05 January 2012

Made it............. Finally

Finally, I made it back to Nebraska. I left Tuesday morning from Manchester, England which turned into a two day odyssey. The flight was scheduled to depart at 9 AM. Well, we sat in the plane for an hour… waiting… we didn’t even move.

That day there were warnings for strong winds… with gales of over 90 MPH. That is why we sat and waited and as we waited, I watched the clock move, realizing that I was getting into the danger zone of making my next flight.

Finally, just before 10 AM we took off. A side note… roughly an hour later the airport was shut down.

That was the first time I ever took off with winds that strong. It felt like an old World War II movie, with the wings going side to side. We battled our way through the winds… at one time just dropping a couple of feet really fast… which felt like a hundred feet.

Eventually though, we made our way through the clouds and above the winds and enjoyed a somewhat peaceful flight across the Atlantic… sooner or later though we would have to start coming back down and on Tuesday the high winds were also raising havoc on the east coast airports.

I’m not sure what it was… either the pressure from the winds or from flying way above them but for the first time since I began flying at a young age… my ears hurt… they were so plugged. I chewed gum as fast as I could yet I couldn’t get no relief. Eventually they popped and I couldn’t hear the best but the pain was gone.

By the time we landed in Newark, NJ I had 55 minutes to make my next flight. In most cases this would have been plenty of time, but I first had to go through customs, then immigration and finally another security check.

The security check I forgot about. I breezed through security and went and claimed my luggage and breezed through immigration. I even had some help from a staff member rechecking my luggage ahead of a lot of people in an effort to get to my next flight. All seemed well, until I rounded the corner and saw the long line for security. Even though, I was already in the airport I had to go through security again. I’m not sure if it was because I was arriving from another country or I had to enter a new terminal. When I saw the line, I knew I was sunk.

I finally made it through and still had ten minutes to get to the plane and I began running through the airport. Out of breath I arrived at the check in to find out I had missed my flight. I looked out the window and the tunnel was maybe three feet away from the plane… no more then five minutes was what separated me from making my flight.

Now the adventure began! I went to customer service and was buried in another line and I began to wait. As I waited I listened as people yelled and screamed at representatives that had nothing to do with the weather or missed flights. I really began to feel for these workers who showed a lot more tolerance then I think I would have. Finally, I made it to the counter and down a way from me was a drunk guy from Iowa just really being a pain. The lady that was helping me, kept looking down the row to see what was going on.

She found me a flight to Chicago and then Omaha. I originally had plans to fly into Lincoln but if I could get into Omaha, I’d take it. The representative said if I got into Omaha that their obligation would be complete and I would have to find my own way home. I pointed down to the drunk guy and said, “Don’t worry, just get me to Omaha and I’ll hitch a ride with him.” That broke the tension and the lady laughed.

She gave me my tickets and I began my wait for a 6 PM flight out of Newark. Guess what? That flight also took off an hour late and I arrived in Chicago 20 minutes before my next flight… by the time we got to our gate… the flight to Omaha was gone.

It was almost 9 PM… I had been awake for over 24 hours, living in airports, and I finally surrendered. It wasn’t meant to be for me to get home Tuesday night.

I will say O’Hare does know how to take care of stranded customers. I was given an 800 phone number and called and was given a list of nearby hotels that gave discounts for stranded people. I made a reservation for the Hyatt Hotel and was told to wait for the bus shuttle outside Terminal One.

I went outside and the cool air felt great. It was so freeing just to be away from the airport. I still wasn’t sure what was meant by the bus shuttle and then I saw these mini-buses driving around. One had “Hilton” on it… another had “Holiday Inn.” I figured it out, all I had to do was to find one that said “Hyatt” on it and it came down the road and I got in and was taken to the hotel, along with about a dozen other people and two pilots.

I checked in and the receptionist asked if a two bed suite was OK. I said, “Right now you could put me in a custodial closet and strap me to the wall.’ She laughed and then noticed I had no luggage. I said everything was on a plane – somewhere. She left for a moment and returned with a toothbrush and a shaver and some other things so I could at least get a little cleaned up before falling asleep.

After five hours of sleep I got up Wednesday morning and made my way back to O’Hare Airport. Just one flight to get back to Nebraska and this one would take me to Lincoln… my original destination.

When I arrived, I felt so relieved to finally get my feet back on native soil. There was only one thing left to do and that was claim my luggage. Another fear rose up when my luggage never appeared. I went to the service desk and told them about it and gave them my card for it. She looked on her computer and left for a moment and returned with my suitcase. It arrived on time.

Maybe next time I’ll fly with the luggage… a little less stressful. All in all though, everything was fine. I got back here, I had a relaxing evening, and to be honest with you I was quite impressed with myself for never going into a panic mode. Everything worked out exactly the way it should have.

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