The Valley Vagabond: Adventures in Pandemic Travel, Ireland, the Flight (Part Two)

[Guest Post by Jeff Lewis]

When we last left Jeff and Diane Lewis, they had finally navigated all the steps to be able to board a flight and deplane in Ireland to visit their daughter. Surely their trip would now run smoothly, right? Read on to find out…

Online check-in using a smartphone app is a breeze. All of your flight details are right at hand. Boarding passes are easily shown right from your phone at the gate.

My wife isn’t a fan of all things digital, so she insisted that we get paper boarding passes for both of our flights that day; having these hard copies turned out to be a blessing later in the day.

We didn’t have baggage to check, so we easily bypassed the rest of the front desk at the airport and went straight to the hell that is the TSA checkpoint. One can pay a fee and get prescreened in the planning ahead department, avoiding TSA’s seemingly endless wait line. It’s like having a fast pass at Disneyland where you can go straight to the front of the line.

Once through TSA, it was off to our departure gate where we learned that there were “air traffic delays” for our flight to Chicago. At first, it was “a short delay” that later turned into a 4-hour delay that would put us into Chicago after our flight to Dublin had left. We asked the Alaska personnel at the gate about changing our flight to Dublin.

Unfortunately, because our reservations weren’t made through the same company, we were told we had to go to the other end of Seatac and speak with a United representative. The United agent told us to get on the app or call their toll-free number, but looking at their flight information, she said we had to schedule another flight to Dublin.

We tried the app, no luck. It has limitations when trying to deal with live and active real-world changes. The toll-free number promised to call us back as soon as an agent was available, which turned out to be an hour and a half later and just minutes before our flight to Chicago finally started boarding.

The best they could do was to get us on the next day’s flight, downgrading our seats from premium to economy, charging us an extra $200, and putting us into separate rows. Fine! Just do it. I gotta go, and if that’s the best we can do, then do it. We’ll find a place to stay overnight in Chicago then get a fresh start the next day.

Our flight to Chicago was uneventful until we got close. We then learned that the earlier delays were caused by tornado warnings driving the O’Hare tower to evacuate for most of the day. The storm was delaying hundreds of flights both in and out of Chicago all day. We circled for about an hour, then finally got clearance to land.

Photo by Austin Tiffany on Unsplash

Just as the pilot was about to touch down, he fired up the engines, pulled us up over the runway, and put us back up into the air again. The plane before us didn’t exit the landing strip, so we had to pull out and get back in line again. An hour later, we were safely on the ground and had internet service available again.

It was then that we learned that our original plane to Dublin had been delayed along with everyone else and was still in Chicago! The bad news was that it would be boarding within the hour, but we were no longer booked for it! We had a chance to get to the gate and rearrange our travel plans back to our original itinerary if we hurried.

If you have ever traveled through O’Hare airport, you know that it is the size of a small city. Getting from one terminal to the next takes time. Getting from the far end of terminal 1, where we landed, to terminal 3, where United’s flight to Dublin was resting, was going to take some doing. We got directions from a friendly security officer who recommended that we hustle, and I started running with my wife waving me on, promising to catch up sooner or later.

As I ran past the customer service desks, hundreds of stranded passengers waited in line to rearrange their plans. I bypassed these and went straight to the gate where there were no lines. Here, I found an angel in gate attendant clothes.

I showed the attendant my original boarding passes for this flight and explained the entire story of our flight changes. She let me know that our premium seats were gone, but she did have two seats in economy but not together. I didn’t care as long as they were on the flight, which she assured me would happen. She didn’t stop there, however. She spent the next half hour working just with me to juggle other passengers’ seats to get us together.

She went back and forth from phone to computer, trying to work the best situation for us possible. Meanwhile, my wife arrived-exhausted and near tears. Our agent assured her that she would take care of us, which she did. Because so many flights had been diverted away from O’Hare, she saw that there were several passengers that, while they hadn’t canceled, would never make it in time. After getting approval from her supervisor and just minutes before boarding (it was now close to 10 pm local time), she handed me two new boarding passes.

Row 5. First Class. No charge.

The day had been long and exhausting. Boarding our flight and sitting down in a truly luxurious little pod that was all mine was spectacular! The food for both our dinner and breakfast meals was near restaurant quality. Having my wife right next to me to enjoy this little slice of heaven-sent goodness was more than I could have hoped for! We were able to fully recline flat with plentiful pillows, blankets and a pair of slippers to catch some shut-eye on the trip through the night into Dublin, where we would be starting another full day, was priceless.

Arriving in Dublin on a sunny summer morning, we made our way through the thoroughly modern and surprisingly nearly vacant Dublin airport. The seven-and-a-half-hour flight was perfect in every way – excellent service and a smooth ride! The customs facility was also empty, so we strolled right up to the first officer who checked our vaccination records and passports; then, he wished us well. Within minutes, we were boarding a bus to the center of the capital city to our hotel.

We had finally arrived and were ready to take in nearly two weeks of everything this beautiful country had to offer!

Next, in Part III, Jeff and Diane explore Ireland!

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