Europe, Day 1


It should come as no surprise to those of you who have used frequent flyer miles that the number of seats allocated for frequent flyer programs on each flight is very limited. So trying to get 2 seats from Denver to Ireland isn’t as easy as it is when booking regular tickets where there’s some money involved. The number of frequent flyer miles for two round-trip tickets to Europe is substantial. It took 100,000 miles for a pair of tickets and I had earned most of those miles the hard way, by flying to Taiwan on 5 separate occasions last year, which is a grueling way to accumulate miles. Those trips included 10 separate 12+ hour legs of travel, all in economy class.

The flight from Denver left at 6:00 a.m. and stopped in Chicago…for 6 hours…and then continued to Philadelphia before heading out to Shannon Airport in Ireland. This is not an itinerary that would be offered to a paying customer, but for frequent flyer miles, they assured us it was the best they could do.

United suggests being at the airport at least 2 hours before your flight leaves and since it takes about 1.5 hours to drive to the airport, park the car and get the shuttle to the airport, it means we’d have to leave our house about 2:30 a.m., which means we’d need to get up around 2:00 a.m. That’s not the most auspicious way to start a vacation, but we weren’t in a good bargaining position. Terri figured we should get a hotel in Chicago just to catch up on sleep because we knew we’d only be getting about 3 hours of sleep the night before we left. It reminded me of the ‘mandatory rest period’ that is mentioned on the show The Amazing Race, the show that inspired us to structure the trip the way we did.

Whether you book a hotel for an hour or a day, the rate is the same. However, it’s hard to put a price for the pain and suffering for a cranky spouse but it can exceed that of a night’s stay in a hotel near the airport, so it was an easy decision…and I won’t mention who might have been the cranky spouse. Thus, a “mandatory rest period” was scheduled in the windy city. We hoped that we wouldn’t oversleep.

We managed to get to the airport on time despite the early hours, caught the flight to Chicago and even slept at a hotel for a few hours after we got there. The hotel relied on a taxi service to take guests to and from the airport and despite having scheduled it for our return, a taxi was not available. Fortunately, one of the hotel’s desk clerks came to the rescue and took us back to the Chicago airport. Once we arrived at our gate, they announced that our flight was going to be delayed. We had only a two hour layover in Philadelphia so having any more than an hour delay was going to be a problem. Around the time our flight was scheduled to depart, they called us to the desk and told us that because the plane had not yet arrived, we needed to go get our luggage at the baggage claim. I asked them what we should do after that and they said we’d have to check in again and get an alternate routing. It felt we’d been issued an infamous “road block” on The Amazing Race where another team issues you a setback and you are forced to wait while others can go on their way.

So we went down the baggage claim area, found our bags, and searched for a line at the US Air counter. The line was very long and slow with only a few counter people there and lots of angry-looking travelers, one who became so loud and rude that a counter person threatened to call the police. Since our connection was International, we got into a shorter line, but each customer was taking an eternity to get re-routed and we feared we were not going to make it on a plane to Ireland that night. By the time we got to the counter, they couldn’t find a single flight that day to Ireland and were offering routing us through Paris, Dublin, and then to Shannon. That didn’t sound like much fun so we inquired about our original flight. The counter person said that the plane had arrived and was ready for boarding. If we were to run, we could make it back on our original flight and possibly make our connection in Philadelphia. Our bags were already tagged for that flight, so we put them on the conveyor and ran for the gate. Of course, we had to go through security yet again, but made it to the gate on time. The plane hadn’t started boarding and we felt that we might just make it to Ireland as we had planned. We only hoped that our luggage would make it too.

By the time we got to Philadelphia, we had only about 15 minutes to get to the gate since our connecting flight was already boarding. So we ran again and made it to the plane and heaved a sigh of relief as we sat down in our seats. But the adventure wasn’t quite over yet because a man came on the plane and asked me to follow him with our passports. I figured that I’d just need to go to the front of the plane where someone would check the passports and that would be it. However, when he got off the plane and asked me to follow him, the flight attendant objected, telling him the plane would be leaving in a few minutes. He assured her it was OK and that it wouldn’t take much time. I followed him to the check-in area and he proceeded to swipe our passports through the scanner again and again and with a disapproving look like he couldn’t quite figure out the problem. Then he began entering things manually with the keyboard. He was assisted by a few others as I waited nervously at the gate, hoping they didn’t seal up the aircraft with Terri (now without her passport) already on board…

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