Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rocky Road: Part II

Normally when you go to the airport people are arriving at different times and going to different airlines. There may be thousands of people moving about the terminal, but you're only aware of the ones who are standing in the same line as you or who are trying to get on the same plane as you. There are the occasional encounters with people who are busy yacking on their cell phones and walk right into you. For the most part people come and go and there's a certain flow of people as they go from place to another within the terminal.

So what happens when all of those thousands of people descend on one airport terminal all at the same time? Can anyone say "Filene's Basement Sale on steroids?" Actually given the circumstances, people were pretty calm. I expected everyone to start running towards the doors like a bunch of crazed shopaholics rushing to find the perfect item for cheap. I was afraid I would get trampled so I made sure when it became clear they would be letting us go soon, I got my bags ready to roll.

Getting to the terminal was easy. Getting inside and upstairs to the departure area was challenging. I went in the first door and realized that getting to the American Airlines counters from there was going to be close to impossible. I went in another door. Oops! Still can't get through. Finally found my way around. Inside you had lots people going in different directions trying to get upstairs. I figured trying to get on the elevator to go upstairs was going to be next to impossible. I thought the escalators would be a better option. However there was this slight problem. The up escalators were not working. Only the down escalators were on. What to do? I just walked up the steps hauling my all my luggage and carry on stuff. All those push ups I do in taekwondo paid off.

Having made it upstairs I still had to get over to the American check in counters. Picture an airport the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or the Sunday after. For my European readers picture July 31st when everyone gets up to goes away for the August holidays. Lines and people everywhere. Multiply that by 20 and you'll have a better picture of what the lines were like. I didn't dare take my camera out to take pictures of the chaos inside. One, I was afraid of getting trampled. Two, I wasn't sure how police and others would feel about that.

Where I came upstairs was by the United counters. I still had to make my way over to American. It was very hard trying to get through the crowds with my luggage, and everyone else and their luggage. I went outside and came in the doors closer to American. I'm looking around for the priority access line that I normally can use. I couldn't find it, and even if I did I'm sure it would have been very long too. I went back outside and noticed that the skycaps were actually accepting bags curbside. There was no line there. They had to send people away whose flights had been cancelled. Those people were going to have to stand on line and be rebooked. Since I had an early flight it was simply delayed so they were able to take my bags! It's the unforeseen and crazy things that can happen when travelling that makes me book early flights. In this case it was a very smart idea. Maybe being on Flight 313 wasn't so bad after all.

My next challenge was going to be negotiating the security screening lines. Would they flip out when my Chronos clock showed up on the x-ray? I even had debated over whether I should put it my checked bags. I decided it would be better for me to explain what it was in person instead of the guy running the check bags through that x-ray machine freaking out. Going out to Kansas a few weeks ago I actually got stopped in La Guardia and had take it out my bag. I thought they might be a little more paranoid this time.

I get to the first station where they look at your ID, boarding card and send you to one of the lines. Often that line is going up the ramp and around the corner. That lines moves quickly since it's just an airport services person making sure you have the ID and card ready for the TSA people. There's no line! The lady sends me over to the priority line. Nobody on that line and about 6 people on the other line. I get to the table with the bins, and I'm not having to fight for space to put my two bins. One for my computer, and the other for my shoes, jacket and cap. As I watch the bin vanish into the machine I realize I left my boarding card in there. That's a rookie traveller mistake! An old pro like me isn't suppose to do that! However since there were so few people going through at that point they woman had me come through the scanner sans boarding card, and then had me show it when the bin came through.

I was greatly relieved to see the bag with the chess clock in it pass through with nobody asking "Who does this bag belong to?" Maybe it was the same guy from a few weeks ago, and said to himself "Oh it's that crazy chess lady again." I will know when I'm travelling too much when the TSA guys start saying "Hello Mrs. Wright. Where are you playing this weekend?" I don't think that day will ever come unless I hit the lottery or some unknown rich relative leaves me a few million dollars.

When I had first gotten to the airport and saw what was happening I called to see what was going on and the status of the flight. The customer service representative was jsut starting to get calls, and she said her computer was saying the flight was still leaving on time. She set me up to get status updates on the flight. The last one I had gotten had us boarding at 9:30 and departing at 10:00. That's also what my new boarding card said. It was about 9:10 so that gave me a little time to scoot into the airline club, pull myself together, grab some mini bagels for the flight and get to the gate.

One of my frequent flier perks is getting to board early. I like boarding early. I don't have to fight for over head space. I don't have to stand in the aisle while some knucklehead tries to cram a oversized suitcase in the overhead bin and then ends out having to give to the flight attendant to check. I get to my seat, get settled in and then indulge in people watching as everyone tries to make their way through.

This day was different. I get to the gate. Actually getting to the gate was an adventure in itself. For what ever reason they announced that if you were taking a flight from the C Concourse you needed to come to D2 to be bussed to your gate. C concourse is where all the United flights go from. Maybe it had something to do with the "bomber" since he had been booked on a United flight. I come out of the airline club with a open cup of tea. (They had no lids!) I'm trying to get through this huge crowd of very confused United passengers. Somebody shouts "Who's with United?" A bunch of hands go up. Then the person asks "Do you work for United?" All the hands that went up immediately went down. They all thought she was asking who was flying with them. She was looking for someone from the airline to tell what was going on. That's just great. Send a bunch of stressed out travellers from one concourse to another to board a bus, and not have anyone from your airline to tell what he hell is happening. "Friendly skies?" Ha!

I made my way through this crowd of confused passengers without dumping my tea on anyone, and without tripping over somebody's luggage or kid. There were plenty of chances to trip over either. When I got to the gate they had not started the boarding process. (I love airline terminology. What's wrong with "getting on the plane."? George Carlin has a very funny, but foul mouthed routine about airline announcements where he goes on a rant about phrases such as the boarding process.) Warning: Rated R!

Usually when a flight is getting ready to start boarding there are lots of people hovering around, just waiting to jump on line when their group number is called. This was not the case. There are a few people standing on line to see the gate agent. There were 42 names on the standby list. I was wondering how many of those people would actually get a seat. However the bigger question was "Where are all those people?"

When I got on the plane I put my one bag in the overhead bin and the other on my seat. I got out of the aisle and I look behind me and there aren't hoards of people trying to get to their seat. People are slowly trickling onto the plane. In the meantime my phone rings and it's the American Airlines update, and now they're telling me 11:00 am departure. I mention that to some of the people sitting around me. One person says he got the same message. Then the flight attendant gets on the intercom and announces that we're taking off at 11:00 because there are still people trying to get through security. Unfortunately we can't get off the plane either. ***Note to self: After a bomb scare don't be in such a damn hurry to get on the plane."***

At that point I get my computer out since I'm going to be there for awhile. I actually was picking up the wireless signal from the Admiral's Club which is located fairly close to the gate we were at. I type in my number and I was good to go. I don't think I've ever sat on a parked plane and been able to access the internet. I uploaded some of the pictures and posted them on Facebook. After about 20 minutes the signal crapped out. I have a feeling as people got through security and got to the Admiral's Club the bandwidth was all spent.

It took almost an hour and half before everyone got on the plane. One of the late arrivals told me she was lucky she had even made the flight. Her original flight got canceled, so she had rebook. Fortunately she was at the top of the standby list so she made it. Finally around 11:15 they close the doors. There was one empty seat. That was the one next to me.

It would still be another half hour before we would take off. They were using one runway for takeoffs and landings. It was kind of weird watching planes land on the runway that we were about to take off from. As we taxied into position for takeoff I counted the planes behind us. There were 11 planes of varying sizes waiting in the queue. I was glad when we finally took off. Chicago bound at last.

The last time I had been a flight heading to Chicago that was merely a stopover before heading to Nashville for Super Nationals. I was doing the cheapo option and getting more miles. I met a woman on this flight who was changing planes in Chicago to go to Nashville. Her trip to Nashville had a lot more significance then mine. She was going down there for her wedding. However her wedding was going to be delayed by a few hours. It was supposed to be at 6:00 pm that evening. She wasn't leaving Chicago until 5:15 pm. It's only an hour flight, but I suspect she had a few things to do once she got off the plane in Nashville. I can't imagine flying in from New York on the same day I'm getting married.

I got to Chicago three hours late. The last hurdle to negotiate was trying to figure out where our luggage was going to arrive. They had told us claim 8, but the signs said claim 4. We stood around and watched luggage from San Diego arrive, but no La Guardia luggage. In the meantime my husband and his friends who came to meet me are standing by claim 8 looking for me. The people at baggage services don't have clue. Their computers are not very useful. Some lady is bitchin' and moanin' about where is her luggage. I decide I'm going back to claim 8. There I find one of our friends and my luggage.

Finally collect everything and everybody and head to the hotel. I'll be spending a few days in Chicago and then head down to Indianapolis on Wednesday for the US Open. I'm glad I'm going by train. I start playing on Thursday.


chesstiger said...

Despite all the troubles you have a wonderfull story to tell. Goodluck in the tournament, hope it will not be so difficult as getting there.

wang said...

Thanks for this Polly. I love Carlin, he was my all time favorite comic. After seeing this special years ago, I never traveled the same way again. Every time I'm at an airport I just hear Carlin in the backgrounc.

Polly said...

Wang: The first time I heard that was on an airplane which made it even funnier. I was laughing the whole time. I'm sure my seat mate thought I was nuts. But every time I hear the part about how to fasten a seat belt I think of that sketch.

Anonymous said...

Polly, as i left out of la guardia for the 6 day section, the lady on the x-ray machine had a weird look on her face as my chess bag went through
once through she asked me why she was seeing so many of these "devices" when she had never seen them before

Polly said...

Anon: I'm surprised I haven't gotten stopped more often. The guts of a Chronos is nothing more then a few silicon chips, button, wires and batteries. I would think that would look kind of weird on the x-ray. But what do I know?