As I was struggling to locate my phone in my bag, I overheard the faint crack in a woman’s voice as she spoke to a nearby airline attendant. I already knew what the conversation was about—I had just missed the same flight due to the FAA hold on disembarkment. By the time I was able to exit the aircraft, I had a total of seven minutes to run to the opposite end of the airport to check-in for my connecting flight to New Zealand. Unfortunately, it took me 15. Who would’ve thought that toting a backpack and roller would not be optimal for running?
I stopped to listen and walked over, just as the woman was being informed that this had been the last flight out to New Zealand and no, they would not let her print a boarding pass and no, there was no one else she could speak to and that her only lifeline was to be the 800 number for the Fijian airline. The woman started crying as the attendant handed her a customer service card.
Looking back, I probably came off as a little creepy when I started to rub the woman’s shoulder, telling her it was going to be okay, and then forcing her into a hug as she cried into my post-flight, sweaty cleavage. But creepy or not, she hugged me back.
“You know we’re going to get through this, right?” I asked her rhetorically as we broke our stranger-hugging-stranger embrace.
“But I have classes that start Monday. . .” She started to cry again just thinking about the situation she was in.
I knew why it was such a big deal. Budget travel means weighing the difference between a non-stop flight and one with three layovers that include both a red-eye and an eight-hour stop in Detroit. If you’re wondering who chooses to fly those routes to save a few bucks, here’s me raising my hand and forcing this girl to do the same. That little bit of extra cash can be stretched far longer than any layover would—and shelling out $100 for extra insurance is not something most of us can afford.
Kelly, as I soon learned to be her name, quickly became my ally against the forces of airline injustices. We ended up sleeping on metal luggage rollers in order to be first in line when the customer service desk re-opened at 5 a.m. “Why didn’t you get flight insurance?” had become a repetitive mantra at this point.
If you’re wondering who chooses to fly a route with three layovers—which include a red-eye and an eight-hour stop in Detroit—just to save a few bucks, here's me raising my hand.
I was close to defeat while Kelly began looking up flights, the cheapest at a staggering $1,600+ for one-way. We gorged ourselves at IHop, exchanged stories (we are both au pairs) and then regained our determination to find a way to New Zealand.
Kelly eventually bought a ticket for the next flight with help from her family. We exchanged numbers, hugged and promised to meet up once we both got to Auckland. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that there was a good chance that I wouldn’t be joining her—I had no way of paying for a new ticket anywhere besides back to Arizona.
You know that sense of calm you get when you realize there is nothing you can do but accept your circumstances and hope that in an hour or so, you’ll magically find a solution? I was at that point when I went to the airline desk to collect my luggage.
“Oh my, your flight was yesterday?” the attendant looked concerned.
“Yeah. I missed it. I just need to pick up my luggage.”
“I’m so sorry, it looks like no one re-booked your flight after you missed it,” she said.
I laughed, thinking back to attendant who handed me the customer service card before deucing out as my soul quietly fell apart.
“Yeah, um. . .” I trailed off, fearing for another lecture on the importance of flight insurance.
“Hold on, let me see if I can get you on the next one.”
My heart stopped. I tried to feign apathy since I knew it would be just a minute or two until she realized that I had no insurance and that she wasn’t required to care.
But this attendant, Brenda, did care, and she began the tedious task of trying to book me onto the earliest flight out.
I can’t explain the feeling other than an invigorating revival of hope that sometimes, things do work out because one person makes the extra effort or takes the extra step. In this case, it was Brenda and she was working quickly to issue me a new ticket without once asking for $1600 dollars.
While waiting anxiously, I was distracted by a man next to my counter who was having a go at Brenda’s co-worker. The attendant was calm as the man pretentiously berated her with comments like “I have a PhD!” and “I’m important and I need to be there!” (I wish I was kidding but that is verbatim of what he was yelling at her.)
I could sense his level of anger. I could even sympathize to a point—but I would never unleash the type of unwarranted verbal barrage that this man felt was his right.
“Okay, seriously?” Suddenly, I entered into a surreal "David and Goliath" moment—except, in this case, Goliath was a pretentious prick with an expensive degree. The man stopped yelling and turned to me.
“I need to be on the next flight now!”
The rest of the attendants stopped what they were doing to watch the confrontation play out.
“Regardless, you have no right to talk to her like that.”
“But she. . .” the man continued, starting to stammer.
“No. Who are you to say things like you have a PhD and therefore you’re better than the rest of us? Whoop-de-f-ing-do.”
The man stared at me blankly, so I narrowed in on the issue. “Don’t act like you’re better or more important than other people. You’re a grown man with, supposedly, a PhD and yet you’re the only one here acting like a child.”
He looked like he was about to say something. I held up my hand to stop him, turning to leave. “You’re acting like a child who is having a tantrum,” I repeated.
It was only as I walked away that I realized I was leaving the counter with a printed boarding pass—without a price tag—for the next flight to New Zealand.Add this article to your reading list