Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: GSP-ORD-BOZ on United Airlines

Val here! Well here’s another kind of crazy one for the books for the wifey! Not as bad as the New Mexico trip but it started off a bit shaky…

In This Trip

1 :Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: GSP-ORD-BOZ on United Airlines

     1.1: Planning the Trip
     1.2: United CRJ550 Economy GSP-ORD
     1.3: Layover in ORD
     1.4: United 737-800 Economy ORD-BOZ
     1.5: BOZ Airport Review
     1.6: Driving from Bozeman to Yellowstone NP
     1.7: Final Thoughts

2 : Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel Review

3 : Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park Activities

4 : Not So Boring Trip to Yellowstone National Park: BOZ-DEN-GSP on United Airlines

Planning the Trip

In mid-August, my parents were heading out west on an epic adventure with another couple to drive around and visit a bunch of national parks over the course of 2 months. They had planned this trip pre-pandemic for the summer of 2020 and of course, like everything else in 2020, it got canceled. They rescheduled for late summer of 2021 and hoped for the best. After being vaxxed and watching the case count go down (pre-delta…) they were ready to go!

They had suggested that James and I try to come out and visit for a section of the trip if we could. Most of their trip was scheduled on random weekday chunks, because who cares what day it is when you’re retired! The only possible weekend they had that could work was when they were visiting Yellowstone National Park. For a while I didn’t think it was possible for us to go because I had just started my new job and wasn’t sure if I could make it out there for a weekend. But as it turns out I was able to jump onto a 9/80 schedule where I’d have every other Friday off, and the schedule lined up perfectly with having the Friday off for that weekend! Unfortunately for James, he had to work out of town the week leading up to that, so if I were to go it was going to be by myself.

(Sneak peak of the beauty that is Yellowstone! Stay tuned for more…)

Luckily I found pretty inexpensive flights on United Airlines at decent times out to Bozeman, Montana which is one of the airports in the area, so I said “Bon Voyage”! I would fly on Thursday evening after work from GSP to ORD, and then ORD to BOZ, landing around 10:30pm mountain time. Then I would have about a 1 hour and 40 minute drive to the north entrance of Yellowstone and the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel where my parents were staying (I would be crashing with them in their one room cabin since the hotels in the park book out several months in advance!). Then I would fly back home in the late afternoon on Sunday. Perfect!

United CRJ550 Economy GSP-ORD

During the work day on Thursday I began tracking the flights leading up to mine, just to make sure everything was going according to schedule since I was not flying Delta and was unsure about United’s on-time record. Everything was going well until my plane was delayed coming out of ORD into GSP. Great.

Originally I read on FlightAware that there was bad weather in ORD leading to delays, but it turned out later that there was a mechanical issue and they had to return to the gate. That took an hour, so it was looking like it would cause my flight to have a 44 minute delay into ORD, putting me with a 20 minute connection to Bozeman at 8:01pm. Yikes!

At the last minute before leaving for my flight, James texted me not to gate check my bag, that the gate agents might complain but that the bag would fit. Not wanting to deal with having to fight with gate agents, I repacked from my roller bag into a small duffel bag so I could just carry it on with no issues, but unfortunately I would have to wear my hiking boots instead of my sneakers. I only had about 10 minutes to make this decision so I decided to roll with it. Later, James clarified that what he meant, and what I didn’t have time to comprehend in my rush to get to the airport, was that the plane didn’t have very large overhead compartments but it had luggage compartments, similar to on an airport shuttle bus. By the time we cleared that up it was too late because I was already at the airport.

Too late now, looks like I’ll have to possibly run though the airport with a duffle bag and hiking boots for no reason!

I decided that since I was unlikely to be able to stop for some dinner during my layover that I would grab a sandwich and some snacks in GSP. I also wanted to make sure I had a caffeinated beverage for when I landed and needed to stay awake while driving. I didn’t take into account the time difference when I booked the flight that landing at 10:30pm mountain time would really be 12:30am eastern, and that getting into the park and the hotel at midnight mountain time would really be 2am eastern! So hence the need to prepare with some items to help keep me awake…

The airport wasn’t very crowded but I still wanted to keep a lot of distance from people since I was going to visit my Boomer parents and didn’t want to chance picking up The ‘Rona at the airport. I found a nice corner spot with a nice view of some planes.

My plane finally landed in GSP! The gate agents said that the pilots wanted a quick turnaround and didn’t want to be on the ground for more than 20 minutes. I was fine with that!

Boarding started quickly, and luckily the plane was small so it really didn’t take long at all. They didn’t even ask to gate check anyone’s baggage! Ughh.

Now I see the luggage racks James was talking about, and my bag would have been fine! Ugghhhhh!

The overhead compartments were tiny but I was able to shove my duffel bag in there and put my small backpack under the seat.

By time we boarded were only really 15 minutes delayed from initial 5:45pm departure time. We were on the plane by 6:00pm. I sat in my seat and no one ever sat next to me. Score!

This was a pretty nice little plane, and I had a nice window seat.

We pushed around 6:10ish and then the pilots said we needed to wait until 6:25ish due to weather, inbound planes were being held at ORD again due to weather.

We probably got in the air by 6:35ish, and I just hoped we would make up some time in the air. It felt like the pilots were trying because my ears kept popping the whole time!

They did a drink service but I did not partake because I didn’t want to remove my mask. Trying to protect my Boomer parents here!

It seemed like we may have not made up too much time because of some turbulence. We started our descent at 7:50 eastern/6:50 central and I just hoped we would land quickly so I didn’t have to run through the airport, now with my duffel bag and hiking boots on rather than my roller bag and sneakers. Ughhhhhh!

I looked out the window at just the right time to get a glimpse of downtown Chicago! Almost there!

The pilot came on the loudspeaker and said we would be landing about 12-14 minutes past the hour, so that helps! We’d be landing into F1, when it was F9. On the plane I couldn’t see the terminal map in the app without an internet connection and they had already turned the wifi off. Pretty sure you can do this on the Delta app without internet connection, but I’d have to check on that to be sure.

So we landed and then taxied to the gate for a while, then stopped in front of the gate for a while for some reason. When we finally got off the plane it was about 7:30. While parked in front of the gate I got a text that said my next flight was delayed until 9:30 due to them needing a new crew, so I had some time after all, although a 2 hour delay was now going to get me into Bozeman super late! Good thing I had my trusty Dr. Pepper to help keep me awake…

Layover in ORD

Since I now had an abundance of time, as we deplaned I was able to get some more pictures of the inside of the plane.

The luggage racks are pretty neat, this is the first I’ve seen of this on an airplane.

I still hustled to the gate, but didn’t run, so that I could make sure I got there in case anything changed last minute. It took a few minutes to get to B2 from F1, but it wasn’t too bad of a walk. I’m glad I didn’t have to run but it would have been doable as a run as it wasn’t that far.

I passed a sushi restaurant I’d been to years earlier. If you’re ever in the walkway from B to F, check out Wicker Park and sit by the window if you can. Great views of planes from this vantage point!

The architecture in this terminal is really cool!

At the gate, all the way tucked in the back corner, it was still showing It was still delayed till 9:30. Great.

I decided to grab a drink and a snack while I waited. There was a little Starbucks stand close by so I said, okay let me get some coffee so I can stay awake later for the 1 hour and 40 minute drive to Yellowstone from Bozeman, especially since it’s going to be much later than I expected. I got an iced coffee and a little cheese and fruit pack.

I thought the brie was a spread but it was the teeny tiniest wheel of brie I’ve ever seen! Hilarious! I didn’t know how to eat it so I just Dunkaroo’d it (I’m aging myself here).

After a bit, I got another text that said the delay was lessened only till 9pm. So still delayed but an hour is better than 1.5 hours. I then hung around close to the gate but far enough away from people. There was a Goose Island bar open right next to my gate so there were a ton of people at the bar drinking without masks on, and also a ton of people at the gate area itself that was really multiple gates in a small area, so I tried to stay clear.

Once the flight at the adjacent gate cleared, I got a bit closer. And it’s a good thing I did because I didn’t hear them call boarding and didn’t even get a text about boarding (thanks United), so I looked up and all of a sudden we were boarding! I’m glad I didn’t miss it, that would have been infuriating (and embarrassing because something like this has happened to me before and it was bad…).

United 737-800 Economy ORD-BOZ

Boarding! I was so happy to finally get on the plane and get settled.

I got settled into my seat.

In my row of 3, the middle seat was never filled!

Another nice window view.

Before taking off I was getting texts from my parents who said it was raining and probably wouldn’t stop, and since I was getting in much later than I anticipated I considered a possible stop at a hotel along the way. My options were either in Bozeman, which was really expensive, like $400/night, or Livingston which is a little short of halfway there (30-40 minutes from Bozeman airport) but only had like 3 options, all of which are on the Super 8 level of hotel/motel.

I asked James to see what they looked like and if they were decent. I wouldn’t mind staying somewhere like that if it’s relatively clean and doesn’t look like a roach motel or would give me bedbugs. He said they looked decent so I thought, if it’s raining badly and I’m tired I might stop and get a room. Unfortunately there’s nothing between Livingston and the hotel in Yellowstone at Mammoth Hot Springs, so Livingston was the last option before I would have to drive the rest of the way (about an hour and 15 minutes or longer since it’s dark and rainy). I decided to see how it was when I landed and how tired I would feel.

We pushed back a little after 9 and we’re on our way!

Editor’s Note: Val doesn’t know it but she’s flying on a special livery Star Alliance United 737-800!

The takeoff was smooth, and the plane has a cool wing tip. James filled me in on it. It’s called a split scimitar winglet and it’s on Boeing 737 Next Gen aircraft.

It was a really nice night for flying.

I was trying to keep my eyes closed for the majority of the flight, even if I was unable to get any actual sleep (thanks coffee…) but I was able to get some really neat photos of the very bright sky due to the full moon. Too bad it would be raining when I landed or else my drive would be pretty well lit!

During flight the girl in the aisle seat took her bag and put it in the empty middle seat and started to lean on it to fall asleep. I noticed her mask was below her nose and was going to ask her to put it over her nose when she moved the backpack and leaned over the middle seat even more, ending up very close to me. I poked her in the arm, she sat up and immediately put her mask over her mouth and nose (I then assumed at this point that she didn’t have her mask on her face at all when she was leaning on her backpack like 1ft away from me), and I said “Can you not?” She took it well, and it seemed like she was a bit embarrassed, and so I thanked her and said I appreciated it.

The rest of the flight I put my eye mask and noise cancelling headphones on as well and tried to get some sleep on the 3 hour journey. Here’s what I looked like the entire flight. Blocking out the world!

I didn’t really fall asleep but I think resting my eyes was a good thing because when we landed I didn’t feel that tired. Which was good because when we landed all of the hotels in Livingston were booked up! I considered maybe just spending the money and getting a hotel in Bozeman, but I said to myself let me get the rental car and see how I feel, because at that moment I wasn’t very sleepy and was a bit wired from the coffee, which was probably why I couldn’t really fall asleep on the plane. That was a decision I toyed with because on one hand if I had coffee at 9pm in Chicago I was pretty much guaranteed to be awake all night. The bad part was that I wouldn’t really have any sleep on the plane. I think I ultimately made the right call, but it was definitely a gamble.

Bozeman Airport Review

I got into the airport which was much cooler than I expected. It really gave me Out West mountain vibes, and was pretty much the aesthetic I expected from Montana.

They had a restaurant area with what looked like a fireplace. This would be an awesome place to sit and have a meal!

There was a huge window with some seating in front of it, which I can only assume would lend some fantastic daytime views. I was looking forward to that on my return journey!

The area pre-security looked just as nice.

I’m glad I took pictures here because on the return journey my phone crapped out and I didn’t get any pictures here! (You’ll read about that in my later post)

This is where I would go through security/TSA precheck on the way back.

Even the baggage claim area was cool!

I headed to the rental car counter, got the keys, and headed to the parking garage. (Apologies for the blurry picture, I was ready to GTFO and get on the road!)

I had a nice Chevy Malibu, which I’m sure would be great in the rain…

Driving from Bozeman to Yellowstone NP

Unfortunately for this section of the blog post I won’t have any pictures but I’d like to detail how the drive went so that anyone looking to do the same can evaluate and make their decision more wisely.

While sitting inside the car still at the airport, I looked up a few hotels in Bozeman, and since I was still about 20 minutes away I decided to see how the rain is and if I felt too tired I would just stop at an exit and see what hotels were around there that had any vacancies, even if it was expensive. That cost would be worth my life essentially since it would be hazardous to drive at this point. But I got in the car and the rain wasn’t too bad at first, so I decided to just drive, and at some point I passed the point of no return in Bozeman for hotels so I just kept on truckin…

It was a very tough drive, being late at night, dark, and raining, and it was extremely stressful and scary! My Chevy Malibu had a rough time with standing water on the roads! There was terrible visibility on the interstate I-90 between Bozeman and Livingston, but it got slightly better on highway 89 from Livingston to the park entrance since there were a lot of reflectors and no one really on the roads for there to be much of a glare. Overall, I drove very, VERY slowly to get through the drive safely. Luckily I didn’t see any wildlife in the roads, although right outside the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel I did see a small animal butt pop into the brush as I rounded a corner!

I pulled into the hotel finally and had absolutely no service to be able to call my parents. I could get a text through though so when I couldn’t find where the cabin was that we were staying in, I had to ask them where to go. Coming from the north entrance I didn’t see any signs about the hotel at all, let alone the cabins.

After getting to the cabin I almost kissed the ground after getting out of the car because I had made it safe and sound! I arrived 2 hours later than I had originally planned, and had a much longer drive than I was expecting (it took about 2 hours and 15 minutes rather than 1 hour and 40!) I was originally thinking I would get in around 12:30am, but it was close to 2:30am! Which was really 4:30am on eastern time! I was exhausted, and I’ll for sure never do that again!

Final Thoughts

Overall, the trip was a lot more stressful due to the first flight delay and possible missed connection, then the second flight being delayed and getting me in super late, and then the very dangerous and stressful drive from Bozeman to Yellowstone. As far as the flights themselves, they were pretty uneventful because I was trying to close my eyes and get some sleep, and because I didn’t partake in any in-flight drink or snack service it was a bit boring.

If you’re looking to travel to Yellowstone, I would highly recommend NOT driving that late at night and especially during the rain (or snow even, I can imagine it would be worse!). What I should have done was realize I was getting in really late (especially with a time change) and I should have originally booked a hotel somewhere that night before heading to the park. However, with that aside, I was happy to be there and spend time with my parents who I don’t get to see very often especially these days during the pandemic.

Tune in next time for a review of the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, some activities we did in Yellowstone, and the trip home.

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