My second flight from hell happened Christmas 2007. I booked a flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Portland, Oregon months in advance and I was really looking forward to seeing good friends again after quite a while.
I was booked on United from Frankfurt to Chicago O’Hare and later to Portland. It was December 23rd and I was scheduled to arrive in Chicago around 5pm; my connecting flight should leave around 7pm and land a few hours later in Portland.
The flight from Frankfurt to Chicago was more or less uneventful, but the captain announced shortly before landing that the weather in Chicago was pretty snowy and we should expect some turbulence.
We arrived safely and I headed to the gate where my plane to Portland was located. By the time I arrived I noticed a huge amount of people sitting on the floor, lying on benches and generally waiting in the terminal. After a look on the flight monitors I recognized that a lot of flights were already delayed or even cancelled due to the bad weather. Two previous flights to Portland were delayed by an hour or more but mine was still on time… that made me thankful but I didn’t really have a good feeling. Should I really be one of the lucky guys this time? Well, let’s keep it short – of course I wasn’t.
After my flight was delayed for about 45 minutes (which was nothing compared to all the other flights that day), we were allowed to board and sit down. After I found my seat and sat down, all passengers including me didn’t see or hear anything from the crew. There was no captain, no steward, no service, nothing. That surprised us,and after about an hour the gate agent made an announcement: “Dear passengers, we’re sorry to inform you but your crew won’t make it due to the heavy snowfall outside. Please get off the plane and line up at United customer service.”
So we all got outside and searched for the next customer service desk. The desk was pretty easy to find because people were already waiting in a line that was longer than any other line I’ve ever seen. I got my place in line and heard a guy shouting, “Passengers booked to Portland, Oregon please come to desk XX.”
I grabbed my carry-on luggage and started to run. I arrived at the desk as third in line and was pretty excited because I had no clue what could happen. By that time my cell phone battery was of course dead and I didn’t have my friend’s phone number in memory, so there was no chance that he could do anything for me and that I could inform him about my situation. The agent handed me a hotel voucher and told me to come back to the airport at 5am the next morning. It was 11pm when the bus picked us up and brought us to the hotel.
Realizing that people from three flights to Portland were in that hotel and on stand-by didn’t really make my mood get any better. After checking-in at the hotel, I asked for a battery charger and was finally given one. I called my friend and was told that he kept tracking my flight and had already made a reservation for me at a 5 star hotel… bad luck for me, but all I needed was a bed for a night, so it didn’t really bother me.
Four hours later I found myself on the way back to the airport, and after going through security I was told to go to gate XX and wait for any free seats on the next planes. Three more flights to Portland were scheduled and mentioned by the gate agent, but the weather still was not as good as it probably should have been.
After the first flight had been filled with stand-by passengers, I wondered if I’d be considered because my flight was booked miles from my friend from Portland. Flight two was filled but my name was still not announced. There wasn’t many people left when the agent announced the lucky names to get on plane number three, so I guessed my chances on plane three were alright. Well, my name was not on their list and the doors were closed without me onboard.
Starting to get a little desperate at this point cannot describe the way I felt. Being in a foreign country with no knowledge about the procedure and not knowing what to do, I asked the gate agent what he could do for me. He looked in his computer, talked to the other agents, printed out a boarding pass and said to my surprise, “There is a fourth flight with destination Portland leaving in a minute. If you run you can perhaps catch it.” I then asked him if he could inform his co-workers at the other gate that there is a person running like hell and willing to go on that plane. I didn’t wait for his answer but was thankful to be given a chance.
I ran to the other terminal through the colorful lighted tunnel and arrived at the gates only a few minutes later. The gate agent smiled and said that I probably set a new record and that she was happy to have me onboard. You can’t believe how happy I was. I got the last seat on the last flight for that day (or let’s say for three days, because O’Hare airport was shortly closed after my flight took off due to heavy snowfall) and was relieved when I got off the plane.
I didn’t forget about my checked-in bag; I waited a loooong time at the carousel but was not lucky. So I went to the lost baggage counter and found a line that was about 60 feet long. After a minute of waiting I heard a silent voice from a woman who said from far away, “OK, passengers from Chicago please follow me through this door.” I didn’t know what she really said, but since my situation was not about to get any better, I left my place in line and ran to a TSA agent who, in my opinion, gave instructions to follow her. She asked me what I wanted and I explained that I just arrived from Chicago. She led us 10 people to a baggage cart where we could try our luck. After a few minutes I found my bag and was more than relieved that the horrible trip that lasted for more than 36 hours came to an end.
What did I learn from it all?
- Avoid flying to or from Chicago in winter
- Keep your friend’s phone number in memory
- Never lose hope