“Buy more snacks,” is first on the list of things I would have done differently. Closely followed by “do not pack your hairbrush at the bottom of the suitcase,” and “be nicer to the girl who tried to push you off the airplane.”
In the several, self-reflective hours I spent overnight in the post-apocalyptic solitude that is an empty airport, there ensued a few versions of this list. I’m not a regrets person by nature, but I am absolutely a fan of bullet points, so it was important that I figure out how exactly, and in what order, I could be a better person next time.
Concurrently, I did not have a lot to do. I wandered the halls and surveyed my coffee options for the morning. I danced around in the bathroom by myself. I ate a whole bag of fruit snacks because this was the only food I had, which resulted in having to lay down on the line of connected chairs, blurred at the edges with sugary death. I did some yoga at 3 AM. And I watched a lot of The West Wing on my phone. (Season 2; the best season, and I cannot have this argument with you because I am correct.)
“If you can get to Dulles, I can put you on a 10 PM there,” the gate agent had told me, the first time we de-boarded the delayed plane.
“OK, how much is that, to switch it?” I’ve never missed a flight before, for any reason. I flew once when I was two, and then didn’t fly anywhere again until senior year of high school. Flying will always seem like a thing that rich people do and I’m not quite sure of all the rules.
“It’s no charge. You just have to get there.” She said this without looking up. How does one type so fast, and why?
“How do I…?”
“You just take an Uber,” the gate agent sighed. She picked a piece of lint off her jacket and flicked it.
“Oh. How far is it?”
“Um,” the girl behind me in the line of stranded strangers interjected, “That’s about an $80 Uber, you don’t want to do that.”
“Oh, no, I don’t want to do that,” I repeated.
“Well, you can wait and see then. Maybe the flight will take off in the next hour. We have another flight at 9 AM out of Newark.”
“That’s in 12 hours. Do you put us up in a hotel?”
“But, you’re telling me I can either spend $80 to get to Dulles, or I can be stranded overnight in Newark.”
“Yes.” At this, she looked at me directly. There was nothing left to defensively type. We were here, at the center of it.
“And you can’t pay for a hotel or give me a travel voucher?”
“Now, why would we pay for you when it’s not our fault?”
Now, this, yes, this is a good question. For no other reason than why does there have to be blame involved in order to make things right? This should be at the top of the list. Everyone’s list. The list of ways we can be better humans.
The third time we de-boarded the plane, it was clear none of us would make our connections, and everyone would have to make other arrangements, and everyone was trying to get off of the plane and get to the desk where exactly no gate agents were there to greet us, and I missed all available options for the night because one, eventual, harried employee does not a solution make.
“Hey, you were on that cancelled flight,” a woman tapped me on the shoulder. She had clean clothes and coffee and brushed hair, none of which I could claim. I was watching my phone, lying on my stomach, wrapped up in the bedclothes of both my scarf and jacket.
“Yes, hi,” I said.
“I’m so glad you got another flight, I was thinking about you.”
“Oh, yes, thank you. Are you?” My mouth was coated in waxy strawberries and made no effort at sentences.
“Yeah,” she rolled her eyes. “They have me going to Ohio by way of Chicago, but I’m on my way.”
I’m not one for regrets, and I’m certainly not one to bully myself or others into being grateful for truly shitty things. But this, this, is why 12 hours in an airport alone felt important.
When we are stranded is when we look for shore. And when we are trying to see, and are seen instead, this is how we answer that question. Be better. Check off that list.
And next time, buy a bag of chips, too.