I had just spent a lovely week in Chicago, visiting and helping a friend move cross-country (from California) when I walked into Midway International Airport on Friday September 26 ready to head home when, as Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys II would say, “Shit just got real“.
How real? Try a fire in a radar tower in the hometown of Wayne & Garth real. Yes, Aurora, Illinois. Little did I know that my day would turn into a waiting game.
Now, I’ll start from the beginning.
I walk up the stairs of the Orange Line stop at MDW and bring out my phone to make sure that I am checked into my flight. I was, but I just wanted to double check. I then wanted to get some info on Midway so I pull up my Foursquare app and see the first comment that went something like this: “If you are flying out on a Friday morning before 9am, get there AT LEAST an hour and a half early due to security.” I look down at my watch: 6:30. My flight was scheduled to leave at 7:30.
I enter the airport and see the security line isn’t all bad. In actuality, it looked rather light. On top of that, I was sent into another line where I would be body scanned. Bing-bang-boom, I was in and out of TSA within 10 minutes, tops. I felt really good about my situation. It wasn’t even 6:50 when I look up at the monitors, found my gate and I was on my way.
Then I saw it.
I see a long line of people at the ticket counter at the gate. This can’t be good. I slowly pass the line and see that flight number on the gate hasn’t changed. It still read “St. Louis”. I walk a little further and peek into one of the coffee shops inside the terminal and look at the people inside, they are all looking up at the TV. I look up. I see the words “Fire, Aurora, and Radar”. Oh shit. I find a spot to sit at the gate, charge my phone and wait. That’s when one of the employees gets on the loudspeaker and tells everyone that the earlier flights were cancelled but that everything was still on schedule for the rest of the day.
Well, that’s good.
Not long after that, she gets on the loudspeaker and tells everyone that ALL FLIGHTS are cancelled until 12noon. This is when I could see people get visibly upset. I remained calm. I stood up and went to stand in line to change my flight. I overhear conversations about people scrambling to find a flight because they were going to a wedding. An hour and a half later I was booked on the 12noon direct to LAX. I was informed that it was still on schedule so I could just wait and hope. So I waited. I didn’t hope because I felt confident in the airline to get me where I needed to be.
I should’ve hoped.
As soon as I put my bags down at my new departure gate, the terminal was informed that ALL FLIGHTS were cancelled until 7pm. Some people raised their heads to the ceiling, staring, shaking, ultimately distraught. Others sat there unfazed. I gathered my bags and stood in line again to change my flight.
I’ll let you know that I tried calling to change but the wait time they gave was between 2.5-4 hours.
No thanks, I’ll stand.
An hour and 45 minutes later, I was up at the counter as the airline employee typed furiously trying to find a way for me to get home. I stood propped up against the counter smiling deliriously because, what else was I going to do? This wasn’t the airlines fault and I had no plans for the weekend anyway. This was all just another adventure for me. The woman behind the counter informed me that there weren’t ANY direct flights or flights with multiple stops that she could get me on to get me home that day.
I told her “I’ll go to Burbank, John Wayne, hell, even Ontario, just get me out of Midway.” She looked again. Nothing. Then she said that there was a flight leaving for Seattle at 7:30 but I’d have to spend the night in SeaTac. I said “I don’t care. I’ve spent the night in an airport before. I’ll survive.” As I said that, I remembered that seemingly endless night in Manaus and thought SeaTac had to be better than Manaus right? I came to the conclusion that, yes, it would be better, so I book the flight and make my way over to my new gate. And if worse came to worse I would reach out to my friends in Seattle and see if they could take me in for a night.
As I made my way to my new gate, around 1:45-2:00, most of the airport had cleared out. I overheard some people say that O’Hare was running flights and they were going to try over there. There’s no way in hell O’Hare is better than Midway right now. No way. I shrugged off their comments and found myself in a nearly empty Terminal A. Except for a few people at the ticket counters and maybe five other people sitting in chairs, it was a ghost town. So, I begin to prepare for a long day/night. I pop in my headphones and listen to the audiobook of The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside “The Room” by Greg Sestero. About three hours in I get a text message from an unknown number. I open it and see that my flight to Seattle is cancelled.
No. [Expletive deleted] way.
I pause my audiobook, wrap up my headphones and proceed to the ticket counter. I will say this, by this time the wait was barely 5 minutes, so there’s that. I smile as I prop myself on the counter, hoping that there is SOME way I can get out of this airport tonight by using my charm and smile. Nothing.
I was informed that all Southwest flights were cancelled. All of them. My eyes widen.
The earliest flight I could definitely get on? … Sunday morning. It was either that OR sleep in the airport, get up to the ticket counter by 4am and wait to get on standby for a direct flight. If I got on standby for one with stops, I would have to deplane at the next airport and get on standby all over again. I tell them to book the Sunday flight, that way I will have a confirmed departure. As the ticket is printing the woman behind the counter suggests looking into the train to get me out of the Midwest and then to another airport that the radar tower did not affect. Train? Yeah, no thank you. That HAS to be more expensive than a plane. (It was.) She hands me the ticket, I smile and decide to sit down and think out my plan of attack.
Option 1: I head back to my friends apartment and wait there until Sunday morning, where I do this all over again (get up early, ride the L, go through security blah blah blah)
Option 2: I stay in the airport, a la Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”, and get on standby for the earliest flight and see what happens.
I think both over for about 45 minutes before I talk myself into staying in the airport overnight because it would give me the best chances of getting home. And if not, then I still have a booked flight for Sunday morning.
I’d also be in the airport for 2 days, but whatever.
I stretch out my legs and listen to more of my audiobook. I notice I am starting to doze off so I press pause and take a brief nap. When I wake up I see that there is only one other person in the terminal with me. All of the ticket counters are empty. The moving walkway moves no one. And through the window, I see a football being thrown back and forth through the air on the tarmac.
This place is dead.
I look at my watch: 6:30. 12 hours. 12 hours I have spent at this airport. Yay…….I also realize that the only food I had all day was the complimentary pretzels and water given to us by the airline. I slowly grab my bag and start walking in search of something to eat. I stand on the moving walkway because I have no place to be. I even walked in the opposite direction just to kill time. It didn’t work.
I ended up walking into Harry Caray’s restaurant and by that point in the day I had completely forgotten that I was wearing my Dustin Brown Kings shirt when a girl I pass asks me to sit at a different table. I say “No”, quite seriously, until I realized DURING my meal that she was referring to my shirt and how I wasn’t welcome there. You can’t win a Game 7 on home ice WITH the lead?? No, get outta here.
This was when I decided to have fun. I ordered a few beers, made my way to another restaurant that would be open all night, made friends with a few of my other stranded passengers and before you know it, a drinking game had begun in the B5 gate area. Southwest also decided to leave the complimentary waters and pretzels and peanuts out – so I took an entire bag of pretzels and stuffed it into my backpack … and a six pack of water.
During the drinking games I learned that a few of my new friends were actually NOT stranded. They were flying Frontier to Denver. Why wasn’t Southwest flying anymore? This Frontier flight was one of only 4 that would eventually take off from MDW. That’s lucky.
Around 12:30 or so a security guard was walking around and asking if anyone wanted to sleep on a cot. I jumped up, gathered my stuff and found myself on a cot and pillow, under a blanket and passing out within minutes of putting my head down. My rest was short-lived as I woke up at 3:30 in order to change my shirt, put on deodorant, find my gate, and wait in line at the check-in counter to get on standby. I had some breakfast (pretzels and water) and sat in front of the ticket counter by 4am. The counter didn’t open until around 5:30ish and I was informed that I wasn’t able to get on that flight, but I could wait standby.
Then the doors closed.
I stood in a short line and was able to change my ticket, for the last time.
I’m finally getting outta here! See ya Chicago!
I was on the 9:15am direct to LAX leaving from the gate across from me. I walked over, with a new found strut, and sat down. Ahh. Finally I could relax. Then the signs started to appear again.
*New Email* Your Southwest flight is delayed, your new departure time is 9:45
At this time they were already telling people to line up to board. The first group boards and then my group is next. I go toward the back of the plane, that’s where I prefer to sit, I stow my bags and plant myself next to the window.
*New Email* Your Southwest flight is delayed, your new departure time is 10:15
People are still boarding so I’m not worried.
*New Email* Your Southwest flight is delayed, your new departure time is 10:35
Am I EVER going to leave Chicago? I mean, great city, but lemme go home first before you claim me!
*New Email* Your Southwest flight is delayed, your new departure time is 10:55
The plane is backing up at this point so I am not worried. I put my phone in Airplane mode, adjust the fan above my head, shut the window shades and close my eyes.
I wake up and I open the shade slowly, so as not to blind myself, and I see the Earth below me. Finally, I was headed home.