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Airplane Delays

Johnny Jones, 28 February 1994

I have never seen East Terminal at Lambert as crazy as it was Friday night. We got our first clue something was wrong with a call from Bryan. Bryan was on a 4:00 flight, and we were planning to meet him at 5:30. At 5:15 he told us, "I'm 800 miles south of you; they can't find a plane for us. I have an image of a guy with a wrench scratching his head, saying, `Where did I put that airplane? I know it must be around here somewhere!'"

I didn't particularly like that image, but that meant we could eat at Olive Garden rather than McDonald's. "Might as well make the best of it," we thought.

Arrival time was now planned for 8:30--a three hour delay. We learned that it wasn't only Bryan's flight that was delayed when we arrived at the airport a little after 8. Traffic was stacked. Amy and I got out and walked to the terminal, since that was faster. Outside, we saw more evidences of disorder. People were sitting on their luggage with disgruntled expressions on their faces. We had to squeeze in to see the monitor so we would know which gate to go to. The X-ray was set so sensitively that most people had to walk through 2 to 3 times, which made the delay even longer. Everyone seemed irritated.

I had not thought about the people who needed to get out on the flight Bryan was coming in on. But there they were--waiting in all kinds of postures, trying to find a modicum of comfort in an airport chair. I felt worst for those with young children. Some of them had arrived a little after 4.

It was fortunate we didn't want to sit down, because I'm not sure there was a place for us. We stood so we could see the Women's Figure Skating Finals. We saw Tonya cry and ask for a re-skate; a man told us she would come back to face an indictment. That started a conversation with some people nearby. It turned out that one of the women worked for years at the Christian camp Amy and Bryan attended when they were small.

When the harried desk agent announced the approach of flight 633, the people in the waiting area applauded. It turns out that mechanical problems were only a part of the delay. Chicago's and Detroit's airports were closed because of weather. So the plane Bryan was to go out on couldn't get to Houston.

When Bryan got off the plane, one of his fellow passengers said to us, good naturedly, "This kid caused all kinds of problems on the plane!" That's odd, I thought. He looks too old to be a Rice student. How did they know one another?

Then I remembered that when flights are delayed, passengers often start to talk and become friends. Once, when a Northwest flight was delayed, I got to know a wonderful older couple. That's the positive side to the holdup.

But now we were ready to get Bryan's bags and get towards home; Amy had a Scholar Bowl meet the next morning, and we had to get passport photos that night to avoid another long trip.

So you will never guess the sight that greeted us in the baggage area. That's right: More chaos. Bags bound for Chicago Midway were all over the floor. Periodically, baggage handlers would take bags off and put others on.

Bryan flew in wearing short sleeves, and the area was cold. His jacket was in the bag. That's why the lady first approached us. "You are dressed for decent weather," she told Bryan. "I raised my kids where orange trees could grow, but now they live where they can snow ski. I asked them, `Do you need a psychiatrist?'"

Bryan told us she was from Brownsville, and she continued with a 15 minute monologue. As Chip said, "You didn't even have to put a quarter in her to make her go." We enjoyed her. Soon after she left, a baggage handler informed us, "Bags from flight 633 will be coming up shortly."

"It's about time!" I heard a man tell this lady. "We've been here an hour, waiting," chimed in another. "What's the matter with you people?" a third man shouted. It reminded me of sharks circling their prey.

"I was asked to tell you," she said. Her face looked disconcerted. I was ashamed of the way these nicely dressed men were treating her. One of them was still fussing as we showed our baggage claim stubs on the way out of the area. "And I have 45 minutes left to drive," he said to us, as if to explain his behavior. I didn't bother telling him where Viburnum was, two and a half hours away.

These men had stayed separate from those of us who talked together in little bunches, waiting to be reunited with luggage. They were loners, independents. Perhaps they looked down on those of us who found joy in visiting with one another.

But sometimes things don't go on schedule. Sometimes flights are late, sometimes airports are closed. Sometimes things in life do not go our way. No one asks for those times; we all hope they won't happen. But when they do, we can choose both our attitude and our behavior. The lady from Brownsville had a terrific time; the brief-cased men were miserable. What will we do?

2017:  Now, after 9/11,  things are even worse in airports. We can't wait at the gate, and more waits are inevitable.