only warning they provide is that you may be asked to vacate the seat if someone with a disability requires it. Fair enough.
Now that I was confirmed at the front of the plane, I knew I had a fighting chance. After studying the terminal map, I was confident that I knew where I was going so I could really just put my head down and run if I needed to.
The weather report for Calgary at flight time was scheduled to be clear with a 20% chance of precipitation. All signs were pointing to success.
So how did it all turn out?
Well it was as uneventful as one could hope … in fact I don’t have much of story except that I completed my mileage run with no stress at all. Flights were on time, terminals were easy to navigate … all the prep wasn’t really needed but would I do it any other way? Not a chance.
Learning how things work in this crazy game we play is really a big part of the fun. The trips themselves are just the payoff.
Now all I have to do is wait for my TrueBlue points to post to my account!