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My 24-hour United nightmare, or how I finally got to Shanghai

Things that went wrong with my flight to Shanghai

  • Would it be unfair to say everything? I think there was something to my bad omens about Shanghai.
  • Having a shouting match at 3am in Laguardia with the United check-in lady, who tried so hard to make me pay $200 because one of my suitcases was 8lbs overweight (I don’t usually yell at people, but to be fair, I was already quite emotional from leaving). Even though I was under the weight limit between my two suitcases, she made me take out one of my vacuum sealed bags and put it in my carry-on, rendering it unable to close.
  • The said vacuum bag de-sealing inside my carry-on during the TSA checkpoint. After that it really wasn’t able to close (did I mention it was 8lbs heavier?)
  • The weak bladder of the girl sitting next to me on the way to O’Hare. I think I spent more time on that flight standing awkwardly in the aisle and waiting for her to come back to her seat, than I did in my actual seat
  • Not having a TV set in front of me for a 14-hour flight on the oldest 747 I had the displeasure of stepping onto (my biggest annoyance by that point, but I had no idea the real issues were just beginning).
  •  Being forced off the plane after waiting on the tarmac for an hour, because it was experiencing ‘mechanical’ problems.
  • Waiting three more hours before told another plane would take us… in another terminal. No other plane was leaving for Asia that day and another flight for Shanghai wouldn’t leave until the next morning.
  • Lining up three times to board at the request of the crew, only to be told that the plane wasn’t leaving each time.
  • Watching three different planes get loaded with food/luggage/fuel, and being told that none of them could take us to Shanghai because of mechanical/fueling/crew issues.
  • After 12 hours of waiting, being told that the flight was canceled and all United was willing to give us for the shitshow they caused would be a meal voucher and a night in a sleazy hotel down the road.
  • The downright mean and uncooperative United agents, unwilling to do anything to rebook us. Look, I know a lot of people were angry, not speaking English, and yelling at you, but I wasn’t. I was so nice. I’m always really nice, and I deserve to be treated like a real human being.
  • Spending my last night in the US, not on Cross Campus with the people I love but by myself, too exhausted to move in a La Quinta right off of Chicago.
  • Almost accidentally setting off the explosives scanner while going through the TSA at O’Hare, because the TSA agent was lazy and did not clean her gloves.
  • Being hit on by a Chinese grad student, who would not stop asking me about my SAT scores, just because I was wearing my college sweatshirt (yes it’s nice that you asked me to sit with you on the 14 hour plane ride, but I really, really value my exit row aisle seat. Also, please don’t start conversations with ‘Can you tell me about the Ivy League lifestyle?’)
  • Sitting in trepidation and exhaustion, as the plane was delayed for another hour due to ‘fueling issues’.
  • Five hours of near roller coaster-like turbulence in the air. I usually wouldn’t have minded this, but considering three of my United planes failed to take off for ‘mechanical issues’, I felt my worries were justified. 
  • Being starved out on my second flight in two months because United forgot to add any of the special meal requests to the plane (by that point, I had already accepted that United could do nothing right, so I flew in a 14-hour state of a fasting, Buddha-like zen)

Things that went right with my flight to Shanghai

  • Having a really pleasant, bittersweet goodbye with the TSA agents in Laguardia (never thought I’d say that, right?). It was 3am, the United terminal was pretty deserted and I had opted out of the x-ray scanner for a pat-down, like usual. The TSA agent saw me crying about my departure, asked me what was wrong (while feeling up my thighs with the back of her hands, per protocol) and seemed genuinely sympathetic when I told her I was sad to leave the US for such a long time. She also told me she was applying for the Navy and the TSA was not her life’s ambition (is it anyone’s really?) and it was nice to have a human interaction with a TSA agent (this sweet moment would be soured by the woman at O’Hare just 24 hours later)
  • Watching Germany beat France with Mexican foreign exchange students. Getting to shout GOOOOOOOOOOOL with them and not feeling like an idiot for doing so.
  • Torta Frontera at O’Hare. Did I mention that I really like guacamole? The Rick Bayless-helmed Torta eatery in Terminal B is the lone bright star in the culinary dessert that is the O’Hare United terminal, among the McDonalds and the ‘authentic Chicago hot-dog’ stands. There was guacamole with roasted habaneros, pepitas, queso fondita, crunchy tortilla chips and a bloody mary. For a few hours, I felt more or less okay.
  • Having the entire exit row in Premium Economy all to myself. At that point, everyone was too angry at United to pay for Premium Economy and when I asked nicely, I was taken out of my window-seat hell in the back of the plane.
  • Arriving in Shanghai. I’m ready to take on anything. If can survive this, I am sure I can survive Shanghai.


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