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 attempts to make gate announcements sound less boring & more engaging, fog that wrecked just about everyone's morning, I finally applied my two-phrase-knowledge of Spanish, & the world's greatest smelling puppy.
My week began at Gate 5 -- which, if you've read Terminal Tales Week Two, you may recall that Gate 5 is cursed. Not a good way to start out on my Monday. I hadn't really been back to Gate 5 since helping Jesse as a Floater last week, which was fine by me, because (again) Gate 5 is cursed.
Typically, I work at Gate 3 or 7, where the passengers are seated to the right-hand side of the podium. The computer monitor is on the right hand side as well, which serves a bit like a security blanket when making gate announcements, like an actual podium does when you're giving a speech in a classroom full of strangers. At Gate 5, however, the passengers are seated to the left-hand side of the podium, sans the computer-monitor-security-blanket. Everything felt completely backwards. Even though the podiums are all designed & setup the exact same way, having the passengers immediately to my left was slightly unnerving, especially when I began making my gate announcements. I like looking at the passengers while I'm making my announcements -- I want them to feel comfortable while they wait, confident about my ability to do my job, & to know that I'm approachable if they have questions. I like to add silly stuff to my announcements too. I always inform passengers that, "While we wait to begin boarding, I would like to entertain you all with our carry-on baggage policy. I know, it's very exciting, try to contain your joy." People traveling want to be treated as such -- as people. And it starts from the moment they walk in the airport doors. I try to make people laugh & relax, finding the balance of being playful while still maintaining a professional demeanor.
My second flight of the day was a Los Angeles departure. Morning flights to LA tend to get delayed due to flow in LA, which comes as no surprise because the airport was ranked the nation's second busiest airport in 2015. I always hold my breath leading up to Los Angeles departures... & considering that I was at the cursed Gate 5, I was practically purple as the departure time approached. But, the crew came on board. And then the passengers. And then I pulled back the jet bridge. SUCCESS!
... Negative. I stood & watched the aircraft from the comfort of the terminal, curious why the cabin door was still open. It's Los Angeles, something is bound to go wrong. It's Gate 5, something is bound to go wrong. Another passenger in the boarding area approached me & asked if something was wrong with the aircraft -- honestly, her guess was as good as mine. I answered how I usually answer passenger questions when I don't have all of the information to give an accurate answer. "Well, as of right now, the flight is still scheduled to depart on-time." As a Gate Agent, we are empowered to keep passengers informed, but that doesn't mean that we get to speculate on what could or could not be wrong with an aircraft. We are permitted to give out accurate information that we know for sure -- no assumptions allowed. If a flight is delayed, trust me, I want you to know! I won't hide in the stairwell & wait for you to figure it out. I will inform you of the delay & its cause, our new boarding time, instructions for rebooking, & apologize at least twice for the inconvenience. The good news is that the Los Angeles flight ended up flying out like normal. The Captain ended up having to perform a manual manifest, as the onboard system wasn't working properly, to calculate weight totals for passengers & bags to ensure the aircraft was within the FAA weight & balance compliances before departure.
What the fog?!
Yay Rockies Front Range weather problems... wind, fog, sleet, rain, you name it, & it typically occurs all at the same time. We experienced all of that "fun" stuff on Friday. I work for a regional airline, which means that we have teeny tiny aircraft, with no plane exceeding a 76 passenger capacity. That means when the weather gets sketchy, our planes sometimes can't take off without incident -- so while other airline carriers are taking off seamlessly in their giant, beautiful aircrafts, our planes are just too small. What can I say, size matters. We took quite a few delays, & since I was the Floater, I quickly met (and exceeded) my FitBit steps goal. I started my morning at the ticket counter to assist in rebooking passengers as necessary.
Software & technology aren't foolproof, right? I had two separate passengers at two different times that morning who needed to be rebooked due to a misconnection as a result of our delays. When I went to "sync" the tickets (i.e. tell the computer that I wanted to keep the new flights in exchange for the old flights), the computer got angry & refused to comply. I tried syncing these tickets twice, still with no luck, so I had to call upon my Help Desk Angels to save the day. I got through to Rich for my first passenger, & to the same Rich for my second passenger. I have to tell you, Rich was a rockstar. He was pleasant, professional, & you could hear his smile through the receiver. He made my morning practically magic. I know he will probably never read this, but the internet is a pretty amazing place. SO, if you're reading this, thank you, Rich, for taking *two* calls from Megan in COS Friday morning. You alleviated stress for me, but more importantly, you relieved stress for our passengers -- thank you.
I imagined life gate-side was probably getting quite hectic with the delays, so once the Ticket Counter was caught up, I made a b-line for the gates. I walked through the sterile area, through Ops, up the stairs, scanned my badge, & turned the corner. I entered the boarding area that now looked like a carnival -- long lines & one ringleader. Rather than hop directly onto the center-podium to begin rebooking, I wanted to pow-wow with the other agents to make sure I was being utilized in the highest-priority task in that moment. We decided that I could start rebooking passengers at the center-podium, & then, when Joyce needed her jet bridge pulled up to Gate 3, I would pull up the jet bridge. I had barely rebooked one person when the crew had arrived at Gate 3 & the bridge needed to be pulled up. I looked at the passenger I was assisting & sincerely apologized, telling him that I was going to run to assist at that gate & then promptly run back to assist him.
And I did. I literally ran through the terminal, ran down the bridge, pulled up said bridge, & ran back up said bridge. When I was exiting the bridge preparing for my jog back through the terminal, that one passenger I was in the middle of assisting was standing there -- so I took him to the center podium at Gate 3 to finish his rebooking. Now, when you get behind a podium during irregular operations (IRROPS), passengers will flock to you as if they are ducks & you are fresh bread. And boy, are they hungry. A line of three passengers formed within five seconds.
You have probably heard stories from friends & family who have gotten hotels, meals, and/or travel vouchers when they are inconvenienced during travel. What a passenger is entitled to receive depends entirely on what transpired leading up to the event that caused the inconvenience. In the case of those passengers flying to Houston on Friday morning, the flight was delayed due to maintenance. Maintenance is a factor that is within an airline's control to remedy -- our plane should have been ready to fly, so we will reaccommodate accordingly with hotel & meal vouchers if necessary. Weather, however, is not within our control, but we will provide you with a discounted hotel fare if an overnight stay is required. Make sense?
The passenger I was in the middle of assisting who found me at Gate 3 had to stay overnight in Colorado Springs, as his only flight option with us or with another airline entirely, wasn't possible until the next day. I processed his new itinerary & vouchers for his hotel & meals, & took the next passenger in line, trying to move through them swiftly (but still sincerely) so I could return to Gate 5.
The next passenger was a woman traveling to Nashville for a girl's weekend with her daughters. She said they had never been to Nashville before, but it was a good meeting spot since the girls were all flying in from different ends of the country. Even I was excited about the trip & I wasn't even going. She was making a connection through our flight to Houston, which was originally a three-hour-delay quote, so I advised her of alternate connection times through Houston, as well as her other options for departing from Colorado Springs. She looked extremely worried, but I knew we could get her to Nashville. She decided on a reroute that had her in Nashville by 5:30 P.M., which was a mostly ideal resolution. For passengers, rebooking feels like gambling. For agents, rebooking feels almost like stealing -- when delays & cancellations happen, albeit for safety, something gets taken from a passenger that money can't buy. Time. And that is valuable time with family & time with friends that can't be bought.
I had another passenger later that morning from the Houston flight who I rebooked through American because that was the only option. Yes, she was getting to Charleston the same day, but... she would miss her friend's bachelorette party. As a Gate Agent, I don't forget these passengers. People can yell, swear, or throw things at me -- that's fine. Yell at me all day long if you want, I'll go home & sleep just fine. But when you miss those important life events like bachelorette parties, weddings, funerals, or graduations, you are the people I remember & think about when I go to sleep. You are the people I will wake up the next morning thinking about, wondering if you arrived safely & on-time.
The last of those three ducklings who wanted my bread had been rebooked through the Help Desk (praise hands), but she needed her bags to be rerouted for the new itinerary. I love when passengers utilize the 800-number, because they can typically be rebooked within five minutes or less. If they checked a bag, all they need to do is let us know that they have a new itinerary, & we will print a new bag tag. Gate Agents will personally take the new bag tag to the ramp or bag room if necessary, to ensure that your bag travels & arrives with you. Every single person in uniform, above wing or below wing, works really hard to make this happen.
Your bags are important -- you can single out your black bag among every other black bag on the luggage cart as you watch from the terminal windows. You're watching, & we know that you are watching. What you see is your bag on a heap of other bags, but what I see are the faces of the passengers I spoke to when I tagged those bags. I know where you're traveling & why you're traveling there. We do take great care, & great pride, in caring for those bags. We try our best to make sure your bag gets to the final destination with you, because we know how important it is.
When I made it back to Gate 5, another agent had come upstairs to assist the line of passengers that were waiting for me back at the podium -- thank God. She had all of them reaccommodated, so I posted up behind the other podium to make myself available to passengers with questions so Eliot could continue to board his on-time departures without interruption. I had a passenger who was reaccommodated on American via the Help Desk, but he needed his bag to be transferred. His new flight on American was beginning to board, so I knew that time was of the essence. I told him I would personally make sure that his bag made it on the flight & urged him not to worry. I ran downstairs to coordinate with the rampers which bag needed to be moved to American, then ran back upstairs to American's Gate 8, where there happened to be a Ramp Agent. He said that he hadn't seen that bag come down yet, so I checked my watch & asked him how long we had to get the bag on the plane before it was sealed. We set up a plan to communicate, should the bag not make it down within the next five minutes. My name isn't at stake in these instances -- it's the airline that I work for, so I will bust my butt to make sure they are well represented, both to our customers & to the customers on other airlines. After some sweat & stress, I'm happy to report that this passenger's bag did make it on the aircraft.
At the meeting on Saturday morning, we were told that a group of 20 international passengers would be flying with us. Being that this is a military town, the groups are typically military men & women, & it's a fairly common occurrence. The group on Saturday morning was actually a group of security officers from El Salvador who came to Colorado Springs for training, which I thought that was pretty unique & awesome. Many of them didn't speak English, & many of them had never been to the United States prior to this trip. They did have translators traveling with them, but I wanted to be able to communicate with them with as little assistance from the translators as possible. I know just a hint of Spanish, thanks to Mary Lou teaching me phrases in the dish-pit at my restaurant job, so I told each of them, "Buenos dias!" when they stepped up to the counter, and, "Muchos gracias!" when I handed them their boarding passes & baggage claim tickets. When I wanted answers to deeper questions, like, "How was your visit in America?" and, "Did you like the snow?" (none of them had ever seen snow!!!), I put the translators to good use. Those passengers were the highlight of my day. People are amazing. We just have to take the time to engage with them.
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.