Chicago – where itineraries go to die!

Posted on August 28, 2014

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Just before I took my flight I skyped B last night. We ran through a check list of all the things I needed to bring and then he dropped a bombshell.

“Don’t be surprised if you end up overnighting in Chicago,” he said flatly.
“Sorry?” I said perplexed.
“Put it like this,” he added thoughtfully. “If Charles de Gaulle is where lost luggage goes, then Chicago O’Hare is where people lost in transit end up and where itineraries go to die.”

Now I thought he was exaggerating. This is a well travelled man, but surely he was pulling my chain? Whenever I book a flight anywhere I always ensure there is at least a two hour window in case of delays. I have learnt the hard way seven years ago. Me and my best mate missed our connecting flight to Argentina while in Madrid due to delays in London; and despite a marathon effort of pegging it across terminals we were turned away at the gate. Most irritating.

But B was not exaggerating at all. My heart thumping cardio workout for a solid 40-minutes after landing in Chicago proved that.

I have never witnessed chaos like it and I’ve done a lot of transiting this year. What’s worse is they know it and fully embrace it. It’s like they are trying to do too much and failing miserably. In my humble opinion they need to have less flights, bigger gps between flights and get organised. I seriously did not think the route to my next gate to be quite so bad, so I am thankful that I went straight into London mode overdrive.

The airport is huge for a start. The plane must have taxi-ed for at least 15 minutes before stopping. Most passengers (or maybe it was just my flight) were over 60 and/or large. No scrap that……they were supersize in the way that Europeans seldom are. That meant everyone was moving way too slowly due to age issues or weight conditions. Once you’ve barged your way through the sea of fatties marvelling at the obesity crisis in all its glory along the plethora of conveyor belts you finally reach immigration.

Now forgive me but most Americans are not the sharpest tool in the box. There are exceptions, I know, but not today. There are two queues in the immigration hall. The first one is for first time ESTA users (the new visa for non US citizens) and it is manned by a real human being.

Notice how I said first time ESTA users. I kid you not, I heard an official say to a tourist, “Sir is this your first visit to the U-nited Staaates of Am-erica?”

Duh? That’s why he is in that line!

The other queue is for returning ESTA users and US citizens which means it is even longer and entry is all done electronically – disaster! It’s like being transported back in time to when supermarket self-checkout came into force and frighten the bejeezus out of technophobes. I could feel my blood pressure rising and my feet tapping getting louder. I am not a patient woman when I have a deadline to hit and other people are holding me back.

“Oh COME ON!! It’s not bloody rocket science.” I fumed to myself. “Scan the passport, confirm, place your fingers on the screen and look at the damn camera. Press submit at each stage. For Christ Sake!!”

Once that hurdle is passed you then have to collect your bags and drop them off again and then go through security once more. They don’t make this easy.

As I ran after my rucksack on the baggage carousel tugging it off and flinging it onto my back in one action I then lunged out of the exit. I threw my rucksack at the United Airline attendant to scan. I’ll write what he said phonetically…he must have been Latino.

“Ma’m jew nee-da go to terminal C1 firty, but jew hav to harrie. Eef no good den here.” He thrust a new boarding card into my hand.
“Dis is de next flight. Tamora ees at 0925, h’ok?”

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I glanced at the slip of paper and then at him.
“No it is most certainly not ok,” I emphasised. “I have to make this flight,” I said snatching the boarding card and running off.

I bounded up the escalators with my backpack securely strapped across both shoulders while clutching my camera bag with my rather heavy 600mm lens I had just bought in London. At the top of the stairs was another hurdle. I now had to wait for a shuttle to take me to terminal one.

Five whole minutes felt like an eternity. Finally when it did arrive the terminals were set out rather confusingly: 5,3,2 and 1. Typical, mine would be the last one.

Out of the doors I flew up the stairs two at a time following the letter C. I could feel sweat dripping down my back. I will arrive looking like I’ve finished a bikram class. I took a sharp right and then down another flight of stairs where I entered into another section of the airport. Here I was confronted with an enormous queue to go to security.

“Oh bloody hell…” I thought reluctantly joining the back of the queue.

I looked at my watch. “Shit, it’s 1920 and boarding is in 20 minutes. I’ll never make it in this line.”

So I didn’t wait in line. I did what my Dad used to do when I was a little girl and pushed forward. I was polite mind. In my best British accent I asked each person what time their flight was and if it was later than mine I cheekily asked if I could jump in front. By the time I got to the security desk. I had my jacket and my shirt off, my boots in one hand with my belt, my liquids and laptop in the other.

“In a hurry?” said the security guard looking at me, then my boarding card and no doubt my furrowed brow. “Asha, is it? Don’t worry it’s always like this, if you don’t get this one, you’ll get the next one.”

“It’s crazy here,” I said exasperated. “I’ve never witnessed anything like it. To be honest I don’t want the next one, I want to get this one.” I said firmly.

Once through security I re-dressed sharpish and looked up at the board. My gate was at the other end of the airport. I broke into a light jog.

One woman I passed shouted out to me, “Don’t worry if you don’t make it, they’ll put you on another flight!”
“I don’t want to get on another flight. I’m getting on this one if it kills me…” I shouted without turning and running hard now.

B26, B24, B21 Starbucks. Escalator down to C.
More running along conveyor belts, now another larger steep escalator up to C-Section. More conveyor belts C24, C26, C28, I can see C30.

Time: 1943. Boarding started, gate closes in five minutes.
Made it, thank f**k!!!!

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Posted in: Branching out