Why You Need To Leave Early For The Airport | Active Light Photography | Photo Tours to Hidden Destinations, Anasazi Ruins
(408) 483-3782
Curious about how to shoot ruins?(408) 483-3782

Delta Airlines’ recent computer outage and resulting ongoing flight problems are a reminder of what can go wrong with air travel. It pays to attempt advance online check-in, and call your carrier.

The evening of Southwest’s big July computer outage, I was able to reach a real human by phone who told me what was going on. He couldn’t check me in for our flight the next day, since his system was down too. At least I knew what was up.

Southwest’s website was also down, but their dedicated app let me check in after repeated attempts – more about how I did that below.

Is One Hour Enough?
We’ve all heard it – get to the airport at least an hour before your flight. I didn’t think about it much until a few weeks ago, when we flew from Albuquerque’s International Sunport to Oakland International to visit my wife Pat’s family.

Where we wanted to get to – the Sunport

Advance Check-In Didn’t Work – At First
I had tried to check us both in over the Internet the evening before, but couldn’t – it was the day most of Southwest’s computers were down. Finally at around midnight, searching for our confirmation numbers in Southwest’s app let me do it, where looking directly for my upcoming trips did not. It pays to try everything.

With a guide to hidden sitesClick to claim yours free.

Cascading Events
Just before leaving for the Sunport the next morning, Southwest emailed me the flight would be leaving 1/2 hour late. This was fallout from the previous day’s problems and flight cancellations.

I dropped our dogs off at Beck ‘n’ Call kennel, then messaged Pat I would be a little late picking her up at work. I thought this was OK because the flight was late.

Drop off these characters…

Pat works for a local food company near Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center, fairly close to the Sunport. To get there, I had to cross a bridge over the BNSF tracks and another one over the Rio Grande. It’s usually a 15 minute drive from Beck ‘n’ Call.

Bridge Wreck
Trouble was, police were turning everyone back at the bridge over the tracks. I messaged and finally called Pat about the problem and asked for directions around the roadblock. She doesn’t know that part of Albuquerque well either, and since it was lunchtime, everyone she knew at work was gone. She started walking the few blocks towards me, asking other pedestrians for directions. Fortunately, one of them was able to route me through the maze of side streets to one that crossed the tracks towards Pat.

As I drove a parallel street, I could see one car wedged sideways and another with a crumpled front on the bridge I had tried to cross.

Car Accidents On Your Route – A Good reason to leave early

We got to the airport 40 minutes before flight time, just early enough to check bags and get through security, but if the flight hadn’t been late, we would have missed it.

Will I leave for the airport earlier next time? Yup.

O’Hare Concourse

Shot Notes – Flying With Camera Gear
Though I no longer need to allow time for a hand check of 30+ rolls of film, I still leave early. And I always carry on camera gear. Even if it’s a 400mm or 500mm lens.

Some airlines are better about this than others. Southwest lets you check 2 bags free that meet weight and size limits, but this doesn’t seem to free up the overhead bins on the plane. I always try for 24-hour advance Internet check-in to ensure I board early enough with the big lens.

While I wait to board, there’s always something going on – nervous passengers biting nails or checking email, planes arriving, gate agents gossiping. I want to tell the entire travel story, so I capture some of these little events.

Once boarding starts, I snag a window seat, wipe the window clean, and pull out a camera and lens with a full-frame 35mm to 50mm field of view. This works well for out-the window shots, and occasional cute kids hanging over the seat back in front of me. I just switch ISOs to match the light, something I could never do with film.

It pays to look at a map of your approximate flight route in advance. That way, you’ll know what you’re flying over, and you can caption it later. Unfortunately, most flight crews no longer come on the P.A. to tell you what you’re looking at.

Mono Lake and Eastern SIerras from the air, California

Eastern Sierras and Mono Lake, California