With two recent work trips and a five-city European vacation, combined with the changes to summer time in the US and Europe, I’ve gone through quite a few time zone changes in the past six weeks.
I wanted to find a good way to visualize this, and I ultimately decided on the following format:
Time zones can be challenging to represent, so let’s start with talking about UTC.
UTC (which superseded Greenwich Mean Time, although for our purposes they’re interchangeable) is the time zone of the prime meridian, and it does not change for summer time. UTC is used in situations where an unambiguous, continuous reference time is necessary. For example, flights are scheduled in UTC to avoid confusion about time zones and summer time – effectively, UTC is aviation’s “official” time.
The time zones we’re familiar with (for example, Eastern Standard Time or Eastern Daylight Time) are then represented as differences from UTC. Eastern Standard Time is five hours behind UTC – that is, when it’s 11:00 AM in UTC, it’s 6:00 AM in Eastern Standard Time. Thus, EST is UTC minus 5 hours, written as UTC–5. In the summer, Eastern time shifts an hour forward to Eastern Daylight Time, so EDT is only four hours behind UTC, or UTC–4.
So when I’m flying around between time zones (or switching to Daylight Savings Time), I’m really just changing the number of hours I am ahead of or behind UTC. So for any given moment in time (as represented by UTC, I can plot my offset from UTC.
Thus, in the above chart, the horizontal axis represents UTC, and the vertical axis represents the number of hours I’m offset from UTC. Every horizontal gridline represents a one hour shift. The colored bars represent time I spend in a time zone, and the dark gray lines between them represent travel.
So, for example, when I flew from Reykjavík to Chicago, I had to set my watch back by five hours (as I traveled from UTC+0 to UTC–5).
You can also see from the chart that I went through two shifts to summer time: I was in the US when they changed to DST on 13 March, and I was in Europe when they changed to summer time on 27 March. In each case, my watch had to move an hour forward, even though I didn’t travel anywhere.
Incidentally, with all this talk about UTC and Greenwich Mean Time, I’m happy to report that my Europe trip included a visit to the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London, which is the point that defined both the prime meridian and Greenwich Mean Time!
2015 was a relatively strong year for me for business travel, with the first and last thirds of the year being particularly busy. Due to that, my total flights and hotel nights just edged above 2014’s numbers, for another record year.
My flights were much more spread out among airlines this year, so I ended up getting the lowest tier status on two airlines (Gold on American Airlines and Silver on United) rather than last year’s mid-tier status on one airline. For hotels, I was easily able to pick up the 60 nights required for Diamond status with Hilton, and I even managed to pick up enough Marriott nights to get Silver. (Last year, my United Gold status gave me Marriott Gold status as well, even though I barely stayed with them.)
SPS is the first airport where, after a flight cancellation, I’ve been given a van instead.
Our flight was cancelled due to weather, and SPS had several factors going on at once:
SPS only has a few commercial flights per day, all on regional jets
SPS is only served by American Airlines, through DFW
SPS is a two hour drive away from DFW
So with all of the above, a flight cancellation meant that it would take a very long time for AA to find vacant seats for all 50 passengers on future flights, as SPS only gets a few hundred airline seats per day total. There was no option to put them on another airline, as no other airline serves SPS. So the most logical thing for AA to do was to hire several taxi vans, and shuttle all of the passengers directly to DFW.
I had a long layover at DFW anyway, so this didn’t end up being a problem for me – and I now have a “flight” that never left the ground.
Next spring, I’m planning to go on a two-week European vacation with Amy.
I had a number of United miles saved up – not quite enough for two round trips to Europe, but enough to get us each a one way itinerary to Munich (our first destination). Airlines like to make it difficult to redeem miles at the advertised rates unless you book well in advance, so we cashed in the miles this week and got a pair of one-way tickets from Chicago to Munich, operated by United’s Star Alliance partner Air Canada with a layover in Toronto.
On a ticket like that, I have to select my seats on Air Canada’s website, since they’re the ones actually operating the flight. United provided me record locator for our Air Canada itinerary – one of those six-letter-and-number identifiers that you use to look up your flight.
I went to Air Canada’s website to pick my seats, plugged in that record locator… and was a bit surprised by the itinerary I saw:
In addition to the two 2016 flights that I’d bought, there were two additional flights booked in 2015, showing a trip from Honolulu to San Francisco to Toronto. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting!
This was a bit concerning to me, as I had no intention to go to Hawaii this month – and I was worried that if I didn’t show up for the first flight, my whole itinerary would be cancelled. I called Air Canada, but they told me I’d have to check with United, since United sold me the ticket.
Fortunately, the United agent I spoke to was very helpful. After looking into it with me, she was able to figure out that I’d been issued a record locator that was already in use.
Well, I understood that – with six digits that each have 36 possibilities (A-Z and 0-9), there are 366 = 2,176,782,336 possible combinations. That’s a lot of records, but it’s not infinite, and I can understand that eventually some numbers would have to be reused. The agent let me know that usually they try to wait a while before reusing a booking number, and it’s usually not a problem because they normally look up reservations by booking number and last name.
So it appears that of two billion booking number possibilities, I was assigned one that was not just in use, but also in use by someone else who also has the last name Bogard.
What’re the odds of that?
Anyway, once we figured out that their computer was seeing four flights with the same record locator and last name and assuming they were one itinerary, the United agent was able to cancel my half of the flights off of that existing reservations and rebooked my tickets on Air Canada, giving me a new record locator that (thankfully) appears to be unused by any other Bogards!
In particular, the last four months of the year have had me traveling about three weeks a month; I’m on a high stakes program at work, and it’s been a particularly busy travel time for that program.
2014 Hotel Nights
Hotel nights are up this year, too. From 2011 through 2013, I was doing a respectable amount of travel, but the phase of my program combined with budget cuts (and the 2013 federal furloughs and shutdown) had a serious effect on the number of nights I spent on the road. However, I moved to a higher priority program in mid-2013, so while our budget still isn’t great, the priority of the program and the acquisition phase we’re in means that mission-critical travel has climbed back up. In addition, I’ve had far more personal hotel nights this year than usual, an effect of taking a good number of weekend trips when I got the chance, plus a true vacation in the summer.
I was able to reclaim Hilton HHonors Diamond this year – in fact, I hit the 60 nights required for Diamond in September, and ended the year with 96 elite-qualifying nights. In addition, I was able to hit United MileagePlus Gold for the first time (in fact, it’s the first time I’ve hit the second tier on any airline’s program).
5 – 6 Jul, Orlando (MCO): A mechanical issue led to a delay as the airline brought in a replacement aircraft; the replacement aircraft ingested a bird into the engine, leading us to wait for a second replacement aircraft. By that time it was after 22:00, so we accepted a flight change to the following afternoon.
DFW is one of the first airports I became especially familiar with, and it’s now one of my favorite layover airports.
Initially, I wasn’t using DFW for layovers at all; my new job had a contractor near Dallas that we had to visit frequently, and so I made quite a few trips to Dallas as a destination.
American Airlines, with their enormous hub there, was the only airline to offer a direct flight there, and they were my employer’s preferred carrier for DAY – DFW. Thus, my first frequent flier elite status came with American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, and once I earned that, I began to focus on using American when I did have a choice of airlines. Since, at the time, American only served Dallas/Fort Worth and Chicago-O’Hare from Dayton, I ended up with DFW as a layover on a good portion of my westbound flights.
Dallas becomes the first airport at which I have a single flight round trip
In February 2013, I had a trip to Austin, with a layover at DFW in both directions. On my outbound flight from DFW to Austin, our pilot came onto the intercom and nonchalantly informed us that the plane on fire outside the right windows is nothing to be alarmed about.
He was absolutely correct; at DFW, they have a fire department aircraft trainer – what looks like an old aircraft, which can be set on fire so that the fire department can practice putting it out. I’ve seen these trainers at a number of airports, but I hadn’t yet seen one in use.
On the return trip, I boarded what I believed to be my final flight of the day at DFW, expecting to fly back to Dayton. Instead, about a half hour into the flight, the lights flickered; a few minutes later, the crew informed us that the aircraft had experienced a generator failure, and while they had a backup, we were going to return to DFW for safety. When we landed and deplaned, I could see from the concourse that a number of DFW fire trucks had followed us back to our gate.
I don’t know if the problem was worse than the crew let on, or if all the fire trucks were a precautionary measure, but at least I knew the fire crews were well trained.
Atlanta is the busiest passenger airport in the world and an enormous Delta hub, but it’s largely functioned as my gateway to central Florida on AirTran – five of the eight visits were on the way to or from Orlando.
I’ve also had two unplanned trips through Atlanta, and both of them involved the origin or destination airport changing as well.
For the first, I was supposed fly home from San Francisco through Cincinnati to Dayton, but due to the Comair strike I ended up being rebooked from San José through Atlanta to Dayton instead. That Atlanta to Dayton flight was also my first flight in first class, as Delta had upgraded me for the inconvenience of my itinerary change.
The second change was on a work trip originally booked as Dayton through Chicago-O’Hare to Charleston. This trip was in the early days of the merger of United’s and Continental’s reservation systems, which led to a good portion of my United flights being changed around. In this case, one of my flights got cancelled, and United couldn’t find me another flight to Charleston the same day on any airline serving Dayton. They could, however, book me on a Delta flight through Atlanta to Savannah, where I could then drive the remaining two hours up the coast.
It’s not uncommon to have delays going through Chicago, but this Monday’s trip to Tulsa was a bit involved.
My original plan was to depart Dayton at 12:19 PM Eastern (11:19 AM Central), land at Chicago O’Hare at 12:27 PM Central, get some lunch, then take a 3:50 – 5:40 PM Chicago to Tulsa flight, leaving me with plenty of time before the Tuesday morning start of a three-day meeting.
We boarded the ERJ-145 on time, and as we were being pushed back, the captain came on the intercom and informed us that Chicago air traffic control was holding us at DAY due to a VIP movement ramp closure in Chicago – the Vice President was in town for a fundraiser – and we would have to wait at least a half hour to depart. We parked near the runway and waited.
Just around the time the VIP restrictions ended, a thunderstorm passed through the Chicago area, causing Chicago ATC to tell us to wait at Dayton even longer. After several more push backs of the departure time, our pilots took us back to the gate to let us wait in the concourse. I exited the plane and elected to have lunch at the Dayton airport.
After some brief scares where other Chicago-bound flights were cancelled, air traffic control eventually gave us a wheels up time of 3:00 PM Eastern, and we reboarded the aircraft. After the door closed and our (second) safety briefing, the pilot once again came on and let us know there was good news and bad news – the good news was that we were still cleared to depart for Chicago, but the bad news was that due to the weather we needed to take a longer route to get there. We’d fly west over to the St. Louis area, then northeast to Chicago; this would add an extra 45 minutes onto our normally 1-hour flight, and required us to wait to get some more fuel before departure.
So, after a much longer time in the air than DAY–ORD usually takes, including a bit of circling in a holding pattern, our flight crew announced that we were ready to land, but that there’d be some turbulence. We came in from the west at what felt like much faster than normal, bumping the whole way down, and as we were a few hundred feet off the ground, the plane rolled sharply right, then left, then leveled out and we heard the engines spin up, starting to climb as we aborted the landing. After we leveled off, we flew out over the lake and then came back in for our second attempt at a landing, this time from the east. After all of that, we arrived safely on the ground at about 4:30 PM Central – over four hours after we were scheduled to arrive.
Of course, the airport was absolutely full of aircraft, since there’d been rather a long time when nobody had been able to depart. The taxiways were effectively traffic jammed, and the gates were full, so we pulled over somewhere to wait for our gate. While we were taxiing, I turned on my phone to check the status of my next flight, since we were already past the departure time of my connecting flight, and found out that it had been cancelled anyway. Fortunately, United had booked me on another flight to Tulsa later that evening, but unfortunately, I got an alert while we were waiting for a gate that that one had been cancelled too.
We finally arrived at the gate at about 5:15 PM, and I proceeded to the concourse B customer service center. The customer service line was hundreds of people long and snaked down the concourse. Fortunately, I have enough frequent flyer status with United Airlines to be able to use the premier customer service line, and only had to wait half an hour to talk to an agent. She let me know that there were no more fligths to Tulsa remaining that evening, so I could either take a 12:22 PM flight the next afternoon, or I could try to fly into an alternate airport. I had her check to see if I could get a flight to Oklahoma City instead, as that two-hour drive would be feasible as long as I didn’t get in too late, and there was one available which had been delayed but was presently scheduled to depart Chicago at 7:00 PM. Great! I headed to the F concourse to catch my flight.
By the time I arrived, the departure had been pushed back to 8:00 PM, so I elected to walk to concourse K to get dinner at Tortas Frontera, which had actually been my lunch plan before my first flight was delayed.
I returned to my gate, which had now been moved to E4, and shortly after, the flight was delayed again to a 9:30 PM departure. This would have gotten me into Oklahoma City after 11:15 PM, which would make driving to Tulsa impractical and unsafe – at the very least, I’d have to get a hotel room in Oklahoma City and make the drive in the morning, and even doing that there was no reasonable way I’d be on time for my Tuesday morning meeting. So I spoke to the gate agent and had them switch my flight back to the Tuesday lunchtime flight to Tulsa, hoping I’d be able to at least catch part of the afternoon meetings I was scheduled for.
So now I would be spending the night in Chicago, and none of the hotels I could find within shuttle distance of the airport had any space available. Fortunately, Chicago has a train line that runs directly from O’Hare to downtown, and I was able to find a hotel at the appropriate per diem rate near the Loop. I took the Blue line, checked in, and then walked around the city for a while.
It turned out I’d made the right call switching back off of the Oklahoma City flight. I’d left that flight in TripIt, so I kept getting alerts all evening about further delays. It looks like it didn’t end up landing at OKC until after midnight.
The next morning I walked back to the train station and rode back out to the airport, arriving a bit after 10:00 AM. The landside monitors were already showing a number of delays, which was not a good sign, but my flight was still showing as on time. Security was quick with my TSA PreCheck, so I had a little time to walk around the airport before grabbing some lunch and heading to my gate… only to find out that my flight was now delayed due to a late incoming aircraft.
We did finally get our aircraft and leave for Tulsa, arriving nearly two and a half hours late, and ultimately getting me to Tulsa nearly 23 hours later than I’d planned to be.
American Airlines was the first airline I gained elite status on, and for a while, I was able to fly the majority of flights on American (particularly helped by having my most frequent work destination at the time be the Dallas/Fort Worth area). However, by early 2012, my work travel destinations had changed, and travel American Airlines was less feasible for a substantial portion of my trips. I was able to maintain my status for a while, but United became my new preferred airline, and my share of American flights began to diminish.
Because of the substantial lead I’d built up with American, it still took me until this month for AA to dip below 50% of my total flights. I’ve decided to commemorate the occasion with a graph.
At two hours’ drive away from me, IND is an infrequent but feasible alternate airport for me. Generally, I’ll only bother to go that far if I can get a particularly good or cheap flight, or if I’m already planning to be in the area.
My first trip through Indianapolis was a visit to Seattle with some Columbus friends; IND had a direct flight to SEA on Northwest at the time. My friends got a ride out to Dayton to meet me and we all drove together to Indianapolis. The plan for the return trip was to land at IND at about 7:30 PM, drive my friends from Indy to Columbus (about a 3 hour drive east on I-70) and then double back to return to the Dayton area (an hour and 15 minutes west). In retrospect, a direct flight probably wasn’t worth that drive…
…especially when the flight is six hours late. We didn’t land until 1:30 AM, and hadn’t had dinner yet. A hotel wasn’t an option, according to one of the friends, as he had to be at work the next day, so we stopped at a Steak-n-Shake for a 2:00 AM dinner, and (with several gas station coffee breaks along the way) proceeded to drive to Columbus. The sun was rising by the time I dropped them off, and I turned around, getting back home just before 8.
By the time I had my next couple trips through the airport, IND had opened its new midfield terminal. Both of these trips were for work, where I was planning to be in Indianapolis the weekend before or after anyway; even with the extra mileage, flying out of IND was in each case far cheaper than flying out of DAY.
Indianapolis was one of the first airports which conducted TSA PreCheck interviews, and thus was where I conducted my interview.