Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday from Hell Part 1: Lunatic on Belmont Ave

I've never missed a flight before, at least not that I can remember. My mom has horror stories of losing our passports in an Indian airport and missing our flights to Hyderabad in 1988, but I was only six months old at the time, and I don't remember it. The closest I've ever come to actually missing a flight was when I flew out to Washington DC to start my internship after my second year of college. That experience involved an impasse at security, a mad sprint to the gate from the train at Denver International Airport, and extreme tachycardia. I ran through the gate in truly dramatic fashion, ending up the last passenger to board the aircraft in a scene that was movie-worthy. That was a close call, but I still made it. On the Holiday from Hell, everything changed.

The tale of my trip starts on a Wednesday. I finished up work at the lab in downtown Chicago and slowly made my way home, meandering through stores in the Water Tower mall en route.  Despite the fact that I was leaving for New Zealand in less than twenty-four hours, I was still unhurried.

Around midnight, the reality of having done absolutely no packing for my trip hit me, and I began tearing around my room in search of clothes like a madwoman.  My backpack was crammed to its volumetric limit in the next two hours, with clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.

Around 2am, I fell asleep on my bed from exhaustion, intending to get up again in a few hours.  I slept through my alarm on Thursday morning.  I realized this with a horrified feeling as I stared at the clock.  It read 10:17, nearly three hours later than my intended wake-up time.

I ran around getting ready and jumped on the train to go to work to finish my last-minute chores.  I gave myself an hour to do them, and by 1pm, I was headed to the train station again.  In my haste, I had not eaten breakfast or lunch, but I had grabbed a couple of granola bars from my lab stash.  I ate one on the way back home, and when I reached home, I raced to pack all of my last-minute things.  I found some leftover oven fries in the fridge that I had made on Wednesday night and tossed them into my pack along with the second granola bar.

Shouldering my pack, I set out from my apartment at 2:30.  My flight was at 5, and I was hoping the trip to the airport would be quick.  I looked like a lunatic, walking down Belmont Ave with a backpack that was taller than me.  A mom with a stroller shielded her child's eyes as she skirted around me.  A couple crossed to the opposite side of the road to avoid coming too  near me.  Standing out as I did, I managed to quickly  hail a cab to take me to the Belmont blue line train station.  I caught the train, which took me to Chicago O'Hare airport by 3:15.

Once there, I was faced with a dilemma.  I had already tried checking in on the United Airlines website but failed because they could not find my trip information.  I had called Travelocity to confirm that my reservation still existed and had been yelled at by a machine that refused to answer my questions.

My leading theory was that since the flight was booked through Air New Zealand, I would have to check in through Air New Zealand.  However, on O'Hare's list of terminals, Air New Zealand was nowhere to be found.  I decided to check with United and hope for the best, and accordingly, I headed off to Terminal 1.

There were people everywhere in Terminal 1, which was surprising for a Thursday afternoon, I think.  O'Hare always seems to be full of people though.  I stood in line at the international check-in for a while, until it was finally my turn.  I then attempted to check in, but an error message appeared on the screen.  The agent who was directing traffic hurried me over to another line where I proceeded to wait again.  There were only two agents working and a significant line.  One of the agents was tied up trying to sort out a group of Indian people who appeared to have put their passports in their suitcase and checked it in.  I had no idea how to go about finding luggage in the labyrinth of conveyor belts housed in the guts of the airport.  Neither, apparently, did the agent.

When it finally came my turn, I was expecting some drama.  The agent had my boarding documents printed and ready to go before I could properly zip my bag to check it in.  The security lines were enormous, but even that went smoothly.  I began to relax a bit as I walked toward my gate.  Maybe the travel gods were on my side this time.

Continue to Part 2

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