Hurricane Ike struck Texas this weekend with a savagery Texans had not seen in our lifetime. Millions of people are without power, thousands have had their homes destroyed, billions of dollars of damage took place. Our hearts go out to all those affected by this disaster. I want to share how I was affected, but in no way intend to compare my minor inconvenience to the tragedy that others have had. They are all in our thoughts and prayers. You can help them by making a donation to the American Red Cross.

Back in July I booked a mileage run to Portland, Oregon. My favorite trips are those where I have enough time to leave the airport and visit the city: this would not be one of those trips. I would leave Austin at 6 a.m. and fly to O’Hare (ORD) . After a two-hour layover I would fly to Portland, landing at 12:50 p.m., then take off in the same plane back to O’Hare one hour later. Another layover at ORD and I would be back in Austin by 12:30 the next morning. Not only would I not have time to leave the airport, I wouldn’t even have time to have a meal. The only benefit to the trip would be that I would earn almost 11,000 miles.

Obviously, I had no idea that Hurricane Ike was coming when I booked the trip.

By the start of this week, Ike was starting to dominate local news coverage in Texas. As the week went on, Ike established a course that would take it straight through Austin; some charts predicted it would still be a Category 1 hurricane as it came through Central Texas late Friday night or early Saturday morning. The threat was so great that the University of Texas postponed its football game against Arkansas to September 27.

It seemed obvious to me that I would not be flying at all on Saturday. I was so confident of this that I volunteered to work an extra shift on Friday night, a shift dealing with emergency issues caused by Ike. I’d work from 6 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday. I did not foresee a problem since there was no way I would be flying on Saturday.

And then Ike started to change direction, its predicted path moving to the east and away from Austin. On Thursday American Airlines announced that it would allow passengers flying out on Saturday to reschedule without a penalty, but they had to fly within the next 7 days. Unfortunately, there was no way I could do that. Their next offer was to reschedule my trip to a date beyond that one-week time frame, but I would have to pay a $150 penalty. The last option was to take the trip. My best chance was for them to cancel the flight, if that happened I would get a full refund.

I got to work on Friday evening and kept checking the AA website, hoping to see the flight had been canceled. It hadn’t. By 1 a.m. I realized I would be traveling on Saturday.

I worked til 3 a.m., showered and changed, then went to the airport, arriving at 4:30. At 5:40 everyone was ready to board our MD-80 for the flight to Chicago when they announced the flight would be delayed. American thought Ike, or at least its high winds, would come through Austin Friday evening so they had locked the plane up. Now it was too hot on the plane for us to board. They told us to wait 10 minutes as the ran the air conditioning to cool off the aircraft.

Ten minutes later we boarded, but it was still very hot on the plane. The flight attendants asked us to help by opening the a/c vents above our seats as wide as possible, and above all the empty seats too! They promised the plane would cool off once we took off. Happily, they were right, and shortly after we went “wheels up” the aircraft became comfortable. With that, I fell asleep and slept all the way to Chicago.

We landed at O’Hare in the middle of a torrential downpour. I saw trucks pumping water out of the grass area next to the runways; some of the runway signs were completely underwater. The flight attendant mentioned that we were lucky we left Austin when we did, air traffic control had instituted a weather hold on all flights into ORD five minutes after we left.

Heavy rain at O'Hare

Heavy rain at O’Hare made day into night: they had to turn on the lights at the airport even though it was 10 a.m. The rain delayed all air traffic into and out of Chicago. (click on photo for larger image)

I went to the Admiral’s Club: the rain was coming down so hard that water was sheeting on the windows. After a nice rest in the club, I went to the gate.

I boarded the MD-80 for the flight to Portland. As we taxied to the runway, the pilot, in an obvious reference to Hurricane Ike and all the rain it dropped said, “Take a look out our left side, we’re trying to make Chicago look like Texas.” The rain was so heavy that the taxi-way was completely covered with water.

We took off safely and I quickly fell asleep, not waking up again until we were ready to land at Portland. We were 15 minutes late when we landed, and would be taking off again in the same plane back to Chicago in 45 minutes. I had enough time to leave the plane, go to the rest room, buy a breakfast burrito, and then get back on the plane.

I recognized one of the passengers boarding the flight had also flown in with me. He was another mileage runner from FlyerTalk, taking advantage of the good deal on the flights to Portland. In fact, he had done the same flights the day before!

We took off from Portland and I saw some great views of Mount St. Helens, the mountain that erupted in a spectacular explosion in 1980 .

Mount St. Helens

We had a spectacular view of Mount St. Helens in the foreground, with Mount Ranier in the background. (click on photo for larger image)

As we approached Chicago the pilot said they were having bad weather at ORD and we would need to have our seat belts on for the last 30 minutes of the flight. We landed in another torrential downpour that was part of a memorable day in Chicago’s history: the heaviest one-day rainfall in the 137 years that records have been kept. O’Hare recorded 6.64 inches of rain, breaking the all-time record of 6.49 inches set in 1987, according to the National Weather Service. Records have been kept since 1871.

I grabbed a meal at the food court then went to the Admiral’s Club to rest again. After an hour I was back at the gate for my Austin flight.

My flight was scheduled to depart at 10 p.m., arriving in Austin at 12:30 a.m. We left on time, but as the plane got close to Austin we could see thunderstorms in the distance. The storms were hitting the Austin airport and we could not land until they had passed.

We finally landed at 1:05 a.m., 35 minutes late. I was home by 2:15.

It had been an exceptionally long day, made all the worse by the all-night shift at work on Friday evening. But I got home safely and the hardship I endured paled in comparison to those that the people in Galveston and Houston are facing.

I earned almost 11,000 miles and got home safe and sound. Mission accomplished!