Cancelled Flights and Airport Floors — A Travel Story
Whenever we talk to travelers, travel "horror stories" always seem to come up in conversation. Admittedly, we love hearing about them, these unique tales that you never truly forget ... that become part of your travel memories. But we never had any of our own to tell because we haven't traveled enough to run into some (which may be a good thing. I like to stick to the book and live by the rules, all that jazz. Is that a weird trait for a nomad, though? You tell me!).
At least, we never had our own until we left for our honeymoon.
Mr. Nerd and I got married in November 2015. Even since before the wedding, we'd been eagerly looking forward to marriage and the honeymoon to follow (an excuse to travel? Sure, we'll take it)! The honeymoon itself had to be delayed until we could save up the funds to go, but soon enough, we booked a vacation to the Dominican Republic for end of February 2016 and eagerly counted down the days until we could leave.
The week before we left, we packed our bags, printed off all our tickets and vouchers (minus our flight tickets for some reason), tied up loose ends at work, and bounced around the house in heightened anticipation of traveling to a new country. I fixed up everything for the blog and lined up a guest post to publish while we were gone.
This trip was a BIG DEAL. We hadn't traveled since our trip to California in May 2015, and that 9 months in between felt like a looooong time to us. Oh man. And with work/school stress on top of it all? We were SO ready to hit the beach.
The day of departure arrived. As it happened, I had to book our flight to the DR in two different legs: one from Minneapolis to Chicago (separate from the main flight, but it was cheaper to fly to the DR from Chicago) and one from Chicago -> New Jersey -> Dominican Republic.
The flight to Chicago was the night before the flight to the DR, so we planned to stay overnight at the airport and catch our next leg at 6 a.m. sharp. I'd done some research on sleeping at the airport and felt sure of our decision. No need to grab a hotel room for only 4-5 hours (plus cab fees)... We could crash on a cot or the floor by our gate and save money. It'd be an adventure!
Right before I left work to drive home and make our way to the airport, I went onto the airline website (Spirit airlines) to print off our tickets (so that we could skip the kiosk lines and head right to security). When I tried to access our tickets, though, the website told me that they were currently unavailable and directed me to check in at an airport kiosk.
Okay, I thought... That's a bit weird and annoying, but it's probably nothing to worry about. Spirit airline is notorious for being a little wonky. You get what you pay for.
I got home from work around 3 p.m., and Mr. Nerd arrived shortly after. We had a friend on his way to pick us up and take us to the airport, where our flight to Chicago would leave around 7 p.m. Everything was going smoothly.
When our friend arrived, I checked our flight status. Something compelled me to look—thank goodness—and I was nervous to find that our flight had been delayed by two hours because of snow in Chicago. Mr. Nerd calmed me down. A couple more hours wouldn't hurt... We'd still arrive in Chicago around 11 p.m. It'd be fine.
Mr. Nerd and his friend sat on the couch and chatted to kill time, but I couldn't relax. I checked our backpacks, triple-checked that our cats had enough food, and paced across the living room. When I couldn't shake off a sneaking suspicion that our flight was going to be delayed again, I checked my phone and felt my stomach drop.
Our flight had been cancelled!
I went into a flurry of panic. Our flight to the Dominican Republic was supposed to leave from Chicago at 6 a.m., and our flight TO Chicago had been cancelled. Did that mean our second leg of the journey would be cancelled too? What was going ON?
Quickly, I jumped on the phone with Spirit airlines support and, after waiting on hold for 20 minutes, I was told that they didn't have any available flights to Chicago now until Friday morning.
Friday morning? I couldn't believe it. It was currently Wednesday. We'd miss two days of vacation and our departure flight with that kind of delay! The lady kept urging me to reschedule the flight, but I didn't. Rescheduling wasn't going to help us at all. It wasn't going to save our honeymoon.
After I got off the phone, the men jumped into action and scoured the internet for a flight, any flight, we could book last minute in order to make our trip. We tried finding a flight to New Jersey (so we could jump on our connecting flight). No luck. We tried looking for other flights to Chicago, but no one was flying there. We checked overnight buses to Chicago, but they'd either all left or were fully booked.
I sat down at the kitchen table and had a bit of a meltdown. We were about to miss our entire honeymoon (and lose a huge chunk of money ... a good reason to always get travel insurance, folks!) over one stupid flight being cancelled. I couldn't believe it.
No, I wouldn't believe it. I refused. With renewed fury and determination, I turned to Mr. Nerd and told him to pack our luggage into my car.
If we couldn't fly to Chicago, we'd DRIVE there, damn it! It didn't matter that it was a six hour drive in the middle of a cold, blustery February to a city that cancelled their flights because of snow. We were going to go on our honeymoon.
Around 5 p.m., everything was packed in the car. We waved goodbye to our cats and our friend, filled up with gas, and embarked on our six hour drive to Chicago. I had no plans beyond getting to the airport—I was in drive mode and took the first shift. For a good three hours, Mr. Nerd napped and I listened to history podcasts, chugged coffee, and tried not to fixate on our miserable luck.
Note: If you're looking for an awesome history podcast, we highly recommend Dan Carlin's Hardcore History. Very interesting and informative! It definitely helped keep me awake during the long, dark hours of driving.
The drive wasn't so bad when we split it up between us, but we did cry silent tears every time we had to pay a toll on our way to Illinois (of which there were a lot ... and we had no cash because we weren't prepared).
Very close to midnight, we pulled into O'Hare International Airport and parked in the long-term parking ramp. It was expensive, but we had no other options, and I was exhausted (six hours of driving in a car when you weren't ready for it? Wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy)! The moment we got out of the car and stretched was a moment I'll long remember. Such relief. We made it! Woo!
We shed our winter coats (who needs those in the sunny Caribbean anyway?), grabbed our backpacks, locked the car, and walked at a brisk pace for the airport. There weren't many people around, but we thought nothing of it. Rather, we didn't because our minds were already dreaming of comfortable airport seats and some delicious shut eye. I don't think we particularly cared if we got a cot or not at that point, something O'Hare offers; we just wanted to lie down and doze after being up for almost 18 hours.
The winding paths of the airport tunnels eventually led us to an escalator that moved up into the airport. We took the stairs and walked past the airport check-in counters for a kiosk ... only to watch in horror as a security guard clipped a line over the last security point and dimmed the lights.
I jogged over to her. "Excuse me," I asked. "Is security closed?"
The tired, I-don't-want-to-deal-with-this look on her face said it all. Yes, the security gates were closed. "The airport reopens at 4 a.m.," she said. "You can get through then."
Ben and I turned to look at each other with renewed horror. We'd come this far, over six hours, four hundred miles, and three states, to be locked out of the airport where sleep and relaxation awaited. We had nowhere to rest, not enough time to find a hotel, and four hours to go before security would open again.
The security lady walked off, leaving us with our thoughts. We dropped our backpacks and looked around the area. Maybe there would be a bench we could lie on, or somewhere with a shred of privacy? But despite finding a couple in the immediate vicinity, they'd already been claimed by luggage and sleeping travelers like us (or homeless people, we couldn't tell—we were approached a few times by people asking for money).
Both of us were bone tired at this point and really, incredibly crabby (me especially). Spotting a line of pay phones next to an ATM, we walked over and sat down against the windows that overlooked the drop-off zone outside. My cell phone was about to die and Mr. Nerd had left his at home, so I plugged it in next to the ATM and zipped the phone and wire up in my backpack.
"I guess this is it," I told Ben. "Best try to get some sleep."
He pulled a sweater out of his bag and together, we lay down on the cold, airport floor underneath the pay phones. Occasionally, people would dash up the stairs from the tunnels below (where we came from) and run out the sliding doors beside us. It didn't make for a restful sleep.
In fact, I don't think either of us slept for those four hours we waited. The floor was hard, our backpacks lumpy from books and snorkeling gear, and the sliding door kept opening up into the cold, February air. Time crawled by. At one point, I checked my phone and found it was only 1:30 a.m.
Finally, 4 a.m rolled around and the security checkpoints chugged to life. We printed off our tickets at the kiosk and, thankful to see that our 6 a.m. flight wasn't cancelled too, progressed through security. After that, we found a bathroom, washed our faces, and secured some well-needed coffee. Sleep definitely wasn't in the cards for us after that, but at least we made it on the plane and to the Dominican Republic!
So that's our "travel horror story" about the time we almost missed out on our honeymoon. We made it through pretty much unscathed, but it cost us $250 for parking, $50 in gas, $20 in tolls, heaps in stress, and a bit of our sanity.
Also, the snow that cancelled our flight? There was no snow. None, not anywhere. Where was it? Did it ever truly exist? This part will always remain an unsolved mystery.