The Iowa Crisis Part 1: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

TL;DR American Airlines sucks. 

A few months ago Joe (that one professor I went to China with) mentioned that he and Daniel Kreiss were thinking about putting together a special topics course for the 2020 Iowa Caucuses. They wanted to do research on identity and voting behaviors and they needed a little muscle to do it. Enter us: 10 undergraduates from the school that share interests in political communications and social science. 

After applying for the course and receiving a little help from the Hussman School, we were ready to travel to the Midwest to follow candidates and take copious amounts of notes. 

The problem? Getting to Iowa. 

Our journey began on a Thursday evening as we leisurely made our way to Raleigh-Durham Airport to begin our travels. The crowds were light and getting through TSA seemed like it would be an absolute breeze. I saw a pre-flight glass of Chardonnay in my future, but I guess I was dreaming too soon. As we walked past the American Airlines ticket desk, they said: “If you’re headed to Charlotte, think again.” 

Um…excuse me? 

We walked up to our “friend” at the ticket desk and found out that our flight to Charlotte-Douglas was delayed and we would only have 10 minutes to make our connection. The other lady at the American desk said we’d need a miracle.

The man gave us an option of flying into Des Moines on Saturday, which would have made the entire research trip almost pointless if we were to miss two days on the ground.

So then we started thinking about our options. We already had two of our group members in Des Moines waiting on our arrival and our evening flight party consisted of ten people. Surely they could try to accommodate a large group, right?

“What about another city in Iowa? Sioux City? Cedar Rapids?”, Joe asked the man as he was working out plans with our travel agent on the phone. 

The man tapped away on his keyboard, making faces every time we tried to offer up a possible option or flight. 

“We’d even fly into Nebraska and drive.” Joe joked. 

The man tapped away again. The best option? Leave RDU at 5:30 am the next morning. Connect in Dallas. Land in Cedar Rapids. Drive from there. Not the plan we originally wanted, but it was the only one we had at this point. 

The time was now 8:30 pm and by the suggestion of our favorite American Airlines Customer Service Representatives, we were planning on getting to the airport at 3:00 am to beat the morning travelers they promised we’d see. 

So our group parted ways to reunite again very early the next morning. Some of us shared an airport hotel room so we’d be a little closer and some of us went back to Chapel Hill. 

After getting to our respective locations, fast forward four very short hours later and we’re back at RDU. Remember those long security lines the ticket people told us to expect? NOWHERE TO BE FOUND. When the group of us went through TSA we were the ONLY ones in the airport besides the employees. *cue eye roll* 

So, we did what any group of college-aged females would do at 4 o’clock in the morning at the airport? We slept on the floor until the bagel place opened up. 

After waiting for a couple of hours to board, our journey finally started back again. We got on the plane and took a sigh of relief as we were finally getting closer to Iowa. We began looking at other candidate rallies and events we could hit. We didn’t want to get behind on research. 

Then the captain came over the speaker, “so folks, we need to de-ice the plane. It should take about 15 minutes. But we’re now second in line for takeoff.”

I heard her words through a half-conscious state as I tried to catch an hour or two of shut-eye on the flight to Dallas. But even in that state, I could feel trouble coming. We took off and proceed to have the longest feeling three-hour flight I’ve ever experienced. And as it turns out we had to stay in the air for an extra 30 minutes due to turbulence. Our connection time in Dallas was shrinking. 

By the time we landed and were taxiing to our gate, we had 15 minutes to get off the plane and take the train to our gate in a completely different terminal. When I tell you we were so close, I mean that a couple of people even ran ahead to try and hold it, but by the time we got to the gate our plane was already on the runway. 

Missed. Connection. Again. We were not making it to Cedar Rapids. 

So what now? Remember that funny idea Joe had earlier about flying into Nebraska and driving? It started sounding pretty good. 

We went to the American Airlines service counter in Dallas and they proceeded to be about as helpful as the people in Raleigh. That is to say completely unhelpful. 

They gave us one option and a number to call. Leaving us to figure out how to book ten seats on a completely new flight all by ourselves. 

After getting yelled at on the phone by another American Airlines lady, we finally found our solution. 

At 9:00 am CST, after being awake since 2:30 am EST, we were all booked on a flight to leave Dallas to our final destination: Omaha, Nebraska. 

Yep. We would be flying into Omaha, renting a car, and driving East to Iowa. Finally. 

After landing in Nebraska we were greeted with snow and midwestern accents and immediately jumped for joy when we saw an Omaha Steaks kiosk. 

But what would this trip be without another issue? Would you be surprised to find out that three of our groups’ bags never left Dallas? 

Once again American Airlines was letting us down. However, they did agree to refund the people who lost their bags for clothes and necessities they would need to get by before the bags arrived. 

The drive to Des Moines was the most relaxing part of our day as we saw miles of open fields, snow-covered bluffs, and hundreds of windmills. When we finally got to our haven, the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Urbandale, we stuffed our faces with Pizza Ranch, showered, and went to bed at 9 o’clock. We were finally in Iowa and ready to follow every major candidate around the state and speak with as many caucus-goers as we could find. But the rest of our eventful journey was only beginning as we would be attending the most historical Iowa Caucus in history…

Please stay tuned for Iowa Part 2…

Oh, and of course there’s a playlist! Here’s the one I made to entertain the many hours we would spend on the roads of Iowa this weekend.

iced coffee
A scene from the Dallas Airport as Allison’s coffee took a dive off the table. Pure poetry.

One thought on “The Iowa Crisis Part 1: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

  1. Pingback: The Iowa Crisis Part 2: These Shoes Were Made for Caucusing – Miranda Veal

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