My trip to the Dublin Worldcon

Folks who have followed this blog for a long time will recall that in 2017, I made two trips to Finland. For the first trip, I attended the World Figure Skating Championships. When I realized that the 75th World Science Fiction Convention was happening in the same city — and in nearly the same place — I couldn’t resist the opportunity to go back again. (Both of these events were financially supported by the Finnish state as a part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of independence from Russia.) At every Worldcon, a ballot is held to determine the site of the Worldcon two years subsequently, and so when I was in Helsinki two years ago, it was announced that not only would 2019’s Worldcon be located in Dublin, but among the guests of honor would be one of my favorite writers, Diane Duane. I immediately bought an attending membership and started to make plans for Dublin 2019. (I skipped the 2018 Worldcon, which was in the car-centric hellscape that is San Jose, California, which isn’t even nice in the spring, never mind high summer.)

Come this past January and the hotels and airline bookings finally open up. My original plan was to fly out a day before the convention starts, which would give me some slack time to both adjust to the time change and play tourist around Dublin — perhaps taking the DART commuter-rail train down to County Wicklow, where some of Duane’s “Young Wizards” books and stories are set — and then leaving the following Monday afternoon. I would fly Aer Lingus, the only carrier offering direct BOS–DUB service, which I hoped would remove some elements of uncertainty from my itinerary as well as unnecessary flying time. Things did not turn out as I had hoped.

The Tuesday before the con I got on the nearly empty Logan Express bus to the airport and we breezed down the Turnpike to the airport, bypassing terminals A and B because nobody on the bus needed to go there. I got to terminal C, where Aer Lingus sublets gate space from JetBlue, more than an hour before my flight, and was shocked to be told that the flight had already closed for checked baggage. But I was in luck, they told me: the plane had a mechanical problem and my 9:30 flight was being delayed until at least 10 pm. Whew! I made it through security and to gate C21 in plenty of time. Lots of people were standing around; most of the seats were taken. And there was a line of people at the gate agent’s desk receiving some sort of document. Uh-oh. I got to the head of the line, asked what was going on, and was handed a meal voucher and told they would have more information at 10:00. Given the late hour, I hadn’t been planning on eating anything, but I did anyway (this was a big mistake) and found a seat in the gate area to wait for the next announcement.

Come 10:00 they told us that there would be more information at 10:30, but no information came. I went to the men’s room, and I overheard (I don’t think he was talking to me) a ground crew member saying that there was no chance the plane would fly — it needed a new engine. The equipment was an A330-200, one of only five in the Aer Lingus fleet, and based on what FlightAware was telling me, pretty much dedicated to the BOS–DUB
route. But the gate personnel still said nothing. Finally, at 11:30, they announced that the flight had been cancelled and that they would hand out a document with the information on rebooking; those needing hotel accommodations or transportation were directed to the check-in desk, while the rest of us went to the baggage carousel to pick up our bags and make our way home. I made it on the midnight Logan Express and finally got back home around 1 am — all the while I was calling the Aer Lingus travel disruption call center and getting a busy signal. I unpacked as little as possible and went online to make an emergency backup booking, in case all the flights filled up before I could get through to the call center — it cost me $2,200 but I knew that I could cancel within 24 hours if I got my proper itinerary rebooked onto the same or better flights.

I finally got through to the call center at about 3 am Eastern Time, and they confirmed that the only Wednesday departures they could get me on were out of Hartford’s Bradley International Airport, 90 miles away, which would not be a useful place to have my car stuck if I was flying back to Boston the following Monday. So I reluctantly accepted that I would miss the first day of Worldcon in addition to my slack day and accepted rebooking on an earlier flight that would get me in to Dublin at about midnight Eastern (5 am IST) on Friday — which was the exact same flight that my emergency backup reservation had put me on. So I canceled the backup reservation and went to bed, it now being about 4 am and my wake-sleep cycle completely fucked.

I did basically nothing the whole day Wednesday — I had already booked it as vacation and wasn’t going to work after that — but I did head into the office to borrow a power adapter (which turned out to have an obnoxious blue LED on it but that’s a story for another time), so I wouldn’t have to buy one in Dublin. Thursday, I tried to get up early and tried to tell myself that I should go for a ride, but did neither. (That’s been the story of my summer, sadly, and my scale gives evidence of the cost.) The idea behind getting up early on the day of my flight was to catch up a bit on the time change. but since I had gotten so screwed up the previous day, it was a hopeless task. When I got to Logan Express on Thursday afternoon, unlike on Tuesday evening, the parking garage was full and I had to go to overflow parking, which you pay for in advance (although they don’t appear to have any way of checking that you paid for the actual time you’d spend in the lot). I got on the bus, got to the airport in time, checked my bag, made it through security, and finally got on the plane. Of course, I was unable to sleep — the cabin lights were still on, they did a full meal service that I passed on, and in any event it was well before my bedtime.

We arrived about half an hour early, made it quickly through passport control, and I once again got to marvel at how much better and easier the arrival experience in Europe is compared to the US. I carried my bags past the one bored-looking customs inspector and out the door into the public part of the airport. I immediately stopped by the SPAR convenience store which had just opened for the day to buy a Leap card, Transport for Ireland’s contactless fare payment card, which gets a substantial discount over the cash fare on buses, trains, and the light rail. I had a bit of a job first to convince the cashier that I wanted to buy something, and then again that I wanted the pay-as-you-go Leap card rather than a Leap Visitor card, which would have cost me more and wasn’t available in the number of days that I would be needing it. Then I went to the airport bus stop, only to find that the Airlink buses wouldn’t start running for another hour. I ended up taking a taxi to my hotel, which cost about 20 euros (vs. 7 for the bus if I would have paid the cash fare).

I should mention here that I had been in email contact with the hotel’s reservations desk to make sure they knew about my canceled flight and that I would be coming in very early on Friday morning so would they please keep my room ready for me so I can nap and shower. Unfortunately, they did not keep my room ready, and I had to not-quite-nap in the hotel lobby instead until enough guests had checked out that I could get a freshly cleaned room. (They did give me a hundred-euro discount for the indignity, but I would rather have had the sleep.) I spent about an hour trying to nap a bit more on the hotel bed (not in because duvets suck) before washing up and heading over to the Convention Centre Dublin to pick up my badge and convention materials.

The CCD is a nice venue, and quite new, but it was not really prepared for 6,000 Worldcon attendees. I observed on Twitter that Worldcon is really not structured anything like the sort of events conference hotels and convention centers are used to hosting — sessions are shorter, there are a dozen sessions running in parallel, and there are no breaks between sessions. The result in Dublin was the same as the result in Helsinki two years previously (despite cutting off membership sales at a thousand fewer): long lines to get into meeting rooms, many people excluded from the sessions they wanted to attend, and severe crowding in hallways, elevators, and escalators. The Dublin staff seemed a bit more organized than the Helsinki folks did, although I heard from other con-goers that Thursday had been a total madhouse. Some of the events were at another venue, Point Square, about a kilometer away, so I decided to head over there (taking the Luas tram one stop), but when I got there I found lines snaking hundreds of feet around the inside of the building just to get onto the escalator up to where the meeting rooms were, so I gave up on that venue entirely and stayed at the CCD for the rest of the con.

I had hoped to run into at least a few people I know — Chris Davis, perhaps, or Tony Finch, both of whom I knew were there, but I did not manage to see anyone, nor did I manage to sit down and have a meal with any Famous Authors the way I had had breakfast with Jo Walton in Helsinki after we both arrived on the same tram to the convention center there. I did run into an elderly music teacher from Springfield, Mass., who was in a signing line behind me, so if there wasn’t anyone I knew, at least there was someone who had come from approximately the same place. (Springfield is about 70 miles from where I live, which is, well, closer than New York.) She was fun to talk to and was very closely tied in to the Boston SF con community, having attended many Boskones. I did get a book signed by Diane Duane; since most of her books lately have been e-books, I had to think for a while before deciding on her latest “Young Wizards” p-book, Games Wizards Play. (I was half inclined to bring my first edition of The Door into Fire but it does seem weird to ask an author to sign their first book rather than the most recent one, and I’d never forgive myself if I somehow lost it, whereas GWP is still readily available.) I also brought two books that I have bookmarks in, one by “T. Kingfisher” (pseudonym for Ursula Vernon) and This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone; Vernon didn’t do any signings and decided not to try to get Time War signed when I still hadn’t managed to read more than a few pages into it. (Shades of 2017 when I brought Yoon Ha Lee’s Ninefox Gambit to the con but did not manage to read a single additional page. In fact I still haven’t finished it; it’s on the bottom of the pile on my nightstand that I had taken the other two books from!)

Because the con schedule was so busy, I did not managed to get much sightseeing done. I took one short trip on the Luas to O’Connell St. to see (the outside of) the famous GPO, the main Dublin post office which had played an important part in the Irish independence struggle. (It’s still a post office, but there’s also a museum there; I didn’t go in.) I didn’t see Temple Bar or Trinity College, and I didn’t get on any trains other than the Luas Red Line.

The CCD prevailed on the Worldcon organizers to use a ticketing system for the major evening events of the con: the opening ceremony, the Masquerade, an orchestra concert, and the Hugo Awards. I decided to pass on the Masquerade and the concert, but I definitely wanted to see the Hugos in person, as I had in Helsinki. I went to the “box office” only to be told that there was actually a queue outside. I went outside, and there were a good thousand people standing in line, but I went to the end of the line and waited while small groups were admitted to request tickets. The wind was stiff, and it soon began to rain. I feel like this could have been handled much better, perhaps by having an online signup before the con rather than making people stand in line in the rain for an hour — and of course missing one or two sessions while doing so. I did manage to get my ticket (actually a wristband), and got a decent seat for the Hugo ceremony despite being relatively late in the line. That was Sunday night, and I went back to my hotel in good spirits, unaware of what was going to befall on Monday.

I knew that I would have to leave the con before 2 pm on Monday to make my 4:20 flight back home. I tried to check in on my phone while I was eating lunch, but for some reason it wouldn’t let me, even though I had a confirmed reservation and I had paid for priority seating. After a bit of confusion with the bus stops, I hopped on the Airlink 747 bus just after 2:00 and got to the airport in what I thought was plenty of time to check in. After making my way to the Aer Lingus automated check-in and bag drop kiosks in Dublin’s Terminal 2, I tried once again to check in and got a mysterious error. The kiosk told me to go see a customer service agent. So I got in an unbelievably long and slow-moving queue at the check-in counters. I asked the representative at the end of the line if I would make my flight, and she said not to worry, before check-in closes they call everyone on that flight out of the line to be sure they make it. So I shuffled forward for another 45 minutes, as flight after flight ahead of me got called out of the queue. Finally, my flight to Boston was called as about to close, and I fought my way through the Tensabarrier chicane to move over to the “closing flights” desk. I was the third person in line, and there were two agents handling both Boston and a flight to JFK that was called at the same time.

Something seemed amiss when the agents at the counter were yakking away with each other for minutes while about a dozen of us were standing in line waiting to check in. Finally they told us that our flight was overbooked and we were being involuntarily bumped. After another half-hour of waiting, they handed me a cheque for 600 euros (with advice to cash it at the currency exchange today), a boarding pass for the morning flight to Boston that I had avoided booking in the first place because it was too early, and instructions to take the shuttle bus to the Carlton Hotel where a car would pick me up and take me to a different hotel at which Aer Lingus would put me up for the night and buy me dinner and breakfast. I misheard the instructions and got on the bus for the Clayton Hotel — much more impressive, a large motor coach — and ended up going all the way to that property, inside to the reception desk to find out that I was at the wrong hotel, and back to the airport to get a van to the Carlton. (Meanwhile, events were still going on at the CCD for the convention, which I would have stayed at had I known that I was being bumped.) The hotel that they put us up in was the “Red Cow” Moran Hotel, named after a famous interchange on the M50 motorway, which was actually right on the Luas Red (albeit too late by the time I got there to head back in to the city center and partake of the last remaining Worldcon events). I sent a note to my work colleagues letting them know that I would be a day late getting back to work.

Finally, far too early on Tuesday morning, I got into a cab at 8 AM, got back up to the airport, again had trouble checking my bag — Aer Lingus had assigned me a different seat overnight so my boarding pass was no longer valid — and finally made my way through security, through CBP pre-clearance (Global Entry made this substantially easier), through TSA security, and down to gate 404 with plenty of time to spare. I bought some Butler’s chocolates at one of the few stores on the post-TSA side of the terminal, and then waited for my flight. I boarded, found they had put me in a bulkhead row (no favor as far as I’m concerned, with the narrow seats and no place to stow your personal items), and then we all had to wait an extra 45 minutes after scheduled departure for late-arriving passengers to get through pre-clearance (the plane can’t take off without them if they had checked bags).

Eventually, a day late and completely zonked, I arrived back in Boston, collected my bags (there was some difficulty operating the carousel at Logan), got on the next Logan Express back to Framingham, collected my car, got home, ran a load of laundry so I’d have something to wear Wednesday, and crashed hard.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.