My Midway Experience

Not on the board yet :(
Not on the board yet :(

People are amazing. When necessary, we can be strong, supportive, calm and we can empower ourselves and others with a spirit of hope and confidence that can help weather the worst storms. We are resilient – equally capable of dealing with the aftermath of those storms.

I don’t normally dwell on the same subject for consecutive posts, but the fire at the Chicago ATC TRACON Facility was a big enough event to support two posts. Last week, I talked about rerouting my travel immediately after that fire. Three days later, I had to travel through Chicago on my way home and, just like on Friday, people provided the comfort that the airlines still couldn’t deliver.

I won’t bore you with the convoluted exercise in logic that led me to stick with my original reservations. For the record, I flew from Iowa (DSM) at 4:05 PM, laid-over at Midway in Chicago for about 4 hours until connecting to a flight to Connecticut.

Several flights from DSM to Chicago had been cancelled during the day and there was a collective angst as we stood in all the normal lines. We grew quietly impatient while the attendants processed a cart full of boxes for a family in line ahead of us. Once at the gate, we paced until our plane arrived. Flying into a mess, none of us were certain we would be going beyond Midway. We boarded that plane like sheep.

 

The flight – Shortly after takeoff, the Captain got our attention by announcing:

Ladies and gentlemen, this will not be a normal flight.”

Huh?

Instead of our normal cruising altitude, we will be flying at 13,000 feet.”

The man next to me said “that seems low.” We agreed that it was well over 2 miles in the air, but we could see the ground the whole way. We joked about being glad to be flying over relatively flat Iowa and Illinois. We talked about how seeing the ground throughout your flight is not comforting the way seeing the shore from a boat is. The woman in the window seat said “this looks the same as when I drive to Chicago.”

People – Midway airport was packed! Three full days after the fire, the airlines were busy shuffling people through an incomplete system. Flights were still being cancelled and thousands of passengers were trying to knit together badly fractured itineraries. Restaurants, bars, charging stations, restrooms and any place you could sit were overflowing with people. But there was a surrealistic calm in the terminal, no yelling, no pushing and no racing to get ahead of someone. In fact, people seemed a bit more polite than normal.

Food court – If you’re not one to associate “food court” with fine dining, Midway won’t do anything to change your mind on a good day. This wasn’t a good day but the place was chockablock full of people in search of food and people with food in search of a place to sit and eat. If you study the photos, you will notice that some restaurants had small or no lines. They also had little or no food. Ben & Jerry’s was out of many flavors, but they had chocolate and that was dinner.

I’m not normally the bold social type, but I asked a man sitting at a high table if I could join him. I had been standing / walking a long time and the thought of sitting with my iPad on a table was enough to overcome my shy tendencies.

Soon, the man left and I had the table to myself. I ate my ice cream, I browsed and I continued a comforting group text conversation with my wife and daughter. Then a man walked past my luxury island heading to an empty low table. He was juggling three plates of food and a carry-on bag while trying to corral two young children. As he approached his target, a couple sat down. He looked sad as he searched in vain for another empty table. There were none. When we made eye contact, I motioned him to come and take my place. He made me feel so good as he thanked me that I ended up thanking him.

Reilly's Daughter
Reilly’s Daughter

Reilly’s Daughter – Back on my feet, I ventured past the food court, past the Chinese buffet where only rice and broccoli remained available and past the Mexican buffet with a line that snaked into the seating area. I checked the two bars and remarkably, I found an empty stool at Reilly’s Daughter. Reilly was the name we gave to our second Irish Setter. My wife quipped in a text message that Reilly’s daughter would be Maddie, our 4th setter and a descendent from the big boy’s lineage. Monday Night Football was about to start, and I was happily seated between two Kansas City fans – beer and football. Suddenly, things almost seemed normal in that dark corner of Midway.

I stayed at the bar until it was time to board. The flight to Hartford was almost empty, 68 passengers according to the flight attendant. 68 passengers and from the comments, groans and expletives, 67 were Patriots fans. Fortunately, we didn’t begin boarding until halftime, although a last second KC Field Goal only made the mood more sour. Still, we were all going home and as the line started moving down the Jetway, we were all getting happy.

BDL was empty when we arrived. No lines, no crowds, no worries. The board indicated that a few flights were still delayed but it no longer mattered to me. In my last nod to the others stuck in my situation, I hoped that delayed meant that they wouldn’t be cancelled.

24 thoughts on “My Midway Experience

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  1. Oh lord. And that’s why I’ve been driving to Michigan the last 5 years – stuck in Chicago or can’t get into Chicago far too many times!

    Enjoyed your play by play – great details and “word color”. I agree that people in jams generally pull together.

    Still curious about why you had to fly so low.

    At least dinner (chocolate ice cream) was one of the major food groups :-)

    Glad you are safely home.

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    1. Thanks Sammy. The radar facility that was set on fire controls the airspace around Chicago but not the airports directly. The lower altitude flights can be controlled by other radar and the space is less congested. The FAA allows flights of less that 500 miles to fly between 10,000 and 23,000 feet. Airlines usually resist because it uses more fuel. The flight had wifi, we had to look this up :) Ice cream for dinner is one if the best things about being a grown up.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Traveling is one of the best things on earth but flying is not always the most relaxing option. I like how you noticed people’s reslilence and positive attitude despite the mess. I absolutely like the scene with the overwhelmed dad and kids. As the mother of four I have occasionally been offered a seat in a packed place and have always appreciated the gesture. Good for you!
    Your ice cream story made me smile because once as I was traveling with my kids from San Francisco to Boston we were delayed and made it at midnight instead of seven P.M. at Logan. The hotel’s kitchen had closed. My kids were between six years old and twelve. I felt bad about having them skip dinner but I had no real choice. Fortunately I had said yes when my oldest wanted to get donuts at Dunkin Donuts while waiting for our luggage. The kids share a couple of donuts and went to bed. I was so happy to find a square of chocolate on my pillow case! Small pleasures like that go a long way on a long, challenging day. I also like how you felt such a great sense of relief when you boarded your plane to go home and how people remained calm and polite. People are amazing, you’re right on that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Evelyne. I can’t imagine traveling with four children. I remember traveling with my daughter for the first time where I was the responsible adult – it scared me. I’ve seen people manage, and I am always amazed. Lending a hand or giving a table to a person in need always feels so good that it’s like I am getting the benefit. Seeing that man lift his two kids into those high chairs just made me feel wonderful. I notice a lot of hotels these days that have a bowl or a basket of apples near the front desk. That has been a welcome site after a long trip. Thanks for being such a loyal supporter!

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  3. While I was reading your post, I felt I was going through all that with you. Although, I never traveled by flight ever so far, I hear these terrible stories from people around me that travel frequently. I have some horrible travel stories in my memory, but every time I get stuck somewhere I go into this Emergency Mode thing and I come up with extraordinary solutions to reach home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Please don’t judge all air travel by these recent posts or the others I’ve written. It’s like the big-media news networks, good travel stories aren’t interesting. Most of my travel is boring, in that it just works, A to B without incident. It’s times like these that I realize how I have come to take successful travel for granted. Being able to get into the “emergency mode” is a critical skill when getting home is the goal. Thanks for the comment.

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    1. I am always amazed at how people pull together in a crisis. I wonder how long it would last, if food, water and shelter became scarce, but I do have hope. Thanks for reading and commenting Amy.

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      1. You are welcome, Dan. I really do believe that many people are finally fed up with all the beaurocratic garbage and hardships we have been choked upon, and finally have begun to shake as if awakening from a dream. And as they do, they say, “NO MORE!” and “We are human after all so if we begin to act like it, numbers outweigh the minority.” And so humanity is saved. How’s that for a philosophic notion this morn? Oops, afternoon? (((HUGS))) Amy

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It works for me Amy. These things wouldn’t escalate to the level of crisis as often as they do if the airlines treated us like people and not like cargo. Large hubs are very efficient for moving freight but freight doesn’t get hungry.

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          1. T’is a real shame that people are not treated as such any more. Perhaps the people will begin showing those who treat people like cargo, that the cargo is people. And thus change the world. Perhaps ….

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  4. That was a rough time, Dan. I like the part where you say that “seeing the ground throughout your flight is not comforting the way seeing the shore from a boat is.” I remember my first flight. My colleague, with whom I was traveling, remarked that with air travel, “you either 100% reach your destination or 100% dead in case of an accident”. He was trying scare me because I’d earlier revealed that I do not like flying. So, in retaliation, I did quick Math and told him that because we were about 30,000 ft up, if he was thrown out he’d hit the ground in about 43 secs, disregarding air resistance and other factors, also assuming that his initial velocity would be zero. It meant that he’d be traveling at almost 212m/s. Almost like a bullet.
    That man did not speak again. You should have seen his face!

    But, Dan, the best thing about this post is what you did to the man with the kids. You have a great heart. Amidst the chaos and trials you’ve described, you managed to show the transcendent side of humanity. It is the best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Peter. Sometimes, knowing what the right thing to do is very easy. I didn’t expect it to have such a big impact, but it turns out that the man had been looking for a seat for a while. I had just noticed him when he walked past me.

      I once flew to a conference with a friend who was afraid of flying. She was very nervous because it was raining hard. I told her not to worry, that taking off in severe weather wasn’t nearly the problem that landing in severe weather was. That was only my thought, but it seemed to comfort her. A few hours later, the Captain told us he was beginning his descent into Orlando and that we should expect a bumpy ride due to sever thunderstorms in the area.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

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