Oh, So They Really Do Shut Down The Gate An Hour Before The Flight Leaves?

I feel like such an idiot. Today I was leaving for my flight to Seattle – to attend the Microsoft Mobius 2009 event – and my flight was leaving at 1:30pm. Not boarding, but leaving the ground. I have a NEXUS pass, which allows me to breeze through US customs quickly, so an hour is more than enough time for me to get my boarding pass, go through US customs, then go through security and walk to the departure gate. In fact, I can typically do that in 15 to 20 minutes at the Calgary airport – giving me 20+ minutes sitting at the gate waiting for the plane to board. I’ve always thought I have more important things to do than sit around at an airport, so I tend to cut it close.

Well, today I cut it a little too close…I arrived at the Calgary airport at 12:32 PM, and was at the Horizon/Alaska gate by 12:36 PM with my US customs card completed. There was no one there, so I went over to the next gate to ask how I could find someone to check me in for the flight. I was directed  to the Horizon/Alaska office 50 feet away. I walked in, asked for someone to check me in for the flight, and was told that was impossible – the gate was closed. My jaw fell open and worked silently for a moment, then I sputtered “But…but…I must missed it by only a few minutes! There’s really no one that can check me in? They informed me that Horizon/Alaska closes the gate exactly 60 minutes before the flight leaves, and that once the gate is closed, there’s no way to check baggage – so if I wanted to make this flight, I’d have to go with carry-on only. There was another flight leaving at 6pm today, and if I wanted I could exchange my ticket for that flight at no charge.  Those were my only two choices.

I was in denial for another few minutes as I moved from denial to reasoning – trying to see if there were any other options (“I have a NEXUS pass so I can get through US customs really fast! Please?”). There weren’t. I called Ashley, asked her to turn around and come back to the airport, then looked at the empty space in the middle of the Skooba Checkthrough Brief I took with me to figure out if I could really make it there with carry-on only. At Mobius events we typically get given a Windows Mobile device, and often a bag or a backpack – once even a small suitcase. So when I come to Mobius, I bring an extra big bag knowing I’ll come home with a few more things than I arrived with. That made it a no-go for my carry-on plan, so I reluctantly asked them to bump me to the 6pm flight. Ashley picked me up, and I went home for a few hours. Talk about a waste of time going back and forth to the airport! Thankfully, it’s a faster trip now with the new ring road opened.

As much as I was kicking myself all the way home, this has been a good life lesson – I’ve always tended to cut things close, looking at the departure time of the flight as the “drop dead” time I need to be there for – but, really, it’s 30 minutes prior to that when they start boarding that’s the important time to arrive for. When I returned today for the 6pm flight, we left the house at 4pm, arrived at the airport by 4:30pm, was through US customs (my NEXUS pass worked without a problem this time!) and security within 15 minutes, and sitting at the gate by 4:50pm. I thought it was funny that when I arrived at the gate it didn’t even say Seattle yet – it was still flagged for Houston. So sometime between no one being there at 4:50pm, and the flight boarding at 5:30pm, it all comes together.

My flight is finally boarding, so off I go…

  • Did anybody give you a reason why they close the gate an hour before departure? I thought about asking for a good reason, but I can’t fathom one.

    I hate U.S. Airways, which I’m stuck flying on most times as I live near Philadelphia, their hub. They don’t have a policy like that though. Of course, most flights are barely at the gate an hour before departure, but they do allow check-in and boarding almost up to the last minute before departure.

  • Microsoft Mobius ’09 !! Nice. We’ll be waiting for your blogpost.

    60mins is too much. They should close the doors 10-15mins prior to flight take off. Maybe in the last 60mins, they are reading the manuals “HOW TO FLY A PLANE for DUMMIES in 60 minutes” … lol

  • Janak Parekh

    I don’t quite understand. You could have made the flight without checking in luggage, but with the gate itself closed? Or are you saying the checkin counter was empty?

    In any case, 60 minutes for checking in luggage makes sense. It’s quite a bit of work to sort luggage and board it on the plane. On the other hand, 60 minutes for a gate closure sounds wrong.

    I’m the opposite – I like leaving lots of time. I’m flying out at 5:30am tomorrow, and if I’m not at LaGuardia by 4am, I’ll be extremely nervous.

  • Janak,
    60 minutes before the flight leaves they close the ticket counter where you’d check your bags.

  • Janak Parekh

    I think that makes sense – think of how much time it takes for the luggage to be conveyed, sorted, driven out to the plane, etc. The carriers lose enough baggage as it is, short latencies would only worsen it.