Tuesday, April 20, 2010

No Way Out!

The volcanic eruption in Iceland has wreaked havoc on the traveling industry across the world. Tour groups, backpackers, and business travelers alike are stuck in their current locations with no idea when they will be able to return home. Chicago is no different. Hostelling International Chicago has several travelers and groups who are unsure of how long their unexpected ‘vacation’ will last.

I caught up with one traveler in the hostel, Catherine King who is from Australia and now living in London. Her flight was supposed to leave on Wednesday April 14. Cat was traveling in the United States and fully expected to be home a week ago. Last Wednesday she boarded the plane and took off for London. However four hours into the flight, the pilot announced they were going to be turning back to Chicago. Laughing she said, “I gave it a test run. That same plane has not left yet and I liked the flight, it was a good plane so that is good! ” Cat managed to get another seat on a flight the next day, Thursday April 15. However, after checking in, the flight was then canceled. Cat has been in close contact with her travel agent back in London for the past week. Thankfully he was able to get her a seat on a flight for tomorrow, Wednesday April 21. Exactly one week later than she was originally scheduled to flight, Cat is still hoping the flight takes off. Third time is a charm right?

Despite the mess it has created, Cat remains positive. She said, “You just have to make the best of it!” The first night the airport gave Cat a voucher for the Hyatt. However, when Cat realized that her flight would not leave for another 6 days, she decided to come back to the hostel. She preferred to be downtown with things to do and the ability to meet people. “I could be out there at a really nice hotel for free, but it would be out by the airport. I would just be sitting in the hotel for four days,” Cat said.

When asked what she was doing about work, Cat said they are understanding: “There is really nothing they can do about it. I have been emailing them and staying in contact, but they know I can’t help it.” Cat works for a University in London in the lab, therefore working from Chicago is impossible. Two of her co-workers are also stuck, one in China and the other in Canada. Aside from work, Cat has also missed out on several other plans in the past week. Two of her friends celebrated their birthdays last weekend and she also had plans to take another trip next weekend. However, with the talk of no flights in the near future, she is unsure if those plans will go through as well. “My birthday is next week too. I really want to be home by then so I can celebrate with my friends,” says Cat.

Nonetheless, Cat is making the most of her stay in Chicago. She has been able to visit more of the museums around the city and she has attended several more of the outings with the hostel. If her flight does not go through tomorrow, she plans to take a bus out of the city and visit another city close by to Chicago; possibly Milwaukee. If this does happen her travel agent was able to hold a seat for her on a flight leaving Saturday April 24. This flight will be going through Calgary Canada. Keeping her positive attitude, Cat laughed and said if she gets stuck there she will at least get to see Canada too!

Cat is not the only stranded traveler at the hostel. Michael Baker, from the UK,
and Boris Hupkens Van DerElst, from the Netherlands,

are both hoping to leave soon. Michael has a flight on Saturday leaving Chicago, but he is already expecting to have it cancelled. Unfortunately because of the large number of travelers at the hostel, we are booked up for the next couple of nights. So Michael is trying to find another place to stay in Chicago until then. Boris managed to get a seat on a flight scheduled to leave today, however it was also cancelled. So, he was forced to make yet another change in plans. He is now flying to Houston and then to Frankfort. Both Boris and Michael were also keeping positive attitudes. They acknowledged that there was nothing you could do about it now, so you might as well make the best of your extended vacation.

So if you find yourself stuck with no sign of returning home in the near future, take advantage of it! Stay at hostels and meet other travelers who are in the same position. Let your frustrations with air travel be a bonding experience! If you are staying at Hostelling International Chicago, we are continuing to provide events and activities for you do to while stranded. Look on the bright side, you are in one of America’s greatest cities and spring has arrived! Happy exploring and minimal amounts of stress in your extended stay!

-Erika Ter Louw, HI intern

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