Protip: Don’t Do What I Did at LGA

Creative Commons photo of LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York.

Don’t be like me.

In all seriousness, my protip — the internet slang for a tip given by a “professional,” which I think is supposed to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek in terms of it being a professional, but still good advice, nonetheless — is to go to the right terminal at LaGuardia Airport.

So, the backstory here is that I’ve been to New York City and East Rutherford, New Jersey (Metlife Stadium, even though people make it seem like you’re going to New York City) four times over the last 20 years, and I’ve passed through that area at least one other time (driving through to Connecticut).

The fourth time was the first time I’d ever actually flown into New York, with my flight landing at LaGuardia Airport, which is based in Queens, New York, this past Friday, March 4.

I was surprised to learn in my limited research that LGA isn’t even a top two busiest airport in the New York-New Jersey region; it’s behind John F. Kennedy and Newark, and overall in the United States, it’s number 21. I always assumed because of my familiarity with its name and that it’s so close to New York City, that it was one of the more busy airports in the country. It sure seemed busy when I was there! (That said, I have flown into two of the three biggest in the country: Orlando International Airport in Florida and Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport in Texas. The first biggest is Denver International Airport in Colorado, which I wouldn’t have guessed. That said, that these top ones are “international” is an indicator of why they are the busiest and biggest, I guess.)

I’ll share more in a future post about my journey after landing at LGA, but my return flight was booked for 8:05 a.m. on Sunday, March 6.

I reserved in advance an Uber from the Stamford, Connecticut train station for 5:30 a.m. My thinking? I wanted to be sure I’d get back to LGA easily. Ha. Silly me.

I got up just before 5 a.m. and walked the 25 minutes to the station. Somehow, my Uber driver couldn’t find me at the station, even though I was the only one there and I was in the area where taxis were stationed. Nonetheless, he eventually found me and we were on our way to LGA.

He dropped me off at LGA just after 6:00 a.m. Again, my flight didn’t leave until 8:05 a.m. and the boarding process was slated for 7:35 a.m. Delta told me through their great Fly Delta mobile app — by the way, this was my first time using Delta, as I typically have used Frontier in the past; I loved Delta! — that boarding would end 15 minutes before departure, so, that’s 7:50 a.m.

In other words, I had just under two hours to get from where my Uber driver dropped me off at to my gate, which I was thinking was plenty of time. I was already thinking about how I’m going to get Starbucks because at that point, I hadn’t had coffee since Friday morning. The Fly Delta app is also great because it will tell you how far away you are from your gate; the Fly Delta app was telling me I was 26 minutes away from my gate. That surprised me it was still that far away, but I figured, hey, it’s a big airport.

I went through the very quick and breezy TSA line — again, it was barely 6:00 a.m. — and then I noticed that the signs were saying, “Gates A1-A11,” to the left and, “Gates A11-A36” to the right. Something like that, I’m probably off on the exact gate numbers. Okay, that’s weird, I’m thinking, but maybe once I get going toward the right, I’ll see more signage for my gate, which was D96.

It was at that point I realized Fly Delta not only told me how far away I was from my gate, but would give me step-by-step directions. When I opened the directions, it was telling me to exit instead of continuing down through the A-gates. So, I did, which “exiting” meant I had to go through TSA again, which I did for some stupid reason. I guess I was thinking, okay, I have to exit and go back through security, but now that I have the step-by-step directions, I can go the right way. Well, I guess I didn’t listen to the app closely enough.

Anyhow, I went through TSA security a second time, and again, it was still pretty quick and breezy, thankfully. Afterward, I then see two people with vests on that say, “Questions?” and said to them, “Hi, I’m looking for Gate D96, do you know how I get there?” And that’s when they look at me, rightly, as the biggest idiot because they notify me that that gate would be in Terminal D and I am in Terminal A.

Womp womp.

Welp, again, following the app’s directions, I realized I needed to take an airport shuttle to Terminal D because there is no way to walk from Terminal A to Terminal D (there is new construction, plus the distance itself is too great). I waited and waited, and I was panicking wondering if a shuttle was even going to come. Then, one came, so I hopped on it.

When the bus got to Terminal B, I asked the bus driver if the shuttle would take me to Terminal D. He told me no, and that I needed to get on the shuttle parked in front of his shuttle, which would take me to Terminal D. So, I hopped off the shuttle and onto the other shuttle.

At that point, I was freaking out and frustrated that I was struggling to even get to the right terminal, but it was still about 6:45 a.m. That should still have given me plenty of time, right?

The understandably slow shuttle took about 10 minutes to get to Terminal C, and at that point, I was seeing signs for Terminal D, and so, I was feeling some relief! Finally, it looked like I was going to make it. And on time.

Then, the shuttle driver kept going and I was no longer seeing signs for Terminal D, and wouldn’t you know it? We were back at Terminal B where we started, and I felt like I was in terminal hell.

That’s when I asked the shuttle driver if the shuttle would take me to Terminal D, which she then informed me, I had to get off at Terminal C and then walk to Terminal D (again, new construction issues).

Womp womp.

After another 10-minute or so loop around until we got to Terminal C again, I disembarked and began the very long walk to Terminal D.

And then wouldn’t you know it? The TSA line that was so quick and breezy the prior two times was extra long this time. And to add insult to injury, at that point, the Fly Delta app informed me that my plane was early and was boarding early, and as I was waiting in line at the TSA, I saw my “basic economy” section come up as “boarding.”

Holy crap, I’m going to miss my flight!

Thankfully, a TSA lady opened up a second line for security and I made it through security for the third time. Now, it was just a matter of walking the however many dang feet it was to my gate, which thankfully, I saw the appropriate sign telling me something like, “Gates D56-D98 to the right,” and I started heading that way. I should mention, you obviously have to take your shoes off through the TSA checkpoint, and I was in such a panic to make my flight, I put my left shoe on wrong, and I’m half walking, half jogging with an incorrectly fastened shoe to my gate.

All told in that three-hour adventure to get on my plane, from the walk to the train station to sitting on the plane, I did more than 13,000 steps. MyFitnessPal app has it as my goal to do 10,000 steps, or five miles, in a single day. Well, then.

I think by the time I was approaching the D96 gate where the beautiful “CINCINNATI” was on the sign, it was about 8:01 a.m.? Again, this flight was supposed to leave at 8:05 a.m., and then was early, and its new departure time was slated for 8:00 a.m.

As I came up to the Delta attendant at the gate, he asked, “Are you Brett?” Yes, yes, I am.

Heck, when I boarded the plane, I was trying to find my seat and realized I walked past it and walked back to it where a woman was on the outside and I’m supposed to be on the inside. She went, “We were just talking about you, you must be Brett?”

I guess the flight attendants and/or captain had informed them they were waiting on me in cross referencing with their itinerary of who was and wasn’t on board?

But the second best thing (I’ll get to the best thing momentarily) was that the full commercial plane only had 12 or so people onboard, which meant I could sit anywhere, so I did. It was spacious and comfy.

The best thing was that Delta waited for me, of course. I don’t know how other airlines have handled it, or even Delta in other circumstances, or what Delta’s policy is, but I’m so grateful that they waited for me because of my inexperience and newbie status with traversing LGA.

I went from thinking I had plenty of time to spare to virtually missing my flight, if it wasn’t for Delta being awesome. And again, this was my first experience with Delta!

I’m sure glad I’m flying with them again in September, and I also have a layover in LGA. If there is a silverlining to the hellish experience I had Sunday morning, it’s that I’ll be more prepared for LGA the second go-around (hopefully).

But yeah, go to the right terminal, folks! I don’t blame my Uber driver, even though he did drop me off at the wrong terminal. I still should have realized it sooner (and not gone through TSA security twice before realizing my error, and then not rode the same shuttle twice).

What has been your experience with LGA?

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