Worst Time Ever for a Missed Connection

Wednesday – Jan. 6, 2010 –


Bad decision flying into Chicago O’Hare

My Dad and I are lifelong, diehard fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I grew up going to University of Alabama football and basketball games and most of relatives are big fans. Coach Bear Bryant was like a saint in my family and I grew up surrounded by football culture. I even had a painting hanging over my bed by Alabama artist Daniel Moore depicting the infamous goal stand by Alabama defeating Penn State for the national championship in 1979. Basically, I had no other choice than to be an Alabama fan! Of course I ended up going to school at the University of Alabama.

When I was a student at Alabama during Coach Mike Shula’s tenure, the Tide honestly didn’t have a lot of talent. They basically had a few really talented guys and then the other players who played hard but frankly couldn’t keep up with LSU and Auburn. And to be fair, a lot of that had to do with probation, a revolving door with coaches and a lack of discipline.

All that had changed when I graduated and Coach Saban came in as the new coach. However, the turnaround took a lot of work by Coach Saban and his staff. Frustrated after a loss in a disappointing first year, Saban told the press a lot of things would change when he got his own players into town. Some people objected to his comment, but it turned out to be true. With Saban’s recruits, Alabama started winning in his second year and Bama was ranked number one and undefeated before losing to the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game. Bama was back!

This season, Dad and I could see that something special was in the air. That’s when we decided to enter a ticket pool that offered guaranteed tickets to the BCS game at face value if our team made it. The catch was we had to pay $125 each during the fifth week of the season, and we would lose the $125 each if our team didn’t make it. After a few close calls against UT and Auburn, Dad and I were ecstatic to see the Tide make it to the BCS national championship game!

When I bought our tickets to fly to Los Angeles, I opted to go for a cheaper fair. Instead of flying through Memphis, we took the cheaper option of flying United through Chicago in January. Little did I realize what a bad decision this would be!

After work on Wednesday, Dad picked me up from work and we headed to Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. We were taking a United Express flight and Dad and I were sitting close to the front of the plane. I was getting a little nervous on the plane because we were a little late leaving and we only had 1 hour and 15 minutes connecting at O’Hare. Then the captain came on the intercom with an ominous message. The flight plan was messed up which they had to straighten out with operations and they did not have the right amount of fuel on board. After a lengthy delay, we left about an hour late. Dad and I knew this would probably mean us missing our flight. Many passengers on the flight were Alabama fans going to the game, so many people grew concerned after this message.

To our surprise, the pilot made up 45 minutes in the air. When we landed we had almost an hour to our flight to Orange County, so we thought we would make it. Unfortunately, the pilot stopped at a concourse for several minutes before relaying another frustrating message. He explained that there was no gate for us and we were waiting for operations to open us a gate. After a couple more updates and 50 minutes later, the pilot said we were cleared for arrival. Seriously!

All of us Pasadena-bound passengers banded together and decided that a Chinese student and I would run off the plane to the LA-bound plane and try to hold it. When the fasten seatbelt light was turned off, we bolted off running through the terminal like madmen. After what seemed like a run across the entire airport to another terminal, we arrived at the gate five minutes before departure. Incredibly, our flight was already gone but still on the tarmac. I asked the agent about it and she said it had left five minutes earlier. I told her that our pilot said they were going to wait on us and there were at least 30 people trying to get on board. She said it was too late for them turnaround. I didn’t normally get mad, but I actually couldn’t help but say “this is total bullshit!”

At this point, Dad and the other passengers were right behind us. We looked for any flights to California, Las Vegas or Phoenix, but all were already gone for the evening or were being cancelled. We had entered Chicago preparing for a blizzard! We went to a customer service line to change flights, and the line was long. We were able to get on a flight that would leave at 10 a.m. for LAX. We were glad to have a flight, but we were nervous about whether we would get out the next day.

United was nice enough to give us a hotel room at airport Crown Plaza and meal vouchers. At this point we went downstairs to claim our luggage when Dad asked a luggage agent about whether she had news on system cancellations for O’Hare on Monday. By fate, the agent told us more than 50 percent of their flights would be cancelled because the blizzard was going to be bad. Dad and I immediately panicked. The lady told us the flights that had the least chance of being cancelled were long haul flights with many passengers originating from Chicago leaving early in the morning. The blizzard was going to be bad after 6 a.m. and they would be cancelling many flights after that.

That is all we needed to hear. Dad and I rushed upstairs and waited in line again, this time to change our flight. We booked a 777 bound for San Francisco at 6 a.m., but we only had standby on the flight to Orange County. We thought if worst came to worst, we could drive it and barely make it before the game. We went to the hotel arriving at about 23:00 p.m. I booked a cheap Southwest flight online that would get us to Burbank early in the afternoon if needed (as a contingency plan). We grabbed some dinner in the restaurant and were in bed by midnight. We had to be up at 4 a.m. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep well!

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