Grounded: A Memoir of travel during the polar vortex

If laughter is indeed the best medicine, I believe some self-deprecation is in order after my experiences yesterday. I sincerely hope this airport horror story cheers your spirits after your commute back to the Hilltop–and serves some therapeutic purpose for me.

Missing one’s flight the day before spring semester may sound like a catastrophe to some and good fortune for others, yet I couldn’t help feeling as though this incident was meant to happen to me at some point. Since early yesterday morning, the proverbial writing on the wall was written all over my LAX to DCA boarding pass and bus ticket.

The flight leaves in an hour, they said. You’ll make the flight, they said. Oh American Airlines, how you tease. I am unceremoniously passed up on the first flight to Dulles, rolled over to another flight five hours later, and then again to another flight eight hours later.

But this is where it gets interesting. I notice a middle-aged man and woman with the same forced smile after being kicked in the face by America’s airline. And in this moment, and in the following hours, I understand a little bit more about what standby really means during this polar vortex which sounds more like a new shisha flavor (here’s looking at you, Starbuzz) than a real weather phenomena. I digress.

The three of us are souls left behind by our airline for one reason or another: a sudden change in gate times, a mistimed bus trip, a minor emergency. But we are on call for American, at their whim to titter to the next gate to be slapped in the face again without even so much as a meal coupon (who even wants one anyway?).

We spent our day together, a band of tired travelers getting to know one another, laughing together, trying to pull seats on one of the worst days of travel imaginable. But I met a Florida State fan still glowing (read: gloating) from his team’s win in Pasadena last Sunday, proud of his children’s accomplishments. I made small talk with a Persian woman clutching her Australian passport tightly as we all giggled from delirium and the fragrance of old chop suey and airport carpeting I know all too well.

Yes, this was America. This was fighting frustration with fire, enjoying sweet lemons we were forced to suck dry as we imagine suckling a cold beer or whiskey by the fireplace with just enough of that sour juice (if I were of age, of course).

We ended our day in the customer service line, and when I finally had a flight booked after emptying my wallet, I found myself a tinge emotional. I actually liked these people. On such a stressful day, I was happy with these people, even if it was just a standby friendship. So thank you American Airlines– thank you for restoring my faith in humanity, though not air travel.

Editor’s note: Ben will finally be flying out of LAX at 2:30 p.m. today, 30 hours later than he was supposed to.

Photo: via Flickr

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