Free Parking at O'Hare - Thanks, Chicago!

O'Hare ParkingTravel is a lot less fun that it used to be, so I'm using my best techniques for manifesting the positives. A couple of months ago, after four gate changes, I manifested the required airplane at the last gate, which made the family of five standing next to me very nervous, especially when they noticed the rainbow colors in my hair. I took credit for the airplane's appearance anyway. The hair colors are my "crazy aunt" statement to the world, and also help with my energy work.

This week, I had a short business trip to Connecticut, and my husband was in Wisconsin for the weekend, so I faced a list of extra chores on Monday morning. I thought of all the ways I could screw up - I'd fall back asleep and get up late, a cat would vomit and I'd have to take time to clean it up, my car would break down, there would be a traffic jam, or I'd twist my ankle and be unable to walk to my gate at the airport.

On Monday morning, I manage to arise at some ridiculously early hour, successfully feed our five indoor cats and the cat colony outside and in the garage (no one vomits), clean all of the litter boxes, clean and dress myself, drive to O'Hare airport in record time, park in remote lot E, and take the airport train into Terminal 3 without incident.  Because I had already had problems printing my boarding pass at home on Sunday, I'm only slightly surprised to find that the TSA pre-check is missing from the document.  I conclude that the American-US Airways databases are not yet smoothly merged.

So, on Monday morning - oops, my boarding pass has no TSA pre-check, and I have forgotten my extra pair of socks, which I used to wear over the first pair, so that I could strip them off after walking through the scanner, and be confident that I hadn't carried typhoid into my shoes - an ex-biology-teacher precaution. Not only is my "ick" alarm triggered, but I have to wait through the longer security line with the people who don't know how to throw their stuff onto the conveyor, take their junk out of their pockets, and make it through the scanner smoothly. A TSA person advises me that the airline "sometimes selects you" for the non-precheck line. Apparently, this is the TSA's standard reply to complaints, equivalent to the airlines' "weather related delay" excuse when a flight doesn't leave on time, and they don't want you to know that the crew has overslept or the wing is about to fall off of the aircraft.

The first flight (American) is delayed, and I anticipate a missed connection in Philadelphia. Oops - the second flight is cancelled. I run around the Philly airport chasing standbys for both my original destination (New Haven) and the alternative (Hartford), and finally get a secure booking five hours later than the original, to Hartford instead of New Haven.

Oops - my National rental car pickup is scheduled for New Haven, not Hartford. I can't locate a reservation on my laptop or in my paperwork, and there is nothing on my National Emerald account. Fast and furious texts and emails to both my contract client, who is paying for the travel, and the travel agent ensue. The travel agent informs me that the reservation is actually with Enterprise, as there were no National cars available at New Haven.  She has apparently misunderstood where I am now going, and by this time, I have successfully made my own National reservation at Hartford. We switch things around, cancel the unnecessary bookings, and I am hopeful that there will be some kind of car awaiting my arrival at National. Or, I will have to manifest one on the spot.

Waiting in airports is never great fun, so I eat my way through the afternoon - ice cream, frozen yogurt, and a dinner partly saved for the flight. The evening jaunt to Hartford is uneventful, and the rental car has satellite radio, so the hour to my final destination is pleasant, even through the highway construction and accident at a busy merging area. Holiday Inn Express provides its predictable clean, comfortable room. I haven't had the anticipated nap or the time to do some other work, so I relax and set my phone alarm, after I walk back and forth in my room enough times to hit my first day of 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. I feel empowered.

Oops - Tuesday morning, I arise late, having forgotten to update my phone alarm to Eastern time. The weather in Connecticut is steamy and rain threatens. I spend a long day performing an accreditation audit, race through a downpour to my car, and drive thirty miles to the Comfort Inn, where I ignore the call of my incomplete audit reports and relax. Oops - I have forgotten to print my boarding pass, and after being rejected by the US Airways website - because "your original flight was on American" - I finally get a boarding pass onto my phone, because there is no print option. I hope that I can retrieve it on Wednesday evening. I also feel lucky - maybe I'll complete the audit early - and I check on earlier available flights.

Wednesday, I complete the audit too late to make the 4:28 flight, and am at Bradley (the Hartford airport) in time to go to the US Airways kiosk to print my boarding pass, in case my phone rebels. Oops - I am rejected because "your original fight was on American" and go to the American Airlines kiosk, which is in viewing distance. That kiosk also refuses to provide the boarding pass. A friendly American agent calls out to me, "Are you going to Dallas?" I briefly wonder if saying, "Yes" would get me home faster, then decide to tell the truth. She offers to print my boarding pass. Feeling lucky, because she is being so helpful, I tell her about my "no pre-check" issue at O'Hare, and she is puzzled that the TSA agent would have blamed the airlines for shunting me to the "riffraff" security line.

I whip out my laptop and provide her with my TSA number, hoping that my entire spreadsheet of user names and passwords isn't being scanned by an identity thief behind me. And yes, I know that it's stupid to keep that spreadsheet on my laptop! The American agent manages after several tries (and a brief consultation with another agent who gives her some kind of Wiccan secret code to enter) to provide a boarding pass with the TSA pre-check included. Now, I am safe from contracting a terminal contagious disease through my socks.

I am through security, finished with my supper, and on the flight home without incident. I have a nice conversation with my seat partner about public speaking, the stair job my family business did for Oprah, and how nice the people in the Midwest are. We land 15 minutes early, and the GATE IS ACTUALLY AVAILABLE! The airport transit arrives as I step off of the escalator in the station, I am at my car in record time, and - OOPS! - I see that the "pay for your parking here" machine inside the train station is out of order. That must be why we saw a long, long line of cars waiting to escape from remote parking lot E.

I get to my car, anticipating a delay at least equivalent to the early arrival time - because the Universe is all about balance, isn't it? As I take my place at the back of the line, hoping to see a graceful merging process with cars coming out of the other rows ahead of me, I notice that there are official parking company vehicles scattered along my route, and people in neon vests waving us forward, and the line is MOVING! It looks like people are just handing their little tickets to the guy near the booths and driving on through. How are these people paying their parking fees?

Free parking  As I roll my window down and start to tell the man that I still need to pay, he tells me to drive through. Is this possible? I'm on an expense account, and now I'm trying to figure out a way to actually get credit for saving my contract employer the parking fee. Nothing comes to mind, but as I arrive home to a thick slice of Malnati's sausage pizza kept warm by my husband, who has already cleaned the litter boxes, I realize that it's time to be grateful. The City of Chicago has given all of us a gift of free parking at O'Hare Airport. It seems like the time to say, "Thanks, Chicago!" I eat my pizza, pet the cats, unpack, clean my suitcase, shower off the travel dirt, and enjoy that moment when all is well, and I feel a little bit ahead of the game.

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Filed under: City of Chicago, Gift, Travel

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    Denise Norberg-Johnson

    Denise Norberg-Johnson is an Animal Communicator and Reiki Master, who also works with animals and their people as a Certified LifeLine Practitioner. As a former biology teacher, construction contractor, business trainer and financial writer, she has spent her life engaged in a continuous learning process. An award-winning speaker and author, she has been interviewed on television, radio, and in print, and anticipates the publication of her book, "Animals Know! - What Animals Teach Us" in early 2013. Denise's formal education includes an M.B.A., a Masters degree in Teaching, a B.A. in Biological Science, and an A.A. in Architectural Interior Design. When she is not reading voraciously, dancing as if no one is watching, or attempting to play her junior high school violin recital pieces, she amuses herself by annoying her husband Dave and their six rescued cats.

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