Finding Grace at the Airport

I am not the sentimental type.  Optimistic, cheery, genuinely happy, yes.  Teary eyed, sentimental, cries at the drop of a hat….not so much.  Sometimes, however, even I am unable to keep from crying.

It doesn’t happen often, just ask my husband.  He can probably count on one hand the number of times he has seen me cry in our almost eighteen years of marriage.  I learned to be “tough” at a very young age and have kept in training, so to speak.

In a battle of words, no matter what someone else says, they will not have the ability to make me cry.  I won’t cry no matter how much something hurts physically.  Just not in my nature.

That is not to say I never cry.  When I am not in charge of worship, I can weep for those I have loved and lost.  I can be deeply touched when something particularly moving is presented.

On this day, I was crying.  I who never cry because of fear or pain or anger had tears running down my cheeks.  Usually I would be embarrassed, but not this day.  I was traveling by plane to from Wichita to Chicago.  My daughter was in the hospital and wanted her mother.  Now she is a mother herself, but she wanted her mom and I moved heaven and earth to get on an early morning flight.

Of course, it was not a DIRECT flight.  So, the plane left Wichita late and got into Atlanta even later.  Late enough that there was no way I was going to make my connecting flight to Chicago.  It was in a different terminal and all my rushing did nothing to get me where I needed to be.

Getting to the Gate I was told to go, it was the wrong airline.  I was in a section with no monitors to give departures and arrivals.  I didn’t know even which way to go.  I went to the original gate on my boarding pass.  One lone person was there and I handed her my boarding pass.  Told her about the late arrival from Wichita.  She put in the numbers in the computer and said….”oh.  Nothing available until the flight out at 10 tonight.”

I began to feel powerless, hopeless and unsure of what to do next.  “Are you sure?” I asked.  I started to tell her about my daughter and then I would have to go another three hours after Chicago.  Sympathetically she said, “I only have limited ability to change flights.  Try Customer Service.”

Back on the train to another terminal to wait in line for the first available representative.  The tears started.  I didn’t mean to cry, but I couldn’t seem to control them.  After half a dozen or so in front of me, my turn came to go to the counter.  The representative took my boarding pass, was answering calls at the same time and suddenly turned to someone behind him and said, “Can you take care of the Wichita passenger?”

Next thing I know we are at a vacant gate and he begins to type in my information.  Again…he shakes his head and begins to say nothing is available and by this time my tears are non-stop.   He begins to get that look; you know the one I mean, sort of panicked and “Lord have mercy an emotional woman!”  He put his hand up and I said, “I don’t blame you, I am not mad at you,  it isn’t your fault the plane was late, but I need to get to Chicago earlier.  I have another 3 + hour ride on a bus after I arrive.”  He looked at me and said, “Why?”  I said, “My daughter is the hospital, she has 3 small children and she wants me there. Another airline maybe?  I would pay the difference.”  He looked at me again.  “One moment.”  He left me at the desk and walked away.  I am thinking, “great,  I will never see him again!”

However, a couple of minutes later he walked back.  Picked up the phone and began making calls.  Finally he got someone on the line and said, “I have a situation here.  A woman missed her connecting flight through no fault of her own, mechanical problems on our end and late arrival.  I need to get her to Chicago sooner rather than later.  We have no seats available until late tonight.”  After about 5 minutes of conversation and getting all my appropriate “government id information” he had me follow him to the gate literally just across from where we were.

After getting to someone who could do something he handed them a sheet a paper and looked at me and said, “You are on the next flight. “I couldn’t believe it.  It would be boarding in about 15 minutes.  I thanked him several times…. and he walked away.

Sometimes customer service is just customer service and sometimes it is true service to a customer, even an overly emotional one.  I arrived in Chicago about an hour later than I would have and still have plenty of time to catch the bus to South Bend.

I know airport service personnel are overworked and under appreciated.  They deal with upset, irate and overwhelmed travelers who through no fault of their own are stuck where they do not want to be and unable to get where they need to go.  There is less flexibility all the time in changing flights and getting seats.

This weary and overwrought traveler is incredibly grateful to one Eric Hill of Air Tran Airlines.  His calm, unanxious presence, and ability to work through a myriad of red tape enabled me to get a flight on Southwest (yes I know they bought them out), but that option wasn’t given earlier.  His patience with my breakdown without judging was a gift to me in so many ways.

I am thankful for that bit of grace in the midst of my own anxiety and my own franticness.  It was also a challenge to remind me when others are frantic and anxious, I too can offer a bit grace, a bit of calmness and some space to acknowledge that in the most crazy moments of life we can connect as human beings.

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