Friday, February 16, 2007

Emma and I made it to Maine. The getting here? Not so easy.

You know that big snowstorm that pummelled the Midwest and East this week? The one that shut down all the airports? Yeah, that one. We were trying to fly during that.

We were delayed three hours leaving Boise on Tuesday morning, because of the snow in Chicago. We were a half hour late boarding, then we sat on the plane for half an hour, then they un-boarded us because they couldn't get clearance from Chicago, so we sat in the terminal for 15 minutes, then they told us to hurry up and re-board because they got clearance and had to leave RIGHT NOW, then we sat on the runway for another two hours.

We finally took off, and made it to Chicago fine. The landing was a little sketchy, because there was a 35-mph wind blowing and visibility of less than a quarter mile. I don't like it when the plane blows sideways when it's less than 100 feet from the ground. I like it even less when I can't even see the ground until we're less than 100 feet up!

Because of the delay leaving Boise, we missed our connecting flight to Portland, Maine. We were rebooked onto the 7:20 flight no problem, and went and got some lunch/dinner. I set Emma up with a movie on the computer, and pulled out my knitting (I brought yarn and needles for Kiri, as my travel knitting. More on that later.) We had about four hours to wait until the Portland flight.

So 7:00 rolls around, the snow in Chicago gets worse, and lots of flights at other airports are having delays, which means that O'Hare is having trouble getting the planes and flight crews they need. Our Portland flight is delayed half an hour while they try to find us a captain. We had a plane and a crew, just nobody to actually fly the plane. (Which is sort of necessary, you know....)

So we wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait. Lots of other planes are delayed too, and lots of people are milling around wondering if they are going to be able to go. They push back our departure time about every half hour. It turns out that around 9:00, they gave away our flight crew to another plane that had a captain but no crew, so now we were stuck with no captain and no crew. Still, they assured us that we were going to be able to fly out that night. One of the incoming flights had personnel that would be able to fly us. About 10:30, they told us that they found us a captain, and were working on getting a crew. Yay!

So we wait and wait and wait and wait. At 11:30 they told us they found a flight attendant who had enough hours left on her flight day to take our trip, and she was coming in on an inbound plane, and would be landing in 10 minutes, and would come straight to our gate, and we would leave. Yay!!!

So we waited and waited and waited. At 12:00, they called to the other gate to see why our flight attendant hadn’t shown up yet. They didn’t know. Our captain, who had been waiting with us for the last hour, actually went to the other gate to try and find the flight attendant. He never came back. He did call our gate and talk to the ticket person, who stopped smiling and wouldn’t tell us anything more, except that they were working on it. At 1:00am, an announcement came over the speaker, telling us that our flight had been canceled. The flight attendant had GONE HOME!

By this time, Emma and I had been up for 21 hours (no, Emma hadn’t slept at all) and we were exhausted. The airline said they couldn’t put us in hotels, because it was too late, all the rooms were booked (ALL rooms in Chicago were booked? I think not.), it wasn’t their fault it was the weather (hello, what about the flight attendant who went home?!), blah blah blah. They did, however, offer us very comfortable army cots in the baggage claim area. (Can you hear the sarcasm?)

We were tired enough to go to the cots. What they didn’t tell us was that the baggage claim area was approximately 14.8 miles from our gate, through three construction areas, down two flights of stairs (escalators were turned off), and was apparently unheated. We got there at 1:30am, after rebooking our flight for the following day. We settled down under our thin polyester blankets and coats, on our four inch wide cots (my shoulders were wider than the cot, and were bruised the next day from the metal frame) and finally got to sleep. Of course, the airport announcements went on all night, we were right next to a wall of windows looking out on the road, and they never turned out the lights, but Emma slept soundly, and I did sleep a little, in between checking to make sure Emma was still next to me and waking up every time the “Terror Level Orange” and “Please Keep Your Bags With You” announcements came on.

Then at 4:00 am (4:00 am!!!!), the security guards came around and woke everyone up and said we had to leave because the area had to be cleared for baggage. They were literally folding up the cots from beneath us. One of the guards physically picked sleeping Emma up off her cot and put her on the floor while I was putting on my shoes. I may or may not have yelled at him and told him to not touch my daughter. I ain’t sayin’, but I was on a short fuse at that point. What was the sense of offering us cots at 1:00, when we were going to be kicked out at 4:00?

We staggered back up to the gate area and tried to sleep some more, since our first possible flight wasn’t until 9:05. Emma got some more good rest, but I didn’t get much because there were more people around and I kept thinking she was wandering away or being taken or something. Also, airport chairs are uncomfortable and the floor is very hard.

And so Wednesday went by. Happy Valentine’s Day. By this time, the storm that had been in Chicago on Tuesday was bearing down on the east coast, and the flights into Portland were cancelled. First the 9:05, then the 1:23. They didn’t cancel the 7:20 flight until about 40 minutes before the supposed departure time, so we were really hoping it would go. I had to stand in line for an hour and a half to get my ticket changed this time, just to be told that there were no open seats until Friday morning, though we could be on standby for all three flights Thursday.

Meanwhile, my dad called some old church friends who now live in Chicago, to see if they would come rescue me and Emma. I hadn’t seen these people in 20 years, but by that point we were so tired I would have gone to a stranger’s house, just to get a shower and sleep. Dad said they would be happy to come get us, so I called them and told them which door we were at. The husband arrived twenty minutes later (I did vaguely recognize him, and he had told me what he would be wearing) and took us home, where his wife fed us roast chicken, stuffing, and asparagus. We took a lovely hot shower, got into some borrowed pajamas, and sacked out in a glorious king-sized bed. It was heavenly. They even washed all our clothes, which was very nice since we’d been in the same set for two days at that point. We stopped at a drugstore on the way to their house so I could get contact solution, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and deodorant. I hadn’t brought toiletries in my carry on, because of those new restrictions on liquids and such.

We got up the next morning and went back to the airport in time to see if we would get on the 9:05 flight. We didn’t get on, but wonder of wonders, the flight actually went! Woohoo! There’s actually a chance that we would someday leave Chicago!

I was resigned to spending all day at the airport, waiting on standby and probably not getting on a flight, but one of the other passengers who had been with us from the beginning did get called for standby on the 9:05 flight, even though she was confirmed for the 1:23 flight that day. She talked the ticket agent into transferring their confirmed seats on the 1:23 to Emma’s and my tickets! I don’t know how she did it, but I was so glad. I didn’t even know what to say to her, except thank you thank you thank you! I was flabbergasted, actually. That woman, her husband, and another woman were so nice to me and Emma. They played with Emma, bought us dinner at Chili’s so we wouldn’t have to eat yet another cold sandwich, offered to pay for a hotel room the second night (though we didn’t have to take them up on that, since we went to Dad’s friends’), and were just so nice. They all said Emma reminded them of their grandkids, and they hoped that if their kids and grandkids were ever in the situation Emma and I were in, that someone would help them out too. They did a lot to restore my faith in humanity. Thank you, Rose, Ginger, and Tom.

Anyway, we finally got on the plane! We left Chicago at about 1:45, and made it to Portland. Dad was there to meet us (he had been in Portland this whole time waiting on us), and we drove the three hours to his house. Whew- finally arrived! Only 48 hours later than we expected.

Emma was a fantastic traveler. The entire wait, she was a happy girl. She had maybe two small meltdowns the whole time, and that was only because I told her she wasn’t allowed to play on the escalators. I am blown away by how good she is. She played by herself, she played with other kids (and a couple times, I think she headed off those kids’ tantrums by sharing her coloring books and markers!), she talked to the people sitting near us and entertained them. It was amazing. I was inspired by her good-tempered-ness.

Unfortunately, our suitcase and carseat did not make it. The airline lost them, and now, 24 hours after Emma and I arrived, our baggage is still lost. Not just delayed, but lost. As in, even they don’t know where it is. Color me not happy. We’re still in the same clothes we put on Tuesday morning, and while they’ve been washed, I do wish we had something warmer. I have jeans and a long sleeved t-shirt, Emma has light pants, a long sleeved t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. One pair of undies each. A coat each. They better find that suitcase. I’m hoping that O’Hare is just really backed up and confused, and they’ll get it sorted out in the next day or so.

Also unfortunately, Dad had to postpone his surgery because he was waiting on our plane. He’s having it on March 1 and 15, the second date of which is after I’m scheduled to leave. Not sure how that’s going to work out yet. The surgery (lens replacement) seems to be fairly straightforward and easy to recover from (though it still gives me the heebie-jeebies when I think about it), but I don’t know if he should really be driving us to Portland. So now I wonder, should I try to change my return ticket? I guess we’ll see after he gets the first eye done.

Anyway, rant over. Congratulations if you read all the way through! We’re here, we’re safe, and that’s all that matters.


Charleen said...

What a nightmare! Hooray for Emma! Isn't it amazing how our kids can pick up the torch when needed?

I hope your suitcases have arrived by the time you read this.

Cathy said...

Amazing. Emma is a gem! I,too, hope your suitcases arrive soon. I mailed some of my stuff to my destination last time I flew - at least I knew it would be there eventually.

Liz said...

What a nightmare. Emma is a pretty amazing kid.

Sue, email me offblog, ok? I'm 2 hours from Portland, so your dad must not be too far... maybe we could meet in the middle and I could lend you some woolies.

Leigh said...

How could I not read all the way through, once I started reading it was hard to stop! Whew, what an adventure.

bibliotecaria said...

Man! I am -- stunned. Congratulations for survival, and for friendly human beings.

Elayne said...

I think I held my breath the whole time. All the silver linings will stay with you forever and the rest will fade and be forgotten.

Enjoy your stay and good luck to your dad.