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The Plane Truth

Trials of an Airport 'Refugee'

By Laura J. Bagby
CBN.com Sr. Producer

CBN.comIt’s the hectic summer travel season again, and that means delays and cancellations are often the order of the day. And that can be extremely frustrating, which is why I am going to share a story of my own travel dilemma with you in the hopes that I will bring some comic relief your way and share what I learned in my time of waiting.

The Land of Entrapment

On my way back from a Christian writer’s conference, I was about ready to call the state of New Mexico, known as the Land of Enchantment for its mountain desert brushy-ness, the Land of Entrapment the day my plane trip came to a screeching halt at Albuquerque International Sunport.

Due to severe weather in my connecting city of Houston and overbooked flights of those who came for the annual Albuquerque balloon festival, no one was going anywhere fast. My original 1:42 p.m. flight eventually became a 5:30 p.m. flight, which wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but I had already driven three and a half hours with my foot heavy on the gas from Las Cruces earlier that morning to make my flight. I was ready to get back home.

Seeking to calm my frazzled self, I ducked into a book shop and fueled up on snacks, water, and a morsel of Hollywood fodder. I read about Farrah Fawcett’s battle with cancer, fell asleep over portions of a medical thriller, and commiserated with fellow writing conference attendees who made up what I affectionately termed “writer’s row” at the airport gate. Several had laptops open and were furiously clacking away on the keys, punctuating every exuberant thought by talking energetically to one another.

I watched with awe because nothing clever was coming from my noggin. I blamed that on the dizzying higher altitude and the bone-chilling atmosphere. I reasoned that the frigid temperature had temporarily frozen any future creative burst that was trying to pass over my mental synapses. The solution was simple: physical activity to get the blood pumping and a cup of hot tea. I booked it down to the coffee stand and savored a very hot cup of orange spice tea to thaw out.

Houston, We Have a Problem

It wasn’t long before I left Albuquerque only to be delayed once again in Houston. My connecting flight had left and now I was looking at an 11:00 p.m. flight out. And talk about a crowded airport! Families jockeyed to get on standby. Businessmen nervously hoped they would be able to give their presentations in their destination city before getting fired. The lucky ones gloated over getting rebooked only to find out at the last minute that their flight just got cancelled.

Much of the problem was due to severe flooding in the area, but another passenger with a conspiracy theory bent also mentioned that the George Bush Intercontinental Airport was just not logistically able to handle the amount of traffic passing through her doors. Perhaps it was fable; perhaps it was the truth. But what I heard was that the Bush Airport had more planes than available gates. That seemed true considering when I flew in, there were 30-something planes ahead of us on the runway getting to gates or readying for takeoff.

Being in that standstill environment was a challenge for both passengers and airport personnel alike. Testy tempers flared, children began to fuss, and noise levels got louder as folks attempted to let off steam.

Bleary-eyed and excited about the prospect of at least getting home, at about five minutes to midnight, I heard the words that every passenger dreads: “Your flight has been cancelled.”

I sighed and followed the disheartened herd to a new line to rebook a flight once again, this time for the next day. I knew what that ultimately meant: staying overnight in the airport, a thought that didn’t much appeal to me.

Brainwashed Hall Rats

I rebooked for about 1:15 p.m. the next day, and then with blanket, pillow, and a travel toiletry case courtesy of Continental Airlines, I weaved my way through the lines to find what I hoped would be a quiet spot in the hallway not too far from my gate and turned in for the night. I crashed along with the other airport “refugees.” I saw business executives and babies, married couples and teens – everyone swaddled in that too-thin blue wool airport blanket and using their luggage as a pillow, some with jackets thrown over their faces to block the light and some snoring. The children, who had been giggling or running down the hallway earlier that evening, were now graciously still.

If only that droning piped-in recording wouldn’t keep chiming in. I think I have been brainwashed for life with several memorable phrases, one being “Please, do not give your bags to strangers or to those you do not know well.” I finally asked someone else standing in line that day what the difference was between a stranger and someone I didn’t know well. I mean, if I didn’t know them well, then wouldn’t I consider them a stranger? Even late at night, I thought that seemed kind of redundant.

“Unattended baggage will be confiscated.” I have heard rumors that unclaimed baggage goes to some warehouse in Alabama and then items get resold really cheap. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wasn’t about to have some redneck shopper make money off of my loss. I actually had to tell a guy with a broken arm to get his bag and put it in line. He was observing his duffel from afar. I figured he had already had enough drama from the horse-riding accident he endured while on vacation, he didn’t need the drama of repossessed luggage.

And here is my favorite: “Do not make comments about airport security. You will be arrested.” Not may be arrested, not might be arrested, but WILL be arrested. I got that in a hurry. So watch out stand-up comics. Airports are not the place to test out new material. They won’t see it as a joke. Yes, I believe Airport Nazis exist, and they are serious.

Operation Destination and Lessons Learned

I was beginning to wonder if I should see the movie Terminal starring Tom Hanks to get a better clue of how to sleep comfortably in the airport. Fortunately, I wasn’t there long enough to seriously consider that. I made it home safely a day later than anticipated, in one piece and with all luggage.

Despite the inconvenience of my delay, I learned a couple of invaluable lessons during my waiting period. First, I wasn’t as bad off as some folks. I heard stories of families being delayed several days. Some had crabby children in tow. That was an extra expense on their personal budget, whereas in my case, I had per diem to use for my work trip. Second, I gained compassion for those who, by no fault of their own, get stuck in the airport. Before, I chalked that up to poor planning. But there are situations that are beyond your control, no matter how well you plan. Third, I gained a great deal of respect for airport workers who have to remain calm and polite in the face of very upset customers. I saw some stellar attitudes, so my respect goes out to those workers who have ever had to deal with testy customers and have ever had to stay late to rebook flights. You guys are gems! And last, I learned to be thankful for the little things, like getting a snack, courtesy of the airport, at about 3:00 a.m. the night I slept in the hallway. That turkey sandwich really hit the spot for breakfast! Oh, yeah, and having extra time to shop in the airport store for coworker thank-you gifts was good too.

Waiting can really drive me crazy. But as with any moment of growth as a Christian, there are times when paying your dues in the waiting room is God’s unusually divine plan.

This summer travel season, it’s my hope that your flight gets you quickly home to your awaiting family or much-needed vacation spot. But if you find yourself in those moments of delay, however long, I pray that you would remain flexible in His grasp, that you would sense His care, however small, and that you would praise Him for getting you to your final destination safely.

Tell me what you think.

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