Sunday, December 26, 2010


Ah, O'Hare. My old nemesis. We meet again.

I had thought that on Christmas of all days, perhaps we could forge a truce. In the spirit of the season's peace and love, we could lay down our mutual weapons, the way that British and German troops laid down their arms on Christmas Day in World War I and came together for one single peaceful day before going back to killing each other.

No? No peace, not even on Christmas Day? If that is your wish. Then we will fight, fight to the death.

We were scheduled to fly out of Madison at 6 AM on Christmas Day, but when we got to the airport, we were informed that the pilot was "sick," meaning there was nobody available to fly our plane. I put "sick" in quotes because c'mon, the guy was scheduled to work at 6 AM on Christmas Day. ANYBODY who is scheduled to work then is going to call in sick. Plus, I would bet a bright and shiny quarter that the pilot opened a gift-wrapped bottle of tequila on Christmas Eve and the cancellation the following morning flowed naturally from that.

It would have been handy to know about the flight difficulties BEFORE we showed up at the airport at 5 AM, and in fact we did get a text from Orbitz that our plane had been significantly delayed, but only after we had checked in, gone through security, and found our way to the gate. If you live in Chicago, please drive to Orbitz corporate HQ and punch the CEO in the face for me. Thank you.

The agent at the gate in Madison got to work rebooking people, but American Airlines figures that they only need one agent for about every 279 customers, or about the same ratio, in Uzbekistan, of endocrinologists to the general population. It took the gate agent literally an hour to rebook the first customer. I don't know what he was doing with them but it might have involved offering grief counseling. And at that point in the process, grief counseling was very appropriate.

With no pilot available to fly our plane, a healthy pilot had to be flown in from Chicago, because apparently no pilots live in Madison. Maybe we have a municipal zoning ordinance against pilots or something. My understanding is that it's not that hard to fly a plane, and they could have scared up a couple of kids who like to play Flight Simulator, but apparently the airline is a real stickler for that regulation that the pilot must be an adult. Go figure.

Stella and Baby W were rock stars for the whole trip, which I really appreciated. Stella is such a great traveler that I think she is going to grow up to be one of those people who basically lives in airports, racking up mileage by the hundreds of thousands. I just hope she remembers her dear old ma and flies me down to Miami on a companion ticket with a free upgrade.

Part of our problem is that we missed our first flight out of Chicago to Harrisburg, and planes only fly to Harrisburg once every six or seven weeks, apparently. I don't see why -- Harrisburg has a beautiful, gleaming, state of the art airport that does a wonderful job serving the nearly 25 people who fly to it every year.

This trip was reminiscent of our Christmas air travel last year, when I got to fulfill a childhood dream of spending Christmas Eve in a Super 8 motel near the Detroit airport. Last year had the advantage in that the airlines completely lost one of my carry-on bags that I had gate-checked. I never did get it back, and while I couldn't remember exactly what I had inside the bag, my memory was suddenly much clearer when it came time to file my report to get compensation for my lost bag. Yes, now it's coming back to me: the bag was full of very expensive stuff. I do remember that a t-shirt I've had since college was in there, and how can you put a price on something like that? Yet somehow I managed to: $75.

We did finally make it to Pennsylvania, albeit very late. I have a feeling, though, that the nightmare is far from over. In fact, I think it's just begun. If I don't wake up in the morning, go looking for O'Hare.

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