Thursday, May 18, 2006

Omaha? Ohmygod ...

I have no sense of Omaha.

United Airlines Hemispheres magazine's homage to Omaha makes it sound like a fabulous place to eat a steak and be Warren Buffett.

But I wouldn't know.

Despite the "weather," I got to O'Hare in plenty of time for Wednesday's 8:20 p.m. flight. Signs said main parking was full, but I saw them as I was driving past the exit to go to economy parking. Handy. So I went to main parking, figuring I'd be diverted. But no. Green lights at all the ticket kiosks. Rock on!

Found a spot, got to my terminal, walked right up to security. No line! Well, all right!

Once I put my shoes back on and got my stuff together, I checked a monitor. My 8:20 p.m. flight was scheduled to leave at ... 11:17 p.m.

Ah, crap.

Rich, my colleague, on his way to Chicago from Philly, was scheduled on the 9:50 flight, which was still on time. After traipsing through both B and C terminals and talking with Erin on the courtesy phone next to a check-in kiosk, I made my way to the gate for Rich's flight to be put on the standby list.

The gate agents were dealing with a throng of people trying to get to Newark. Normally, I'd let them deal with the situation at hand, but screw it. I needed to get on that list for Omaha.

As I was waiting my turn, a Jewish man appeared next to me. Orthodox, I'm guessing. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) To paint a picture, and 2) Because I know some pretty brazen Jewish people, and that's part of the story here.

As the line advanced and I stepped forward, he stepped forward, too, but slightly ahead of me. Yup, he was actually cutting in front of me. What are we? 8?

Whatever. There were thousands of pissed-off people in O'Hare last night. Why add to the bad vibe?

The lone gate agent had his hands full. A woman stepped behind the podium. Mr. Jewish Man made a beeline for her. She explained that she was a flight attendant, just using the phone, and not capable of helping him. He stepped back in front of me and was gesturing to someone in the gate area.

He looked at me, holding up his boarding pass stubs. "My wife needs these. I'll be right back. Is that OK? I'm sorry," he said.

"Sure," I said, "since you already cut in front of me anyway."

And just as he stepped away, the busy gate agent was wide open. Well, it's not like I was going to hold up the line and wait for my impatient little friend to return, so I stepped right up to the counter. Ah, payback's a bitch.

The gate agent pleasantly put me on standby for Rich's flight and confirmed me on my delayed flight and told me to keep an eye on the monitors and get to whichever gate had the earlier departure.

Blah, blah, blah, found a place to sit, blah, blah, blah, got a decaf Frappuccino, blah, blah, blah, Rich and I ended up getting on the same flight (his was eventually pushed back even later than mine, and mine moved ahead in the schedule) and we finally left the ground sometime after 11 p.m.

Headed to the rental car booth in the garage at the Omaha airport. Except that it closes at midnight. So Rich headed back into the terminal to get our car assignment while I stood sentry over our stuff.

People walked into the garage on their way to their cars. We did the smile-and-nod. And then I saw a guy who looked way too much like Will Ferrell in "Anchorman."

"I'm Ron Burgundy?"

I laughed out loud.

We ended up with a Taurus with NeverLost. (I need to get me some o' dat GPS for my ride!)

Got to the hotel about 1 a.m. The door was locked. The desk clerk had to buzz us in. Checked in. Rich had booked suites for us. (It was a very modest hotel. It's not like we had suites at The Four Seasons.) Swell. I'd get to spend about 7 hours in my suite, most of it asleep if I was lucky, as I'd only gotten four hours of sleep the night before.

At the gate, waiting to board the plane, I made eye contact briefly with a man who then decided to chat me up. I mentioned that the wait at the airport was made ever more enjoyable by my four hours of sleep. "Well, those who dance must pay the fiddler," is what I remember him saying.

I assured him that my four hours of sleep was in no way due to any reveling on my part. Insomnia, pure and simple.

So I finally got in bed in my suite, set the clock radio's alarm for 7 a.m. and tried to sleep.

I kept waking up, sure that the alarm wouldn't go off and I'd oversleep. And I was cold. The blanket on the bed was apparently made of Kleenex. So I woke up but decided to lie in bed until 7 a.m.

At which point, the alarm did not go off.

Got up, got ready, got downstairs. Had some OJ and coffee. We headed to our client's office (there are several sites in Omaha for this company; one is located literally across the street from the hotel we stayed in; of course, that's not where we needed to be for our meetings) and spent the day talking tech in the training room.

I hopped on a browser, courtesy of one of the interviewees who was logged in, and checked in for my 6:46 flight. "Flow control" appeared in ominous red letters with my reservation. Ah, crap. That's what they said last night, and we all know what a festival that turned out to be.

Whatever. I printed my boarding pass. Rich tried to check in but was having trouble. The computer was trying to confirm him on an earlier flight. He logged out without checking in.

We made our way to the airport. (After Rich, talking on the phone while driving, took a wrong exit and then proceeded to back up on the ramp. For the love of God, what is with men? A woman would have looked at the clock and said, "Well, heck, I've got two hours until my plane leaves. I'll just go to the next exit and turn around.") Returned the rental car. Walked through the enclosed walkway to the terminal behind a man who was smoking. GACK. I love inhaling smoke that was just in another person's lungs. Rich tried checking in at a kiosk. No luck. He picked up the phone and was able to get through the process. His seat was 1D. Rock on. First class. Nice. It pays to have status.

We made our way through security and to the gate where we were promptly greeted by the word "cancelled" underneath our flight number.

What the fuck? Not "Delayed." "Cancelled." My cell rang. It was a recorded message from United, cheerfully informing me that my reservation had been successfully moved.

To the next day.

IN THE AFTERNOON.

Gosh. How convenient. Thanks, United!

Happily, since I had checked in early, I was already on the standby list and got a boarding pass before I even got up to the counter. Rich was sent back to the ticket counter on the first floor. He returned with a boarding pass.

For Denver.

I got on the plane, one of those four-across numbers. The kind of plane you have to board by walking up the stairs that are built into the door. Small plane.

Short flight, thankfully.

Got off and saw Rich waiting for his luggage on the jetway, along with nearly every other traveler who travels with a black wheely suitcase these days.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"The flight checked in full, but two people didn't get on. I was in 2A."

First class after all. Good for him.

But Omaha? I know the travel hassles weren't Omaha's fault, but it's now my least-favorite city when it comes to travel convenience.

But then, come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I took a flight that boarded on time.

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