Travel Log

Feb 23, 2021

This will be a free post. No one should pay for this post. I'm just going to share my travel journey from the moment I bragged about flying to the Minnesota game. I'm normally a "just drive - you control everything" guy, but I found an inexpensive flight to Minneapolis so I chose to fly to my first game this year (football or basketball). I'd still do it again, presented with the same information, but... I'll just tell you my journey.

And please note what this post will not be. This is not presented from the mindset of the guy sitting behind me on the Minneapolis to Chicago flight who, upon hearing that O'Hare was on a ground stop because of snow and we could not depart MSP, loudly declared "I'm never flying American Airlines again!'. No one did anything wrong here. It snowed in Chicago and they stopped accepting incoming flights because they didn't want anyone to die. That's it.

Here's my journey, most of which I shared on Twitter. But people seem to enjoy when I do a blow-by-blow post on a roadtrip, and I have an hour on this flight to Detroit (wait, what?), so let's do this.

First off, I was feeling pretty tired but pretty pumped on Sunday morning. My team destroyed the other team, I got to be there, I got to write about it, and I felt like I got my true emotions to come out of my fingers and onto the keyboard. That's not always easy to do.

I could have taken an earlier flight to Chicago but the only CMI flight on Sunday was at 7:15 pm. Wait, I should probably do a quick airport code abbreviation guide for those not familiar.

MSP - Minneapolis
ORD - O'Hare
CMI - Champaign
DTW - Detroit (wait, what?)

Anyway, I could have flown in the morning or the afternoon from MSP to ORD, but then I would have waited all day at ORD until the 7:15 flight to CMI. I'd rather wait in my Minneapolis hotel room, then take the 4:30 flight to Chicago, then hop on my Champaign flight.

In fact, that gave me an opportunity to do something I haven't done since the football season started: watch a movie. I keep this list of "movies my wife doesn't want to see" because when we do watch a movie, I'm likely with her and it's going to be something we both want to watch. When there's something she doesn't want to see, I put it on the list and then when I find time I watch it solo. I think the last time that I A) had three hours without something to do and B) wasn't taking those three hours to watch something with my wife was probably... August? If I have solo free time, I've been doing something IlliniBoard since maybe Labor Day.

My movie of choice: Wolf Of Wall Street. Hadn't seen it. Enjoyed it. Mostly for DiCaprio's performance. There are good actors, and then there are "I think I fully understand what this guy was about and I'm going to do a bunch of things while performing this role that will make the guy I'm portraying say 'holy crap, was he THERE?' when he sees me do it."

So I watch WOWS, shower, and hop on the shuttle to the Minneapolis airport. I get to the gate, sit around watching highlights of the Minnesota game for an hour, and I hear an announcement that the flight is fully booked, is a smaller plane, and will not be able to accommodate a bunch of carry-on roller suitcases. If you're in boarding group 7 or 8 (I'm 7), you will have a 0.0% chance of finding room for your bag. So please, come check it with us right now.

I hesitate. There's important stuff in that bag. Sure, medication and all my clothes, but also the lucky socks. The reason I put the socks in there is because I'm not letting them out of my sight. Of course, on my flight from CMI to O'Hare on Saturday morning, I had to check my roller bag at the ramp, and then the bag was just sitting there waiting for me when I got off the plane. So that's a lot better than "checking" it. It's not getting tossed with the other checked bags and lost - it will be waiting for me when I get off.

Nope, they check it and toss it in with all the other bags. Oh well. Nothing I can do now. Just have to hope it's there when we get to Champaign.

I board the plane at 3:47. They shut the door, head to the de-icing pad, the plane gets de-iced, we roll to the runway, we're waiting in line, and the pilot announces that ORD has moved to a ground stop because of the weather so we cannot take off (this is when the guy behind me loudly blamed American Airlines for the FAA making passenger safety decisions in Chicago). The pilot tells us he's not going to head back to the gate. MSP has a spot where we can park, turn the engines off, and wait for ORD to open up again. We go there and we wait.

After an hour or so, the pilot announces that a passenger has asked to get off the plane. MSP found us a gate, so we'll head back there. Right when we get there, he announces that ORD is open again but with the passenger getting off, he has to "re-file paperwork with this new passenger manifest". A couple people got up to use the bathroom when we got back to use the gate, and that's a good thing for the woman who asked to get off the plane because it was hard to identify her walking down the aisle. The whole plane was in "you mean ORD is open and we could be in the air right now but instead we have to re-file paperwork because one person decided to not fly today?" mode.

It takes 20-some minutes to get clearance to depart again, and now we have to de-ice again. We get to the de-icing pad and there's a line. So from when we left the gate a second time to when we started our takeoff roll it was around another half hour. Checking the timestamps on texts with my wife, we took off at exactly 7:00 pm. So I buckled my seatbelt at 3:47 and we took off at 7:00 sharp. Again, not American Airlines' fault. This was the FAA shutting down an airport for an hour due to snow + a woman getting tired of sitting (or perhaps fearful of flying when there's snow in Minneapolis and snow in Chicago?) so she just got off.

It's only 59 minutes in the air from MSP to ORD. Took off to the east, landed from the west. And it's one of those "modern machines are amazing" landings. We pop out of the clouds at... 600 feet? Maybe? I cannot imagine that cockpit view. You're flying in 100% clouds, unable to see 10 feet in front of you, just trusting the instrument panel to tell you that you're 800 feet off the ground and yes, you're lined up with the runway. You pop out the bottom of the clouds at 600 feet and land the thing 45 seconds later.

Then we do the O'Hare 24 Hours Of LeMans. Checking text timestamps, we taxied for 27 consecutive minutes. I don't know if there was no gate so we just stayed in motion or if our gate changed three times so they just kept looping (none of this affected my travel, but a lot of people on the plane went from "I can still make my connection" to "can this plane just drive me to Atlanta then?" in those 27 minutes), but it was the most I've ever driven in a plane. We traveled at least 10 miles. Maybe 15 miles?

Anyway, none of this really matters because my flight to Champaign is long gone. Now I have a whole bunch of decisions to make. Every decision had a roadblock.

  • "I'll just rent a car tonight and drive to Champaign". OK, but the first two rental car places I checked were out of cars and the third said $140 per day before taxes and fees for a one-way rental.
  • "I'll just stay in a hotel and fly to Champaign in the morning". OK, but there's only one flight to Champaign on Monday and it's at 7:00 pm. And at that point, since I need to be in East Lansing on Tuesday for the next game, I might as well just head to East Lansing.
  • "I'll just rent a car and drive to East Lansing." OK, but then I'd have to return the rental car to Chicago with no way to get to Champaign (or pay like $400+ for a one way rental from Sunday night to Wednesday afternoon when I'd return to Champaign).
  • "I'll just stay in Chicago and then take the evening flight tomorrow." That's fine, but it would feel really weird to look down and see I-57 at 8:00 pm knowing that at 8:00 am I'd be driving I-57 north on my way to East Lansing.

There were other complications, too. I didn't have my bag. Remember, it was checked through to Champaign. I never knew that was a thing (have my carryon bag with me while walking onto the plane but then once the plane lands I can't get it because it's a checked bag now - I always thought it was "if we have to check your carry-on, don't worry, we'll give it right back). So I had to check in with luggage services at O'Hare and they sent someone to go pull it from the "bags staying here overnight because people missed their connections" room.

I also had a doctor's appointment this morning. That can always be rescheduled, but it complicated my "forget going home - let's just concentrate on getting to East Lansing" planning. I could say "screw it - I'm grabbing a car even if it's $150, driving the 2.5 hours to Champaign, and acting like this missed connection never happened" and then just go rent a second car Tuesday morning and head to East Lansing. Or keep the same rental car and somehow get it back to Chicago.

While at baggage claim, just after my bag came, I believe, I got a text from American Airlines saying "sorry about all of this - here's a free hotel room". For whatever reason, I didn't even check on that. I took a flight from St. Louis to Chicago to NYC once, and there were thunderstorms in Chicago which kept us from taking off in St. Louis for 90 minutes, and by the time we got there, the NYC flight was gone. We were stuck overnight but AA told us "sucks, but we don't give out hotel rooms because of weather - we only do that when we're the ones responsible for making you miss your connection". So I just figured snow was the same way.

That helped me make my decision. Go to the hotel, sleep, figure it all out in the morning. And while waiting for the hotel shuttle, another surprise: a guy walked up because he recognized me and said that he was on the O'Hare-to-Champaign flight that I missed. So, uh, why was he in Chicago waiting for a hotel shuttle? The flight took off on time, flew to Champaign, couldn't land because of the weather, turned around, and flew back to Chicago. So even if I had made my connection, I'd be standing there are that time waiting for a hotel shuttle.

I get to the hotel and, honestly, this was the only time I was perturbed by American Airlines all day. The shuttle is four AA employees (pilots and flight attendants) and me. We get into the hotel and one of the pilots is first in line. Then the rest of the crew kinda joins him in getting their rooms because it's this whole deal where they call give the hotel this ID number and then the hotel processes the room for an American employee. So I'm standing there waiting - boarded the plane in Minneapolis at 3:47, it's now 10:35 - just wanting to finally rest somewhere.

I feel like any other scenario - four plumbers from the same company are checking out at a hardware store, all processing their purchases through some company account that takes forever, and one guy is standing there trying to buy a screwdriver - there's an obvious "we should let this guy go first" in the air. ESPECIALLY if you're wearing a company uniform. No boss wants her employees to make the general public wait in line somewhere. If they're all wearing their Anderson Plumbing shirts, that's gonna look bad for Anderson Plumbing. But these pilots and flight attendants didn't really read the room.

Whatever. I was just exhausted at that point and looking for anything to be mad about. They finally got their rooms, I gave her my name, she had my room keys already printed up (see, pilots, it would have been like 23 seconds), and off I went to my room. I also had a meal voucher from AA, and I considered ordering something, but I went back down to the lobby, used it to purchase a frozen microwave pizza and a soda (sorry, I was in Chicago, a "pop"), ate it and went to bed.

This morning, after calling the doctor's office and drinking some coffee, it became clear: if possible, use the last leg of the flight to get to Michigan. When I first thought of it last night, it sounded dumb (then I'm renting a car in Michigan and returning it in Champaign and I'm paying the one-way rates again), but when I realized I needed to be in Michigan again next Tuesday, it all started to make perfect sense (at least to me). I was going to rent a car for all these road games (Michigan State tomorrow, Wisconsin Saturday, Michigan next Tuesday), so why not just make it one car with a nine-day rental? That might be close to the same cost as renting and returning three times.

So I got on the phone with AA and asked them if instead of flying me home to Champaign (where I'd rent a car tomorrow morning and drive back north), they'd fly me to Detroit instead. That way I'd be using the flight they still owed me, I could do a "rent and return at the same location" (rent before the Michigan State game, return after the Michigan game), and then all I need is a flight back to Champaign after Michigan (which was something I was considering anyway since we're going out of town the next day and Tyler is covering the Ohio State game). So I wouldn't need a round trip flight for Michigan, I'd just need one way, I could do a rent-and-return, I could apply my flight they owe me, I wouldn't go to Champaign Monday night and then turn right back around - it started to make sense last night and almost made too much sense today.

The nice woman with American Airlines put me on hold (their policy is "if you miss a flight we'll change your flight to anywhere in a 300 mile radius" and Detroit is like 350 miles from Champaign), but when she came back she said her manager approved it. Even better, the flight was exactly an hour and 45 minutes from taking off and I'm sitting there at an O'Hare hotel with nothing to do. Hop the shuttle, go to the airport, hop on the plane, rent the car, drive to East Lansing.

(If you can't tell, at some point, we switched from "I'm writing this while flying to Detroit" to "I'm writing this from my East Lansing hotel room".)

I'll add a travel hack here. Maybe I should even include this in the title of the post as clickbait. I'd get all kinds of SEO with something like "avoid insane airport rental car taxes with this one easy trick!".

Never rent the long-term car at the airport. When communities want to raise taxes for things like airport improvements, they like to charge out-of-towners. So they get all "if we raise taxes on rental cars at the airport to $31 per day per car, we could make millions and charge the people visiting us, not the people who live here". It's usually something like "rent this car for $55 per day at the airport but four miles away, from the same rental agency, rent it for $20 per day".

That was the case here. I landed in the Detroit, took a $25 taxi seven miles away to an off-airport rental agency, and saved more than $35 per day on the rental car. Over nine days that's… probably like $100 or something I was never good at math.

So now I'm feeling pretty good. As I just tweeted, it's time for a shopping trip. I packed for "fly out Saturday morning, fly back Sunday night", and now I won't get to Champaign until Wednesday afternoon. Gonna go to Target. Honestly, I think I can make this work if I just purchase these items:

  • Underwear (duh).
  • Dress shirt (not gonna wear what I wore at Minnesota because other reporters who were at Minnesota will be there and who wants to show up to the same event 4 days later wearing the same clothes?).
  • Socks (gonna wear the Obviously Lucky Socks to the game tomorrow night but I only brought two extra pairs which I wore yesterday and today so I just can't double-up two straight days)
  • T-shirt (only brought one "hotel room shirt" plus hotel room shorts and this is the third evening lounging around the hotel room in the hotel room shirt - I can get by wearing the shorts again but starting to feel a little weird wearing this shirt over and over).

So that's my task. Well, that and trying to figure out how I broke the site because it's not working right now. Something about a photo I attached or something. Maybe I'll have to make my Target run before Brumby fixes it. So by the time I publish this, I'll have already made my Target purchases.

Oh, also, this is so much fun. I honestly don't hate travel adventures, only line-hogging pilots (and that's at least 35% do you HAVE to wear that jacket all the time, bro?). Figuring out the "fly to Michigan, rent a car there, and then RETURN the car there" was honestly very fun for me. It's like a puzzle, but for life.

Also fun: following the #5 team around the country like some groupie. I felt really good about what I wrote on Saturday night. Posts like that are sometimes 6-8 hours of intense focus. I wanted to get the mood just right. I wanted to tell the story accurately. Sunday morning I was mentally exhausted when I woke up and that's always a good sign that I've written a 110% post.

Then an exhausting travel day, followed by another exhausting travel day, followed by a trip to Target for underwear. And then, #5 Illinois takes the court again. And then again, and again, until the season is over. And then the BTT. And then the NCAA Tournament. For as long as they'll have me, I'll be courtside trying to tell the story.

You know, as long as I get my rental cars and hotels figured out. And obtain a press pass for every game.

And don't break the website.


illini_dave34 on February 22, 2021 @ 08:53 PM

loved every word of this! Thanks for the dediciation!

mulepie on February 22, 2021 @ 08:54 PM

Robert Rosenthal, gonzo journalist. Illini Gonzo Journalist. Our Illini Gonzo Journalist!

Barbbas on February 22, 2021 @ 09:20 PM

Robert this one made me smile--you have a way of turning a "I'm never going to fly AA again" experience into an adventure--and kudos for the "pop" vs "soda" correction

Gadwallgetter on February 22, 2021 @ 09:24 PM

Great post Robert. So did the Team have similar travel issues or did they shoot straight over to East Lansing too? on February 23, 2021 @ 06:01 AM

Loved the "pop/soda" note, and appreciate your efforts to help us feel like we truly are courtside---hope your "Groupie" journey with these Illini includes a VERY long stay in INDY!

tvillini on February 23, 2021 @ 07:14 AM

Another travel hack... never do the 1-way car for more than the time you need it. Turn it in and re-rent, or vice-versa. I once had a trip cut short in Kalamazoo, but I was supposed to go to Ottawa after that trip. I was only about a 3 hour drive from Indy (where I live) and I wasn't about to just hang there when I could be at home. I had a rental car for the week that I was in Kalamazoo, and of course when you call in and say you want to turn it back in Indy, they're like, "Welp, that'll be a 6 day one-way rental, that'll be $Texas". I turned the car in 3 days early at the normal rate, and rented a car for exactly that time that I was dropping off the car. They just let me keep the car I was in.

If it takes you less than a day to drive where you're driving to, that's how long you keep the car, regardless of how long you need the car.

Oskeegirl on February 23, 2021 @ 08:44 AM

Enjoy East Lansing! Have a beer at HopCat, wave to my daughter who is a traitor, and then watch the #5 Illini that you get to follow around like a groupie blow the doors off Breslin.

San Joaquin on February 23, 2021 @ 09:35 AM

Went to Illinois in 90s. Lived in California before and since. Post took me back to a Midwest winter travel day like that - ended up sleeping overnight on the floor in the airport in Detroit. Builds character.

neale stoner on February 23, 2021 @ 01:04 PM

Really funny to read if you are in Florida. Don’t miss those days.

nextyear2021 on February 23, 2021 @ 01:10 PM

I’m confused—isn’t there still a direct from BMI to MSP? ;)

purcy51 on February 23, 2021 @ 03:41 PM

Great post Robert! Takes me back to a similar incident i had @ 9yrs ago. Headed from NYC back to Fairbanks, AK. Ended up with four, FOUR! layovers, one in Juneau for 10hrs right before Christmas. Honestly the best layover ever, had a ton of fun in Juneau.

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