Flying into Chicago and taking a bus from there worked okay. Except that I arrived a bit later than I wanted to and left earlier than I wanted to. Pricewise, it was the right decision. I left the hotel around 9:30am on Monday. I could've taken the 11:30 bus instead of the 10, but it would've cut it close at the airport. If traffic was heavier or the line at security longer, I might've been in trouble. And I would've worried the whole time that I'd miss my flight.
If I do the bus thing next year, I'll probably just pay for the bus when I get on the bus, rather than buying an e-ticket ahead of time. That way if there's a plane delay until the next day, I won't be out the cost of the bus ticket. But seriously, I need to buy plane tickets sooner and just fly straight to Madison. (Well, not straight, there'd be at least one plane change.)
On the flight back, I was across the aisle from a baby. Which was mostly a problem when the presumed father stood up in the aisle to jiggle the baby. At the exact time all the flight attendants and people going to the bathroom decided they needed to walk by. All elbows and butts for like 10 minutes.
Also there was a dentist or oral surgeon a few rows ahead of me and I could clearly see (could hardly avoid seeing) the powerpoint presentation he was working on. Teeth and mouths are gross.
American Airlines is very alienating. I was 'group 3' both times. How I ended up 'group 3' and not 'group 1' or 'group 2', I have no idea. But after they board all the super awesome people who bought super awesome crazy expensive tickets, and the super awesome veterans, and the super awesome I don't even know what, they boarded group 1 like 10 minutes later. Then group 2. Then me. And it's not based on where I was sitting either. You know, load the back of the plane first? No. For 9$ extra, I could've boarded sooner. Screw that. They also want you to pay more for super awesome (not really) seats. Like, the exit row? Hello? Since when was that a prime spot? (I always go for one over the wing, but not the exit row. I can't handle responsibility.)
Also, the chick taking boarding passes was delusional about carryon luggage. She thought my backpack wouldn't fit under the seat, I assured her it would. She said then my feet wouldn't. I assured her they would. Hey, I'm short, my feet don't even rest flat on the floor of the plane. I think I can handle sharing the footspace with part of my backpack. Not that I needed to. She also made me test my other carryon in the metal space-testing thing. It slid right in neat as you please. See, chick? It's fine. The only difficulty was my right arm got tired lugging the bag up the aisle of the plane and then I needed help getting it into the overhead bin. (I had done it fine on the bus.) Books, y'know. Heavy things. :)
American Airlines clearly states on their board while you're waiting to uh.. board, that first class people get a meal. And regular slubs get 'beverage'. And they mean it too. No snacks. And they ran out of ginger ale!
Southwest and Jetblue are definitely my top choices for airlines. Next time I might even pay a bit extra for them.
Lessons learned: Southwest or Jetblue if at all possible. Fly into Madison if at all reasonable. Take shuttle to airport. Pay for buses on the fly, not ahead of time.
Also, I think I'll arrive on Wednesday or leave on Tuesday next year. I haven't decided which.