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

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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