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Mpls, MN, United States

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Incidents & Accidents

Friday, June 15, 2007

Planes, trains, and automobiles...

It's not a very interesting story (just a typical me, typical me, typical me one), and it's mostly just depressing, but Mandy asked, so here's The Chicago Adventure.

I booked my own ticket to training in Chicago because I was flying directly from Palm Springs. Since I didn't know what time training would be over on the last day, Wednesday, I booked my flight for Thursday morning. That meant that Wednesday night, I was all alone in the hotel that all week had been a combination between a freshman dorm and a block party. My flight out was at 10; I had told Bryant the night before that I was going to try to be to the airport by a little after 8. He thought that seemed awfully early, and as I talked about it, I did too--after all, it was a domestic flight. 8:30 seemed more reasonable, and by the time I got all my stuff (I'd had to pack for four weeks) downstairs and ready for the taxi, it was a little after 8:30.

It took a little while for my taxi to arrive, but I wasn't worried; we were close to the airport. The driver dropped me off at U.S. Airways, where I attempted to check in at an electronic kiosk. It told me I had to speak to a representative; in line, one found me and told me that my flight, though booked through U.S. Airways, was operated by United Airlines... in the next terminal over. I dragged my luggage back outside (I lost one wheel on the large suitcase in another airport disaster a few years ago) and to the (thankfully neighboring) correct terminal, where I discovered a check-in line that can only be described as hellacious (with all Dante references intact). By this time it was 9:00.

Unfortunately, by the time I actually got up to the counter, it was 9:45. The machine again wouldn't let me check in and directed me to pick up the handy attached phone for help. The woman on the other end said I had barely missed the baggage cut-off, but that I could attempt to either gate check my luggage or see if the woman at the counter would accept it. The woman at the counter told me the former was a security impossibility, and that it was too late to check it there.

Flights to Minneapolis from Chicago are approximately hourly: she'd just get me on another one.

The 11:00 flight had been cancelled; I should have known then that I was in trouble. She put me on stand-by for the noon flight; what she didn't tell me was that the stand-by list for the noon flight, especially with all the 11:00 cancellees, was 70 people long--for just 9 spots--and that I was really in trouble. The fact didn't sink in, however, until the noon flight was packed and sealed (leaving most of us still at the gate) and the news came through that due to storms across the Midwest, predicted only to get worse, the 3:00 and 4:00 flights had also been cancelled. There was still a flight scheduled for 7:00, but it was doubtful whether it would actually take off--and virtually certain that, given the growing number of wait-listed passengers--very few of us would actually find a seat. We could still be guaranteed seats, we were informed, on the 11:00 a.m. flight the next morning.

I quickly got online and booked myself a Greyhound ticket, scheduled to arrive at midnight that night, deciding I would rather spend the night in a dark bus with reclining seats than in a brightly lit, noisy (flights had been cancelled not only across the Midwest, but the Northeast as well, and O'Hare was a zoo) airport. It left at 3:00; I figured I had plenty of time to catch a Blue Line train to the station and get on the bus.

What I had forgotten about was my checked bag. When I asked the woman at the gate about it, she told me I'd have to check with Customer Service, and that it might take two hours. That line was approximately two city blocks long. I stood in it for two and a half hours, and when I got to the counter, I was told that retrieving my bag was impossible--given the 100,000 other delayed bags--but that it would go out on the next available flight to Minneapolis. This is the only truly useful part of this otherwise useless story. It is a good thing to know!* I reserved a seat on the 11 a.m. flight, left my packed bag to the mysterious ways of flight traffic, and caught a train to the Greyhound station.

I had, of course, missed the 3:00 bus, but there was another one at 9:00, scheduled to arrive at 5:25 a.m. So I hauled my carry-on to a cute little Greek place where I had my first real meal of the day and killed some time, sat in line for a long time, finally got on the bus, had a thoroughly description-defyingly obnoxious seatmate, and ultimately made it to Minneapolis, where I took a taxi home. I called the airline and discovered that my luggage had beaten me home; had I been able to get on my original flight (which was in the early phases of boarding when I walked by en route to my new gate, even after I'd been selected for a special security screening with full body pat-down), I would have been fine. As it was, I ended up taking the light rail out to the airport to get my luggage anyway.

The good news is that I had slept relatively well, and that I had the rest of the day to unpack, check the inventory in the approximately 20 boxes of books that had been shipped in my absence, buy the supplies I needed for teaching, and review my lesson plans, before beginning to teach on Saturday. Piece of cake.

*The other detail I'll retain for future reference is that if you're willing to have your bags arrive late, you should do everything you can to persuade the gatekeepers to at least allow your person onto the flight.


strovska said...

what a depressing story! i've had some unpleasant airport experiences, but none of them were nearly as bad as that, and i'm sure i didn't handle them with that much aplomb.

Cerise said...

"Aplomb" is a compliment indeed--thank you!

(Nerdiness: I looked it up for kicks just now, and discovered that it's from the French for "perpendicularity." I'm also pretty sure I'd been mispronouncing it, at least in my head, although now after saying it over and over I can't be sure of anything; I think I said "uh-ploom," when it should be "uh-plahm" or "uh-plum." It's a word I should use more often!)

some poems don't rhyme said...

oh wow. i'm so sorry. i'm exhausted just from reading the post. i can't imagine living through it!

thanks for humoring me :)

strovska said...

how interesting, i would never have realized that's where "aplomb" came from.