The Valley Vagabond: Adventures in Pandemic Travel, Ireland, the Flight (part two)

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[Guest Post by Jeff Lewis]

When we last left Jeff and Diane Lewis, they had finally gone through all the steps to be able to board a flight and disembark in Ireland to visit their daughter. Their journey would surely go smoothly now, right? Keep reading to find out…

Online check-in using a smartphone app is a snap. All your flight details are right at your fingertips. Boarding passes are easily displayed from your phone at the boarding gate.

My wife isn’t a fan of anything digital, so she insisted that we get paper boarding passes for our two flights that day; having those hard copies turned out to be a blessing later today.

We had no baggage to check in so we easily bypassed the rest of the airport reception and went straight to the TSA checkpoint. One can pay a fee and be pre-screened into the upcoming scheduling service, thus avoiding the seemingly endless queue of TSA. It’s like getting a fast pass to Disneyland where you can go straight to the front of the line.

Once through the TSA, we proceeded 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’ which then turned into a 4 hour delay which brought us to Chicago after our flight departed for Dublin. We asked the Alaska staff at the gate to change our flight to Dublin.

Unfortunately, as our reservations had not been made through the same company, we were told we had to go to the other end of Seatac and speak to a United representative. The United agent told us to go to the app or call their toll free number, but looking at their flight information she said we need to plan another flight to Dublin.

We tried the app, no luck. It has limits when it comes to dealing with real and active changes in the real world. 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 to board.

The best they could do was get us on the next day’s flight, downgrade our seats from premium to economy, charge us $ 200 more, and put us in separate rows. Fine! Do it. I have to go, and if it’s the best we can do, then do it. We will find a place to spend the night in Chicago, then we will make a fresh start the next day.

Our flight to Chicago went smoothly until we got close. We then learned that the previous delays were caused by tornado warnings causing the O’Hare Tower to evacuate for most of the day. The storm delayed hundreds of flights to and from Chicago all day. We circled around for about an hour and then finally got clearance to land.

photo by Austin tiffany to Unsplash

Just as the pilot was about to land, he turned on the engines, pulled us over the runway, and put us back in the air. The plane in front of us did not come off the airstrip, so we had to pull out and get back in line. An hour later, we were safe on the ground and had internet service again.

It was then that we learned that our original flight to Dublin had been delayed with everyone and was still in Chicago! The bad news was he was going to board within the hour, but we weren’t booked for that anymore! We were lucky enough to get to the gate and rearrange our travel plans to go back to our original itinerary if we hurry.

If you’ve ever traveled through O’Hare Airport, you know it is the size of a small town. Switching from one terminal to another takes time. Getting from the end of Terminal 1, where we landed, to Terminal 3, where United’s flight to Dublin rested, was going to take some time. We received instructions from a friendly security guard who recommended that we hurry, and I started running with my wife waving to me, promising to catch up with us sooner or later.

As I walked past customer service counters, hundreds of stranded passengers lined up to rearrange their plans. I bypassed these and went straight to the door where there were no lines. Here I found an angel in gate keeper clothes.

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

She was pacing back and forth from the phone to the computer, trying to work out the best possible situation for us. Meanwhile, my wife arrived, exhausted and on the verge of tears. Our agent assured her that she would take care of us, which she did. Because so many flights had been diverted from O’Hare, she saw that there were several passengers who, although they did not cancel, would never arrive on time. After getting her supervisor’s approval and a few minutes before boarding (it was now close to 10 p.m. local time), she handed me two new boarding passes.

Row 5. First class. Free.

It had been a long and exhausting day. Getting on our flight and sitting in a really luxurious little pod that was all mine was spectacular! The food for dinner and breakfast was close to restaurant quality. Having my wife right next to me to enjoy that little slice of divine goodness was more than I could have hoped for! We were able to lie down completely flat with plenty of pillows, blankets and a pair of slippers to close our eyes on during the overnight trip to Dublin where we were going to start another full day was invaluable.

Arriving in Dublin on a sunny summer morning, we drove through the quite modern and surprisingly almost vacant Dublin Airport. The seven and a half hour flight was perfect in every way – great service and a smooth ride! The customs facility was also empty, so we walked over to the first officer who checked our vaccination records and passports; then he wished us good luck. In a few minutes, we boarded a bus for the center of the capital to our hotel.

We had finally arrived and were ready to enjoy almost two weeks of all that this beautiful country had to offer!

Then, in part three, Jeff and Diane explore Ireland!


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