Friday, June 27, 2014

Stuck in an Airport

When my parents flew home from Guatemala last week, my mom’s facebook status upon arriving home told a tale of long lines, delayed flights, near misses, and luggage that arrived home a day later than its owners.  When Liz and I left Wednesday  morning, I sincerely hoped our luck would be different.

Our taxi arrived (10 minutes early) at 4:12am.  I was determined to beat the lines that Mom and Dad had experienced being on the “first flight out” in the morning.  We were successful in that.  We sped through check-in, breezed our way through customs, were shuffled through security, and found ourselves with over an hour to wait at our gate before boarding. 

Sunrise over Guatemala, from our gate waiting to board.

In Miami, too, everything went smoothly.  Though the customs process seemed to take an eternity, it was effective in cutting our 90 minute layover down to less than half an hour to wait at the gate.  And then we were in the sky, soaring towards Chicago and our last layover of the day.

We arrived in Chicago twenty minutes early, lengthening our layover there to a full two hours. 

I always get annoyed with layovers in Chicago.  In part, it’s because it’s not one of my favorite airports.  There are a shortage of electrical outlets, no apparent free wifi, everything is spread out (with no moving sidewalks, even!), and the toilet seats have those annoying plastic covers that shuffle around to a fresh covering for each new buttox when you wave your hand over them.  But in part, I get annoyed with layovers in Chicago because I know I am so close to home.  Chicago is a 5 hour drive, but the flight takes only 65 minutes.  Flying American Airlines, I almost always connect to my small hometown airport through Chicago rather than another of the major airports in the tri-state area. 

A two hour layover, however, is not as maddening as it could be.  It still takes less time to wait two hours and then fly one hour than it would to rent a car and drive home (and it’s much less expensive). 

Today in Chicago, though, Liz and I hit our first delay.  The plane using our gate before our flight was late in coming, so our flight was delayed by 20 minutes, and then by an hour.  We sat obediently at the gate as they told us they were just bringing the new plane over, and that we would be boarding within a few minutes. 

Ten minutes later, the attendant came on the intercom, and we perked up, started gathering our things in preparation to board.

“Ladies and gentleman, the flight has been cancelled due to weather.  Please speak with an agent or call the number on our screen to rebook.”

Cancelled.

Of course there was a mad rush to the desk trying to get on the one remaining flight to our small town that left a few hours later.  Then the announcement that the later flight was overbooked, and the request that we not get into line, but instead rebook for the next morning.

Liz and I did that, which left us with a fourteen hour layover in my least favorite of airports.  Of course, 14 hours is enough time to drive home.  Enough time to drive home almost three times, in fact.  We could have rented a car.  But why spend the extra money when we’d already paid for the flight?  We could have left the airport, explored the city, spent the night in a hotel, and returned to the airport in the morning.  But we’re unfamiliar with transportation systems in Chicago, and tired, and we just came home from spending money on vacation; a night in Chicago just looked like dollar signs to us.  Plus, the airline was willing to do nothing to help us out.  They handed us a voucher for discounted hotels in the area.  But when we went to the website given to us, the “discount” option was not all that cheap, and it was far from the airport.  No help at all, basically.

So we resigned ourselves to an extra 14 hours in Chicago.  It wouldn’t be the first time we’d spent an exorbitant amount of time in an airport.  At least O’Hare has more options to entertain than the tiny airport in Iceland where we spent 16 hours last summer.  At least O’Hare doesn’t kick its inhabitants out past security and forbid them to sleep overnight.  Instead they set up cots and hand out pillows and blankets.  Things could be worse.

Finally found an open outlet.  It was on the floor in front of the stares.
We had no shame.

Stumbled onto the cot city around 11pm!  

So, we focused on the positive side (sort of).  We indulged in an expensive airport meal, and we found electrical outlets in unlikely places to charge our electronics, and we have each other.  And the fourteen hours went relatively quickly.   

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