This week's edition of Terminal Tales is proudly brought to you by all of the complimentary little germs that I inherited from the general public. I'm writing from the comfort of my bed, where I just woke up from a four-hour nap after completing an eight-hour work day that began at 4:15 this morning. What can I say, the biz isn't always glamorous. That's a fact.
After spending two weeks working the gates, we were given a day working back at the ticket counter. Greeting passengers, tagging bags, & checking ID's was a welcome change for me, I needed the change of pace for the sanity of my brain. We were getting ready to close down the counter & head home for the night, literally had 60 seconds left, when two passengers approached & stated they had just landed, but needed to return home for a family emergency involving their youngest adult son. The mother was visibly shaken up, tearing up as we were discussing her return flight options. She stepped back to speak to her husband while I waited for them to make a decision. A few minutes went by, & then a few more, so I checked in with them, learning that the older son would be able to take care of their younger son until they could return home. After an hour & a half, I met up with them again to see if they had made a decision -- they still weren't certain what to do, but they did appear much more calm & collected at this point.
We had a quick conversation about Jesus & addictions... seemingly opposite topics... but anyone who knows me & my background knows that our meeting wasn't by chance. We understood each other after that moment, as they were also believers. I told them that the counter had previously closed, but if they needed more time, they could contact rebooking via the 800-number anytime or visit the counter when it reopened at 4:30 the next morning. They were incredibly gracious & understanding, perhaps because they knew they weren't going to make a decision that evening & they didn't want to hold me up. I wished them well & we parted ways.
The next afternoon, after closing out a flight at the gates, I got a call that I was requested at the ticket counter for two passengers who needed assistance rebooking due to a family emergency -- this sounded pretty familiar, like a dose of deja-vu, & I knew exactly which passengers Cindy was referring to. When I got to the counter, I noticed those two familiar faces that were waiting for me & I greeted them both with a smile. I got a little teary-eyed when the wife pointed to a basket of tulips on the ticket counter. She said, "These are for you. Thank you for everything." Wait, what? I didn't really feel like anything I had done was that significant -- all I did was give them options the night before. The gift was so genuine, thoughtful, & kind. I think our common ground of Jesus & addictions had more to do with it than the customer service side of things -- in fact, I'm absolutely positive about that -- & their gesture will never be forgotten. Sometimes, angels are all around us as regular, everyday people who play the hands & feet of Jesus. In the end, I was able to rebook both of them to be home with their son, & I hugged them goodbye. (For my prayer warriors out there, say a prayer for their son, T, who is struggling through his addiction.)
The feel-good moment from assisting those passengers was the highlight of my week, as just the day prior, I had coped with the stress of the job by eating an entire bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. Andrea helped, but I'm fairly certain I shoveled in 75% of the bag on my own as I vegged on the couch to HBO movies. The vegging was well-deserved, trust me. Here are just a few highlights from the passengers this week:
1. The passenger who was "deathly allergic to dogs." Hey, guys, this actually is an important topic because not many people know. Dogs can fly in-cabin if they are emotional support animals or service animals, or passengers can pay a fee to have their "regular" animal brought in-cabin. I allowed a passenger to pre-board with her service animal & gave her ample time to get comfortable onboard the aircraft. When I continued the boarding process, a woman approached for boarding & stated that she was, "Deathly allergic to dogs & that dog should not be allowed in-cabin," complete with a smirk. I replied with a smile, explaining that the animal was a registered service animal & that I could not remove the animal from the aircraft. I could, however, rebook her for another flight without an animal on board if that would make her more comfortable. Suddenly, she was magically healed & no longer allergic to dogs, because she proceeded to board the aircraft. She even survived the flight. Amen.
2. The passengers who left behind practically every item they own. This is an airport... Not the trunk of your car. Not your closet. Not your filthy bedroom. I should start a book club based solely on the books left onboard aircrafts. Or donate all of the backpacks, jackets, & phones that get left behind. People leave their laptops at TSA checkpoints all the time. It's insane to me! How do you get off an airplane without your backpack that is holding all of your belongings? Please don't come to me in a panic & demand my assistance when you left your stuff behind. Pretty sure this is the third time I've made mention of passengers forgetting their belongings on planes or in gate areas, so please, guys, just remember your stuff. Okay. Moving on.
3. The passenger who didn't listen to any boarding announcements. When we make a final boarding announcement, we mean it. Final boarding means final boarding. We have a record of every person who purchases a ticket & every person who checks in. These records are organized into their specific flight numbers & gates in our booking program, which is synced with the Gate Reader that reads your boarding pass. Joni was manning the gate, scanning boarding passes & making announcements for each group number to board for a quick-turn flight on Thursday. Guess what else she did? She made a final boarding announcement... twice! One remaining passenger had checked in, but had failed to board, so as a courtesy, Joni made a terminal-wide & gate-area announcement. We looked around, as no one in the boarding area moved, & no passenger came running down the terminal waving her arms frantically to hold the plane. So, Joni prepared to close the flight. As she was making her way down the jet bridge to turn in the final flight paperwork, a passenger approached me at the podium & asked where the nearest trashcan was, so I pointed while giving verbal directions to her. She found the trashcan... and then came back up to me with a boarding pass. Apparently, she was our "missing" passenger. I kid you not, she was seated right next to the podium the entire time announcements were being made. The entire time. THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS! She said, "I'm sorry, I had to finish something." She did not appear even mildly concerned, she had no sense of urgency at all, it was like she had no idea that she was the last passenger for this aircraft. I called down the jet bridge via radio to see if we still had time to board her on the plane -- she got lucky, as the final passengers were filtering in the plane & we hadn't pulled the bridge back yet. This woman almost missed her flight. Legit, if she had spent ten more seconds making her way to that trashcan, she would have missed the flight. She proceeded to slowly meander her way down the jet bridge. I really had to refrain from pushing her down, as I'm sure it would have been a much faster descent. Airplanes are like cruiseships... if you aren't on time, you will get left behind. And we won't lose sleep over it.
4. The passengers who wore headphones. Beware of your headphones in airports. I understand, trust me, that you really want to drown out that crying baby, or that wife who is nagging her husband about how many pairs of socks he didn't pack. You're in the boarding area for an hour, meanwhile I practically live here, so I understand the struggle. Please don't blame your headphones for your inability to listen to the gate announcements. None of us particularly enjoy the sound of our own voices on a microphone, but we are making these announcements as a convenience to you. Every week, there is at least one passenger who blames us for not making an announcement -- despite the fact that we did make one. Usually, they weren't listening to us, they were listening to their music. Guys, gate numbers change, please listen so you don't miss your next flight. This actually happens, I swear. My advice is to have one earbud in at a time, or wear your old-school headphones lopsided so one ear is always exposed. Or have your music down low enough that you can hear when we start an announcement, & remove your earbuds at that time. Not exactly rocket science.
5. The passenger who left his bag unattended. The airport police will confiscate unattended bags. Thanks, 9/11. I had a passenger Friday morning who asked me what time boarding began for the Denver flight, which was in about twenty minutes. He said thank you & walked away, but he had left his bag. I didn't immediately notice, but once I did, I looked around the gate area for the passenger. At this time, my supervisor stopped by & I told her about the bag, so she contacted the airport police, who inspected the bag for identification. We paged this passenger once we learned his name, but he never showed up. (He must've been wearing headphones). We proceeded with boarding the Denver flight, for which we had one missing passenger, who just happened to be the same passenger that had left his bag behind. We paged him again, but still, nothing. (He must've still been wearing his headphones). So I closed the flight & prepared for my next outbound. Two. Hours. Later. The man we had been paging approached me & said that he missed his flight & couldn't find his bag. The lessons here are: don't leave your bag unattended, don't wear headphones, don't lose track of time, & don't leave the gate area if your flight is preparing to board.
6. The passenger who wanted me to retrieve her already checked bag so she wouldn't have to throw away her $4 aerosol can of Tres Emme at security. This one doesn't require much explanation. Her flight was departing in forty minutes, & retrieving her bag would take at least a solid twenty, then she would have to go back through security. I told her throwing the can away would likely be in her best interest, as there was a very good possibility she would miss her flight... all over a $4 can of Tres Emme. She seemed slightly distraught about having to throw away the can, which still leaves me feeling slightly baffled.
Maybe now you understand why those mid-week tulips definitely put a pep in my step & reminded me of all the reasons why this job is so fulfilling. No matter how difficult a day may be at the gate or the counter, I know that I am in the right place... The funny stories are just an added bonus. To belong, to feel a sense of purpose to your work, & to impact others with the simple gesture of smiling & telling them to have a wonderful flight are some of the greatest feelings. Even when I'm sick. Even when my workday starts at 4:15 in the morning. And even when I cope with Cool Ranch Doritos.
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.