Anyway, the second weekend of October was the third annual Chicago Seminars event. Chicago is easy to get to, I had good time last year, and I like hanging out with other frequent flyers, so it was worth going to. I decided to go a bit on the late side, so ended up at the overflow hotel - the Holiday Inn in Rosemont. I had been unimpressed with the host hotel (the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village) last year, but this was even less impressive. The bed was fine and there was plenty of hot water, but the carpet was stained. And, worst of all (though I didn't realize it until I was home) - probable bed bug bites! Yuck!
The transportation from overflow hotel to host hotel was a school bus, leading to lots of jokes about lack of leg room and people wanting seating upgrades and so on. But there was also more interesting conversation to be had about who we are and why we fly so much. For example, I talked with a woman who is trying to run a marathon in every state and with a man who conducts orchestras for ballets. There is also, of course, lots of conversation about how best to take advantage of frequent flyer miles / hotel points / etc.
I won't go into detail on the seminars themselves, since not all of the presenters want their information released publicly. I am experienced enough to be able to say that I didn't learn a huge amount of new stuff, especially as I have no interest in certain types of point maximization schemes. I did, however, pick up a few useful tidbits. For example, during a delay, it can be worth checking the airline's cargo website to find out the real cause of the delay. There was also a good demo of using ITA software to find routings to maximize mileage. Finally, I found Steve Belkin's talk about some of his exploits to be quite amusing, though I have ethical qualms about some of his techniques. (He is probably most famous for "the baht run" in which he paid Thai rice farmers to take a large number of flights with him controlling their accounts. This got him investigated as a potential drug runner, among other things. That is not his most extreme story. Let's just say he is good at exploiting loopholes.)
I said above that getting to Chicago was easy. Getting home proved somewhat more difficult. See, during the Sunday afternoon session, the tornado siren went off. We were all herded into an interior ballroom of the host hotel until the coast was clear. There was still plenty of time to retrieve bags and get to the airport before my flight. The security line was long as the terminal had been evacuated and people told to shelter in a tunnel between terminals. But, other than confusion about what line was what (e.g. failure to enforce premium security lines and some oblivious line cutters) it moved okay.
We were supposed to leave at 5:24 p.m. The plane turning into my flight arrived about a half hour late. Okay, that happens. The catch was that the pilots were coming in on another plane - and they had been diverted to Grand Rapids, Michigan. About 7 p.m., we are told that the pilots have arrived at O'Hare and the plane is boarded. We wait, and wait, and wait some more - until 8:15 p.m.. It turns out that the first officer has timed out. There's a new crew coming, and the new departure time is 11:15 p.m. We get off the plane.
Things seem to get better at about 9:20 p.m. as the gate agent and/or airport manager have found another flight crew! So we board again. Then comes the mechanical issue. After a while, the pilot says the mechanic has cleared the issue, and we are just waiting for paperwork. We wait, and wait, and wait some more. Seeing a lot of luggage get taken off the plane is not very reassuring. At about 11 p.m., we get confirmation of our fears. Despite what the pilot had said, the plane is broken and not going anywhere.
Things got better at that point, as they did locate another plane for us. We did, of course, have to wait for it to arrive, but it did eventually get there. In the end, we took off at 12:31 a.m. and I got to DCA at not quite 3 a.m. Throw in another half hour for the taxi home and it wasn't worth bothering to go to sleep.
On the plus side, United did provide reasonable compensation. The flight attendants and gate agent were helpful and friendly throughout it all. (In fact, the flight attendants could have refused to fly after midnight, but stayed on, so get extra kudos.) I didn't see anybody behaving especially badly over the whole mess. But it is this kind of thing that makes one question why anybody flies more than they have to.
Oh, yeah, I kind of like to go places ...