Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fly the Friendly Skys

How easily we can be reduced to a very basic and primal state.  I had the pleasure of an overnight layover in the Chicago-O’Hare airport a few years ago; unplanned, of course.  Summer thunderstorms delayed my outgoing flight from Denver to Chicago so late, that there were no more planes running that evening –  or morning, rather, because I didn’t land until after midnight.  This was my first experience being stranded.  I was just so thankful that I was traveling alone, or at least not with any children.  Here are some survival tips in case it happens to you.

1.         Find a line and stand in it.  You need to get a new ticket.  Chances are you will be told to move to another line, then another.  Just find the main service desk and stand in that line first.  The “temporary” lines the airline staff set up are just that – temporary.  The main line will be longer at first likely, but it won’t evaporate.
2.         Find the free sodas, blankets and pillows.  You won’t really sleep, so get all the caffeine and sugar you can.  The blankets and pillows provide some buffer between your behind and the floor.  Hopefully they won’t smell like ham.
3.         Find a set of chairs that does not have air rests between each seat.  Some people are actually skinny enough to squeeze their bodies UNDER the armrests to lie down on the chairs.  Let’s just say I sat up all night.  I saw cots, but I don’t know where on Earth they came from.
4.         Don’t bother setting an alarm for your 6 AM flight.  The cleaning crew will make sure you are awake at 4:30.
5.         If flights were messed up all night, they are going to be messed up for some time the next day.  Pilots need a minimum time on the ground before they are allowed to fly again.  I was flying standby on a flight for 6 AM and miraculously got a boarding pass.  Literally five minutes later they cancelled the flight.  No pilot.
6.         Listen to the other stranded passengers.  Chances are you have it way better than some of them.  One guy was on his way to get an operation.  One family of five (with young children) was to spend 4 nights vacation in London and was looking at losing two of them.  A few adults were chaperoning twenty-some teen aged girls and were trying to get home from three weeks in Europe.
7.         Don’t listen to anything the service desk staff says.  I called our travel agent to see if they could get me on the next flight.  I was informed they got me the last seat on the 11 AM flight.  When I went to get my boarding pass the customer representative told me I was just given an overbooked seat.  It apparently didn’t do me any more good than flying standby.  Literally five minutes later I had a boarding pass and seat assignment in hand.
8.         Look for celebrities.  They get stuck too.  I saw Dustin “Screech” Diamond from Saved by the Bell.

On my several mile walk from Terminal B to Terminal E, I witnessed what can only be described as a refugee camp.  Every horizontal surface was strewn with bodies wrapped in blankets.  Mothers with small children camped on the floors.  Bodies huddled around electrical outlets as if to gain warmth from them.  People who seem rational and mild-mannered while in line were stoked to a rage when they heard when the next open seat was.

All I can really say is “chin up” and try to work on your return from all angles.  As one of our partners put it, via email after I told him I wasn’t going to make it back, “Welcome to a national practice!”

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