Welcome to Terminal Tales, the weekly blog series where I highlight my favorite personal encounters with passengers while fulfilling my job duties as a Ticketing & Gate Agent at the Colorado Springs Airport. I never know what the terminal has in store, but there is always one guarantee -- the stories will be priceless. Traveling humans are an endless supply of comedic material.
In this week's edition: my faith in actual emotional support animals is restored, how springtime in the Rockies means weight-restricted flights that will practically give me an ulcer, & I am accused of being unfriendly.
After getting five hours of sleep, I felt so rested for work, which is odd, because I normally need at least eight hours of sleep to function. I suppose I'm getting used to less than eight hours of sleep per night. Today was an exciting day, as Monique & Chris were joining the ranks for their first round of solo Gate shifts after "graduating" from training. I adore these two, so I was ecstatic to work with them.
I was assigned to Gate 3, & began assisting with security checks on the aircrafts parked at Gates 3, 5, & 7. When I made it back to the podium at Gate 3 to check my boarding totals & prepare for my first outbound, a woman in her fifties approached me & asked if she was at the right gate. "I see this flight is going to Denver, but the flight number on my boarding pass doesn't match the flight number on the screen." We have multiple flights to Denver every day, so this is a fairly common question, but I didn't recognize her flight number. I looked up her itinerary -- mind you, it was barely 5 in the morning -- & I realized why we were both so confused. Because her flight was departing at 6:17 P.M., not A.M.! I gently told her about the booking mishap, advising her of the actual flight times she had booked, which included an 11:30 P.M. arrival at her final destination. She shook her head in disbelief, managing to laugh it off in the end, but I felt so bad for her. Having to wake up at 3 A.M. is normal for me, but it's not normal for about 97% of everyone else, including this passenger. Her entire day was built around a departure time that didn't even exist. We both enjoyed a chuckle once she was rebooked & her itinerary was all straightened out.
I had another outbound flight to Denver that morning, with an emotional support animal scheduled to be on the flight. Because I was still waiting for my last outbound to push back from the gate, I walked over to the large picture window to monitor the happenings on the ramp. The bonus to working early mornings is the impeccable sunrise I get to see every shift, especially that morning, when the sunrise reflected against Pike's Peak in stunning purple technicolor. Seated behind where I stood admiring the sunrise (ahem, I mean watching for my flight to pushback), was the passenger with his emotional support animal. I was relieved when I saw that his dog was a legit emotional support animal. Trust me, we can tell when your misbehaved canine is wearing the vest strictly for show, it's actually quite obvious. Anyway, I made small talk with the human, asking about where he was headed & about his dog. I learned that he was a soccer coach, a teacher in one of the local school districts, & that he was traveling to Tennessee to see his fiancé. Even though his flight was full, I told him we would try our best to accommodate moving him to a bulkhead seat, to provide a more comfortable ride for him & his pup. His dog was precious, & he was such an interesting person, which is just one more reason why I love my job -- it's the people. I have seen the best of the best & the worst of the worst, that's just the kind of business I'm in as a Customer Service Agent, but it's one that I am passionate about. His flight departed after I left for the day, so I never knew how he fared to Denver, but I trust that he was well taken care of by my teammates.
I knew I would be in for a long day when I was kept awake all night Thursday thanks to the howling winds. I whispered prayers that the weather would be most intense while I was trying to sleep, hoping against hope that in the morning, the skies would be clear, the winds would be minimal, & there would be no snow in sight.
... so much for wishful thinking.
I woke up at 3:00 A.M. to a weather report confirming 60+ MPH winds. Shrug. When I opened the front door to greet Chuck (for those of you just joining us, Chuck is my 4Runner), I witnessed a combination of rain, snow, & sleet. All of which were pouring from the clouds in a confusing sideways pattern. Shrug. I should've had coffee.
I assembled with my teammates, where we were briefed on weight restrictions for flights, reminders to be patient, & the importance of playing on the team through effective communication. When inclement weather arises, the aircrafts need to carry more fuel -- just like a car. A weight-restricted flight impacts passengers, as some passengers may need to be removed from the flight to accommodate the additional weight of the fuel necessary to get to the next destination. Make sense? Airplanes are amazing machines, I am always humbled when I walk the ramp & stand next to these birds. But let's not forget, these airplanes aren't invincible, they have weight limits -- there are a lot of complicated equations for configuring passenger weights, & that of carry-ons, gate-checked bags, & checked bags, to ensure that a flight doesn't take-off overweight... because planes have crashed for this reason. And since safety is the number one priority for any airline company, yes, we weight-restrict flights for the sake of fuel.
I was relieved at first when I saw that I would be working at the ticket counter. Even though I'm new to the business, I have had my fair-share of hectic weather days at the gates (thank you, Colorado), so I felt lucky to be stationed up front.
I would quickly regret this feeling of so-called "luck".
I had two female passengers check-in for the flight, right at the cut-off time. I told them they were okay to check-in, but they would have to get to their gate promptly -- planes don't wait for passengers. Nope, not even when there's a snowstorm-slash-ice-typhoon happening outside. Did they put a little pep in their step when they walked away to heed my advice of getting to their gate on time? Of course they didn't. I stared at them blankly as they walked away -- of course they couldn't see my expression -- but I hoped that somehow they would feel my fiery gaze & get a move on.
I continued about my business. Tons of passengers, not enough staff, so the scene was quite chaotic in retrospect. When there were only three agents (myself included) to manage the 12 kiosks with 50+ people standing in the lobby... yes, it was a challenge. In the middle of assisting a passenger, I happened to look up & see those same two females from that earlier standing in line again. I made eye contact & said, "Uh oh, you shouldn't be here!" to which they nodded in agreement. After bidding safe travels to the passenger I was assisting, I welcomed the two women to the counter.
They explained that by the time they got through security & to their gate, that the door was already closed. Miss, you didn't take my warning about 'planes not waiting' seriously enough. They were then angry because they felt we should have had two Gate Agents per gate. Hahahahahahah, listen girls, I wish we could have two Gate Agents per gate on days like this too! They placed all blame for missing their flight on me & on my teammates. Terminal-wide boarding announcements are made prior to closing -- I heard that flight's final boarding announcement myself, I know they were made. You were clearly not paying attention, nor were you moving fast enough -- because I clearly saw that for myself too. I looked at rebooking options, which were quite slim. The only option was a flight the next morning through Denver. They were less than pleased, reiterating the story again about how the Gate Agent shut the door & wasn't at the podium, blah blah blah. They wanted a hotel voucher. They wanted a transportation voucher. Umm, wait, you didn't arrive in a timely manner... so, you get none of those things. I apologized to the women for the inconvenience & confirmed them on the Denver departure for the next day, taking careful time to explain the rules of air travel time constraints. All was well, right?
I spent over 25 minutes dealing with those two passengers, & I looked into the crowd of accruing passengers behind them -- the line wasn't getting any shorter, it was actually getting longer despite how furiously we were working to get passengers checked-in & rebooked if necessary. I was logged in to four computers at once, hopping between each of them as I verified ID's, tagged bags, threw bags, did military baggage overrides, rebooked passengers, processed two Unaccompanied Minors, scanned passports, etc. Think Black Friday, but in a terminal. Nay. Sparta.
Every passenger was exuding this stressful & desperate energy, you'd think we were on a sinking ship. Ladies & gentlemen, as a friendly reminder, please calm the hell down. We will be with you shortly, I mumbled to myself. If only I could run an airline like Dick's Last Resort or Ed Debevic's....
My General Manager gave some solid advice when I first started working for the airline. She said, "Always take it one passenger at a time. You are only one person." That means when I feel like giving up, I instead take a deep breath & smile. I greet my customers by name, looking for clues on their bags or using their ID. I look them in the eyes. I listen. Smiling really makes all the difference. Looking out Friday morning at the constant sea of people, where the line seemed to only get longer with each passing minute despite the passengers we were assisting, you can't permit yourself to get overwhelmed by it. You instead pretend that all of the others passengers are smiling, waiting patiently. You give your attention to those people who are in the front of the line, ready to be assisted. And you smile. You smile until your cheeks hurt. Until you're red in the face. And until your face sticks like that.
My next two passengers were both IDB's -- Involuntary Denied Boarding. This was my confirmation that the weight restrictions were real, as passengers were being involuntarily removed from flights for the sake of required fuel. One man was trying to get to Los Angeles for a wedding, & his only option was to fly out the day of the wedding in the morning. The other passenger was trying to make a connection for his flight to London. Such a myriad of important reasons to get people safely to their destinations, & how unfortunate that the weather could care less about these people. Those two passengers were extremely friendly, despite the circumstance. Way more forgiving & kind than those two women... who, believe it or not, approached me AGAIN at the counter, cutting off everyone who was in the line behind them. They were on the phone with the Help Desk trying to get rebooked for something that was leaving that day.
"We've now been here for two hours. Someone from our group who was flying with us said he was being driven to Denver for a flight today. Why weren't we offered that courtesy? This is ridiculous!" I took a deep breath & explained that if he was one of those passengers who was involuntarily denied boarding, that he was entitled to have the cab ride paid for by the airline, in addition to receiving a travel voucher. They didn't get it. They continued to argue. At one point, I had to tell them, "Ladies, while I do apologize for the inconvenience, I do have you on confirmed seats for tomorrow, which is the earliest I could possibly get you there. I know it's not ideal. You're traveling the weekend of Spring Break, which also happens to be a day for terrible weather. You arrived late for your flight, so I re-accommodated you accordingly. Now, may I please assist the other customers who have been waiting in line for the same courtesies that I have given to you all morning?" I said it sweetly, I promise.
I was scheduled to be off at 9 A.M., but I didn't leave until 12 noon... the lobby lines were consistently full the entire shift. Towards the end of the morning, three or four passengers commented that they didn't know how I was still smiling -- & I had a simple response. No matter what the day had in its wings, I loved that my day was being partially spent at the airport. (I love airports, even when I'm not flying!) I loved seeing the difference a smile could make, versus a shrug or a loud sigh, or throwing my hands in the air as a sign of surrender. When the lobby finally cleared, I felt like I was witnessing a miracle. I looked around with wide eyes... were they really all gone? An empty lobby, finally? I could practically hear angels singing.
I didn't hear any howling winds when my alarm went off at 3:00 A.M., which was such a relief. The weather was actually quite mild despite the wild encounter from the day before. I was assigned as a Gate Floater, which meant that I would be assisting Leni, Jesse, & Debbie with their Gate duties -- security checks on the aircrafts, tagging valet & gate-checked bags, assisting with boarding procedures, etc. I love working at the gates, but it always feels very intense & stressful. Being the Floater allowed me to work at the gates without much stress, which was fantastic after a day like Friday. I didn't have a radio, as it was far more imperative for the actual Gate Agents to have them, so I spent the morning walking between each gate & assisting when necessary or requested to do so.
Gate 5 is a swinging gate, which means that it can accommodate two aircrafts parked at the gate at once, one on the left & one on the right, but they can only be boarded one at a time. Passengers who aren't paying attention to the announcements & which flight is boarding get really confused. Another friendly reminder to listen to the Gate Agent when you are in the boarding area. Wink wink.
While Jesse boarded his passengers, I was tagging the valet-checked bags that wouldn't fit overhead. I had the easy job of smiling, explaining why the bag wouldn't fit even though the bag was within the acceptable carry-on size limits, & wishing each passenger a wonderful flight. I was in the jet bridge assisting with bags & chatting with passengers as they made their way down the bridge & onto the aircraft. One passenger said, "You are way too happy & way too put together for it being 6 o'clock in the morning." I laughed & told him my secret: that life is too short to be unhappy... & also that I put my makeup on before bed so I can sleep longer in the morning. Another passenger from another flight said, "You know how you meet someone & can immediately tell they're a friendly person? That's you, you have that." Where did all of these friendly people come from, & why weren't all of you at the airport yesterday!?! Completely made my day. If you ever have a wonderful customer service experience, at an airport, a drive-thru, or a checkout counter, be sure to tell that person how their friendliness impacted you... I was on a cloud the entire morning. I think we often forget how our life also impacts the lives of others, be it with our words or our demeanor. The two passengers who complimented my service were a humbling reminder of that simple, yet powerful, fact.
The next three flights departing from each gate were looking to be oversold, & everyone at the gates started to brainstorm how to rearrange passengers in such a way that the oversale could be eliminated. We called the ticket counter to advise that no late-checkins, even if they didn't have checked bags, could be accepted, no exceptions, due to the oversale. A plan was in place & it simply became a matter of time -- once the 30-minute check-in cutoff happened, we could execute the next step. My coworkers communicated effectively & their teamwork was really inspiring. They taught me how the gates are supposed to work. Gates have no room for egos or for people who want to work alone. Gates work best when the agents are in constant communication of flight statuses & boarding totals. If Gate 3 is oversold to Denver, but Gate 7 is leaving twenty minutes later & has open seats available, solicit passengers to take the later departure in exchange for a voucher. In some instances, passengers can get to their final destinations earlier, but it takes communication among the agents to assist in that process.
Jesse's flight had three passengers fail to check-in on time (hooray!), so he restricted the flight & was able to move two passengers from Debbie's oversold flight & one passenger from Leni's oversold flight into those three open seats on the aircraft, which eliminated every single oversale at once. This is where I would insert the praise-hand-emoji about four times. I was so proud of them for working so well together, I really had never seen anything like that. I dished out a few high-fives to each of them, showering them in praise & gratitude. They saved the day, while saving the airline from paying out oversold vouchers. Job well done, Leni, Jesse, & Debbie!
Sunday was a day full of anxiety -- I was trying to catch a flight to Houston after my shift, & I also had a severely weight-restricted flight. You can read about how non-reving feels more like the Hunger Games, but first, let's talk about that Chicago flight.
I worked Gate 7, where my first flight boarded on time, every passenger made it on the flight, & the flight departed early. Praise-hands. After pulling back the jetbridge & returning to the podium, the phone rang. When the gate phone rings, it can be something great... or something terrible. My next flight wasn't for two more hours, so I briefly prepared for the worst when I answered, "This is Megan at 7...."
Brittany from Ops came through the receiver, & she began explaining that the next outbound Chicago flight would be severely weight restricted. How severe? About 20 passengers severe. The aircraft was a CRJ-200, which only accommodates 50 passengers to begin with, & I would have to start working to get 20 of the 50 passengers to volunteer in the event of a weight restriction. I had to laugh, because I had no other acceptable way to let the information sink in. Nearly half of my passengers would need to be removed & rebooked.
I communicated the information to the other agents at the gates in case they had seats open up on their flights. For what few passengers I had in the gate area awaiting the flight, I made an announcement to try & solicit volunteers early. My supervisor called me & stated that if I was able to get volunteers, I didn't have to wait for the Captain's final numbers before sending them through Denver -- just sign the paperwork & get them on their way. Hallelujah! My attempts at soliciting passengers weren't going very well, which was a big buzzkill. Weight-restrictions are the worst, because if we have too many passengers, we will remove passengers involuntarily (just like we had to do on Friday).
I made announcements every 15-20 minutes. Anytime a passenger approached with a question, I asked where they were headed & tried to persuade them to take another route, which would give them a $200 travel voucher & a paid cab-fare to get them to Denver. I only had two people take me up on the offer. It's literally free money, people. And you're going to get to your final destination within two hours. Just take it!! One woman approached with a question, & I asked her the same question. "Where are you headed today?" I began looking at other travel options for her & she shook her head. "No, that won't be possible. I'm going to a funeral." Looking at the list of passengers by priority, she was on my list of passengers who would be IDB'd if I didn't have enough volunteers, meaning she would be involuntarily removed from the plane & rebooked if the flight was overweight. I explained the situation to her, & she gave me the sternest gaze -- I felt like a dog who had just peed on the carpet. "You have no idea what you'd be doing," & she turned around & walked away. Sweet Jesus, please let this plane be ready to fly when the crew gets here!
Mary saved the day, as she was soliciting passengers from the ticket counter... she got SIX people to rebook & got them in a cab right away to Denver. She made my stress level decrease tenfold every time she called to say that she had another volunteer. When the crew arrived, I advised them that we had rebooked eight passengers, which meant we were carrying a load of 42 passengers with 39 checked bags. I followed them down the jet bridge while they crunched numbers. They were kind enough to let me hover over them while they made calculations, as I wanted the flight to depart as closely as possible to its original departure time, despite the chaos. I was holding my breath the entire time. I have worked an IDB flight before & it was quite miserable. But, at the end of the day, those passengers were being removed for their safety, & for the safety of the crew & passengers who were able to remain on board, so that's where I try to keep my focus.
The Captain said that the weather was getting less turbulent, which meant they could carry less fuel than what was originally calculated. Praise-hands, yaaas Jesus! With 42 passengers & 39 bags, we were set to board. Am I dreaming? Are you certain? For real? Okay, well, I'm not giving you any time to change your mind... I'll be back with passengers! I was so ecstatic, & so were the passengers anxiously waiting upstairs. I made the announcement & saw the relief being painted across everyone's faces. I thanked them for their patience, for compliance in listening to my overly-frequent-but-absolutely-necessary announcements, & I began pre-boarding. When the woman attending the funeral came up to board, I personally thanked her for her patience & business, despite the circumstances for which she was flying with us.
The flight departed after being fueled up, & I was more relieved than when using rest stop facilities on a cross country road trip. Now it was time for all of the paperwork... we had to document each record for the passengers who were rebooked & given vouchers, explaining why we rebooked them, why we waived the $75 rebooking fee, & why we gave them a $200 travel voucher & a $250 one-way cab fare voucher to Denver. When that's all done, we have to document in the flight how we processed those passengers & leave detailed notes about why we took volunteers, how much we gave them, etc., which is printed out & put in an envelope along with the signed paperwork from the passengers. A lot of tedious documentation & paperwork, but I used to be a Probation Officer, so I am used to it. You gotta CYA... Cover your arse.
My supervisor, Ron, was assisting with the paperwork up front. I was scheduled to be off at 9 A.M., but it was now 9:30, so I walked to the ticket counter to help him with the paperwork. I didn't want to simply stand around while he was working, so I assisted passengers who were checking in while I waited. The first passengers I assisted were checking two bags -- one that weighted 49.0 pounds, so I tagged it & placed it on the belt, & another that weighed 53 pounds. Skurrrr, pump the brakes. "Miss, your bag is overweight by three pounds. If you have a pair of jeans & a sweater, or maybe a pair of shoes that you could put in your carry-on luggage, this bag will then be in compliance with our weight requirements." I told her we also had some clear plastic ski-boot bags if she wanted to use that as her personal item to hold any clothing that she was removing. This woman was extremely sarcastic (which I adored, because I'm fluent in that language), so for every sarcastic remark she made, I was sure to apologize for trying to save her from paying the $100 overweight baggage fee. When the remarks kept coming, I then took the time to explain how the weights & balances on an aircraft worked -- she was less than amused, but I stressed the importance, as more than one plane has crashed due to improperly calculated weights & balances (I excluded that fact from our conversation... thou shalt not remind passengers on the day they are flying that planes crash). Yes, all of that weight is going on the same plane, but how the weight is distributed front to back & top to bottom is what prevents said crashes.
She got her bag successfully repacked & in compliance with the weight allowance. I handed her the baggage claim ticket & thanked her for her patience. She looked at me & said, "The last time I traveled, they didn't make me repack my bag & it weighed just as much." So I responded, "Miss, then that individual did not follow proper procedures. I'm not trying to be the baggage police, but I am going to make sure your bag is within the weight requirements if you don't want to pay the overweight baggage fee. I do apologize for the inconvenience of having to repack your bag."
DO. YOU. KNOW. WHAT. SHE. SAID. "Well, at least the last agent was friendly & didn't make me repack my bag."
Ya'll, I would've paid to see how my face reacted to her words. I distinctly remember my eye twitching, actually. "Miss, you are always welcome to pay the overweight baggage fee of $100 if you would rather not take two minutes to repack your belongings the next time you attempt to fly with 53 pounds of clothes." Smile. "Thank you for your patience & have a beautiful day."
How's that for friendly.
Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.