Stuck at O’Hare: What Happens When Your Flight is Overbooked

I’m sitting in a sports bar at a Hilton Hotel in Chicago an hour after my flight left. And they’re playing country music. If someone would ask me to describe my version of hell, this would surely be it.

I arrived at the airport early, with plenty of time to check-in and lounge around before my flight (so I thought). The line to check in for my flight was long and slow–it took me over an hour to get to the counter. When I finally got to the counter, the attendant punched a few keys on her keyboard, scratched her head, and took my passport to the back room where she started making phone calls. I stood there and waited. Confused. Patient.

She came back. The flight is full she told me. How could the flight be full? I booked my ticket months ago. I could tell she was stressed, so I kept these questions to myself. The girl next to me did not. She started yelling, “I have to be on this flight! My brother is in a foreign country by himself!” This is the same brother who, as I soon learned, spent the entire semester studying in Thailand. Knowing this, her behavior was comical to me. Her mature, old-enough-to-spend-a-semester-in-Thailand brother, was now suddenly alone and deserted in (gasp) a foreign country! How would he manage for another day without her? How did he manage all semester long?

I won’t deny that I also used my story to try to get a seat on the plane. I did so without yelling, crying, and cursing, though. I explained that I was doing research and needed to be in Cambodia and that missing this flight would force me to miss my separately booked flight to Siem Reap, all of which was true. That little bit of information interested them, and I was bumped to the top of the list because of my connecting flight, and I think because I wasn’t acting like a total asshole. But still we waited–waited for someone to not show up to the flight. My attendant even changed her shoes from heels to tennis shoes because I guess we were going to run to the gate at the last minute if someone did not show. Obviously, everyone showed up.

I then learned that I would be given a night at the Hilton, a refund of my flight price, and a guaranteed spot on the same flight tomorrow. I reminded them that I needed a flight to Cambodia, not Vietnam. The end solution: a flight on Korean Airlines, their partner company. When they handed me the actual tickets, I realized that my new flight arrives in Siem Reap two hours before my initial flight. My long layover (7 hours) in Istanbul became a room at the Hilton. How awesome is my luck? Maybe it’s karma for not behaving like a raging lunatic earlier. Either way, I’ll take it, sports bar and all.


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