July 2, 2014

Be careful what you wish for

The adage goes, “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.

And I  definitely got it, all right.

In my last post, I confessed that I sometimes secretly wished for hiccups in travel plans because they lead to adventure. Well secret or not, that wish came true last night.

The purpose of this post is not to criticize the airline industry, and in fact, I had very friendly and helpful service from U.S. Airways in each encounter so far. Chicago gate agents Peter and Pam were particular standouts as careful listeners and problem solvers. The powerful storms rolling through Chicago are to blame for the now “extended” version of our travel to Turkey. We waited for more than two hours in Phoenix before even taking off, then we ended up circling over eastern Nebraska (of all places) in a holding pattern for Chicago-bound planes. Finally, we were diverted to Minneapolis where we sat on the tarmac for another two hours. During this time, our crew members’ exceeded shift hours allowed by the FAA, so we also waited for a new crew to take us back to Chicago.

If you’ve ever been on a plane, I’m sure you’ve experienced (or been, as I have) the obnoxious person who, while stuck on a plane with 200 other frustrated passengers, takes out her cell phone and calls everyone she knows to explain at full volume how she’s stuck in “F***ing Minneapolis because of the F***ing weather in Chicago and how this is the F***ing worst day of her life, etc.” (emphasis on the adjectives beginning with F). Alan and I put in headphones to drown her out, because really, there’s nothing any of us could do to make the bad situation better, and the negative vibes feel like the suck the life out of my immune system, not to mention that make me really want to take her phone and illegally flush it in the lavatory.

I’m writing this on a plane bound for London Heathrow, a stopover on our rescheduled itinerary. Direct flights from Chicago to Istanbul seem to happen daily, but only once daily, at 10 PM. Last night we had the choice between being held up in Chicago all day today to fly stand by tonight, or to get going at 9:00 this morning via Heathrow. My inclination was initially to take the direct flight, and in the meantime get a hotel room, sleep, and start a little fresher. Alan advocated for the adventurous new itinerary that kept the momentum of our trip (however minimal by last night at 2 in the morning when we finally deplaned in Chicago) going, and that got us out of the US one day earlier. While I was somewhat intrigued by visiting London’s airport for the first time, the prospect of flying standby on the other choice, with the potential danger of not being able to get on the plane, swayed me to the new itinerary.

The only problem (aside from planning on purpose not to sleep for two days straight) was that our checked bags might not follow us on the new route, or might not even be loaded onto the plane out of Chicago. Normally, I have plenty of blind faith in the airport system in general. I always believe that they have my best interests in mind, and that my luggage will arrive when and where I need it. Yet, in the confusion of yesterday/today, I figured that switching airlines, routes, and even days, our bags stood a pretty good chance of slipping through the cracks, waiting patiently in Chicago for the flight we wouldn’t be on.

As our checked bags basically contain all of the material possessions we are taking to Turkey, they are very important to us. On limited sleep, the situation started to feel pretty dire. Alan and I spent the hours between 3 and 6 AM waiting in lines to talk to baggage claim personnel, gate agents, and other staff who basically all had different responses to our inquiry after the bags. Our investigation gleaned only the following: 1) Our bags made it to Chicago, but that’s all that we know about their whereabouts, 2) Kayseri does not have customs check, so we will have to get ahold of the bags in Istanbul, 3) Each airline has a separate system for tagging bags, so no matter who we asked, no one could find the bag. It had already left US Air’s jurisdiction, but not yet made it to Turkish Airlines’, and since American (our new itinerary) never saw the bags, they have no record of the bags.

Alan and I struggled to prioritize this morning. It was a good lesson for our marriage in terms of listening to each other. We were both beyond exhausted from not having slept at all, and my priorities were eating and brushing my teeth. Alan was more concerned about figuring out the bag situation, which, after 3 hours of goose-chasing, I was pretty sure was a lost cause that we would have to figure out after the fact. So we did have breakfast, and I did brush my teeth, in exchange for standing for an hour in another stagnant line to talk to a gate agent who confirmed my suspicions that we just have to hope. Then file a claim. Then make a trip back to Istanbul. Yikes. Cross that bridge when you get there.

About 15 minutes out of Heathrow, I’m feeling good. Well, actually I feel pretty miserable and I want to stretch out on a real bed which won’t be happening tonight, but at least we are en route on our adventure and we have each other.