In O’Hare Airport? Bring entertainment…

I’m back from Chicago for a while now. On the last day (which was a Sunday (13th June)) I walked with some colleagues from our hotel to the Magnificent Mile where, underneath the John Hancock building, we had brunch at the Cheesecake Factory; food was good but the service was quite slow and consequently two of our number were tight for their flights. I walked back with them to the hotel, at a slowish pace for me, but probably rather two fast for them (on my own, I walk at quite a speed). Once I said my farewell’s to them at the hotel, I had some more time to kill on what was a sunny, windy day in downtown Chicago. Incidentally, there are rival theories behind the nick name “Windy City”.

I walked in the opposite direction from the hotel towards Sears Tower and, after taking a little time to find the entrance that was actually open for the sky deck, I found the queue to be 45 minutes. While I was mildly interested in going up, I felt this might be a bit tight if it got any longer as I was heading for my own flight, and anyway, I’d previously made it up the John Hancock Centre as I mentioned previously. So I wandered around the streets for a while, but rapidly found that everything on that side of the city was closed for Sunday, and I didn’t particularly feel any desire to walk back to the magnificent mile again. So I thought I’d head to the airport a little early, and get sorted out, and look around anything they had there.

Now, O’Hare, like Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world. Plenty of people complain about Heathrow, but I must confess, I kind of like it, you’re as likely to have transport problems in any airport in the world. Like my previously mentioned problems in Dublin, but at least in Dublin there were a few shops, and restaurants, and in Heathrow I can browse around for a long time without getting bored.

O’Hare is just plain dull. I got there in good time, checked in, declined the offer of 700 USD to upgrade to first class and saw an aisle leading to the security section, on either side there were around two shops / diners or whatever. I bought a few souvenirs in one of the shops while I watched the huge queue, and by the time I’d come out there was a much shorter queue. There seemed to be very little to do on that side, so I figured, that like many airports, it had more on the “air-side”. I waited to get through security, and on the other side located my gate. I saw a modest sort of news stand, it sold some magazines, duty free cigarettes, wine and some travel adapters, along with a small selection of drinks and snacks. There was an identical one on the other side of security. I walked all the way around the gates and back, and realised this was it… absolutely all there was. I would have bought a Coke, but they only sold Pepsi, so I opted for a Gatorade Fruit Punch which proudly declared on the label the lack of any past association with any fruit. Then I sat down and was just plain bored. I had been kind of hoping to buy a Samsung T10 mp3 player on my travels, I’d bought one for Karen for her birthday (yes, it works with Linux), but this was one of the few airports in the world I’ve been to, where they had nothing like that on sale.

So, shop somewhere else, and be prepared to be bored.

Trip to Chicago

Yesterday I set off from Banbridge around 9 am to get the aircoach to Dublin airport, since I’d been advised to arrive 3.5 hours before departure at
2:30 pm. I went through security pretty quickly, and shortly therafter I cleared US immigration in the airport, which was great, and I must say more
friendly than my experience of US immigration in the past. At just after 2 pm they told us all to get out and go back up, so we had to have our
passports unstamped and our visas uninspected. Fun.

Turned out the radar was down in the airport and lots of flights were being cancelled. The delay was a minor irritation for me, I was travelling alone
and without an ongoing connection, but it did mean around 3 hours of standing around (there were no seats left) waiting to find out if my flight would be
cancelled. In the end, the flight want ahead albeit with another delay on the tarmac. There was nothing reassuring about taking off in a fog bound airport
where the radar still was at “limited” capacity, whatever that meant.

The flight itself was pretty good. I hadn’t flown Aer Lingus before, it was an A330 with individual media on demand screens, so, especially as I was on
my own I was able to kill the time watching video content the whole journey. The only considerable irritation was the staff on PA had a Columbo like
capacity to come back on-line with “another thing”, frequently to repeat the same information about shopping or such like over and over again. Likewise
they had a capacity to interrupt the video with text on the screen, which could not be dismissed until it timed out. They did this all too frequently, to
repeat what had already been said on the PA, and often riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.

So I arrived late in Chicago, but not before flying in with a great view of the city on the left; and when I got to the hotel, the view from the front
door was equally impressive.

This morning I tried hard to get myself into the new timezone, so I stayed up till around midnight local time, and got up around 6:30 am, sorted out
the papers from the case and so on. The hotel has good, easy wireless access, so that’s great. I left the hotel around 7:30 am to go on a shopping trip
for Karen, but also to see the sights along the way navigating with the usual woeful faded black and white photocopy of a colour map.
Many of the shops didn’t open to 10 am which was a bit of a pain, but I was the first up the
John Hancock centre observatory this morning at 9 am. It does offer stunning panaromas of the city, and you go up in what is proclaimed to be the fastest
elevator in North America – it certainly is fast. I think the observatory is in the 94th floor or something similar.

On the way down the lift tells me that the John Hancock centre is “the world’s most recognised building”. Now steady on… I find that very unlikely.
I didn’t even know it existed until yesterday (though I knew about Sears, and I know who John Hancock was). I would doubt the building could even
claim to be in the top 10 most recognised buildings. Perhaps this is a limited definition of “world”.

I don’t have talks to go to today, just to register and go to a reception, so I’m taking advantage of the time to see the city a bit, and then I’ll go back to the hotel for a swim. It’s hot here…