Chris Moss Online

7 Hours at O’Hare

Warning – this is a real rant.

Friday sucked. I really don’t mind traveling, it’s the delays I hate. And lately, it seems like there is always a delay. In my case, none of my flights really went off without a hitch. My originally scheduled flight on Thursday morning from DFW to O’Hare was cancelled and I was accomodated on a flight to Detroit. That flight wasn’t full, so I guess that was a nice benefit to AA. My meeting finished up much earlier than I expected on Thursday, so I tried to get back to Dallas on Thursday night. That would have been good for me, the company and our client – because it would have saved them money (my billable travel time). But, I was unable to find a return flight. I considered just driving that rental car to Chicago or even to Dallas, but I figured I had better not given the lack of sleep I was operating on at the time (see previous entry about my bout of insomnia). What I really needed was a good night’s sleep.

So, I checked into the Hampton Inn, which turned out to be pretty good. I passed the Bluewater Grille and it looked good, and I also needed a really good meal, so I stopped in for a steak, potato, a salad and a glass of pinot noir. I really enjoyed that, even if I was dining alone. It was nice to just be stopped in one place and not moving and not obligated to do anything else but relax. Afterwards, it was back to the hotel for a nice, long, hot shower and then I jumped into bed. I tried to work on my report, but I kept dozing off. So, I went to sleep.

I had set my alarm for 4:30 am to get up and make it to the Toledo airport for a 6:15 am flight to Chicago. I was scheduled on a 2:30pm and this would be stand by. You never know if you can get on a flight stand by, and the seat map showed a pretty full flight. So, I decided not to chance it and, given my need for sleep, decided to sleep in. I woke up again a bit after 8 and got showered and dressed and headed to the airport for the 10:15 EDT flight to O’Hare. As soon as we boarded and the flight attendant finished her pre-flight safety briefing, the pilot told us that Air Traffic Control (ATC) had grounded all flights inbound to O’Hare due to weather. It would be about a 45 minute delay, and they said we could get off the plane. I opted to stay there, because I had broken out my laptop and file and was working on that report again. Well, what they really meant by “you are free to get off the plane” was “get the hell off the plane.” So, I got all my stuff together and went back to the terminal and got it out again and started working again. After about 30 minutes, they said we could get back on. We did, and we made it to O’Hare at about 11:00 CDT.

I had written down all the earlier flights to Dallas. There are a lot of flights between DFW and Chicago each day, about 1 per hour. It picks up a bit towards the end of the day. After de-planing, I found the departures monitor and learned the gate of the next departure to DFW. It had been delayed but departure was now just a few moments away. I asked the gate agent to get on the stand-by list, and he said he had to close it because there were several people in front of me and they now knew that aircraft was full. So, I found the gate for the next flight, scheduled for 1:25p and flew around there. No gate agent. I waited in line and she finally turned up about 12:50. They usually open up about an hour before the flight. She put me on the stand-by list. They ended up accomodating a lot of stand-bys, but there were quite a few left over from the previous flight, and at the end of it, there were only two people ahead of me on the stand by list when they finished boarding that flight and moved us to the next flight.

At O’Hare (and DFW and probably some other airports), American has a nifty stand-by program that puts your name up on a monitor so you can see where you are on the list. You can move up and down on the list as people are added to it. People who may have checked in earlier or have a higher frequent flyer status can get ahead of you. I’m fine with that, especially since most of the time I have some sort of elite status. As it happens, I didn’t fly enough last year and I don’t have a status at the moment. Oh well.

I ended up being 34th on the list for the next flight. It got worse after that. All the flights to Dallas and most flights to anywhere else were delayed, significantly all afternoon. It was cloudy and cold (39F) outside, but not particularly bad weather. This seemed to be affecting all flights so I’m sure they didn’t make it up but still it makes you wonder. Most flights were delayed by more than an hour. The worst part was the incremental way they let you know it would be departing late. Each flight would be given a flat amount of time for a late departure, say 1 hr 15 minutes. Then as it got close to that time, they would extend it by, say, 25 minutes. Then they would usually extend it again, by say 15 minutes or 10 minutes. The problem here is that this goes to expectations.

I spent most of yesterday in a foul mood, because I wanted to be home and not stuck there indefinitely. Many other people there were in the same boat, and there were a lot of unhappy people in that terminal. Some of those unhappy people were the gate agents. Now, gate agents put up wtih a lot and I try to give them respect, and I always did yesterday. However, they saw their fair share of nasty customers. However, most of them compounded the problem by being nasty right back. People just wanting information were snapped at, rudely, and the gate agents made announcements about delays like they were talking to a classroom full of second graders. Granted, many people in the terminal were acting like second graders but I don’t think that gives the gate agents license to be rude or condescending. So, I think they were contributing to a general mood in that terminal that was spiraling out of control. That’s part of the reason I was in a funky mood yesterday – the vibe coming from my fellow travelers.

One of the problems is expectations. If 130 people think their flight is going to leave at X time and it ends up being delayed by X + 75 minutes or whatever, that is one thing. But, to keep pushing it back further and further is just cruel. I know it’s not deliberate, and I also know that if they say it will be delayed by 2 hours and it’s only 1 hour, the first thing that will happen is some passenger will leave the terminal area and not come back for 2 hours. So, it’s a balance thing. I understand that, but surely there is a better way to handle this situation. They deal with this all the time, so you’d think they’d come up with a better system that improves the situation for everyone.

Anyway, I ended up not getting on any earlier flights and my name kept getting pushed further down the list, so I just accepted that I was not getting home early and finished my report. My flight, scheduled for 4:45, of course, was delayed and didn’t leave until about 6pm. I was one of the last to board so, in a final form of messing with me, when I boarded the plane I found no room in the overheads for my modest pilot case. There were three infuriating things about this reality. The first was that the bins were full even though there was nary a passenger to be seen around the bins towards the front. All the people in the back had put their bags up front. The flight attendants are meant to prevent that – I’ve seen them slap wrists for that before. To their credit, they had warned us while at the gate area they would have to check large bags as it was a completely full flight, and I saw them take away several large bags. However, and this is the second of those infuriating things, the gate agents had allowed some kid to bring his TWO guitars on as carry ons. They were in soft cases and probably would not have survived a trip in the cargo hold. They really did him a favor by letting him bring those on, but my point is, what reasonable person would expect to bring TWO guitars on as a carry on? Remember those carry-on sizers they used to have at DFW? They wouldn’t have fit! And, if his trip had involved one of those cute Regional Jets they wouldn’t have fit inside at all. He just shouldn’t have been allowed to take them – he should have to get a hard case and stick them in the hold.

One of my work colleagues travels to play golf all the time and I don’t understand why the airlines allow people to take golf clubs as regular baggage. I think that would be a great way for the airlines to make up some of their profit – by charging a reasonable amount to carry golf clubs. I hate standing around waiting on my bag while all these golf clubs come off first. They are bulky and take extra care (and time) to handle. I don’t really play golf but if I did, I would not expect to be able to take my golf clubs for free.

So, this kid’s guitars are laying flat in one entire bin, and there was no room for anything else and nothing else could go on top of them. So, there I am, with a flood of pissed-off humanity coming in behind me, and I’ve got nowhere to go with my bag. The situation is obvious, and the people behind me are only pissed off. I was able to squeeze out of the aisle and let most of them by, until this woman comes up whose seat I’m standing in front of. I explain my situation and tell her I need to go back up front to deliver my bag to the gate agent so it can be checked. She and the people behind her just blink at me with these pissed off looks on their faces. I let her sit and then just start walking backwards asking the people to get out of the way. I couldn’ t just keep standing there. It was a very awkward moment and it reminded me of how much I really, really dislike most other people. I did ask the gate agent why it was okay for Mr. Rock n’ Roll star to bring TWO guitars on board while I had to check my modest pilot case and she just shrugged.

So, after an hour and 15 minute delay after a full day of delays and disappointments, I arrived in Dallas after dark. And had to stand in baggage claim next to, you guessed it, the kid with the guitars.

Oh, and there was one more delay in my day, just so the karma gods could remind me who is in control. Accident on 635 shut down all lanes of traffic just as I was gettng up to highway speed. I couldn’t believe it. I was literally about to drive across the median strip to go back to 121, but the accident wasn’t too far ahead and I was delayed only another 15 minutes or so.

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