Friday, December 20, 2013

The Black Hole of Chicago

Based upon more than 3 million miles flying on various airlines I have some rules I try never to break. One involves Chicago.
Never book a connection through Chicago
If there is no other way to get where you are going, then the lay over between flights at O'Hare can't be less than two and a half hours.  Any airline will tell you that a "legal" connection is anything that leaves 45 minutes later than your incoming flight... don't believe it.  That is the absolute minimum time in perfect conditions and no varibles. It can take that long to walk from one end of the terminal to the other.  The over/under of that bet is much too risky. 
In the winter the issue is weather.  It can hit Chicago fast, cancelling flights and causing delays which cause havock with connections. But even in the best of weather there is an issue that can stress out even the most seasoned traveler.
For me travel/flighing time is gate to gate.  For the airlines "flying time" is the actual time in the air.  So flying time stops when the plane lands. 
For the passengers the flight is not over until you can get off the plane with all your luggage. It doesn't so much matter if the plane lands on time if it takes 45 minutes to get to the gate so passengers and luggage can be transfered. Chicago is infamous for landing on time and killing your connection time with more than a half hour taxi time, or waiting on a plane to leave a gate your plane is scheduled to arrive.  It has happend to me so many times that the "no Chicago connection" rule is carved in stone.
So, when I was booked through Chicago to get to Ft. Lauderdale from Los Angeles, it didn't seem like a good idea for many reasons.  But the arrangements were made before I could voice my concerns and the flight locked in.  There was almost two hours layover in Chicago, and although it is winter, I thought it would work. 
First problem began with LAX at 7:00 in the morning. Just as we were ready to board we were told our plane would be unloaded and a different plane would be making the trip.  "Equipment change" is the exact term.  I asked about connections and the LAX gate agent said that the new plane was on the ground, "That was good" he said, and my  connection would also be good. It would probably only mean a delay of an hour.  I had almost two hours so he convienced me. 
The hour delay turned into an hour and a half, but still there was a chance to make the connection, although there was no way to make sure the luggage would make it.  That becomes a bigger problem for me than most since it is not just my clothes but my act that is checked. 
We made up time in the air and we actually touched down in Chicago almost 50 minutes before my connection.  That is a legal connection according to the airlines.  I thought it might work. But then again this is the black hole of Chicago and there was snow on the ground. 
We taxied for 40 minutes and although I was the first one off that plane it was not an easy hike to the connection gate and when I got there the gate was closed and the de-icing process had begun. There wasn't even an agent around.
Being a Platinuim American Flier I called my American number.  I told him my problem.  I needed help to book another flight.  He said he could not help, I needed to find an agent at the airport.  I reminded him I called because I could not find an agent.  It was a catch 22.  
This was the last flight to Ft. Lauderdale that day and I was stuck for the night in Chicago.  I went to the Admirals Club and got the first flight the next day. However, the club was closing in a couple hours... did I need a room for the night? They found me a room near the airport but would not pay for it since the "Flight landed on time" It was my fault that I missed my connection.  At this point I was not in the mood to rally a cause.
In the course of life this is not even a blip. Spending the night in Chicago before getting to my destination is not a crisis.  Not having my luggage for a night is also no big deal.  Not having a coat in the freezing Chicago snow was the worst part of it. Who dresses for Chicago when you are flying to Ft. Lauderdale?
The worst part of the experience is, I could have avoided it.  I temped fate by breaking my Chicago Rule. I knew better, and will not press my bet again.
As you were,


Pete Biro said...

I got in to ORD too late and all flights out were gone, and had to rent a car to go up to a Wisconsin gig. Problem was Hertz was out of maps and I got lost for hour and hours in the middle of the night. There wasn't a house or anything open no lights on anywhere and on country roads. FINALLY SAW A LIGHT ON and it was a bar. The bartender told me how lost I was and how to get to where I was going.

Tommy Davis said...

I feel your pain. I have a similar rule about JFK; I just don't go there! I know this will be hard to believe, but I actually made a 45 minute connection in Chicago the weekend after Thanksgiving. I was 30 minutes late leaving Charlotte (thought I was toast), I arrived in Chicago on-time, and I managed the fast walk from E to C in time to catch an international flight to Frankfurt. That said, the opposite would never have happened, due to a guaranteed lengthy customs experience and a train ride to the main terminal (minimum of 1.5 hours). Bottom line, flying is just not any fun these days, regardless of your frequent flyer status.

P. Grecian said...

I flew to Flat Rock, North Carolina to see a production I'd written. Coming back, I was foolish enough to use U.S. Airways. Got stranded in Charlotte, NC and only one of the USA people seemed to care. The others were nasty. I stayed overnight at the Bates Motel. I will NEVER fly USA again. On a similar note: They will finally have flights leaving from my hometown's airport (It's been a struggle, we are too close to Kansas City's airport)...but there will only be two flights a day from United...and they will be to Chicago. A hub, but after what you've said here...hmmmm.

And, on a third note, Happy Holidays, Jay!