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Cabo to Cocoa in about 10 hours--and on a week's notice

Cabo to Cocoa in about 10 hours--and on a week's notice

Old May 27, 11, 9:48 am
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Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: DCA, IAD (not BWI if I can help it)
Programs: UA 1MM 1K, Marriott Gold, status-free on AA, AS, B6, DL, WN, Amtrak, Hyatt, etc.
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Cabo to Cocoa in about 10 hours--and on a week's notice

I had a little scheduling issue the other weekend: I had to get from Cabo San Lucas, where my sister-in-law was getting married on Saturday evening, to anyplace near the Kennedy Space Center, where the space shuttle was scheduled to launch at 8:56 a.m. Monday. And I had to be there no later than the wee hours of Monday morning.

(I had been invited to attend the Tweetup NASA organized for the launch, originally set for April 19 but then scrubbed about three hours before liftoff.)

First I had to figure out if I could change my original flight home on Monday. (Technically, first I had to get my wife's okay on this quest. Mrs. DCA Writer volunteering to fly home solo with nine-month-old Mini DCA Writer is just one example of her awesomeness.) A long phone call with CO revealed that changing the flight would be absurdly expensive, but that I had somehow booked a refundable fare. The agent carved off my part of the itinerary, turned it into a one-way and refunded half the purchase price. I'd gotten past the first set of hurdles.

Then I had to see how I might get from SJD to anyplace near MCO. I ruled out a $900 AA two-stop itinerary (no *A miles, almost 12 hours in all) and a $760 US two-stop (would have had me leaving at 9:30 a.m., missing the post-wedding brunch). That left two CO flights to IAH, from where I could a) fly CO to TPA and arrive at 10, b) transfer cross-town to HOU for a WN flight to TPA arriving at 11-ish, c) fly a DL one-stop to DAB, arriving after 11.

The first option would get me to Florida fastest, but as an added wrinkle the IAH-TPA flight only had space left in F. Just in time for me to realize that fact, I saw the last seat on the WN flight vanish and then noticed that the 1:10 CO flight--the only one compatible with the DL flights--would cost about 50 percent more than the 2:23.

Prolonged research into combinations of miles and dollars revealed that I couldn't use my UA miles for a one-way award but could use my far fewer CO miles, under CO's less flexible rules. As I was starting to panic that one of these flights would sell out, I opted to dump miles on the SJD-IAH flight, even though that meant throwing away 17.5K on a return trip that won't happen, and--for the first time in my life--pay for a one-way F IAH-TPA ticket.

After the refund on my earlier itinerary, it wasn't even that expensive. But paying to sit up front still feels like a FlyerTalk foul.

All set, right? I spent a day patting myself on the back and then realized how little margin for error I had left. I could get to SJD too late. The SJD flight could be delayed. Even if it weren't, an hour and 20 minutes might not be enough time to clear immigration and customs at IAH. The TSA could notice my sequence of one-way flights booked at the last minute and detain me for an interrogation. The TPA flight could get canceled.

That accumulated anxiety prevented me from fully enjoying Sunday's brunch. Normal people don't verify that they've left their luggage by the door four times before the van to the airport arrives.

But the ride rolled up on schedule and left only 10 minutes late (I barely kept my mouth shut when two parents needed extra time to get their baby on board, even though I as a dad have no room to whine). After all that buildup, I was profoundly relieved to get to SJD 80 minutes before departure, check in quickly through the Elite Access line and have sufficient free time to sample some tequila at the duty-free I was even happier to have the flight take off on schedule and hear the captain announce that we'd be arriving in Houston 15 minutes early. I had cleared the second hurdles.

The advice given here to take the "One-Stop" line paid off. I had time to shop around for dinner (there was no food service in F on the second flight, something I'm still trying to process). There went the third set of hurdles.

The large burrito I picked up, plus two glasses of red wine, helped me get about a half-hour nap. I woke up in time to watch the Sox get ahead of the Yankees on ESPN, had a lovely view of Tampa Bay on our approach, and figured I'd nailed the itinerary.

But as I was talking to the rental-car clerk about my launch plans, he warned me that traffic could be backing up already, 120 miles to the east. What--another thing that could go wrong?

Of course, I promptly got lost. (You'd think there would be clear signage out of TPA pointing people to I-4. You would be wrong.) Between deciphering the car stereo's USB interface to my phone and figuring out where I needed to turn, I didn't get rolling in the right direction until close to 11.

You can imagine the attention I paid to the already-generous speed limits at that point. Few things say "I am not going to miss a shuttle launch" quite like clocking 85 to 90 mph across Florida in the middle of the night while blasting the last movement of Dvorak's New World Symphony.

I hit Orlando at around midnight. Still no sign of traffic, and I got a jolt of adrenaline from seeing "Kennedy Space Center 41 Miles" on a sign. But not far east of MCO, I saw the first warning on an overhead sign to expect heavy traffic and be prepared to stop.

And I really, really did not want to get within 20 miles and find myself in crawling traffic.

But the miles to KSC dropped to within 40, 30 and 20 miles and the highway remained open. I didn't even have to pay the usual toll on 528; the state had waived it, I guess to speed an expected crush of traffic coming later in the morning.

I finally arrived in Cocoa a little after 1 a.m., after getting lost yet again (my phone spontaneously rebooted and deprived me of its GPS guidance just in time for me to take the wrong exit on I-95). My destination was the spare bed in a Motel 6 room that a fellow attendee had offered after I'd posted a request to the Tweetup's Facebook group for someplace to crash.

That's right: I went from a paid-for F seat to a borrowed Motel 6 bed. Can't be too many other freaks who have done that.

My comment on the Facebook group before turning in: "My last nine hours have involved three airports, two flights, one border crossing and about 120 miles of Florida highway. But I'm here. Let's get it on."

I slept for maybe 30 minutes, then woke up at 2:30 to head over to KSC--which turned out to be more than early enough to avoid any traffic. And, oh yes, the launch was epic.

Sure, this was a lot of hassle to watch the shuttle fly for under a minute and take the photo below. But extremism in pursuit of travel is no vice around here, right?

Last edited by DCA writer; May 27, 11 at 2:30 pm Reason: Added a picture of the reason I went to all this trouble
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Old May 27, 11, 10:34 am
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