Austin to Chicago

We drove over to Houston from Austin on Friday night, arriving in time for Katie to attend part of the Girls Who Travel Houston meetup at Benjy’s on Washington.

While JT slept in the car (no boys allowed at the meetup), Katie enjoyed chatting with the 15 other Girls Who Travel at the meetup. Everyone had different backgrounds and travel experiences, but it was a fun group to chat with. Although Benjy’s seems to be normally expensive, their happy hour featured a $3 craft beer, $6 cocktails, and some reasonable appetizers. Katie opted for the craft beer, which was really crisp and light (US$5).

Our friend Heather called Katie around 8pm and said she was home, so we picked her up from her nearby condo and then headed to Torchy’s Tacos for dinner (US$20). Dinner was a good time to catch up!

Then we headed back to Heather’s house, where she kindly allowed us to spend the night and store our car.

Priority check-in line at IAH

Saturday we woke at 5:40am for our 8am flight to Chicago. Heather drove us to the airport (IAH), and we easily checked in and got through security. Thankfully we had TSA PreCheck, as the normal security line was rather long. We headed to gate A30 where there were many windows from which to view the air field.

View of our plane from our gate

American Flight 4280 – Houston to Chicago
Houston Bush (IAH): Gate A30; Runway 27; Scheduled: 8:00a; Pushback: 7:59a; Takeoff: 8:49a
Chicago O’Hare (ORD): Gate L8; Runway 10C (or 10L); Scheduled: 10:45a; Landing: 10:49a; Gate Arrival: 11:28a
Flight Time: 2h 00m; Actual miles: 960
N432YX; Embraer ERJ-175LR; First Flight: July 7, 2014; 76 seats (12 FC / 20 MCE / 44 C)
Seat: JT: 2D (aisle), Katie: 2F (window), First Class (via 2x AA 500-mile upgrades each)

Boarding time!

We boarded first since Katie’s 500-mile upgrade coupons had cleared, which put us in first class for the 2 hour flight to Chicago. This was JT’s first flight in First Class since he was randomly assigned seat 1A when flying AirTran from Tampa to Atlanta in 2005 – and that wasn’t even real First Class…

First class selfie!

The first class cabin was comfortable and spacious. We enjoyed coffee and orange juice as our “welcome drink” during boarding. They closed the aircraft door, we pushed back and we seemed set for an on-time departure.

But, then we sat on the tarmac – pushed back from the gate – while the captain dealt with dispatch’s re-routing and subsequently figuring out that we did not have enough fuel for the re-routing. We eventually taxied to the runway about 45 minutes after our scheduled departure, after dispatch re-filed the original flight plan.

Filed flight plan – that we did not have enough fuel to fly!
The flight was a bit bumpy due to the weather, but our first class breakfast service started soon after take-off. We had a large but cold breakfast of yogurt, lots of granola, cheese, crackers, grapes, banana, cinnamon rolls, and milk. It was so large neither of us could finish all the food on our trays, although we valiantly tried.

First class breakfast

The later part of the flight became exciting when the man in the row in front of us spilled his orange juice and it leaked through the seat and on to JT’s backpack.  JT caught it quick enough though, so it did not seem to soak through the backpack.

Empty first class seat across from JT – with Katie’s backpack taking refuge from the raining OJ

After a bumpy landing, our plane sat on the tarmac for over 30 minutes before finally driving to a gate. JT ran and Katie hurried to the gate for our flight to Japan. JT was disappointed to see boarding had virtually completed when he arrived, as he had hoped to get some nice photos of the cabin at the beginning of boarding for a flight review.

Our Dreamliner for the scheduled flight to Tokyo

We were disappointed to find that someone had claimed the middle seat on our row, as it had been empty until this morning. At least it was a small Japanese woman.

Katie’s window seat, a front-row seat to the blizzard outside!

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 12:05pm, and – despite the snow and ice – they closed the door and we officially departed soon after. But we didn’t go anywhere.

The view out of Katie’s window during the blizzard

The pilots came on to explain that deicing was halted, as the snow was falling too fast to effectively deice. So we sat and waited through the snowstorm… Around 1:26pm, they walked through economy handing out a granola bar and water.

A small snack (1 bar) and water were provided around 1:26pm, but no other food after that
Around 2:10pm, the captain announced that we would reconnect the jetway, officially arriving back in Chicago, and board 27 people that had originally been left behind. They said that this would be filling every seat in economy. A lot of people seemed disappointed that their row would now be filled for the long flight.

So guys, those empty seats aren’t staying empty…
Once they were boarded, we closed the door again around 2:30pm. Around 2:45pm, the pilot announced that deicing would begin soon. It finished around 3:15pm and we finally pushed back at 3:30pm.

De-icing process

However, after the pilots found the brakes on the aircraft had issues as we were taxiing, so we returned to the gate at 4:11pm. They opened the aircraft door, officially “arriving” at Chicago (and keeping them from being fined for keeping us “trapped”). After sitting at the gate for another hour, we finally were told at 5:15pm that the flight had been cancelled.

JT knew before anyone else about the cancellation

Since it was a mechanical cancellation instead of a weather cancellation, we were given vouchers to stay at the ORD Westin (which was currently charging $200/night) as well as two $20 food vouchers and two $7 food vouchers. However, they refused to do rebookings at the gate, instead handing passengers a phone number to call. Considering the Platinum priority line was taking 38-43 minutes, most of the passengers were likely waiting hours to be connected to an agent.

The long line of people waiting for food and hotel vouchers

So, we headed to the Admiral’s club after getting our vouchers, since we figured we might have more luck rebooking there than on the phone. That ended up being a good idea, and we also arrived at the lounge before many of the other people looking to rebook. After considering various options, we were able to get booked on a Cathay Pacific flight direct to Hong Kong the next day. However, we found after being re-booked that they booked us into non-mileage earning fare classes. Also, the Admirals Club agents were unable to assign us seats on the plane.

Tons of cancellations for the phone and airport agents to have to deal with

We were both very hungry, so we got some of the free snacks at the Admiral’s Club and gathered ourselves.  Then JT was able to obtain our Cathay Pacific record locator from one of the agents in the lounge, so we were then able to get seats online for the massive 16 hour flight to Hong Kong the next day. The flight was rather packed, so we ended up with a window and an aisle in 2-seat rows near each other at the back of the plane.

Mac and Cheese and free house wine at the Admiral’s Club

We relaxed in the lounge until about 9:30pm.  We ordered some of the food, which was disappointingly all pre-packaged and expensive. However, with the food vouchers it was free for us! And it was relatively good.

Our room for the night

Then we went to the ORD Westin, which – although nice – would not be worth the $200/night that they were charging this night (or 10,000 Starwood points required to book an award night there).

Local news station coverage of the record snowfall at ORD

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