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WisCon flights


I have once again delayed far too long in getting plane tickets for WisCon.

It's the usual problem: I always think I'm not quite sure about my travel plans. Will I want to stop in Chicago for a few days beforehand? Or maybe afterward? Do I want to try to avoid traveling on Memorial Day itself, figure out someplace to stay 'til the next day, to avoid the usual travel hassles? Do I want to fly out of San José or San Francisco, and via Chicago or Denver? And so on. It all seems like too much to deal with, and I know that making changes later will be expensive if I buy tickets before I'm sure of plans, so I put off dealing with it. And then two or three weeks before Memorial Day I finally go look at plane fares, and they've gone way up, and I wince and grit my teeth and buy the tickets. And going through O'Hare is usually a little less expensive than other options, so I do that, which means that when it comes time to actually do the travelling, I'll almost certainly end up with various weather delays and general travel unpleasantness.

So last night I looked at fares on United, my usual carrier of choice, and though they were high, they weren't quite as high as I'd feared. So I told myself, "It's late, and I'm sleepy, and I should probably sleep on this and deal with it in the morning." Only of course I didn't deal with it all day, and when I went back tonight, the lowest available fares were $100 higher than they'd been 24 hours earlier. Sigh.

I tried using my free-ticket voucher (left over from volunteering to be bumped on some flight to somewhere last year), but that's only available for certain classes of seats, and the flights that I liked best didn't have any openings in that seat class.

I was all set to just pay the fare and deal with the usual travel awfulness, but it occurred to me to check and see whether flying via Denver was worth another extra $100 just to avoid O'Hare's inevitable backups and cancellations. So I looked at my WisCon travel entry from last year--and found a comment from hhw recommending travelling via Minneapolis, on Northwest. She said she'd never run into any significant delays going to or from WisCon on that route. (I also found my WisCon travel entry from 2004, when I was scheduled to return via Denver but the flight out of MSN was delayed enough that I couldn't go home that day. So travelling via Denver is not the panacea I thought it might be. Although as I recall, I had quite a nice evening that night in Madison (staying with a friend who no longer lives there), and a nice morning the next day seeing Karen (and Pär?) and Jeremiah, so I can't really complain about how that turned out.)

So I figured it couldn't hurt to take a look at Northwest and MSP. So I bopped on over to nwa.com, where I found:

  • There were flights at more or less exactly the times I wanted, from and to San José.
  • Those flights, while not cheap by any means, were significantly less expensive than the least expensive remaining United flights.
  • They would get me to Madison on Thursday night around 8:30, instead of 11:30.
  • They went through Minneapolis instead of Chicago.
  • There were even window seats available on the return flights I wanted. (The outbound flight has seating under airport control at this point, but it wouldn't be a disaster if I ended up in a middle seat; that was almost certain to happen on United in both directions.)

So I immediately booked the tickets. And the reason I'm telling you all this is that if anyone else has waited 'til the last minute to get WisCon plane tickets, you may want to consider flying through Minneapolis on Northwest.

I have a lot more frequent flyer miles on United, so I'll probably stick with them for most other travel. And I do more or less like them, despite various unhappinesses with them over the years. But I'm very pleased to know about this other option; thanks again, hhw!


I hope you have the same luck I've had with NWA. The main downside in my experience is the lack of free wifi at MSP. On the plus side, I do enjoy the tea selection at Caribou Coffee -- I like having an alternative to Starbucks, and it's a local-to-MSP business.


Just make sure your connection in Minneapolis is not that tight.

More than a few years ago, we were on a NW flight from SFO to Milwaukee for GenCon and experienced a 45 minute delay on the ground in San Francisco.

By the time we arrived in Minneapolis, we'd lost our gate and after 15 minutes they found us one, at the exact opposite end of the giant "U" that is/was (this is 15+ years ago so rennovations/improvements can certainly have been made.) Which lead to a mad 1+ mile dash around the airport to ensure we'd make it onto our connecting flight (who were graciously holding for us, but only for 20 minutes)

And while we made the flight, after that we vowed to take the extra inconvenience of a longer layover in Minneapolis to avoid the mad dash in the future.


h: Do other airports provide free WiFi these days? Most of the ones I've been in lately charge for it, usually on the order of about $6-$7/day. Doesn't usually seem worth it to me, esp. since I usually only have 45 minutes or so of time during which I could use it (and I often don't have access to an electrical outlet, so I'd be reducing the amount of time I could use my computer on the flight itself).

Colin: Good point -- wish I'd thought of that while purchasing the tickets. On the way to Madison, there shouldn't be a problem, 'cause I don't even have to switch planes at MSP -- there's an hour or two on the ground, but I'm on the same plane for both legs of the flight. On the way back, unfortunately, there's only an hour to make my connecting flight; hadn't occurred to me, but now that you mention it, if MSN weather is bad and the first leg is delayed, I may find myself stuck in MSP. But I think I know people there, so that might not be so bad. And even if I miss one flight from MSP, I suspect it won't be as hard to get on another one as it would be at O'Hare.

I never book through Minneapolis/St. Paul in winter, because they have horrible storm delays so very often, and I've been stranded there more than once. But I do think it's a seasonal issue.

PDX has free wifi, and I'm told that Hartford (BDL) does too, though I won't find out until wednesday morning. I've heard reports of other airports, but I think it tends to be the smaller ones. Or at least smaller than major hubs like MSP and ORD and such. I often leave comments with the $8/day airports saying that I would be quite likely to pay $2 for 1 hour but not $8/day because I'm only going to be there for an hour or two. My efforts have so far been in vain, but it just takes a minute to find the comment form on the non-free-wifi login site so I'll keep trying. I also usually send an email to the PDX feedback address thanking them for the free access.

I used to always fly through MSP from Seattle -- usually arriving at some ungodly early hour after leaving at 1:30AM for a three-hour flight. It usually worked okay, although once or twice the 7:30AM flight to Madison was cancelled -- a fellow passenger who said he took it frequently said that they'd often claim "mechanical problems" any time they couldn't fill up the plane. But MSP's not a bad place to hang out, as airports go.

Interesting that you're on the same plane, though -- in my experience the MSP-MSN flights were usually on little puddle-jumpers operated by some partner mini-airline in NWA colors.

M: Yeah, I would be much more reluctant to go through MSP in winter.

H: Interesting; cool that some airports do this. I had just assumed that for-pay WiFi was the wave of the future; I'm glad to hear there's an alternative possibility.

David: I'm not totally certain it's the same plane, but it's the same flight number.

Another data point: Phoenix Sky Harbor also provides free WiFi.

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