Today’s essay explores what it was like to spend nine hours in flight delays at the airport yesterday, only to have my flight home cancelled (American Airlines).
But first, a bit of context. I spent the last semester studying abroad in Asia. I went to 27 cities, took dozens of flights, and not once did I have a flight cancelled. I took shitty airlines, I took nice airlines – not a single time was there a massive delay or cancellation. I returned to the US on May 30th – after four months of pretty much non-stop travel. I stayed at home – in Arizona – from May 30th (jet-lagged) to June 3rd. I have been in San Francisco since, and I am leaving here, headed directly back to school on August 25th.
With that context, you could likely do the math – I need to stop by home before heading back to school – and this was the optimal weekend for me to do it. More importantly, I need to get back to see my brother before he heads to his Freshman year of college! (I even forewent a fun trip to Los Angeles with my friends so that I could get home for this weekend).
I was excited to head home, even if it was for just a weekend.
I took off work at ~ 1pm and headed to the airport. I spent $30 (and over an hour) on an Uber to the airport. I missed lunch at work, so I had to buy lunch at the airport ($25). It was bad.
I got to the gate, only to see a two hour cancellation due to “weather on the east coast.”
I waited around, frustrated, but it would be fine. It was just a 2 hour flight home so I figured this blip would not mess things up hugely.
A little more waiting around and I found out that the flight had been delayed to 8:15 pm.
People around me were starting to get upset, but nothing I can do about it.
And so I waited. Ate dinner ($25). And continued to wait.
This was annoying because I had planned on getting home, originally, at like 5:30 in the evening – enough time to get dinner with my family. And now, my flight was scheduled to get in at 10:30 pm.
Until 8:15 pm, when they then pushed the flight back to 8:30 pm.
People were really starting to get mad.
And then the person at the desk made an announcement: “one of the flight captains called in fatigue. We need to find a new crew. We do not know when they will be available but we are trying.”
As you can imagine, that was frustrating. So we waited for another hour…until 10pm. Before they officially cancelled the flight. Only then, did they make the announcement: “we cannot compensate hotels and most of our flights for the morning are sold out.”
Now that is effectively the whole story. I eventually Uber-ed back to my apartment in downtown SF, went to sleep, and well now I am writing this.
The title of this essay contains the word “silver lining” – which means that I hope to emphasize the hopeful side of this situation, though it may seem shitty and gloomy on the surface.
Of course I am upset about this unfortunate situation…but this is entirely out of my control. I cannot let external events determine my mood.
Call me weird, but it was very interesting observing this “public chaos” break out, as the flight continued to get delayed. As I called out, people were getting mad at the airline employees. Like really mad. Calling them names. Screaming at them in line.
And *almost* rightly so…everyone is fighting their own battles. People have kids. People have not slept in a long time. People are just wanting to get home. It makes sense that they would be upset. Upset is the wrong word – ANGRY perhaps better describes how people are feeling. This type of anger ruins a brand.
BUT…why take out anger on the airline employee – who has little information, little context, and little power?
They are doing their best job, some of them for 25 years. And they have to deal with you…screaming your head off to demonstrate you care and are upset.
Anger is expected. How you manage it is where you can differentiate.
The entire time I was at the airport – of course I was mad. I was begging to get home. I wasted hours and hours of my day…to get home.
Yet, as I type this, from downtown SF the following morning, I somewhat smile. I smile at this memory that I will have forever. I smile at my ability to adapt.
If you know me, you would know I, at the minimum, have mild anxiety. It is not that it is uncontrollable, it is just that I am slightly neurotic. I frame it as I care a lot. I care a lot about situations, how things pan out. My default is to imagine best cases and worst cases. I am generally optimistic, but maybe pragmatic about it.
This situation was a mess. An ugly mess.
But there are always silver linings.
I am going to get home…two weeks from now…and I will still be able to catch my family before they drop my brother off at school. I now have a great story, and I learned a lot about public chaos – how people behave when shit hits the fans.
It is a reminder that we are all glorified monkeys whose minds wander and emotions dictate our actions. It does not have to be this way, but it takes immense control and awareness to prevent yourself from breaking loose.
Also published on Medium.