Monday, February 4, 2008

Back Home, Back Home, Thank God, I'm Back Home At Last!

Better later than never has always been a good motto to believe in especially when it comes to airplane travel but it was still hard to keep that in the front of my mine after spending two days in an airport. But before I get ahead of myself, let me start at the beginning.

My flight out from Iowa started off normally. I checked in using the kiosk, got through security in record time and soon found myself in the commuter jet at the end of the runway with the engine revving up. That was the last normal airplane event for the rest of my trip. Before the brakes were releases, the engines shut down and the captain informed us that the tower had halted us due to some weather event in Chicago. Since I had looked at the weather maps before leaving and had seen that everything was clear and sunny for the entire trip, I was baffled along with many of the other passengers. So we sat on the end of the runway for fifteen minutes until the pilot announced that our departure would be delayed by possibly an hour due to wind shear in Chicago and that he would taxi out of the way and shut down the engines to conserve fuel. I had just settled in for the next hour sitting in a plane that I had only been scheduled to be in for fifty minutes total when the engines started up once again. However, the pilot said that there was now a ground stop for all traffic coming to Chicago and we were heading back to the terminal.

We waited in the terminal for several hours before we finally were reboarded and took off for Chicago. Of course we missed our connecting flight to New York and had to get rebooked on a later flight. That flight left without much hassle and we actually made up an hour of flight time so by the time we landed in New York, we were only three hours later than what we had planned on. Just in time for evening rush hour traffic.

Although there was supposed to be light snow in the Midwest on the day of our return flights, I was hoping our delays of the outbound trip would mean that our inbound trip would be hassle free. I couldn't have been more wrong. We showed up to the airport on Thursday three hours early so that we could get through security and find a place to eat before boarding. Security confiscated my 4.5 oz tube of lotion for dry skin that I have taken through probably 20 or 30 security checkpoints since 9/11. At least I didn't get the rubber glove test I tried to tell myself.

We ate lunch and went to our gate to see that our flight was on time but that two previous flights to Chicago and one later flight has already been cancelled. It was not looking good and I was hoping that ours would be cancelled soon so that we could just get rebooked for the next day and head out for another evening in New York. Right at our boarding time, it was announced that our 3:40 flight would now be 4:30 and wheels up at 7:30. Needless to say I wasn't too pleased about spending almost three hours sitting in a plane going nowhere for a 1 hour and 50 minute flight. But we waited. Our flight was bumped to boarding at 6:30 with wheels up at 9:30, then 7:30 with wheels up at 10:30 and then 9:30 with wheels up at 11:05. By this time, I had been in the airport almost eight hours and all but our flight to Chicago had been cancelled across the board of airlines. My traveling companions were still hoping that we would get to Chicago but they were inexperienced and didn't know that it would be worse there. There would be thousands of stranded passengers there and everything would be shut down. At least if our flight was cancelled, we could rebook through St. Louis or someplace else other than Chicago and avoid it all together. But fate just wasn't with me. At 10:10, we boarded the flight and about 10 minutes to eleven, we took off for Chicago.

As I expected, Chicago was chaos. Thousands of people were sleeping on thousands of cots set up and all the ticket counters were shut down for the night. Not wanting to spend the night, we decided to go look for a rental car agency to rent us a car to drive one-way back to Iowa. We couldn't find one. After asking, we found out that the only way was to board a bus to the rental car agencies, one-by-one to see if we could find one. So we split up. My companions tried to locate a rental car while I tried to find a phone where I could get rebooked for a flight tomorrow. I found out that we had been booked on a flight at 9:45 the next morning and my traveling companions after an hour and a half of calling, finally found someone who would rent us a compact Kia Rio for the cost of one arm and two legs. Since it was then 2 a.m. and we were looking at arriving with crappy roads probably around 9 a.m., we decided to just stick it out at the airport on a cot and catch our flight.

There was just one problem to that, we had walked through security to look for a rental car agency representative and security was now closed down. All the cots were on the other side and we were essentially locked out of the airport. Great. We found a comfortable place on the floor of the ticket counters and tried to make the best of not much. At 4 a.m., the ticket counters opened and we got out confirmed tickets. We went through security but all three of us had four S's on our ticket, which to the uninformed traveler means we get the special treatment. Our bags were emptied and inspected with fine combs. My traveling companions were busted for a gallon sized plastic bag instead of quart sized for their sprays, gels and liquid carry-on. We all got frisked and wanded. Some forty minutes later, we were released and allowed to repack and redress. We found out gate and tried to sleep on the benches for the five hours we had left.

Three hours later, I awoke to a woman sitting by my head who kept rattling her cellophane bag that once contained cheetoes. After ten minutes of this I stirred, looked her in the eye and gave her the evil eye. I closed my eyes only to have her start at it again ten minutes later. The boarding area was still almost deserted and of thousands of seats, she had to sit two feet from my head across the aisle nervously making noise with her empty cheetoes bag. I sat up disgusted only to be shocked when she quickly shoved my bag to one side and sat right next to me. I was just about to give her a piece of my mind when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the screen showing that our flight had been cancelled.

I awoke my traveling companions and we made our way back to rebooking only to see the line stretched about half the length of the concourse, which if you have been to O’Hare, is quite long. We were realistically looking at four hours of waiting time only to be rebooked on another flight out this evening. To make matters worse, ours was the fifth flight to our destination that had been cancelled so even if our flight out went, we would be standby. Getting three seats on a packed flight was probably out of the question and all signs were pointing to another night in the airport. It was not going to happen.

We called up the rental car and they still had a Kia Rio available but the price had gone up $20. We booked it and hotfooted it over to the rental agency. With out disheveled looks and probably smelling pretty ripe, I was surprised that they continued to let us rent a car much less talk them into letting us take a Chevy Malibu instead. Along the way, at least a dozen people told us that what we were attempting was suicide, including a woman who lived twenty minutes away from the airport who said it took her two hours to get there and still arrived oddly enough, four hours early? We hopped in the car and set off into the unknown. For perhaps 20 miles, the roads were mostly slush and snowed covered, another 100 miles were just wet and the last 100 were completely dry. We made it to our destination airport in only four and a half hours. The 90-mile drive home went smoothly and after a hot shower and shave, I dropped into bed at 2 o'clock on Friday, never so happy to be home.

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