There are many lessons one can learn about the human condition when stuck at an airport. The one I learned today is how easy it is to lose perspective of what's important when something doesn't go the way we want it to. I'm writing this blog post at a table in the food court adjacent to gate S4 at the Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, Washington. The time is 7:21 p.m. This morning I was supposed to catch a flight at 6:00 a.m. destined to arrive in West Palm Beach, Florida later this evening. (And no, not for play. It's for work, but with an amazing group of people. Check out For The Children) Obviously, that's not what's transpiring. Due to various circumstances (some within my control; others not) I now have a seat reserved for 10:40 p.m. I've had plenty of time, and several opportunities, to observe things going on within me and the diverse group of people here.
I knew something was wrong this morning when traffic to the airport was backed up all the way to the exit…at 5:00 a.m. I'm no stranger to airports, but even I was unprepared for this. Once finally at the entrance, I soon found out what was causing the holdup. Least of my concerns was the ridiculously long line that looked like an advanced game of "Snake" on an old Nokia cell phone at the ticket booth. I saw that and thought, "I'm glad I checked in online and don't have any bags to worry about." But then, there it was…the longest line I've ever witnessed at security…ever. And believe me, after being asked to "please step over here" an obscene number of times and being detained at Heathrow for four hours, I'm expecting there to be a slight delay during this part of the process. But this was another level. Looking around, I saw the distressed and frustrated faces of people who were well aware there was no chance of catching their flight on time but were still holding out a small inkling of hope that "maybe this line will speed up." Wishful thinking. I was one of those people. I knew it wasn't going to happen, but hey, I tried to keep hope alive.
I finally made it through security with 13 minutes left to make it to the gate. At this point, I thought the airline crew would surely be somewhat sympathetic to the extreme circumstances. Nope. As I arrived at the gate, I locked eyes with the person as they closed the door. I might have imagined it, but I could have sworn I saw a little crooked smile gleam across their face as they closed that door. However, it could have been my frustration that saw that (It was actually most likely my frustration that saw that).
Seconds after closing the door, the person approached the microphone and asked, "Is there anybody who has a confirmed ticket who has not yet boarded the plane?" Three of us immediately felt prematurely relieved and approached the counter. As soon as we approached, the individual said, "You missed the flight. Head over to the service counter to find alternate arrangements." As I was walking over to the counter I couldn't help but play the what if game. What if I had just come out here last night and slept at the airport as I planned? What if I had taken one minute off of my shower? Did I really need to take out the trash before leaving? I knew I should have chosen the other line at security. However, there's no winner in that game so I didn't play long.
As we waited for the agent to arrive at the service table, I became aware that this was a shared experence among a large number of people. Of course there were some who figured they would yell until they got their way. Some were crying. Others were extremely silent. I was coming to the realization that there wasn't much I could do at this point, so the time was quickly coming to let it go. Bob and Russell seemed to be in a similar emotional state. This probably explains why we gravitated towards each other. "You missed it too, huh?" asked Bob. "Yeah, where were you trying to go?" I replied. Russell, while remaining calm, mentioned that his mother was going to be upset.
To make a long story short, here's what happened at the service counter (a special note: this was the only pleasant treatment I received from any staff today at the airport. Thank you, María and Lilian.)
* We'll put you on standby for the 7:30
* The 7:30 was "overbooked"
* We'll put you on standby for the 12:00
* The 12:00 was "overbooked"
* We can confirm a place for you on the 10:40 p.m.
* I'll take it
* People watching and occasional snoozing began (my self-imposed diet wouldn't allow for my unexplicable obession with gummy bears fill this void)
* Cheated on diet (gummy bears are so good)
I try not to worry about things over which I don't have control. I figured that, since I can't change the fact the plane is no longer here and there aren't any seats until 10:40, it was time to let everything else go, accept it, move on, and make the best of the day. Obviously this is not what the vast majority of people were thinking. Today was one of those days that put everybody behind. Not only was each flight overbooked, the extended time spent passing through security caught many passengers off guard. By 7:30 there were already 49 passengers waiting in standby just for my flight alone. The negative emotion was palpable. Numerous times I felt embarrassed on behalf of all passengers, and sorry for the agents who were berated one irate customer after another. I understand the frustration we were all going through. After all, some people were trying to get home after long business trips or vacation, others had to get to "important" meetings while still others, like myself, had to catch connecting flights to make it to their final destination. People had families to see, places to go, and things to see. However, my personal frustration quickly turned into sadness as I watched just how despicable we can be to each other.
This blog post is already getting rather lenghty, so I'll go ahead and try to get to the point and wrap it up. Here goes…
As I stood there looking around at blinking monitors and people running around, yelling and screaming, a couple things came to mind:
One: Let it go and be grateful.
Two: I'm standing here, able-bodied and healthy. Sure, my life isn't perfect and I have my problems just like everybody else. However, if my biggest concern in this moment is missing a flight to Florida, I really should check myself. There's a shot of perspective.