I suggested that, there being three of them, and Madison being only about 140 miles from O'Hare, they rent a car and split the cost. A rental car would cost only around $100 or so, I told Cheryl. "That's per day, right?" she said, apparently used to the absurdly expensive UK prices and assuming that there wouldn't be any cars available except at very dear prices.
I said, "No, that's for the weekend -- pick up tonight and return by mid-afternoon Monday. You have to add tax, gas, and tolls, plus parking at the hotel, of course, but you'll get there much sooner -- and not risk having to spend the night in O'Hare and miss all of the first night of the convention."
They talked it over while waiting through a monster customer service queue at O'Hare, and decided that renting a car was the way to go. Unfortunately, United could not extricate their luggage and told them they planned to send it on to Madison by truck -- they'll have to go get it from the airport tomorrow.
A little over two hours later, Cheryl called me back. I'd promised that I'd "guide them in" with detailed instructions for those last few miles to the hotel. "We're coming up on an exit 142, shouldn't we be getting ready to exit?" She asked.
"Ack!" I said, "Yes, that's your exit, but I didn't keep the turn-by-turn directions up here. I wish you'd called me about five minutes earlier so I could be better prepared!."
She said, "Sorry, got too interested talking. You know how it is." Well, yes, I do.
I quickly called up the hotel's web site, and read them the driving directions. Fortunately, I got it to them in time for them not to miss the exit from the interstate, and aside from them driving through a couple of dead spots for Cheryl's phone, getting to the hotel was no big deal. That meant they got to Madison probably before the next flight -- if it got out of O'Hare at all -- left the ground.
I did remind Cheryl that she (and the others) now need to call United and make sure they don't cancel their return tickets (because they didn't complete the outward journey, even though it's United's fault they couldn't do so), and that they make sure they will be able to return from ORD -- obviously at least one of them has to drive the rental car back to O'Hare on Monday.
Whee, what excitement! I'm rather glad I didn't have to go through it myself, and merely served as "base control" and looked up things on web sites for them. Last I heard from Cheryl, she was heading out to get some food. I'm sure there will be an interesting blog post coming up when she gets settled into her hotel room and gets the computer connected.
Update, Friday 8:10 AM: Cheryl's side of the story is on her blog.
Another Update, Friday 11:00 AM: Jed Hartman's version of the story is now on his blog, and I've added Jed and Lenny's names to the story above.