Returning from Barcelona: I Hate O’Hare

You can relive my travel horrors en route to Barcelona by reading the tales from earlier this week. My return flight home has been even more disquieting so far. (There are so many words other than ‘disquieting’ I would use if I weren’t so exhausted and being desperately polite to everyone who can help me get home posthaste.)

I am writing this at 11:35 PM, Nov 10, from O’Hare International as I wait for my (delayed) flight to Seattle scheduled to depart around 12:30 AM. I left Barcelona on a 11:34 AM British Airways flight to London. Barcelona is on Central European Time (+1 GMT) and Chicago is on Central Standard Time (-6 GMT) so it was 4:54 AM in Chicago when I boarded my flight in Barcelona. The big event boarding the plane in Barcelona was the woman checking in my bags going off on me for booking my connection in London too tight. She had some choice words for me (all in Spanish) even after I explained to her that my travel agent booked the flights and I didn’t have any problems on my way there.

Of course Chicago O’Hare is known for its shutdowns and delays caused by inclement weather. Some days it’s too windy. Others it’s too rainy. Still others there’s too much hail & snow. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about flights being delayed at O’Hare because it is just too sunny.

We were nearing final descent to land in O’Hare, the captain then made an announcement that he was instructed by air traffic control to circle for 15 minutes due to the backup caused by windstorms & rain earlier in the day. About thirty minutes later the captain says we were instructed to circle for an additional hour. We were on a Boeing 777 that had been in the air over 9 hours by that point and didn’t have enough fuel. Rather than grant us immediate clearance to land, our plane was instead instructed to hit the neighborhood BP station…in Detroit! I was incredulous and seething with contempt.

We made the 30 minute trip, sat on the plane for an hour while they topped us off with Detroit’s finest Jet A then made the 45-minute return flight to O’Hare and promptly landed. Of course, all the connections were screwed due to the delays so my flight that should have arrived in Seattle around by 1 AM Chicago time is instead leaving Chicago (I hope) at 12:30 AM.

It’s been an 18+ hour travel day for me so far and I still have another 4 1/2 hour leg to go.

Guess what? One of my bags was lost! Of course I had to wait 90 minutes to find out while reclaiming my bags to clear customs. Arrrgh!

I will never, ever, ever check bags again. I’ll just have to deal with thirsty skin and a musty wardrobe.

Flying to Barcelona – Part 3

« Read Part 2 before continuing

The Iberia ticket agent said my flight hadn’t been assigned a gate so I would have to check the monitors. I had 2 hours or so to wait so I headed to Terminal 2. I didn’t have access to the lounge on that leg since I was flying coach and Iberia is partners with American not United. I found a waiting area and waited.

Departure time came and we boarded. Boarding took forever but I’m not sure why. I was one of the first people on the plane and it seemed like almost an hour passed before the door was closed. I was seated in the airplane equivalent of the nosebleed section (28C of 35 rows) but was thankful there was no one in the middle seat. In fact, I was in the only row in that half of the plane that had an empty chaise lounge seat.

I was definitely cramped by my Economy Plus and exit row standards. Further, the guy in front of me tried his hardest to convert his seat into a pool-side chaise lounge much to the detriment of my knees. At first I didn’t mind since it gave me a way to entertain myself during the first 15 minutes or so after we reached cruising altitude. Each time he dozed off I would bang the seat with one of my knees. That got boring, he was getting pissed and I got drowsy.

beverage service cart I must have dozed off as well at some point since my next memory was excruciating, piercing and throbbing pain in my right shoulder. It was the telltale symptom of getting banged in the shoulder by the beverage service cart. Payback is a beotch. That’s why I prefer the window seat.

The other reason is whenever I sit on the aisle, the other people in my row have bladders the size of a kidney bean so I have to keep getting up to let them out. Thankfully, the woman in the window seat on this flight didn’t have to go. My shoulder and knees weren’t very thankful about anything, however.

We landed, de-planed and queued for customs. (“Queued” is British for “Got in line.”) Customs in Barcelona is a joke. A young woman took my declaration form, threw it on top of an overflowing stack of other such forms without event glancing at it, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. I guess I know where to go if I need to flee the States. The joke could be on me when I get ready to leave. :eeek:

I went to claim my bags and 30 minutes passed with nothing coming out. I and the other exhausted travelers waited patiently. I had to keep reminding myself that things don’t move as quickly in some places outside the U.S. and I wasn’t sure whether Spain was such a place. We waited another 30 or so minutes and then everyone noticed our flight was removed from the monitor above carousel 21. Confusion started to build (no bags had come out) and patience began wearing thin. An announcement was made in Spanish and several dozen in the group (the Spanish speakers) started heading toward carousel 22 in a huff. The rest of us waited a few moments for the English version that never came. We just followed the others.

After another 20 minutes or so something didn’t seem right. I went to the baggage claim information desk and asked about the bags for my flight. The woman pointed me to the Iberia lost baggage desk which was much farther away (of course). I made the trek and waited in line. When I arrived at the counter I spoke slowly and calmly. It was clear the woman assisting me spoke very little English and only when she had to — she kept returning to Spanish. She finally helped me understand that the reason for the delay is the cargo door on the airplane was jammed. Somewhat relieved I returned to the carousel.

I waited with everyone else about 5 more minutes then the buzzers and lights started going and the carousel began moving. One of my bags — the one containing my clothes and toiletries — came out quickly. Then I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Remember when I said in Part 1 how I always have problems with my bags? It’s true.

Since our honeymoon, anytime I have checked bags one of my bags does not make the journey with me. TB and I spent 17 days in Mozambique & South Africa followed by a week in Chicago (for Christmas) with nothing but carry-ons. I guess the delayed/lost baggage gods must still be angry with me for not allowing them to derail our honeymoon. Sure enough, the raffle prize bag never came out. :furious:

I went back to the Iberia lost baggage desk and wound up being helped by the same woman before. It took a lot of pointing and note writing back-and-forth for us to help each other through the claim process. She was unable to locate the bag and opined that it probably didn’t make it onto the plane in London. It is a fairly high dollar value item and I’m remaining optimistic that it shows today or tomorrow. The fact that I have not received an update and it has not been delivered to the hotel leads me to believe someone pinched it. (“Pinched” is British for “stole.”)

Either that or it was shipped to Siberia. :sarcastic:

Update: The bag was delivered to the hotel late last night and is in my possession! O, happy day.

Flying to Barcelona – Part 2

« Read Part 1 before continuing

There had to have been four Boeing 777’s and Airbus A380’s worth of passengers to arrive at Heathrow at just about same time from various points of the globe. We were shuffled to the same security checkpoint (not customs) with a whopping four metal detectors. (Yes, one metal detector per 500+ passenger plane.) Tempers flared. It didn’t help that we had to walk about a mile from our gate to the security checkpoint. It certainly didn’t help that the area wasn’t cordoned off so it was literally a free-for-all with everyone pushing to get through as quickly as possible. OK, back to the liquids.

I noticed more and more little bottles and containers scattered on the floor as I inched forward toward the metal detactors shoulder-to-shoulder with 2000 other weary travelers. I also noticed banners spaced about every 10 feet that stated no liquids of any amount were allowed past that point. Now you may remember from Part 1 that I had a Zip-Loc with my stash of creams, pastes, lotions, balms, pomades and other emollients in my carry-on. I decided to take my assortment of liquids on-board since my checked bags always get lost. I need my creams. My skin gets thirsty and painfully dry when not routinely moisturized and let’s just say I don’t trust European dental hygiene products. (Is “European dental hygiene” an oxymoron?) I was sure my 3 ounces-or-less bottles were exempt since the FAA & TSA in the USA all gave me the A-OK. I was wrong.

I got to the point of no return — where the last in the long line of agents implored us to remove all liquids from our baggage. I broke down and finally asked her, “Does that apply to small bottles like the ones I have here as well?” I was holding up the mass of testy travelers behind me and looking like a jackass with a Zip-Loc full of bottles and tubes clearly bigger than many of the hundreds I had passed which had been thrown to the floor by their owners. I was in my “The rules don’t apply to me. I’m American!” mode and wasn’t discarding my liquids without a fight. After a short pause, she politely and almost apologetically said, “Yes, I’m afraid it does.” She then pointed with her chin to the garbage can on her right.

Seeing all the bottles on the floor I briefly considered an act of civil disobedience. I thought about just tossing the entire bag to floor at her feet as a feeble symbol of protest against the British regime. I would make it my own modern-day Crispus Attucks moment. A few things made me reconsider:

  1. The agent probably couldn’t care less what I did with my baggy;
  2. That mob of people behind me was becoming restless;
  3. I was in London, not Boston, and we all know what happened to Crispus.Old Glory

Those damned Brits! Paul Revere didn’t let them get the best of him so neither would I. In an uncharacteristic act of defiance, I unzipped  the bag then tossed each bottle into the garbage one-by-one. I then re-zipped the bag and put it back into my carry-on. They may have taken my liquids but they weren’t getting my baggy. Take that!

I plodded through the line for another 30 minutes passing even more discarded bottles and tubes the entire way. (I guess there were others, probably Americans, entertaining civil disobedience even longer than I.)

On the other side of the checkpoint, I headed to the Iberia Airlines ticket counter to get my boarding pass for my London-Barcelona leg. This would be my first time flying Iberia and the airline’s name made me think of Siberia which, at least in the U.S., has long represented a place no one wanted to go. It turns out the airline borrows its name from the Iberian Peninsula (geography lesson of the day…check!) However, from my experience, flying Iberia Airlines is a lot like going to Siberia: Something you should never want to do.

Flying to Barcelona – Part 1

I arrived in Barcelona, Spain for Tech-Ed: Developers yesterday evening. I’m jetlagged but the hotel is nice and the people haven been friendly. I found myself in a couple situations where people don’t speak English (gasp!) already. I made it through only by having several Spanish-speaking friends in close proximity during my college years and having Spanish as the unofficial 2nd language in the U.S. That, and a lot of pointing.

I cut catching my outboud flight really close since I had to make a quick stop by my office at work to pickup a portable hard drive for my trip. The traffic going south on I-405 was very bad since it was raining and, curiously, Seattlites are not very adept at driving in the rain. I was checking bags for this trip since I would be in Barcelona for over a week and I was transporting a large, cumbersome item we will be raffling off at the event. The United agent gave me my boarding pass and told me to hurry as the Seattle-Chicago flight was on track for an early departure (yeah, right!)

My Premier Executive status on United gave me access to the express security line so I made it through the screening fairly quickly. I know the drill now so I had my 3 ounces-or-less bottles of liquids in a quart-sized Zip-Loc, shoes in one hand, laptop in the other, no metal objects and boarding pass in my pocket. I caught the tram over to the North terminal, headed to gate N6 and, sure enough, they were boarding. A few moments later I was situated in first class and called TB to let her know I made the flight.

After flying to the South Pacific a couple months ago, the flight from Seattle to Chicago seemed suprisingly short.

We arrived in O’Hare and I headed from Concourse B to C since my flight to London was departing from C16 in about an hour. I hit the Red Carpet Club lounge and was disappointed by the drabness and inexclusivity of the experience. After enjoying the club lounges in various airports abroad, let’s just say the United lounge in O’Hare is 1-star, barely. The food/snack situation was awful, there was no complimentary wi-fi, the coffee was served from a vending machine, and there were way too many people. I fired up my laptop to check my e-mail one last time before leaving the country and to review the rest of my itinerary. As I already mentioned no hablo Español so I wanted to make sure I was ready.

The announcement that my flight was boarding was made so I hurriedly shut down my laptop, gathered my things and headed to the gate. I arrived just in time to hear the gate agent make an announcement that the flight was delayed. The plane was late arriving from its previous destination. I was pissed. Not only was the Red Carpet Club lounge low rung when comparing amenities; its service, too, was poor. I walked back to the lounge and asked the attendant why the “now boarding” announcement had been made when the plane hadn’t yet arrived. She said she was unsure and apologized for the mistake. I got back on my computer to finish what I was doing.

The plane arrived, I boarded, got situated in business class and prepared myself physically & mentally for the long flight. I sold my iPod on eBay in preparation for getting a Zune (9 days, baby!) and resorted to listening to music on my mobile phone. It was OK but the sound quality wasn’t very good and I had 400MB of music (60 songs) compared to the 30GB (4500 songs) I am accustomed to. I couldn’t sleep and didn’t feel like watching a movie so I got through some more e-mail, did some reading and tinkered around with my laptop in between meals & snacks.

We arrived at London’s Heathrow airport and I experienced probably the worst security checkpoint experience I have ever encountered. You may recall the whole “no liquids” thing was precipitated by a foiled plot involving a flight originating in London. I always thought the FAA imposed the most asinine and stringent air travel policies. I was wrong.

Zune.net is now Alive

Zune site According to the Zune newsletter, http://www.zune.net went live yesterday afternoon.

Also included in that newsletter were plans to “evolve” Coming Zune to Zune Arts “a place for creative expression around the idea of sharing from some of today’s most progressive artists, animators and designers.”

The e-mail newsletter ends with a suggestion that those of us interested in Zune visit http://www.zune.net on November 10 for details and information about the launch of the new device and service.

Mark your calendar…

 

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