Words That Changed Me

_a record of the process_

How to Survive 24 Hours in an Airport: Part 2/3

Posted by on Oct 27, 2014 | 0 comments

Before I continue writing about this crazy experience of being stranded in an airport, I do want to emphasize that I had such a fulfilling and awesome conference weekend. I got to present to high school and college students (in a giant, intimidating room…), talk with students, and learn from my super smart, fun, and witty co-workers. It was a positive, growing professional experience and I’d do it all over again even if that meant having to survive in an airport for 24 hours…

So yes, the conference was great, and by the end, as always, I was looking forward to coming home.

Truthfully, I wasn’t even a little concerned about my flights back home. Unlike my late night flight out to California, I had daytime returning flights and I wasn’t at risk of not getting a good night’s sleep. I arrived back at the airport with my co-workers early on Monday morning. They were all headed to DC so I wished them safe travels and told them I’d see them in a few weeks at our next meeting in Chicago. I made it through security, grabbed a coffee and a lemon poppyseed scone. I had plenty of time and the skies were clear.

My flight out of Sacramento was delayed. After we were all boarded and buckled, the crackling announcement speaker came on, and I thought the pilot was about to tell the flight attendants to prepare for take-off.

False.

He told us that Dallas had awful weather earlier in the morning, and now flights are circling and averaging a 90 minute delay in landing. He said there was no reason for us to head over there just to circle for 90 minutes before we could land; instead we would wait. He told us that we would probably be here for about an hour. We were welcome to get off the plane, but we had to take our bags with us. Or we could sit tight and wait.

I’d like to tell you that I accepted this information with a healthy, “Might as well accept this hour as a gift and catch up on my book.”

Nope.

Instead, I got grumpy. I realized this delay meant I would miss my connecting flight and this made me mad. I was not about to get off of this plane – I just had a feeling we may be leaving sooner rather than later and I did not want to get my suitcase down – so I used my phone to call the airline and see about changing my flight. The next flight out to Tallahassee was at 6:40PM that night, and I could either take one of the last seats on that flight, or take a gamble that my regularly scheduled 2PM flight would be delayed, since so many flights are delayed currently. I decided to take the gamble. I didn’t want to wait around in an airport for 4 hours if I didn’t have to. (This is comical because, spoiler alert, 4 hours became 24 hours).

I tried my best to calm down and enjoy this hour of nothingness. I texted. I read. And after about 40 minutes, I decided now was as good a time as any to use the restroom on the plane (I hate airplane bathrooms). When I returned to my seat, I struck up a conversation with my seatmate – a sweet woman in her 60s who was anxious to see her daughter. Her 26-year-old daughter (younger than me!) is currently fighting breast cancer, and she was trying to get to her before she had surgery.

This turned my perspective completely.

I barely gave another thought to my own flight. My focus shifted completely to hoping that she would be able to make hers. We talked for a bit and before long we were up in the air and on our way. I honestly didn’t even care about catching my flight at this point. I was so humbled by her story and so grateful for my own current state of health. We had a gentle, smooth, peaceful flight. When we got closer to Dallas, the flight attendant read off all of the connecting gate information in alphabetical order. My seatmate and I looked at the Dallas airport mapped and hoped for flights that were near the gate we were landing at. Her flight was in C – only one gate over.

He never said “Tallahassee.”

When he walked by, I told him I didn’t hear my connection, and he said that means he doesn’t have the information. I knew that meant – more than likely – that my flight was seriously delayed or even cancelled.

When we landed, my seatmate found out her plane had been delayed by 45 minutes. It was already boarding, but there was a slim, slim, slim chance she could make it. As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I stood up into the isle and she took off running. She was the first one off our plane, and I had tears in my eyes just hoping she would be able to make her flight and get to her daughter.

I took my time getting off the plane because Bret had texted me that my flight had, in fact, been cancelled. CANCELLED. Ugh. I tried to reschedule over the phone, but the wait time to talk to a representative was 30min. I found my way to the customer service “Rebooking station” in the airport, where I stood in line for well over 30 minutes anyway.

All my feelings of peace and gratefulness for my health melted away with each passing minute. I was hungry. I texted my sister something like, “ALL I’VE HAD TO EAT TODAY IS A LEMON SCONE.” Yep. Waiting in lines make me grumpy. I bet that 6:40 flight is full. I bet there isn’t another direct flight out today. What if I have to sleep in this airport?! The person behind me was muttering about how they only had 2 people assisting this line while there were clearly 4 computers. This prompted me to rattle off something mindless like, “I’m having the worst luck with flights this weekend.” I was speaking to the air, and to no one in particular, but the white-haired guy in front of me turned around and said,

“It’s weather. What can we do about weather?” After a pause he added, “It’s better to be safe. I trust the pilots. We’ll all get home eventually.”

The way he spoke was gentle but stern. It was a statement. A fact not to be questioned. We’ll all get home eventually. His look and sterness reminded me so closely of that man who bought me coffee in a gas station that time, “You’ll never see me again, and you don’t owe me anything.

I didn’t say anything for a few minutes, but I finally said, “Thank you. You’re right.” I thanked him for his perspective. I did want to get home, but I did not want to fly through a thunderstorm, and having a bad attitude is not helping a single thing.

He nodded.

I didn’t think to check the weather on my phone, but I’d later learn that this was more than ‘a thunderstorm’. This was a dangerous MONSTER storm that no one wanted to mess with.

About 30 minutes after that conversation, I finally made it to the front of the line, and they booked me on a 6:40pm flight.

Did I say booked? Oh, I mean that flight was absolutely completely full, so they gave me a standby ticket…and a partial hotel voucher in case I needed to stay the night. She also got me a real seat on the 2:00PM flight out the next day – just in case. It wasn’t ideal, but since there were so many delayed flights coming in, I thought I stood a good chance of getting a seat.

During the next few hours, I:

  • Met a woman trying to travel home to Hawaii whose flight had also been cancelled. It made me thankful that I only had a 2.5 hour flight left to go.
  • Had dinner at TGIFridays. Talked with nurse who says her job is worse than airline customer service and therefore they should be nicer and use layman’s terms to talk about plane delays(?). I also talked with my Dad.
  • Saw that my 6:40 flight was delayed until 7:30
  • Rode the tram around to explore some other areas of the airport
  • I learned the order of the non-alphabetical tram system and explained this to more passengers than I can count
  • Saw that my flight was delayed until 8:45pm
  • I watched a guy open a full-size lounging beach chair and take a nap
  • Saw that my flight was delayed until 9:30PM
  • Witnessed a guy cussing and banging head into his hand after our flight was delayed a fourth time

That’s right… the flight was delayed… 4 times! At this point, I was number 13 on the Stand By list, and everyone from the delayed flights had filtered in, so my chances of getting a seat were darn near impossible. After the 4th delay when it was scheduled to arrive in Tallahassee at 1:30AM, I decided to take the partial hotel voucher the airline offered me and spend the night in a hotel. This ended up being a VERY good move because the flight was eventually cancelled and that free shutttle I took stopped running at 11PM. All the people with the cancelled flight who waited? They ended up having to pay for a cab or sleep in the airport.

On the shuttle, I chatted with a guy who lives in Orlando. He loves Florida. His daughter is a nurse. We talked about Ebola precautions for nurses where she works.

When I checked in to my hotel, I noticed that my “Company” was listed as “Distressed Passenger” because of my airport voucher. I thought ain’t that the truth?!

Distressed Passenger

The front desk person told me about the parking and “no pets policy” to which I replied,

“I miss my cat.”

“Oh how old is she?”

“About two.” (I must have been tired. Velveeta is 4).

“Oh, what a fun and exhausting age…” This is when it occurred to me that, she must have thought I said “I miss my kid.” I just went with it.

“Oh, yes. It is! Can’t wait to see her tomorrow, though!”

Can I tell you how grateful I was to know that I had a comfy bed, a free breakfast, and a guaranteed seat on a flight out the next day? I was very calm and at peace at this point. I talked to Bret, ate a granola bar from my stockpile, and went to bed. I promised myself I would have a better attitude tomorrow.

 

Check back soon for a post about Part 3! It was another long day in the airport, but the day I actually made it home!

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Prelude: Out on the Jetway

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 | 0 comments

These days, I fly about 8 times a year. That’s the best estimate I can come up with considering work travel, flights home for holidays, and one or two weddings/alumni events etc. Because Tallahassee is a small regional airport, to get pretty much anywhere, it’s two flights out and then two flights back which comes to about 30 planes per year. Even though the packing/planning days leading up to a trip make me nervous, generally speaking, I enjoy flying. I’ve had the occasional delay or tight connection, but in all my flying experiences I’d never once experienced a cancelled flight, a missed connection, or a red eye.

Welp, all that changed this past weekend before last.

This begins my 2 (or 3?) part series about my travel weekend aptly named, “How to Survive 36 hours in an airport.” Consider this the prelude – the storm before the storm. My first flight delay made me arrive in California at what felt like 4AM the night (morning?) before my conference began.

Last, weekend I traveled to UC Davis for an incredible conference.

I had a great flight over to Dallas. I love flying during a sunrise or sunset because the horizon looks like this wide open space and you can see the colors blend together and stretch all the way across. It’s so pretty!

TLH-DFW3TLH-DFW2

While I was walking through Dallas to make my way to my next gate, I was a little concerned about not getting in to California until 11:15pm (2:15am EST), but I bought a microfiber travel pillow and thought hopefully I’ll be able to catch a couple of hours of sleep on the flight.

We boarded the plane on time.

But.

We were delayed for weather.

I didn’t really worry at first. Our pilot promised that this would be a short delay while they determined the best way to reroute around a thunderstorm. Sure enough, after about ten minutes, we got our new route and moved out over the jetway. I thought I may as well get cozy. I put in my ear buds, listened to my iPod, closed my window, and snuggled into my neck pillow and tried to sleep.

I rested a bit, but I couldn’t sleep. We sat and we sat and I had a feeling we weren’t going to be taking off anytime soon. I tried to be at peace with what would surely be a delayed arrival, but then the plane started rocking.

I noticed my fellow passengers had their phones on, so I turned mine back on and started my family and co-workers about my delay, the storm, and my rocking plane. My sister texted me and said,

“Just let it rock you (like a wagon wheel) to sleep!”

So funny. Except we weren’t rocking gently… the whole plane was shaking like crazy.

I opened my window to realize we were in a long, long line of planes waiting for takeoff and there was streak lightening touching down all around us. Hence, the delay.

The pilot assured us that he was allergic to thunderstorms so whenever we did take off, we would fly way far away from them, but he also warned us to prepare for a fairly turbulent flight. I don’t really mind turbulence so I texted Bret and told him to be glad he wasn’t on this flight (he hates it).

I couldn’t completely relax or get comfortable – especially after the pilot made an additional announcement stating that he really wasn’t sure if we’d be staying on the jetway or when we’d be taking off.

After what seemed like an hour, I saw a plane move forward and then reach up up up into the sky. A second plane began to take off. Within 30 minutes, I was on my way.

I was happy to be in the air, and it wasn’t as bumpy as I’d expected. Because of the new route, though, this flight took forever. I remember seeing that it was 1:15AM on my watch (East cost time) and thinking that we should be landing in an hour (2:15 EST; 11:15 west coast)…but considering we’d only been in the air for short while yet, that was not going to happen.

When we finally did land, it was well after midnight which meant to my East Coast sleep schedule, it felt like it was well after 3AM. My sweet husband texted me that there were cab stands at every terminal. The airport was desserted except for passengers from our flight. After we all took a tram together and traveled down a couple escalators, I felt like I was traveling with old friends. People were laughing and cracking jokes – I just couldn’t believe people were in such good spirits. (This is a reoccurring theme of my travel weekend and it was SUCH a blessing. More on this later).

The sweetest thing that happened… there were two air force guys in uniform on our flight. One met his girlfriend before we even got on the tram. She got permission to go through security and she had a sign and cake and balloons. Super sweet. I was feeling bad for this second guy who seemed to be alone, but when we made it down the escalator, his whole family was waiting for him including a sweet little baby! It was the sweetest.

After realizing there was a distinction between “Ground Transportation” and “Non-Airport Ground Transportation,” I found a sign for taxis and to my delight there was a whole line of them. I hopped in, pulled out the hotel and address that I had written down and stuffed in my pocket before takeoff, and 10 minutes later, I was checking in.

It wasn’t ideal, but I got 5 hours of sleep, and I had a great first day of my conference.

Stay tuned for the REAL adventure: how to survive a day and a half in an airport after my cancelled flight home :)

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Pumpkins and Spiders and Bats, Oh My!

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 | 0 comments

Last November, I bought some spooky music playing pumpkin lights on clearance, with a promise that they would hang in our apartment in Halloween 2014. I’ve been traveling a bunch (blogpost about being stranded in an airport coming soon!), but I knew as soon as I got home, I wanted to slather our house with lots of spooky Halloween decor… and I did just that!

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As soon as I got off work on Wednesday, I drove to Michael’s and picked up a bunch of supplies including a giant hairy spider that drops from the ceiling and crawls back up to it’s hiding spot with the clap of your hands!

sadie

Sadie was not thrilled.

For starters, I turned on some Halloween music, and got to work making a wreath.

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Then I hung bats and orange yarn and the orange and purple gum drops from my mom:

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…and the awesome holiday quilt that my mother-in-law made:

oohh bats!


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and there’s that spider everyone loves:


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Isn’t it great? I don’t usually get into Halloween too much but it still feels like summer here and Halloween means it’s Fall.

Happy Halloween!

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Pre-Travel Anxiety

Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 | 0 comments

planeThe first time I ever flew alone was in 2010. I was visiting my [then] boyfriend in Boston, and I flew home to Richmond by myself. I had a direct JetBlue flight. I had my own little TV to watch. I was served complimentary soda and cookies. Best of all, when I landed in Richmond, my mom was waiting for me. Sounds easy enough, right?

I smile when I consider how terrified nervous I was about this experience.

I was anxious about going through security. I was questioning my ability to find the right gate. I wondered who I’d be sitting next to for two hours. I was scared. I did it, though, and I was filled with relief and pride with each little milestone: I boarded the plane, I found my seat, I buckled my seat belt. I may have relaxed for a while up in the air, but believe it or not, my body filled with nerves again when I landed in Richmond and didn’t know where to go. “Follow the signs to baggage claim” my mom told me when I called her.

If you’ve never done it, flying alone sounds scary, but from my experience, it’s one of those things you just have to DO so you can turn around and think: huh, that wasn’t so bad. Looking back, doing this flight successfully on my own was good experience and a big confidence booster.

…And thank goodness!

I never would have guessed it, but one year after that first solo flight, I was living by myself in Washington, D.C., taking the metro to work every day, and flying out to Denver on my own for a work trip. I was pretty nervous about my first work trip, but I made it through. I didn’t need to call my mom for directions when I landed. Instead, I hailed my own cab, checked into my own hotel, and found my way downtown on foot to the conference. A couple months later, I was flying up to Boston for work. Then to Clearwater for work. Flying alone wasn’t a big deal anymore because my boyfriend [now husband] was living in Florida, and I flew down to see him every few weekends. I’ll admit, I felt pretty legit at this point.

IMAG3761To sum up, flying doesn’t intimidate me anymore.

Today, I’m flying to D.C. for a work retreat. Like, right now! (I wrote this post on Saturday and scheduled it to post on Monday while I’m up in the air). By the time you’re reading this, I’m well on my way. After I land, I’m taking a metro over to my hotel where I’ll be staying on my own for a few days and commuting to the office for a week. I’m looking forward to being in the office and catching up with friends and colleagues. Next week, I’m going to California to give a presentation. Then, in a few more weeks, I’ll be flying to Chicago for our Annual Meeting. It’s old hat now, I guess.

Still, as I’m writing this on Saturday, I’ll tell you that I’m feeling a little uneasy about the travel experience. I’m not nervous about the flight, or the public transportation, or the hotels, or anything specific. For the most part, I relax on the plane (unless it’s unusually bumpy – then I grip tight on the armrests). I’m confident in my ability to find a cab, read signs, and/or ask for directions when necessary. And even though I miss Bret, I sleep like a baby in my own hotel room.

STILL something about prepping for the whole travel process makes me nervous. I question if I’m really “ready.” It’s like I’ve forgotten that I do this ALL THE TIME.

I told Bret I think I have pre-travel anxiety. It bugs me for a couple of days before the trip. While I’m sorting out all my work outfits, packing my suitcase, and filing away my boarding passes, I FEEL a twinge of, well, panic. My thoughts swirl around in my mind until they’re tangled together in a whole string of crazy: Am I forgetting something important? Where is my badge? Did I pack the right shoes? Do I have bandaids in case my shoes give me blisters? Do I have my phone charger? Ohmygosh Sadie destroyed my iPod headphones…HOW AM I GOING TO FLY WITHOUT MY IPOD?! Those are normal(ish) concerns, I think.

But that’s just the start of it.

velveeta-5I also worry… Is my poor precious perfect little cat going to be okay while I’m gone? Sadie, too? Have I neglected the cats today? Should I buy the cats some new treats before I leave? What about Bret? Should we go grocery shopping together to make sure he has healthy snacks? Should I make some pasta salad? Does Bret even like pasta salad? I should make some. Oh, how about some muffins? Do we have muffin ingredients? Should I go back to the store? What if I get a headache this week? Do I have migraine medicine? What about granola bars for me to eat during breaks? OH NO WE ARE OUT OF GRANOLA BARS…

…as if granola bars are some scare necessity that aren’t available at every airport, drug store, and probably even in my hotel?

What is this craziness?!

I know some people have racing worried thoughts every day, but I don’t except for right before I travel. I think, to a degree, these kinds of travel-related worries are normal. I wish I didn’t feel this way, though. Lately, I’m wondering if I’m REALLY worried about Bret and the cats and granola bars or if I’m displacing my worries. Is there something else about being away from home that makes me uneasy?

I’m not sure. For now, try to keep my pre-travel anxieties under control by making excessive packing lists and writing out my schedule so I don’t wind up wondering if I should go back to the grocery store for granola bars the night before my flight. And I write and journal and try to remind myself that I feel this way often, but the trips are worth it, and everything always turns out great.

I’ve also found that it helps to focus on the post-trip things to look forward to. After these three trips, it will be my FAVORITE time of the year and I can look forward to:

  • Pumpkin carving, apple cider, and Hocus Pocus coming on TV
  • Food & Wine Festival at Epcot
  • Writing in my Grateful Jar every day
  • The 2014 Jingle Bell Run (this year we’re calling it the Jingle Bell Stroll)
  • My sister is coming to visit meeee we’re going to drive around and look at Christmas liiiights
  • Seeing all my cousins and grandparents at Christmas Eve

I feel better already :) …Although, still not 100% better. Thanks for reading my pre-travel anxiety inter-monologue. If you have any other recommendations, I’d love to hear them.

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DATE NIGHT

Posted by on Sep 26, 2014 | 0 comments

Bret and I have a new tradition… Tuesdays are date night!

date night_1I feel pretty darn spoiled because Bret and I generally get to spend a lot of time together. We love exploring Tallahassee, going on Saturday trips to the beach, and spending cozy relaxing rainy weekends watching Harry Potter. After being in a long-distance relationship for a year, our Florida life has been pretty great.

Even though we are used to spending nearly every week night and weekend together, we decided to implement an official date night because this autumn sort of changes things.

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Balcony Fest 2014

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 | 0 comments

Balcony Fest 2014

I had the best weekend.

…about 4 weeks ago.

When I learned the sad news that my grandma’s health had taken a turn for the worst, I was actually sitting in the Charlottesville airport about to come home from a fun weekend with some of my favorite friends. It was quite the jolt into a sad reality. It’s so strange to me to think about how HAPPY and carefree I was and how suddenly that shifted into concern and helplessness. For this post, though, I’m going to focus on the happy weekend.

As you may remember from this post, I have a few friends from high school who mean a lot to me:

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