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.
You may have noticed that I've been off the grid for the last three weeks, but I'm back! After returning from Redwood National Park, I was flown to Denver (yes, Denver, from Colorado Springs) to fulfill a two-week Aero training class requirement for the airline gig. This was my first week back at the ticket counter & gates in Colorado Springs... & it was definitely a rude awakening.
SUNDAY, March 12, 2017
I suppose I should preface this story by reminding you that Daylight Savings Time happened Sunday morning. Bare in mind that I closed the restaurant on Saturday night, so I got home well after midnight. Combine that with losing one hour thanks to the time change. I slept with the light on & set about seven alarms to make sure I'd get up at the right time. When all was said & done, I got a full, one-hour of sleep. One. I was secretly hoping I would be assigned to the ticket counter, as I was positive that my brain was not functioning well enough to man the gates. Lo & behold, my first official day back after two weeks off & after having one slept for one hour, I was assigned to Gate 3. I saw the station assignment, shrugged my shoulders, & took a deep breath, vowing that I would try my best despite the fatigue I was fighting.
Functioning on one hour of sleep is not something I would recommend or endorse. Simple tasks were confusing & simple questions were difficult to answer. Just five hours, Megan. You can be back in bed in just five more hours. My first flight ended up pushing back one minute late -- one. One minute late because I was waiting on one passenger to board, & I waited one minute too long. I had to fill out paperwork to explain why the flight went out 60 seconds too late, & the COS station took a hit for it. Guys, I felt terrible. Still feel bad about it -- because, had I gotten enough sleep the night before, I know that flight would've gotten out just fine.
I beat myself up for the duration of the second flight, & then resolved that I had to do better for my third & final flight of the shift. Spoiler alert: it didn't go much better than the first. The flight was oversold by one passenger, so I began soliciting for volunteers. Within a few minutes, I had a gentleman who was willing to take a later flight (bless you) in exchange for a travel voucher. The boarding process began & everything was going well. Mary assisted at the gate with loading passengers & valet-checking the oversized roller bags. I had a passenger traveling with an infant & a service animal, which is not unordinary, but for the type of aircraft they were flying on, their seat assignment needed to be rearranged to ensure an infant oxygen mask would be accessible to them. The Flight Attendant took over & re-seated them accordingly -- the error being that the infant was just under two, & the customer had purchased a seat for the infant, most likely so she would have ample space for her service animal, infant, & herself. When they were rearranged, the Flight Attendant thought the infant was a lap-infant, in which case she turned the passenger's two seats into one. When Mary gave me the final passenger count, I had one available seat -- which meant that my volunteer could remain on his original itinerary. BUT, Mary & I were both unaware that the Flight Attendant had condensed the mother's two seats into one seat, meaning that my volunteer should not have been placed on the aircraft & should have been entitled to take the later flight in exchange for the voucher. Meaning that the mother with an infant & service animal was given half of the space she was entitled to. She was given a refund, & thankfully the flight was only a sixteen minute haul to Denver. But I still feel terrible about it.
When the shift was over, I went to Ops to sign the paperwork for my late flight & to tell my Supervisor about the mishandled customer on the last flight. I could barely speak before I broke down into tears (I blame my lack of sleep). So embarrassing, I hate crying, but the tears were like a typhoon, they were unstoppable! Sunday made me want to quit my job -- legit -- I was so stressed & exhausted, this is hands down the most stressful job I have ever had. If the flight benefits weren't given, there would be no airports... because there would be no one to work at them!
THURSDAY, March 16, 2017
Thank the *LORD*, I was assigned to the ticket counter. After the day I had on Sunday, the last place I wanted to be was at the gates. I had closed at the restaurant the night before again, so I only got three hours of sleep Wednesday night. The gates weren't a place for me to be on this day, obviously, after the pandemonium I caused on Sunday.
The ticket counter for all passengers opens at 4:30 A.M. & there is always a line of people, completely stressed out about making their flights on time -- even though they have well over one hour to get through security, & even though they are literally the first passengers in line in the entire airport. On Thursday, I felt a bit like I was preparing for battle. I could practically hear the swords clamoring as I turned the corner & made my way to the ticket counter. People can be so unruly at 4:30 A.M.! Think Titanic, when the ship starts sinking & they're piling the passengers into the lifeboats. Manic people. Everywhere. But I represent a company that isn't mine, so I smile. A lot. And I calmly tell people that I will be with them in one moment. Yes, even you, man who interrupted me (twice) while I was assisting the passenger ahead of you in line. Smile. And yes, even you, woman who arrived fifteen minutes before your flight departed, who yelled eleven expletives in a two-second span of time, & who was enraged at me because you arrived late. Smile.
FRIDAY, March 17, 2017
Happy St. Patrick's Day! I was at the gates again, but I got a solid three hours of sleep the night before... what a goldmine. The luck of the Irish was clearly working in my favor.
First flight of the day at the gates, I was preparing passengers for gate-checked bags, making announcements, & ensuring the boarding would be smooth like butter (aww, that's always such a cute thought, Megan). Anyway, I get the crew on board so they can also begin their preparations for the flight. If there is one thing I can't stand -- it's Flight Attendants who lack a sense of urgency. I adore our crew members, I promise, but this particular morning, the FA's didn't seem to care at all about the job that we, as a team, were there to accomplish. Now, prior to boarding on any flight, I always check with the crew to make sure they're ready for passengers. I walk myself down the jet bridge, board the aircraft, greet the pilots, & connect with the FA's to confirm the boarding time.
Friday morning when I boarded the aircraft to make sure they were ready to board, the FA's were sitting & chatting -- not uncommon, so I assumed they had completed their pre-boarding tasks. I said good morning & asked if two minutes would be sufficient time to start boarding. This FA (who appears to always be displeased any time I have ever worked with her) said she would need more time because she wasn't ready. I was even "hushed" when I tried to interrupt her seemingly "important" conversation with the crew (read: not important, just was chatter about nonsense). I'm sure my face read exactly what I was thinking. Those of you who know me personally can probably imagine the facial expression I was making at that moment. I reminded the FA of the boarding compliance procedures that were in place, you know, the procedures which I am literally paid to enforce, & told her I would give her five minutes to complete the tasks that she could have accomplished had she not been barking about nonessential information. P.S. The flight still departed on time, so, I wasn't as fired up about it in the end.
On the next flight, I had a Standby Flight Attendant who was flying to her next job assignment & who was also ultra chatty. I loooooove small talk & chatter, ask anyone, but I try to refrain from being chatty at the gates because boarding, departures, etc., are all incredibly time sensitive. Having just recovered from the lack of urgency among the last FA, my patience was already sort of thin. The Standby FA began engaging me in her stories & photographs from a recent Thailand trip she took. As she was explaining where she stayed, what she did, & how incredible the whole experience was, I was only half-listening -- I was too busy swirling around in my own head about the prep I still needed to do for my next flight. I smiled & showed her my best I'm-only-half-paying-attention-because-I-don't-have-time-to-listen-to-this-thirty-minute-story expression. She eventually got the hint & took a seat in the boarding area. Note to self: look up Chiang Mai, because her trip sounded fantastic... from what little I actually heard about it.
Shortly after 6:00 A.M. a man approached me at the podium to ask a question about his flight. To be honest, I don't even remember what his question was, I just remember that he smelled like Fritos. My eating & sleeping schedule has never been more bizarre, & all I craved the rest of the morning was a bag of Fritos, all to myself that I wouldn't have to share with anyone. But, airport snacks are expensive even with my discount, so I resisted the urge to spend one hour of wages on said bag of Fritos, despite the constant grumbling protest from my stomach
My last flight of the morning, which tends to be a glowing beacon of hope, was going according to plan. I had a few revenue passengers who were trying to Standby, as their original flight that departed one hour after mine was oversold. FYI: In the event that a flight is oversold, passengers can standby for an earlier flight without having to pay the $75 rebooking fee, as it helps the passenger get to their destination sooner and solves the oversold flight problem (one of many airline grey areas, there is always some random exception to just about every rule). I had three minutes until I had to close the boarding & seal the gate door, & I was still waiting on three passengers. Those two passengers on Standby were looking incredibly hopeful, their eyes were practically glimmering as we watched the clock together. The flight was checked-in full, so as long as two passengers didn't show up, they would have a seat.
One passenger approached the podium & asked if the remaining members of her party were on board -- I checked, & the other members of her party (her husband & son) were not on board yet. She shrugged, breathing heavy from practically jogging through the terminal, & pressed a speed-dial button on her iPhone. She urged them to "hurry up, the door is closing, they're waiting on you!" I glanced around the terminal, no sight of passengers in a hurry. I smiled & reminded the woman that they had about one minute to be at the gate. I certainly wasn't trying to make her feel more stressed, but I did have a duty to keep her informed. Just in time, her husband & son arrived -- at which point, the light in my two Standby passengers' eyes went dull as they realized they wouldn't be able to get out earlier for free. Remember my giant rant about how certain crew members lack a sense of urgency while on the job? Passengers are the exact same way. The husband & son were not even walking fast to the gate, they meandered slowly as if it was a Sunday in the park, sun shining & ducks quacking... meanwhile my heart-rate was in the fat-burn zone because they were about to be denied boarding had they been any later for the flight. The husband was chuckling about the whole ordeal, so I boarded his family while keeping my comments to myself & I bid them a safe flight.
SATURDAY, March 18, 2017
The gates were quickly becoming like second-nature to me by Saturday morning. I worked late at the restaurant Friday night, so of course I showed up to work on another measly three hours of sleep. YOLO. Three things in particular I want to share with you about Saturday's events.
Number one: there was a passenger whose last name included "Bacon"... & much like the Frito-smelling-passenger from Friday, I then craved bacon for the duration of my shift.
Number two: I had a passenger proclaim to the entire gate area, in an anything-but-quiet-fashion, about how rough her St. Patrick's Day was... I directed her to the gift shop for a Gatorade.
Number three: I spoke with a Flight Attendant who would be working onboard for the first time post-training. I was so excited for her & so proud of her. The training process to be an FA is brutal -- mainline is a six week intensive program, while regional is a 30-day intensive program. We talked about how I've been throwing around the idea of being an FA, but how I wasn't sure the timing was right. We spoke for a good fifteen minutes, & she was incredibly real & honest about how intense the training was & how stressful things can be working in the sky. I really hope she flies back through Springs again, she was a delight to speak with & I would love to hear how her first flight went. I also have a list of questions that I would love to rack her brain about.
If nothing else, she at least started the conversation & enhanced what I already knew about the careers of FA's. I am still extremely interested in pursuing that route eventually, but for now, my schedule between both jobs has lined up so perfectly. I have a regular schedule each week, while FA's spend 5 days each week being "on-call", never knowing when they might be called to work a flight, let alone if the flight will even be departing from their home base. Of course I'm intrigued by the whole prospect, & one day I will get there... but for now, everything is working out too well at COS as a Ticketing & Gate Agent. So I'm going to ride this wave for a bit longer, abiding by the If it ain't broke, don't fix it philosophy.
If there was anything that this week taught me, it was this:
1. Sleep is very important for my sanity. And functionality.
2. I need to start packing extra snacks or eating a bigger breakfast, because I now know there are passengers who smell like Fritos, or who remind me of Bacon.
3. If flight benefits weren't a thing, me as a Ticketing & Gate Agent wouldn't be a thing either.
4. I love my job... Even when I'm exhausted, stressed, & crying about it. At the end of the day, I am insurmountably blessed by the entire experience. I am being shaped personally & professionally while on the job, & being stretched beyond my comfort zones while traveling off the job.
All I ever wanted was an opportunity to get paid to travel, take photographs, & write... & this job, technically, fulfills each of those desires. So bring on the tears & loss of sanity. In the end, the stress & lack of sleep are well worth the experiences that are awaiting me in the wings of the aircrafts that I service... & of the aircrafts that will carry me across the globe.
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.