It’s snowing in Chicago

This is the time of year when I like to pop out to Texas to see my good friend Sandy for Thanksgiving and both our birthdays but on this occasion the travel arrangements did not go quite so smoothly. Connecting flights to Austin via Stockholm and Chicago were probably over-ambitious but I had very little choice, the next least-expensive option costing upwards of £1,500.

So I pre-booked my seats on the Scandinavian Airways flights to be nearest to the exit in the hope that I could disembark rapidly and make “sprinting interchanges” then I refined my packing so that everything fitted into hand baggage in anticipation of heightened security and set off in the chilly dawn for Heathrow airport. On my birthday. When I got to Stockholm I found that my onward flight to O’Hare, Chicago was delayed by an hour. Oh well, they sometimes make up the time in flight, don’t they? It was certainly nothing to worry an experienced traveller like me and the on-board staff were very reassuring.

Reassuring, that is, until we arrived exactly one hour late in the Windy City to find that the aircraft doors were stuck and a planeload of people were kept trapped while any hopes they had of making a dash for their onward connections rapidly ticked away. By this stage I know my own plight to be hopeless – unless of course my onward connection to Austin had been held up for any reason. All I had to do was find someone to help. You have to be joking.

O’Hare is probably the largest airport in the world; it certainly gets my vote for the most complicated. Since I last travelled through, the great snaking queues to its immigration channels have been replaced with special booths where, to the harrowing cries of “What?…I don’t understand this machine……….it isn’t working, what have I done wrong?……..but what do I do next?” we were expected to check our own documents, take our own photographs and fingerprints and self-certify ourselves into the Land of the Free.

Yes, there were members of staff around but perish the thought that any of them should actually understand the new procedures and, as for knowing where the onward transfer agents were supposed to be stationed, you have to be joking. Despite all my pleas I eventually found myself funnelled right out of the airport and having to talk my way back into one of the departure desks to find out about an onward flight. This where my troubles really began. The only thing Mr Not-Interested could tell me with any clarity was that I was in the wrong place and, as I tried to explain that II had been sent in this direction by other members of staff and really had nowhere else to go, he gazed over my head into the distance with an expression of such contempt he might have been the Maitre D of the Ritz.

A young black woman on the neighbouring counter took pity on me and whispered something to him. He then told me to wait and slowly heaved his considerable backside off of his stool to take my bundle of papers somewhere behind the scenes. The girl smiled encouragement while I waited for about twenty minutes until he came back with several chitties and told me I was booked into an airport hotel and then onto a flight leaving the following morning, And the hotel shuttle could be picked up outside of Exit D2. Oh no it couldn’t.

But at least by this stage I was left standing in the cold with a sprinkling of other people in a similar predicament. We swapped “home for the holidays” stories (one other passenger was desperately trying to get from Switzerland to Seattle) and eventually shared a taxi to the hotel. It was part of a chain which had better remain nameless because any illusions of comfort were quickly ruined by some of the least helpful desk staff in the business. My only hope is that some of its upper level executives will be forced to stay there themselves some time soon.

Too jet lagged to sleep much I got back to the airport at 6am to be told that American Airlines had no trace of an onward booking for a flight to Austin, Texas. But people can always surprise you and Elizabeth my “Angel of the Holidays” told me not to worry, she would make some calls and sort things out for me. I listened as she charmed her way through the officialdom on the other end of the phone until she could print me a boarding pass for the flight I had been expecting to catch. It seems she had also noticed the date because she suggested I move my birthday forward a day as now everything was going to be alright. And it was.

{So here I am with my friends at last: there is a new kitty to meet, tea to be drunk, stories to be swapped and turkey stuffing to be made – and pecan pie of course}   


Categories: North America


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