May 29th, 2007

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Wiscon, mon amour...

... I LOVE the headspace and the atmosphere of this con,the best of cons, the crown of cons, the one that I WILL return to every year, the one I always register for the FOLLOWING one before I leave the CURRENT one... but why oh why does the path to this enchanted garden of delights have to lie through the perilous portals of Hell that is the Chicago O'Hare airport...?

We got there this morning on the way home to find out...

...wait, let me backtrack...

We started out from Bellingham, and All Was Well. Then we got to Seattle - and guess what? Because of weather problems in Chicago, the flight was delayed. For TWO HOURS. We had a three-hour window in Chicago; that dwindled and dwindled and dwindled, but we kept on being told by the podium staff, ALL the airlines are in the same boat, because everything is late going in everything is equally late going out. There might still be a chance to catch our flight.

Well, we landed a short while AFTER the Madison flight was due to depart. I fell out of the plane, collared the nearest ground crew person, and asked what the situation was.

"Oh, THAT flight?" she said, looking at my boarding pass. "That flight's been cancelled... you'd better go to the American Airlines rebooking kiosk."

We did. The line snaked halfway down the (very long) O'Hare concourse. The guy pushing rdeck's wheelchair along (we have to have one in Chicago, or there isn't a hope in hell of making any flights at all) went to talk to someone at the podium. This official-looking black agent peeled off the main podium, went to another, signaled us to follow, which we did. She tapped something at a computer terminal, and handed us two boarding passes.

"I can get you on a flight tomorrow," she said.

There were two more flights to Madison that night. Apparently we didn't rate.

"Oh, no you can't," I said to her, waving the boarding passes.

"Well there isn't anything else I can do," she said. "You can catch the bus to Madison."

"And what happens to the flight that was whisked away? Can I get that refunded?"

"Yes, sure. The bus is thataway."

We caught the next bus, just barely, and settled down for a three-hour ride. It was leavened by a spectacular sunset, but by this stage I was so hungry that I was eyeing the MacDonalds at which we stopped to let off some passengers and contemplating dinner, and for those who have heard me utter my feelings about THAT place, that should tell you my state of mind. We'd had a boiled egg for breakfast and pretzels for lunch. I was STARVING.

We finally rolled into Madison about 9:30 PM. We went into the Governor's CLub lounge and scarfed down some chocolate cake, but it was probably not a good idea. THat whole day we ate nothing much and what we did eat was unhealthy crap that provided more the illusion of sustenance than any reality of it. I ran into at least one familiar face in the corridors, but I was zombified by this stage, and we crashed.

The con was great, as Wiscon always is, and it started the next morning - and others have blogged copiously about panels and suchlike so I'll either do a precis later or I"ll leave it for those others to cover - and on the night of the Dessert Salon I happened to be sitting next to the lady organising the Sign Out the next day, and she made my day - my week - my CON - my MONTH, year, and perhaps on from there - by imparting a particular piece of information that I should probably not blab about. Suffice to say it was fantastic, and it made me drop my jaw, and I mean pretty much literally, I sat there gaping at her like a fish for a full thirty seconds... but enough about that [grin]. I socialised, I partied, I panelled, and it was all marvellous (although this time we didn't get around to getting any of rdeck's favourite cheddar).

And then came Tuesday Morning, and we woke at six ayem, and were down in the foyer in time to catch the 7 ayem shuttle to the airport to catch our 8:15 flight.

The first sign of trouble came when the guy on duty at the counter couldn't seem to check us in. He was someone who probably should have had another month of training before he was pitched at a paying customer - I mean, there's only so many times that it's cute to hear someone say "It's the first time I'm doing this" as they fumble sheepishly at a console - but soon we graduated to a supervisor, and then another supervisor, and mostly they asked four or five times whether we were checking any bags in (we weren't) - but we had a bigger problem than this.

Remember that cancelled flight? The one I was supposed to get refunded?

The idiot *cancelled the rest of my itinerary*. Yes, my entire return flight. Wiped. No record, NO RESERVATIONS.

And then the phone calls started flying. And our ever-so-pleasant supervisor would call up someone and say, "Hi, how are you doing? Oh, I"m just FINE..." and then segue into, "Oh. OH. Okay. I see."

And then finally come to me with, "You have to pay a change of reservation fee before they will do anything."

That was holding a customer to ransom, that was. THEY screwed up. THEY should have dealt with it. I turned up at the right places at the right times to the best of my ability - THEY cancelled a flight from under me - and now I'm supposed to be paying the price for it...?

They got us two seats on the 8:15 flight. They actually managed that. And then the supervisor's supervisor looked up at the wheelchair, and said, "Oh, never mind then. He's closing out the flight. You'll never make it."

"You can't HOLD THE FLIGHT FOR FIVE MINUTES UNTIL WE GET TO THE GATE?!"

"No. Nope. Sorry. No can do. You have another flight, leaving at 11:25. You have a flight to Seattle leaving from O'Hare at 2:55, boarding time at 2:35. That's a very tight window; here are your boarding passes for that flight. But we can't issue you boarding passes for the Alaska Airlines flight to Bellingham out of Seattle - and you might have four hours to wait in Seattle for a Bellingham flight."

Our flight out of Madison was twenty minutes late.

We landed three minutes after the scheduled boarding time for the Seattle flight had begun.

I basically thrust a boarding pass at rdeck, threw him at his wheelchair, and said, RUN, I'll catch up as soon as I get our gate-checked baggage. Which I retrieved, and then gallopped down the concourse, wheeling one little suitcase, carrying the duffel bag, my calves on fire.

We literally fell out of one plane onto another; and we probably only made THAT because of the wheelchair and the way it rates precedence at boarding. We fell into our seats panting.

No food (bad sandwiches you could pay five bucks for). COffee is free, but appalling, and the only creamer they have is that awful powdered stuff whose list of ingredients reads more like a chemistry lab run amuck than anything you might want to be putting into your mouth (or your liver) so I had the one cup of coffee, and one of the hotel's chocolates that had strayed into my handbag. I had a Danish from the hotel for breakfast; that was also the last decent cup of coffee that I had, back before seven o'clock in the morning. I was not a happy camper. rdeck kept looking out of the window, as we approached Seattle, and oohing and aaahing over Mt Rainier, which was admittedly looking rather spiffy. But all *I* could think about were the logistics of Seattle and the Bellingham flight.

We made a beeline for the Horizon Air (Alaska Air regional branch) customer service desk, and I said to the agent, "I should be on a flight to Bellingham, I have no idea when."

She printed out a pair of boarding passes for a flight that left in ten minutes and pointed me to a gate across the concourse aisle.

We fell into another plane.

Somehow we managed to land in Bellingham at almost precisely the time we SHOULD have landed under the original plan - but I am damned if I know how, given that we left Madison at least four (closer to five) hours after we should have.

We are home. But I have this whole tangled skein to unravel with the airlines tomorrow, figure out what was refunded, what was NOT, what should have been and what is still to be - because trust me, I will raise merry hell about that "change of reservation" fee they extorted from me to get me home. And I will never ever fly through Chicago by choice again. That's a promise.

I'm wrecked now, and heading for bed really soon.

Love ya, Wiscon. See you next year. Just not via Chicago.
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