My Travel Adventure: Hartford to Chicago in 13+ Hours

Since I promised it in the wee hours of this morning, here it is: how what should have been a simple non-stop flight from Hartford to Chicago turned into a 13-hour travel day.

My original itinerary had me on a 3:30 pm flight from Bradley, which would have arrived in Chicago at 5 pm local time. When I planned this trip, I chose the afternoon flight because my only other option (at the price I got) would have been to leave VERY early in the morning and then kill time in Chicago before I could check into my hotel. In retrospect, that would have been a MUCH better plan.

I arrived at the airport at 1:30, which was probably too early even if my flight had been on time, since there was no line at security and I was at the gate by 1:45. When I arrived at the gate, they'd posted that the flight was delayed until 4pm (not bad), so I went to one of the restaurants to have lunch and watch the World Cup.

I left the restaurant around 3:15 and sat around waiting for American to begin boarding (on one of those tiny ass jets that seats like 40 people and ALWAYS feels like its going to fall out of the sky). Well, they started boarding, then, before they'd even got everyone on board, they started un-boarding. Apparently there was some horrible weather in Chicago which had caused a Ground Stop in Chicago, so they didn't know when they'd be able to take off.

After about an hour with no updates, they finally announced that the Ground Stop had been lifted, and we were going to start boarding at 5:30. This time, they got everyone on board, everyone was buckled up and our seats were all in the full upright and locked position and then... EVERYONE OFF!

Turns out this time, they changed the flight route at the last minute (to try and avoid the worst of the weather). That change resulted in a longer flight, which pushed our flight crew over their legal limit for flight time in a day. Now, I'm not exactly sure how all those rules work, but why exactly does the three hours that plane sat at the gate in a delay count towards "flight time"?

(There was also a rumor that started to spread around the airport that they'd intentionally changed the flight path to push the crew over its time so they could use the plane for another flight, where the plane they needed was delayed IN Chicago. I don't know if this is true or not, but if it is, that's some total bullshit by American Airlines right there).

No matter, because we all got off the plane, and after about five minutes, got the fun news that our flight was cancelled.

Most people on the flight were standing at the counter, waiting for help from American, but I decided to hop on the phone, which is when I found out I'd been automatically re-booked... for a flight leaving Bradley at 1:15pm on Saturday, going to Dallas first, then landing in Chicago sometime around 7pm local time. Obviously, that wasn't going to work. American was actually pretty nice about it, and got me a seat on the next flight leaving from that same gate, originally scheduled for 7pm, but now delayed to 8:40.

I would have been fine with that, but in the interim, American started getting people who were destined for Chicago (that is, not going on to another city) onto a United flight that was originally scheduled for 7pm, but also delayed to about 8. I got a nice Economy Plus seat on that flight and headed to the gate to wait for boarding.

Then the announcements started coming. "We're going to board at 7:40 for wheels up at 8:22." "We're going to board at 8:15 for wheels up at 8:45." "We're going to board at 8:45 for wheels up at 9:20." Each time the announcement was preceded with "Attention passengers on United Flight 818. I have some... news." It was like the woman didn't want to say the word "bad", but was clearly implying that's what it was.

We did finally manage to get on board and even pulled away from the gate. It seemed like all was finally well, when this happened:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Another wave of thunderstorms is passing through Chicago, so they've got another Ground Stop."

Rather than pull back into the gate and de-plane, they moved into taxiing position, because it turned out that our takeoff was only delayed by about another 25 minutes. We got into the air, and they said they had extra fuel in the plane, so we were going to make up time in the air. It seemed like all was once again finally well, when this happened:

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We've still got some heavy thunderstorms over Chicago, so we're going to hold for about 45 minutes over Southern Canada here."

About 20 minutes later, they announced that because of the fuel situation, they only had 25 more minutes before having to decide whether they could land in Chicago or be forced to divert to Michigan. Grand Rapids and Saginaw were both mentioned as possible options. At this point, I wished I knew more about the geography of Michigan, to figure out if it would have been possible to land in one of those cities and drive to Chicago and still get a reasonable amount of rest (Saturday discovery: Grand Rapids would have been likely, Saginaw not so much).

Well, things seemed to be looking up when they announced that yes, we would be landing in Chicago and we'd be doing so in 27 minutes (at this point, it was midnight on the East Coast, 11pm in Chicago, or about 11 hours after I'd left my house). Only, to do so, we had to travel through the second-worst turbulence I'd ever experienced on a plane (only second because the only thing that could top the Newark disaster from my Vegas trip last year would be an actual crash). They'd already had us turn off electronic devices, so I couldn't watch the end of "Serenity" (probably for the best, since it was right at the part where the ship crash lands at Mr. Universe's place).

There were definitely moments when I was convinced the plane was going to break apart in mid air. I'm not a good flyer, and I tend to get really nervous when there's even slight turbulence so this was pretty bad. At one point, I started reciting The Numbers from "Lost", hoping that somewhere down there a Scottish guy was remembering to punch them into a computer so our plane wouldn't get destroyed by electromagnetism. I think I finally stopped once the pilot made the announcement "flight attendants, prepare for landing". I may have also cheered at that moment.

I know I let out a small cheer when the plane actually touched down, and repeated it when I got to the rental car counter and they still had plenty of cars (I paid the $16 to upgrade from an economy car to a full-size, and I'm driving around this weekend in a new Chevy Impala). I finally got to my hotel around 1 a.m. local time, and passed out around 2.

So, after all that, I'm kind of wishing I'd stuck to my original plan of road tripping it to Chicago, but hopefully the flight back on Sunday will be uneventful and make up for it. I know it was all worth it, since I'm about to head out the door and go to Slay-a-Thon.