It’s 3:17 p.m. at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.
The flight’s departure time is 3:30 p.m.
“They close the gate 10 minutes before departure…you’ll make it. Don’t worry.”
That’s what the gate agent told me after I was bumped off my flight from D.C. to Toronto. But here I am, standing in front of a closed gate staring at the plane as it pulls away.
My eyes begin to well up.
Spotting the customer service desk, I walk over and feel my chest heat up and a small tear run down my cheek. Well, this is embarrassing.
For some reason, I’ve never been great at maintaining my emotions in these types of situations.
“Did you not hear them calling your name?” the agent asks.
“Um, no. I was at another terminal. They took 40 minutes to process me and literally handed me the boarding pass at 3:00 p.m. and told me I’d make it.”
“So you didn’t hear them calling your name?”
Are you serious?
After a few more minutes of this confused questioning, the agent finally finds another flight I can make, this time through New York City instead of Boston.
“Ok, great. So where’s my bag?” I ask.
“I don’t know….just hope that it makes it to Toronto.” Hm, well that’s helpful.
The flight to NYC leaves at 4:00 p.m., so I calm down and count my blessings. At least I can finish watching the Carolina Panthers game and I’ll still make it home today at a reasonable time.
But alas, it was not meant to be.
After two hours on the tarmac waiting to take-off, we push back to the gate and de-board the plane. 15minutes later, a Ben Stein-like voice announces that our flight has been cancelled.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Once again, I find myself in line to speak to a customer service agent. The same agent who helped me earlier. Somehow, she’s forgotten me already but that’s cool, she’s probably endured hundreds of distressed travellers today.
With my eyes once again noticeably welling up with tears, the agent finds me a flight to Toronto that leaves at 10 p.m.
“AH! Thank you, thank you!” I whisper-screamed, wanting to leap across the desk and give her a hug.
“Also, where’s my bag?” I ask again.
“Sorry sweetie, I don’t know.” Hm, thanks.
Let’s skip ahead 6 hours, and here I am again, still at the airport. That 10 p.m. flight has now been delayed until 11:40 p.m., but you know what — I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything’s fine. I’m going to be in Toronto soon, warm and cozy in my own bed, other than sitting on this thin, metal chair from 1996 staring at the older man in front of me who’s drooling on his tracksuit.
Around 11:00 p.m., while listening to Jeremy Scahill rage against the machine on Intercepted, I begin to notice a crowd gathering at the gate. “Did I miss the boarding call?”
Tearing out my headphones in a panic, I haphazardly gather my things and wander into the crowd.
Then the dreaded announcement-ping comes…
“Attention passengers in Gate 35x flying to Toronto on AA flight 2040, you’re flight has been cancelled. Please proceed to the agent’s desk to rebook your flight.”
WHAT IS HAPPENING!?!?
I’m stunned. Actually.
I’ve been flying for over 20 years, to places as far-flung as Beijing and Riyadh, and I’ve never experienced this.
1 overbooked flight, 1 missed flight and now 2 cancelled flights within a 12 hour period.
I’m going to have a breakdown. Right here, in the middle of the airport. I don’t care anymore, I can’t pull myself together. I don’t want to. I just want to cry like the toddler in front of me who’s screaming in her mom’s arms.
Then I see the mom’s face, and a wave of guilt washes over me. She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t having a meltdown. She was stone-faced, holding a screaming baby in one arm, and calling (I can only assume) American Airlines’ customer service with the other.
What’s the worst thing that could happen to me? That I end up going to Toronto tomorrow? That my bag is sent to me a couple days after I arrive? At least I don’t have to worry about another human.
You know who is freaking out though? That drunk, mid-20s guy wearing a NY Giants jersey who was on the flight that was cancelled earlier. He’s currently drunkenly screaming at a American Airlines agent, demanding the airline pay for his Uber back to New York City.
Dude, you’re an idiot.
Then, another wave of guilt hits me. That poor agent. It’s not her fault these flights were cancelled, delayed or that there are policies restricting what she can offer affected passengers. She’s human, not some sort of emotionless, AA-agent robot that should be disrespected by a drunk Giant’s fan. She doesn’t deserve this sh**.
So, I have two choices: 1) be aggressive and angry towards the agent, or 2) be polite and understanding. My choice is made when I see who’s at the desk. It’s the same agent who put me on that 3:30 p.m. flight to Boston.
Smiling, I ask, “How are you?”
20 minutes later, I’ve been reimbursed for my flight, received a hotel voucher, meal voucher, and a direct flight on Air Canada at 9:45 am tomorrow back to Toronto.
“Ma’am, do you happen to know where my bag is?” I ask.
“I’m not sure as of right now, but the last place it’s listed is actually in Toronto! So once you land in Toronto you should be able to pick it up.”
Ah thank you. (Side note: I wasn’t able to pick it up…)
I’m leaving the airport exhausted but no longer on the verge of breaking down in a fit of tears. Instead, I’m listening to some light jazz and riding a hotel shuttle with a man yelling, “This is the party bus! WAO!” thinking about the warm shower I’m about to have, and the comfortable bed I’m about to pass out hard in.
So, here’s two tips for not breaking down in these types of travel situations; maintain perspective and empathy.
There may be some cases when you should freak out, but ask yourself, “Is it really that bad?”
Sure, waiting around in an airport is exhausting and boring, and losing that bag with your high-school sweater in it is disappointing, but that’s just time and things.
If that mom in front of you with a screaming baby isn’t freaking out, you shouldn’t either. And also, don’t be that guy. You know, the Giants’ fan.
As Forest Gump would say, “Sh** happens.”