Twelve hours. Eighty dollars. Four bowel movements. Three meals. Three Instagram photos. Two episodes of Boardwalk Empire. Two coffees. One novel. Too many adult beverages to count.
Thus was my lovely Thanksgiving eve spent in the Philadelphia airport.
I started my day at the ass crack of dawn being awoken to the Marimba iPhone alarm. Because I understand “wake up at 5:45 a.m.” as synonymous with “leave by 5:55 a.m.” and my ride did not, time spent getting ready was prolonged. As a first-time day-before-Thanksgiving traveler, which I’m sure most of you are aware is the busiest travel day of the year, I realized my folly in this assumption and panicked. I began relentlessly pestering my ride every 30 seconds with phrases like “hurry the hell up” and “we really have to go.” This did not end well.
In any case, I was forgiven (or at least made to think I was) and soon found myself traversing through the miraculously short security line by 6:30 a.m. for my 7:40 a.m. departure.
It was smooth sailing. Until shit hit the fan.
Apparently the Windy City had decided to morph into this fog-covered, plane-eating hellhole. All hopes were erased of taking a sleeping pill to endure a 2-hour flight, arriving at 9 a.m., riding for an hour and a half to Michigan with my parents and taking a nap all before starting my day around noon.
So I, of course, hit Chickie’s and Pete’s for a bloody Mary and a bagel—after I’d already purchased and downed apple juice and a Danish from Au Bon Pain. I met a very nice Louisiana man who lives in New Jersey for a job two weeks a month and told me about how he had to evacuate from his beachside apartment and ended up bribing a hotel for a room. He didn’t jive well with the 15 to 20 children wreaking havoc inside the high school gymnasium shelter.
Eventually, it was back to my terminal and soon what was a 7:40 a.m. flight delayed to 8 a.m. flight delayed to a 9 a.m. flight became a canceled flight.
The airport announcers refused to call it what it was, proudly announcing “we’re not canceling it, we’re putting you on another plane!”
Thanks for clearing that up, guys.
By the time I had my laptop and charger shoved into my backpack there was a massive line full of angry Chicago-bound travelers.
While in line, I glanced to my left at a couple—a 20-something man and a woman, her back turned to me, wearing Converse shoes, jeans far too tight for her figure and a faded quasi-red dye job over blonde hair.
“Don’t cry, baby!” the man said, grabbing his girlfriend for a hug.
“I just want to be in Chicago now!” the teary eyed woman yelled, tantrum style, as she was pulled facing me by her boyfriend for comfort.
Wow, I thought, what an embarrassing way for a 20-something year old woman to be acting in public.
Meanwhile, after I phoned my dad, causing him to launch on a full-on investigation of all flight openings to Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis, a man behind me somehow got me into a conversation.
While standing in what may have been the world’s slowest line—mostly due to angry, crazy people cutting in line and bombarding the customer service representatives with questions and demands because they’re more important than the rest of us—this man and I talked about everything, from our jobs to our families to our love for Chicago.
Jose, a Latino Chicagoan, was trying to get home for the one week he spends a month with his wife and college-aged daughter. His married daughter also lives in his building.
Apparently Jose has a job doing something dental-related at Temple University three weeks a month. He is a family man who does everything he can to make his daughters happy. He reminded me of my own dad, in a way. Because of my old man, I have yet to learn how to do taxes, vacuum out the inside of my car, pay my car insurance and book my own flights.
This man was instantly my airport father.
Jose walked up to the front of the line, asked about flights, put his name on standby and demanded they put my name in then and there in addition to his.
The teamwork began. He saved my spot in line while I tried to find other customer service stations that would help us. Bingo. I called Jose over and we were instantly taken care of while those other chumps were left standing in the line that never ends.
Jose advised me to get a 6:35 p.m. flight ticket in addition to already being on standby for a 2:30 p.m. flight.
With that, we parted ways, promising to meet up while waiting for the 2:30 p.m. standby.
Back to the bar I went. And this time, I had my party hat on.
However many drinks later, I was drunkenly having a conversation with a state trooper from Scranton, headed to his aunt’s house in Arizona and a 70-year-old Delaware man headed to see his son in Chicago.
The 70-year-old, we’ll just call him Bob because I don’t remember his name, was on the 2:30 p.m. flight I was on standby for. Bob let me know that the flight was delayed until 5 p.m.
Scranton state trooper eventually had to leave and I was left with Bob sharing some crab fries. Nothing bonds people like Old Bay seasoned French fries and cheese sauce.
Bob was also quite the family man. He showed me photos of his son, who is a bartender turned blogger for the Chicago Tribune (I wish I could link to the blog, but I don’t know for sure which is his). Bob told me about how he evacuated for the hurricane, has three children—50, 40-something and 25—and several grandchildren. He bought a beach house, he said, to ensure his family is always enthusiastic to visit. The smart bastard.
Anyway, Bob had me educated then and there on flood insurance, that he did expect issues with water after building that home and how he prepared to do this. So there, for all of you that I’ve heard say things like “well you have to know your home might be destroyed if you buy it there…” (and yes, I have heard this directly from people’s mouths).
Eventually though, Bob went to stretch his legs before his flight left. But not before telling me with a huge smile that I reminded him exactly of his 20-year-old granddaughter.
I decided to follow suit and left the bar. Because I intended on drinking later due to my desire to be drunk on the plane for eased nerves, I had taken a breather and was coming down off my booze high. I needed coffee, stat.
I fast walked to Peet’s Coffee and Tea and got a gingerbread latte, loaded with sugar, and messed around on the Internet. Then ended up in a bookstore where I bought “Outliers.”
On the way back to the waiting area for my standby flight, I made a pit stop at the bathroom. Anyone who knows me knows I like to walk very briskly. So, naturally, I made my way to the bathroom quickly. Apparently, after I got in line, I ended up between a woman and her daughter. The teenage or young adult daughter, behind me, “accidentally” bumped into me. Guess she thought I was trying to compete for a line spot. I rolled my eyes and continued waiting. It’s not my fault she wasn’t an arm’s length away from her mom and I got in line before her.
Then back to the waiting area it was.
Jose came up to greet me. He shook my hand and said he was glad to see me. I asked him if he knew where our bags were and he shrugged. But he vowed to help me find mine.
“I stick with you once we get to the airport,” he said. “Go to baggage claim, then vamonos.”
My heart swelled with compassion for my airport father at this comment.
He sat down to talk with an older gentleman and I heard his name called. He didn’t hear it so I went over to let him know. After he got his ticket from customer service, he returned to me and said they had room for 9 more people on that flight and that he hoped I got one of them.
“See you in Chicago,” he said, as he readied himself to board the plane. “I’ll be waiting for you over there.”
I really wanted to get on this plane with Jose. But I wasn’t called.
After the plane left, I went to the terminal where my now 7:25 p.m. flight would be leaving. There was another plane currently boarding for Chicago. Suddenly, to my surprise, my name was called.
I got my standby ticket and got in line next to two young parents and their two toddler-aged kids. Confused by the line, I asked them what was going on and they told me they were doing standby flights before the plane boarded because apparently some people didn’t check in for the flight. They got in on standby too—and they were originally on my 7:40 a.m. flight.
“You’ve been here half a day with two small children!?” I looked at them flabbergasted. “They seem to be holding up well!”
“They have been!” the father said. “But we almost went back home at one point.”
The family was called to board early, due to the fact that they had small children, and wished me happy holiday.
I got on my 6:40 p.m. standby flight to Chicago Midway. I saw and greeted Bob and gave the family of four a warm smile.
My bag arrived on a separate plane and my parents picked me up and drove me to Michigan.
I never did see Jose again.
Though this whole experience may sound like a total pain in the ass, it showed me a lot of sides of the airport—the good, the bad and the ugly.
While I had to deal with horrible circumstances and pissy, entitled people butting in here and there, I’m thankful for some of the people I met those 12 hours in the airport and their tenderness to a complete stranger is truly touching.
Now if it could be like that in real life.