Standing By in O’Hare

A mechanical disturbance in the aircraft scheduled to handle my connecting
flight Saturday night derailed my one-hop progress from San Francisco to
Syracuse and instead left me sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare for the better part of
the past twenty-four hours.  Initially, United Airlines delayed my
connection to Syracuse from 8:55 p.m. CST to 9:30 p.m. CST, then re-delayed
until 11:00 p.m., then cancelled altogether.  Impatiently and inexpertly,
the cranky customer service staff strained against their own wishes to cut out
for Saturday night plans (expressed again and again via cell phone calls while
servicing the long line at snail’s pace) to accommodate us one by one with obligatory apologies, $14 worth of food vouchers (not to be used on alcohol, but what difference would it make?) and shuttles to area hotels where folks would lodge for the night. 
I was awarded a pass-card to the Doubletree in nearby Des Plaines, Ill. 
After riding the shuttle from O’Hare to the hotel, freezing the whole way
because it was 35 F and my jacket was stowed away in my luggage (which they said
they had to keep at the airport), the Doubletree checked in another long line of
stranded travelers, heartening everyone, albeit unsuccessfully in my case, with warm chocolate chip cookies.  It was 11:30 p.m.
on a Saturday night. I skipped the cookie and the line; gulped a quick MGD in
the empty hotel bar instead, wishing silently it would induce restfulness. 

The best United Airlines could do last night was to switch me to stand-by
status for the six flights from Chicago to Syracuse today.  I took a 5:00
a.m. wake-up call, hopped back on the shuttle (sans change of clothes,
toothbrush, etc.), and returned to the airport in time to miss the cut on the
6:40 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. flights home.  No seats were available for me; I
was 14th on the waiting list for already-full flights. So I went to the customer
service line, considering whether to invoke a sugar rhetoric or a vitriolic
rhetoric, then waited for a half hour behind an Oswego State student who sobbed
as she pleaded with the agent for some kind of solution to her bind–a bind much
like my own.  All six flights to Syracuse today were oversold; for a
guaranteed seat, the soonest flight would be Monday at 1:25 p.m. The agent
suggested flying into a nearby airport; the same option last night, however, was
qualified with the condition of paying–ourselves–for a rental car to complete
the final leg of the trip.  But today, probably because of a greater force
of frustration exerted by smelly, tired, irritated customers on the airline
staff, the zone manager offered me a 5:55 p.m. flight into Rochester along with
a voucher for a taxi to run me the 79 miles from there to Syracuse’s Hancock
International where I could pick up my bag and complete the trip by calling D.
for a drive home from the airport.  The best of bad options, so I took it. 
And although I’m missing a cake and ice cream social for Ph.’s 14th birthday
(actual b’day is tomorrow), and missing his Sunday afternoon soccer match,
and spending yet another day away on this exhaustion-making trip (due to a mix
of lag and overstimulation, not more than five hours of sleep any night in the
last three tries), a call to my older brother J.–who travels all the
time–reminded me that 24 hours in O’Hare beats the hell out of plummeting
headlong into Lake Michigan in some clunky jet-plane.  And the $14 of food
vouchers–11-plus of which were swiftly spent up on an airport breakfast–is
something. And more than enough time for reading Vygotsky so I can lead a class discussion in
seminar Tuesday morning.  Bright spots?  Not so many.

I liked to think I could fill the day by watching a few basketball games in
one of the airport bars or that I could drop $10 on a day-long wifi session. 
Ten hours with basketball and blogging would have made O’Hare almost tolerable. 
But have you been in O’Hare on a Sunday in mid-March?  Stupid crowded. 
And I’ve asked four different agents about wifi and they’ve pointed me to Laptop
Lane in another concourse–a place I checked out only to find the Lane wants
$.65 per minute for sitting in an Ethernet-connected office-closet.  Wifi? 
No luck.  I might’ve walked three or four miles around O’Hare, tried five
or six different not-so-hot spots, pried the agents for expertise, prayed to the
airline gods whose Wrath of O’Hare I’m enduring, and finally quit.  No
basketball, except a few walk-by glimpses, and no wifi.  Just tired-reading
Vygotsky and wishing for a nap (why can’t I sleep with this un-padded armrest
jamming my ribs?) and listening over and over and over again to CNN Headline
News piping into my site between the "last call for Moline" and "final boarding
call for Philadelphia" who can tell which is interrupting which?

So I have a thick stack of folded sheets with miscellaneous CCCC notes I
thought I’d have the time and concentration to give to coherence today, and I’m
overdue now to respond to emails and reground myself for the return from spring
break.  This is my excuse and my decompression.  It’s the best I could
do under the duress of a few unfortunate conditions.


  1. Oh, man, that plain sucks, Derek. I’ve had a couple of very dicey situations in airports, including one in O’Hare, in my 7 years of flying to TYCA and CCCC board meetings, but nothing that matches up with your experience.

    For what it’s worth, here’s a schematic I use with my own students to represent the essence of Vygotsky’s formulation re Thought and Language:

    Motivation<--->Thought<---->Inner Speech<----->Word Meaning<------>Word

    Of course, he sees all of this as recursive and interactive, which I do with arching arrows on the blackboard.

    And I will say that the West Virginia-Wake Forest and Duke-Mississippi State games were first rate. I was rooting mor MS St–ah, well. I would not have done well in the brackets if I had figured out how to get there.

    And it was good to meet you f2f.

  2. It was nice to meet you too, John.

    I appreciate the note on Vygotsky. That learning and cognitive development are thoroughly social seems so easy to take for granted. I think I have a grasp on most of his Thought and Language discussion, although it’s been tough coming to terms with his critiques of Piaget. We read most of P.’s _Origins of Intelligence_ two weeks ago, but Vygotsky is criticizing something else, something I haven’t read.

    The travel fiasco was unlike anything I’ve been through in several years of about two or three flights per year. United Airlines was responsible for great volumes of customer ire yesterday, and sitting among the deeply distressed masses didn’t make matters any better. UA could’ve sent me to Rochester on Saturday night, but they didn’t want to pay for a ride to Syracuse. Instead, I waited a day before they decided to go ahead, fly me into Rochester and spend 180 bucks on a taxi to shuttle me from Rochester to the Syracuse airport. The whole reason for going back to the Syr. airport instead of to my doorstep was to retrieve my luggage. To top it all, the bag they assured me had been sent on the 6:40 a.m. flight wasn’t even there. Awful. They’ll deliver it today, I’ve been told.

    I’m sure you’re right that those were terrific games. I feel so removed from the tournament now that I’ve missed the first two rounds. I have no idea why/how my brackets are going well. I’ve managed to get NC State, Texas Tech and Villanova into the Sweet Sixteen between the two sets of picks, and my only big mistake so far is Wake Forest as a Final Four pick on one of the brackets. Nothing worse than trying to keep up with the scores via CNN Headline News–two minutes of scores and highlights (many of them redundant) twice each hour.

  3. Wow. Between your experience, Jen’s last experience on United, and my last experience on United, I think I’ll just make it a here-and-now policy not to ever fly them again out of here. I usually fly American, but last time went United for the cheaper fare (by $200). Now I guess I know why that is. There aren’t enough flights in and out of Syracuse as it is, let alone during spring break.

    Glad you made it home, and thanks for sharing the experience. I like to learn from others.

  4. Too few choices. I was trying to get the straight shot from Syracuse to SF, and United was the only one coming close to the days and times I needed. I’d boycott the airline, but they’re too large a hub, got too much monopolistic hub-ness built up.

  5. and i thought my flying experience was bad…must be united. i still don’t have my bags.

    i didn’t know that san fran’s policy was to stop accepting luggage for flights 45 minutes before the flight. thank goodness the kind representative did what he could to get our stuff on the flight. but he did say that there was no guarantee. result: i made the flight…my bags didn’t.

    something must be up with united because there were lots of unclaimed bags in syr. the luggage representative said something about a back-up. don’t know what that means for me…can only hope i can my bags soon.

    sorry you missed p’s ice-cream social.

    flying sucks.

  6. We could petition to have a CCR course toward pilot’s licenses. It definitely sucks. I lined up a tooth brush, but I haven’t shaved in almost three days. Gonna wear this nasty little scruff to my 670 meeting here in a few bc my bag hasn’t been delivered yet either. When I was in Chicago yesterday, the cust. service person pretended to check on it and said it was most definitely sent to Syracuse on the 6:40 a.m. flight, otherwise they would have routed it to Rochester and the taxi could have dropped me right at home. Instead, I went to Hancock Int. and was told that my bag would be on the last flight of the day (your plane, presumably). Worst part was the the United Express staffers, when they opened the door to the luggage office last night, wouldn’t even go in the office with me. It smelled too bad! They laughed and said they had water damage. Sure enough. Rotten ceiling. Rotten carpet. Rotten air. So I gagged through a few minutes of filling out my claim form before one of them started spraying Lysol around the room. Gotta survive the absurdity with sense-o-humor, ya?

  7. I sounds like you had one hell of a time getting home. It makes me feel bad for complaining about sitting in front of the toddler who cried and kicked the back of my chair for 2 and a half hours on the last leg of my trip last night. I, for one, am really glad that Cs is in Chicago next year. It may be cold, but it’s driving distance for me. Hope you get some rest.

  8. Derek,

    What a horrible experience. My flight to Philly took longer than expected, so I had to deal with a US Airways employee at the very door to my connecting flight to Baltimore–the poor woman looked like she’d listened to enough rhetoric of all kinds and wouldn’t let me say anything about the plane about to leave minus me. Fortunately, another employee burst forth and yanked me down the walkway to make the plane. My suitcase took a two-day trip to who knows where and arrived home this morning. The van driver whined all the way to my doorstep about how far my house was from the beltway, and when I did get home, my husband and father were watching the game on tv and waiting for Dad’s sutcase to arrive from Hartford.
    But your experience, if you were awarding slots in a fantasy travel bowl, sounds the worst.

    And everyone who has spoken about or written about your presentation has used only the most superlative of superlatives. I wish I’d been able to attend.

  9. Definitely a pattern of screw-ups on luggage. And on leg room alone, I take United flights only when no other choice is available. They seem to be earning their bankruptcy by alienating customers.

  10. I’m still trying to get my sleeping patterns right, and in the meantime, zzzzzzzzzz…everything is half-rate because I’m too tired. But Chicago will be a better trip for me, too. Cross-country trips are a tough fit.

    I was sorry, too, that we didn’t get a chance to meet, Joanna (and sorry, Dr. B, that we didn’t have a chance to talk). My luggage is due to be delivered any minute now. They called to say it’d be here before 10:00 p.m. As for the panel, it went pretty well. It was a relief to offer the paper Thursday morning. We had a nice-sized audience and the follow-up reaction was generous.

    I’d like to say I’m finished with United, John, but all the rules for hubs and connectors apply. Syracuse is small enough that it’s hard to arrange better routes. The leg room was surprisingly good on the jaunt from SF to Chicago; they kept playing advertisements about five inches of added space to every seat in coach class. You’re right about them alienating customers. I understand when things go wrong, but the service over the last few days has been abysmal–hardly the sort of extra-friendly efforts due when a company is trying to avoid total collapse.

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