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We made our way through the Chicago airport to the customer service desk, and there’s already a huge line waiting. For some reason, they built the area under huge open skylights. I imagine this was to encourage natural light to flow in, but it only made the area about 20 degrees hotter. Baking already aggravated customers seems like a bad idea to me.

There were about four or five employees behind the desk, each displaying the same vacant and apathetic demeanor as the gate attendants back in Philadelphia. The line moved pretty quickly, and when it was our turn, we explained in very calm terms what the situation was. The attendant managed to rebook us on the next flight, but unfortunately, it wasn’t until six hours later. When we expressed our frustration with the airline, the attendant sighed and said, “Yeah, our airline sucks.” This was not very reassuring.

We asked if there was anything she could do for us, because six hours was a long time to wait until our next flight. I asked if we could have passes to the lounge, which she said was absolutely not possible. She did offer us ten dollar vouchers toward lunch, which we accepted. Realizing that we weren’t going to get anywhere at this juncture, we left to go explore the vast airport, since we had plenty of time to kill.

We walked every terminal, exploring the underground rainbow lit tunnel and bought a huge bag of popcorn for a snack. Eventually, we found a hockey themed restaurant where we could sit and chill out for a while. As we tried to enjoy our lunch, we felt as though we were cheated out of the first day of our trip. The limited time we had booked in Colorado Springs was contingent upon making the most of the downtime we had by arriving in the early afternoon. Now we would not arrive until late, nearly bed time and although we had put on a brave face, the frustration was now showing.

After lunch, we decided to check on the rest of my husband’s previously cancelled reservations to see if we could confirm the return flight. The last thing we needed was to come back to find that the return trip had just as many issues. We went to a different service desk in the terminal where our flight would depart, and were saddened to find the same level of apathy existed pretty much across the board.

While we were waiting, a flight was boarding at the nearby terminal. Two elderly passengers decided to bypass the boarding line (which was all of two people deep) and didn’t even scan their boarding passes. The husband ripped up the canvas rope which formed the serpentine for customers waiting in line so he and his wife could sneak past. An employee burst from behind the desk and stopped them.

The husband had some strangely psychotic smile, not really understanding what they did was wrong, and even though they were being chastised rather loudly by the angry employee, didn’t seem to understand what was happening. Eventually, they went back into the line, had their passes scanned and were allowed to board, but it was a very strange situation to witness.

Eventually, we were able to find out what we needed to know about our return flights and went to the terminal where our flight would leave to camp out for another three hours. I delved into the e-book I was reading, and watched flight after flight fill with waiting passengers and board like the ebb and flow of the ocean.

As it became time for our flight, we struck up a conversation with some of the people who were waiting with us. We relayed what our troubling day had been and found that the people on our flight were surprisingly nice and very interested in what we had to say. We weren’t alone, and there were at least two others in our area hoping to make the fight. As it turns out, we had scored the last two seats and everyone else was on standby. I suppose that should have felt like a consolation, but it really wasn’t.

Eventually, our flight was announced, but it too was delayed. After almost another hour, we were able to go down a flight of narrow steps to board on the tarmac. The flight was another two hours long, and the plane was much smaller than the first flight. Luckily, I met a very nice man seated next to me, who chatted with me until we hit the cruising altitude. When we were permitted, he pulled out his iPad, plugged in and went to sleep. That was fine with me, since I was getting a bit tired of putting on my brave face with all this chaos around me.

By the time we got to Colorado Springs, it was late, almost 9:00. We hustled down to the baggage claim to watch the lonely carousel of bags shuffle by. As we stood there, minutes ticking by, it became less and less likely that our bags would arrive. Sure enough, one of the handlers came out to very gently break it to us that all the bags were off the flight and that if we didn’t see ours, it wasn’t here.

He directed us to the lost baggage area, where we handed yet another apathetic United employee our baggage claim tickets. I was struck by the difference between the baggage handler, an airport employee, and the woman who worked the counter at lost baggage for United. He delivered the bad news with genuine empathy, reaching out to us in a gentle and kind way and seemed very understanding of our plight. In contrast, the United employee couldn’t have cared less when she delivered the news that our bag was on the next flight, arriving another two hours from now.

At that point, I had had enough, and began to cry. The United employee seemed to get angry at my response and grew snippy when my husband explained that we had experienced nothing but trouble with their airline since the moment we arrived in Philadelphia. She flippantly explained that they would ship our bags to us, and at that point, I needed to walk away. I didn’t care anymore; I sat on the bench outside the tiny office and sobbed loudly into my hands. I was exhausted and completely frustrated and felt completely helpless.

Eventually, my husband came out and we left for our hotel. The bags would probably arrive on the next flight, and then would be shipped to us, and there was nothing we could do about it. We picked up our rental car with the sad resignation that we would have no toothbrush, clean underwear or pajamas that night.

In my frustration, I was only half paying attention to the transmission of the rental car. Apparently, the car we had been upgraded to included an optional manual transmission, which was activated when you pulled the gearshift all the way down as if to put it in drive. Drive was actually the fourth choice, manual being the fifth. I found myself circling the parking lot trying to get the damn thing out of manual and back into automatic. Then I took the wrong turn and accidentally turned into long term parking. Eventually I found my way back out again, and we edged onto the highway.

By then the roads were pitch black, and the GPS had not been updated for the recent changes made to the highways. The device didn’t recognize the route we were on and kept trying to get me to turn onto roads that would not allow it. Soon, we arrived at our hotel, which was quite nice. However, the king room we had requested was now gone and all that was left were two queen beds. We instructed the front desk to send our bags over as soon as they arrived, so we could have clean clothes for the morning, which they agreed to do.  At that point, I was hungry and exhausted, so we ordered some quick room service and went to bed.

Around 2:00 a.m., I woke up with a start and realized the late hour. I phoned the front desk and found that no bags had yet arrived. I decided to phone the airline, finding yet another useless human being on the other end of the line. She informed me that our bags had indeed arrived, but had been handed off to a luggage delivery service, which could deliver anywhere from four to eight hours later. There was not even a tracking number she could give me, and when I pressed further, she had no further information that she could provide me.

I began to complain that this was unacceptable, and that their airline had been so difficult to work with. I asked what kind of compensation she could offer, but she informed me that we couldn’t request any until the bags arrived. My question was what good was compensation if I already had my bags back. She said it was policy not to offer anything until they were returned. When I complained about that aspect, she hung up on me.

I sat in tears in the distant hotel bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably, not believing how horribly things were going. It took a while to calm down but eventually I was able to lie back down and get some sleep. About an hour and a half later, the phone rang and it was the front desk informing us that our bags had finally arrived. I asked if she could send them up, which she did. Fifteen minutes later, two security officers arrived with our luggage. I was so happy to see the bags that I tipped them both five bucks each and thanked them profusely for their time. By then, it was 3:45 a.m., but I was able to put on real pajamas, put in my mouth guard and finally sleep.