Friday, August 23rd
My mom drove me down to Albuquerque the previous day, so we wouldn't have to get up in the middle of the night and leave before dawn, or worry about being late due to road construction delays, etc. The drive was uneventful. I was exhausted due to not getting enough sleep the previous few nights, and especially the night before, when I was up late packing, and weighing, and repacking until both suitcases were just under 50 lbs., and everything I wanted with me fit into my purse or my carry-on.
The evening in Albuquerque was also uneventful, but unfortunately neither of us slept well. Our room was on the street side of the motel, and the motel was on a steep hill with a traffic light at the bottom. At 5am, the traffic started, and the noise was quite loud due to trucks downshifting on their way down the hill, and cars, trucks, and motorcycles accelerating hard to get up the hill after being stopped at the light.
There was no point trying to sleep in, so eventually we gave up, got up and went to breakfast. Then it was pack things up and off to the airport on the shuttle. We arrived with plenty of time. I had already checked in thanks to the motel's wifi, so I just had to get boarding passes printed, pay for my extra bag, and check the two bags. Then we proceeded to a waiting area outside security, where we hung out and chatted until I needed to go catch my flight. We said our goodbyes, and I headed through security and to the gate shortly before boarding time. Everything on this flight was uneventful. Of course, they don't serve food on most domestic flights anymore, so by the time I got to Chicago I was quite hungry. I had plenty of time in my layover, so I stopped at a sit down Italian restaurant for a late lunch. (The food was not bad, though not as excellent as one would hope for given the prices.) Then I proceeded to the gate. My iPod told me it was almost two hours yet until boarding time, so I popped in my earphones and zoned out. At some point later I came to, with the gate strangely quiet. According to my iPod, it was just now boarding time, so what was going on? Had there been a gate change that I'd missed? Then it suddenly dawned on me through my sleep deprivation-induced haze that my iPod was on Mountain time, and Chicago was an hour ahead in Central time. I'd actually missed my flight, despite being AT THE GATE the whole time. I rushed to the agent at the desk, who sent me to the customer service desk down the terminal.
I spent 45 minutes in line at the service desk, mostly in self-flagellation over my idiocy and worry over what kind of first impression I was making on my new employers. When I finally got to the desk, the United customer service agent was really helpful, and tried every option she had to get me to Washington DC in time to make my flight to Bahrain, but there just wasn't enough time. Then she tried to get me on a flight to Bahrain the next day, but it was completely booked. The soonest she could get me on was Sunday night, arriving on Monday, getting me to Bahrain two days late. She offered me the option of staying in Chicago until Sunday afternoon, or heading on to DC that night. I opted for the latter, feeling like at least I would be making some progress closer to my destination. (She also offered to re-route me through Frankfurt,Germany, but since she couldn't get me on a flight from there to Bahrain any sooner than Sunday, I declined.) Of course, I didn't consider that given how much time had already passed, I would be arriving in DC very late indeed.
As I waited at the gate in Chicago, I thought I would use the wifi to try to book a hotel, so I wouldn't be arriving in DC in the middle of the night with no place to stay. And surely there would be wifi to use, right? It turns out that O'Hare is one of the few airports these days that don't offer free wifi. If I wanted to use the wifi, I had to pay for Boingo. At $7.95 an hour. I spent quite some time ascertaining that O'Hare really didn't have free wifi, and that Boingo would not provide me with any further information about in exactly what circumstances they would charge my card (their website was full of information about how convenient it was that they had so many hotspots around the world and how they would automatically charge your card for access, but nothing about whether or not they would ask you to authorize the charge before they made it, or if they would automatically charge you any time your device was within hailing distance of one of their hotspots). For all I know, Boingo may be a great service, but their unwillingness to inform me that my card would not be charged without my knowledge or direct permission was not reassuring. If I used their service for 61 minutes, would they charge another $7.95 without warning me? Their lack of detailed information about how and when they charge you made it seem really scammy to me, and I wasn't about to trust them with my credit card info. I decided to hope that the Washington/Dulles airport had free wifi. (It did, though as it turned out, I didn't need it.)
By the time I'd decided I couldn't trust Boingo, it was almost boarding time anyway. Thus I arrived in DC at 1am with no place to stay. My luggage had arrived earlier, of course, being on the flight I *should* have been on. The customer service agent in Chicago had assured me that she'd put a hold on my bags and they would be in DC, so I headed to the agents in baggage claim. To my surprise, they were actually open (I had arrived very late in other airports on other occasions to find that everything was shut down). However, they couldn't get me my bags, because having been checked to an international destination, they were held in customs, which was closed for the night. They did assure me the bags would be there, though, and would not go on to Bahrain without me. I mentioned that I didn't yet have a place to stay, and the agent gave me a coupon with an 800 number to call to find last minute hotel bookings at low rates.
So I went out to the payphones and called, and got a listing for a Courtyard Marriot 10 minutes away with a free shuttle for $70 per night. The agent on the phone made a reservation for me for that night, but said he couldn't make one for more than one night. He gave me the number for the hotel to call the shuttle. Unfortunately, it wasn't an 800 number, so I needed change for the payphone to make the call. Fortunately, I had enough change. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out which selection on the hotel's phone menu would get me to the shuttle, and wound up choosing the wrong one and then getting disconnected. I didn't have enough change for a second call, and no stores at the airport were open. However, there was a calling card vending machine next to the payphones that took bills, so I bought one. At this point I was so tired it took me three tries to enter all the numbers correctly (the phone number on the card, the very long code on the card, and the number for the hotel). I did, eventually, get through to the right place and was told the shuttle would be there in 10 minutes.
I went out through the doors marked "ground transportation" and located the correct area for hotel shuttle pickup. The shuttle soon arrived, and around 2am I was at the Courtyard Marriott. This is the point where my trip began looking up (although I had not yet reached the last of my mishaps.) The young woman at the check in desk was very helpful and kind. She said taking the shuttle back to the airport the next day to get my luggage would be no problem, and was happy to give me a map of the DC area, and booked me for two nights at the $70 rate. I retreated to my room, which was nice, and clean, and which made me happiest of all, very quiet and dark, thanks to a good location and thick curtains that completely covered the windows. I spent the next hour and a half on their free wifi, emailing my employer to let them know about the delay, and my mom to let her know that I would not be in Bahrain for a couple of days, but was safe and sound and would let her know when I *did* make it to Bahrain. I also discovered that I needn't have fretted about what impression missing my flight would make on my new employers. I was far from the only one to have problems along the way, and of the four of us who were supposed to be on the flight from DC to Bahrain that night, only one had actually made it.
I fell into bed about 4am, and slept pretty soundly until noon.