The cancelation notice on my cell should have given the inclination it was going to be a travel day to remember. I was relaxing in Florida spending time with my brother. Flying standby as an airline professional makes for fun stories, even years later. My coworker informed me flights were getting hosed due to a nor’easter coming in. I thought she was joking, Florida was beautiful. In my typical blissful state of travel most often I ignore reality, weather and the news. Here is my story from 12.19.09, a day I will never forget…
My name was called to receive a seat assignment. I boarded my first segment northbound as daylight hours were ticking away, but the fun began at the Philadelphia International airport. A fellow coworker was enroute to the Caribbean with a connection in PHL. I landed in PHL, a text from her informed me her flight diverted to Allentown minutes after our aircraft touched down. The gate agent had trouble driving the jet-bridge up to the aircraft due to ice on the Tarmac, thus sitting for awhile in the metal germ tube. Visibility was declining, snow squalls increased. After deplanement, I checked the terminal monitors to find the boards filled with more red marks than placed on my biochemistry exams. Lines of stranded passengers a week prior to Christmas lined up at special services. I waited what seemed like hours until my name was called with a seat assignment to board an aircraft heading north bound. I couldn’t believe my luck, I was 55 minutes of burn time away from home! Our taxi time on the Tarmac took a little too long heading toward the designated de-icing area. The canned tone of the captains voice across the overhead told me everything. God’s gift informed us the runways were shutting down due to lack of visibility. I knew it felt too good to be true, at times I get my hopes up too much, when even the sound of the engines can tell a frequent flyer something is not right. Like the time I attempted to fly to Dublin with my other brother, following de-icing we taxied to the end of the runway slowly, engines quiet as we were informed the crew timed out. I was so bummed my brother bought me a Guinness from a local store to soak up my tears, oops where was I?!
The passenger next to me enroute to Montreal asked what will happen to her checked bags. Finding a single bag in an international airport during irregular operations is like a needle in a haystack, so I syrup coated the details. After we deplaned, I met her friends and suggested we all share a rental car, they declined saying they wanted to find their bags. I wished them well.
I waited at the gate for a break in visibility, but soon the flight canceled. I looked for other airport options in the northeast, made numerous calls to rental car companies while checking availability. In situations like this every cell in my body goes into survival mode, putting me into overdrive at being proactive. I live for the challenge of travel and find joy in the process, while some pull out their hair. I could survive better during a chaotic day in an airport than if sent out in the wild to catch my dinner. If you expect the worst and come out better, along with a fun story you are doing great, and less likely to feel frustrated when things don’t go as planned.
I chatted with a captain who routinely flies out of my city, he didn’t think things were going to improve, so I reserved a one way set of wheels with Hertz. The necessary lacking accessory on this rental was snow tires…I was soon scraping the windshield with my debit card. Tires spun exiting the parking lot as if trying to inform this was going to be a long trek.
Too soon my hands were clutching the 10 and 2 positions, first time this alert since drivers Ed. As a result of the sketchy road conditions I became white knuckled and nervous to the core, vehicle ill equipped for this weather. Rigs flew past dumping heaps of snow and sleet onto my windshield. It became routine to stop under overpasses to scrape the windshield, I’m not sure the snow gods even knew what type of precipitation was falling. It froze on the windshield as soon as it hit. I became deliriously tired from driving stressed out. At my highest attainable speed of 25 MPH I wasn’t sure I would get home in time for my 10 am shift. I literally did the math, it wasn’t looking good.
I love to see numerous friends when traveling. The excitement hit me I could surprise my dear CT friends during their holiday party that evening, they would never expect me to be at the door, only perhaps Peapod or UPS. Stiffly I ran to their door, rung the doorbell and yelled with excitement “I need a hug, a toilet and some caffeine!!” It was late, their party had just about died down, but as always welcomed me with open arms and warm hearts. They are the type to have driven me home if I asked. The adrenaline of seeing them kept me awake as far as the next state-line, then another wall of fatigue hit.
After an all night trek through hazardous driving conditions eventually I entered my state, returned the rental an hour prior to my shift. Ran home, changed and returned to the airport knowing it would be a doosey of a shift after an all nighter.
I was rebooking a line of passengers when someone called my name, I looked up to see the same party I had spoken with in Philly. They were in line to file a baggage claim, they had stood on a long line the night before and never reunited with their bags. We all laughed how we should have stayed together the previous evening. I was giddy tired, my mind couldn’t fathom the risk I took, my reward, a four hour line of passengers. The next time I saw that pilot whom I spoke with at the gate in PHL he looked me square in the eyes and said “never risk your life again for this airline.” He was so adamant the reality of the previous nights trek sunk in. What happened to my coworker you may ask? She stayed in a safe and warm hotel room…funny how our choices give different outcomes in life.
My gram’s winks and smiles crossed my mind during the drive, especially during moments I hunched over in order to see the road through the unfrozen sliver of windshield. I knew that evening, 12.19.09 all her prayers for me over the years were being cashed in…