Friday, April 23, 2010

O'Hare non-adventures

There is something about waking up, since the surgery, that leaves me feeling dazed and crippled. Possibly anaesthesia hangover still; possibly the fact that I haven't returned to anything resembling regular (or enough sleep).

At any rate, after crashing in the hotel lobby and then sleeping in the Bulgarian fembot's limo all the way through to O'Hare, I was in (and looked) complete zombie-like shape on arrival at the airport.

I know you're now thinking the same thing I was - this'd likely be the best chance I'd ever have for an opportunistic cabin class upgrade.

The odds weren't great - I've never received an op-up in my life, or even attempted to learn the art; I was already on a certificate upgrade into business (this was a continuation of an international flight, so triple class rather than the usual domestic double), and double upgrades are vanishingly rare; and, frankly, they'd have to weigh the compassionate benefits of easing my potential suffering on the 4-hour trip against the possibility that my head would explode messily all over the paying first-class passengers who were probably on expensive paid international itineraries.

On the upside, I'm a 1K (aka super-ultra-premium United frequent flyer), I had a wheelchair pre-booked, and United had that whole recent disabled passenger debacle that I was curious to reprise, just in case they'd started walking on eggshells around us assisted service types. Maybe they'd comp me Red Carpet Club access for the wait, although United's Red Carpet Club is to airline lounges what Sizzler's is to haute cuisine. But no such luck.

But in general things were largely anti-climactic. I waited around in the 1K checkin line with a hangdog face for quite a while in the hope of an upgrading angel swooping down, but to no avail. I could have self-checked-in and been through in 30 seconds.

(Although, O'Hare being O'Hare, I don't think I would have enjoyed walking the distance to my gate - it's a long way through an acid-tripping underground passage, and I seem to tire very, very easily)

Eventually an agent summoned me, checked me in, called up the wheelchair center, whined at them, and directed me to sit down and wait. The wheelchair showed up relatively promptly, piloted by an oversized gentleman who was unfailingly polite to me but snarky to other staff and customers, and we then bypassed all the security queues (this is nice, but it's a typical frequent flyer perk anyway, so no huge boon).

Security first checked to see if I was capable of walking through the metal detector on my own, then guided me from landside seat to airside seat in a matter of seconds. Nice, United.

My wheelchair pilot had taken responsibility for arranging my carry-on luggage on trays and running it through metal detectors in the meantime, and the only new wrinkle in the process was that they swiped my head bandages and hands with an explosives sniffer before returning my carry-on. Easiest security clearance process ever, and soon thereafter, I was parked in the "special services seating area" at my gate, two hours before boarding.

Pretty boring story, huh? Here's the interesting bit:

From the moment I entered the airport, 100% of people called me by ma'am or miss, even the ones that checked my ID. Now, there's always been a percentage of people that misidentify me at first glance, but it seldom lasts beyond that. There's some obvious possibilities:

  1. Nadia, my Bulgarian fembot chauffeur, clued them in when curb-checking my luggage. But that was a solitary interaction with a single curbside attendant , and my boarding pass definitely says Mr. Habryn.
  2. My hair, long fur-trim coat and Fluevogs are on the gentle side of gender neutrality. But I've worn this exact outfit a thousand times through a thousand airports without this effect.
  3. The surgery worked! But I'm covered in bandages, swollen, bruised, and barely recognizable - frankly, I'm astonished they didn't ask for the surgeon's documentary letter. I sure as hell don't look anything like my ID, which was inspected by at least three different people.
  4. They see enough of Dr Zukowski's transgender patients come through that they've learned the proprieties. But this is one of the busiest airports in the world, and he's a long way from being even the busiest surgeon, let alone busiest practice. There's probably orders of magnitude more staff working at this airport than he has ever had patients on the operating table.
  5. And finally, what seems the most likely answer - when you have a person present with this degree of facial bandaging and distortion, the natural assumption is that it's either a particularly vain woman getting some work done, or a war vet post-reconstructive surgery. And I guess I'm more a fit for the former than the latter.

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