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. I spent the last week of April in Denver for (more) training, so rather than bore you with the details of the classroom, we will be jumping ahead into the week of May 1 - May 8. In this week's edition: when the goodwill of strangers makes your morning, why I would really like to have an extra set of arms, & when repeat-passengers remember you.
You know the drill, guys. Gate 5 is always bound to have something go awry, & this particular day was no exception. I looked at our Flow sheet before the morning meeting to see that I would only have two flights to work, as the first Houston departure was cancelled due to weather in Houston. Our computer system automatically rebooked passengers, which was good news for our Ticket Counter crew because they wouldn't have to rebook those 76 passengers.
Once I got to Gate 5, I looked at the boarding totals to check for oversales due to the cancelled flight. Everything looked good, so I was feeling good. The instant I felt confident about the day, I knew I was in for it. The first outbound flight was delayed for crew -- the easiest way to explain this is for you to think about semi-truck drivers. By law, they can only travel for X-amount of hours per day after X-amount of hours of rest. For Pilots & Flight Attendants, they also have mandated travel hours & rest hours, so if they are working a flight that gets in late, they have a minimum number of rest hours before they can legally work another flight. "Why don't you just call us in a brand new crew?" Because crew members who are on-call can legally have two hours to arrive at the airport for their flight duty. Typically, it's faster to let the original crew meet their minimum rest hours in exchange for a delayed flight.
So I made the crew delay announcement & began rebooking passengers. Remember, quite a few of these passengers were "rolled over" from the cancelled Houston flight, so they were less-than-pleased that they were now on a delayed departure. I would honestly rather have a mechanical delay or cancellation than a weather delay or cancellation -- the weather is always unpredictable & this offers zero to minimal compensation for the inconvenience of being rebooked, whereas a mechanical delay is considered "controllable" & therefore maximum compensation can be offered. (For example, we can't pay for a passenger's cab to Denver if the delay is due to weather, but we can if it's for a mechanical delay & the passenger has no other option). I was supposed to be off at 9 A.M., but I stayed an extra couple hours to help out. The extra hands were needed, but as a general rule, I don't like to leave on time when the passengers I work with are unable to leave on time due to a delay or cancellation... I like to stay with them & see their flight through.
As I was rebooking passengers, a sweet older woman that I had helped about six passengers ago approached the podium from the side. She was holding a fresh coffee, cream, & sugar. "You've been here as long as I have, & you've been working with all of us. I thought you could use this," she said. After she placed the coffee next to me, I took a five second break to give her a hug & tell her thank you. Wow. She had such a remarkable kindness that I will never forget. For every passive, aggressive, or rude passenger, there will always be one (or more) kind one in their place. By the time I was able to actually consume the coffee, it was room temperature, but that actually made it easier to inhale -- & I chugged every last drop.
I was assigned to the Ticket Counter on Friday morning, which I didn't mind, because yesterday had been so hectic at the gates. Plot twist: the ticket counter was insane on Friday morning, as two of the four people who had been scheduled were now out on medical leave. Yikes! Gia was the Gate Floater, so she came back from the gates at one point during the morning to help me out. Susie had not one, not two, but three pets to check-in with PetSafe, which requires about 40 minutes of paperwork, confirming the kennel meets shipping requirements, confirming veterinary details, etc. PetSafe check-ins require an agents full & undivided attention, so I knew I'd likely be on my own. When Gia was needed back at the gate, I was up there to fend for myself, by myself. Leni was able to assist when he had time between his Supervisor duties, which was extremely helpful.
Tagging bags & checking ID's doesn't sound hectic, I know. But when there are a couple hundred passengers using ten computer kiosks with only one person to tag their bags -- yes, it is hectic. And it seems that every passenger always need you at the exact same time. The kiosks can be a fantastic tool, but sometimes they actually take longer. This is a military town, so overriding baggage fees for active duty military members requires that I come to the kiosk, type in a pin, confirm that they are actually in the military, then confirm whether they are traveling on personal travel or orders, then confirm that they are within baggage weight compliances... & then I can tag their bags.
I felt like I was swimming upstream, with a current that was strong enough to keep me from making any ground. I could sense that passengers were frustrated -- I get it, trust me -- but I also needed their understanding that I was one person working against a crowd of 15 - 25 people at a time. This is just one of many reasons why we advise that you arrive to the airport early. We can't predict if lines will be long or if an agent will be out sick. Life is full of unpredictable variables, so do yourself (and us) a favor by arriving early.
I survived the morning, with a lot of smiling, thanking passengers for their patience & apologizing for the inconvenience of not having octopus arms.
Believe it or not, Saturdays tend to be the slowest day of the entire week, which is basically the opposite of every other industry for a Saturday. I was a Floater at the gates, which meant that I was an extra set of hands to assist in boarding flights, rebooking passengers when necessary, helping with security checks, etc. Word of the day for this particular Saturday was DELAYS.
Los Angeles was delayed due to their runway construction -- which could happen throughout the entire summer (ugh). One of the Denver flights had to return to the gate & be re-blocked for a maintenance issue. Another Denver flight was delayed for one hour due to maintenance (the paperwork took longer to complete than the actual mechanical issue, which had something to do with a beverage cart?). And guess what? All three of these delays happened at the exact. Same. Time.
Running shoes? Check. Smile? Check. Sincere apologies? Check.
Each of the gates have a Diversion Cart, which is like a miniature tool chest full of complimentary snacks, candies, & beverages for the passengers of delayed flights. Free food works wonders in improving passengers's moods.
My first passenger to rebook looked a little shaken up, so I asked how I could assist her. She was flying to San Jose, California for a funeral that evening at 5:00 P.M. As she was saying this, she began to cry -- which got me teary-eyed (because I'm a co-cryer). I didn't have any tissues at my podium, so I told her she could go to the restroom, take her time, & I would hold her place in line (at this time, the second DEN delay hadn't been announced, so passengers were slowly trickling over). The only option to get her in before the funeral was a 4:05 P.M. arrival into San Jose on Delta. We are highly discouraged from rebooking on Delta, because they send us & any other airline additional charges for using their seats during rebooking. It is extremely irritating, especially because none of these other airlines charge them a fee when they rebook with us. I digress. So, I was sure to note the passenger's record about the circumstances, to explain why I had to rebook on Delta -- because this woman was not going to miss a funeral due to our maintenance delay. No. Freaking. Way.
When rebooking passengers, we always have to ask if they checked a bag. For security reasons, passengers must travel with their bags -- which makes perfect sense. But, sometimes passengers lie to us (we see your itinerary & record, I don't know why they even try to stretch the truth) in hopes of getting to their final destination faster. If a passenger checked a bag & we end up rerouting them due to a delay or cancellation, we have to re-tag their bags appropriately to match their new itinerary. Make sense? I had a passenger that I rerouted through Tampa, which required a re-issuance of her bag tag. Now, normally, I can change my "preferred printer" to the printer downstairs in Operations, so the Ramp Agents can handle all of the retagging. But, because there must have been a full moon the night before or something, my computer wouldn't sync to the printer downstairs. WHY! So I printed her new bag tag & literally ran this thing downstairs & across the ramp. I told the next passenger in line that I would be right back to assist, & took off running. If you happened to be seated in the Gate Area that day, admiring the view of Pike's Peak, I hope you enjoyed the extra show of me sprinting across the ramp with white & orange bag-tags that looked like streamers dangling from my hands.
I ran back to the stairwell, ran up the stairs, & walked briskly to the podium while I tried to inhale enough oxygen so I could speak to the next passenger who was patiently waiting for me. I continued about my business of rebooking passengers, & the line finally got to a manageable length. I could almost taste the freedom, when I heard over the radio that our new aircraft for that second Denver departure was on its way from the hangar (praise hands). But, a security check would still have to be completed before we could board (lower praise hands). Awaiting aircraft coming from the hangar does take a few minutes, so I continued rebooking passengers until the call came over the radio that the plane was parked at the gate. Timing was almost perfect, as I had just completed rebooking one passenger. Even though the line was still long, I had to get downstairs to complete the security check -- the sooner it was complete, the sooner the flight could hit the skies. Anyone left who needed to rebook for a later connection would have to do so in Denver. The good news is that Denver has Customer Service desks every gate-break, fully staffed with 3-5 agents... so honestly, it would be quicker for them to rebook in Denver.
The next person in my line was an older woman who was quite sassy, but not in a flattering/adorable way. More like an, "I'm used to getting my way" way. Before I could even explain that I was going downstairs to the aircraft, she was yelling at me. "I've been waiting in line all this time, & now you're leaving? This is ridiculous. Why aren't there more of you here to work?" Well, we are actually fully staffed-- "Couldn't you call people in?!" Yes, we could, but they all live 30+ minutes away, so by the time they arrived here, you would already be in the air on this flight -- which, by the way, I need to go prepare for you so you can leave ASAP & not be delayed further. "So I can't be rebooked now, I'll have to wait until I arrive in Denver?!" That's exactly what I'm saying. The option is miss this flight so we can rebook you from here. Or you can take this flight & they can rebook you from Denver, which has Customer Service desks in the gate area. She complained more, but honestly I didn't have time to explain or argue with her any further. I finished my sentence & turned away before her complaints delayed the flight any further. The kicker to all of this is that she could still make her original connection -- this delay did not even affect her -- if we could get this plane turned & out of the gate! I told her this as I ran (again, literally) to the bridge. Fun fact: the Flight Attendant on her flight said that this same passenger had asked if she would rebook her for a later flight. Umm, no, she is a Flight Attendant. Aaaand, oh yeah, you're going to make your original connection.
Every other passenger was really kind & patient, realizing that we were working as hard, fast, & efficient as possible. Three flights delayed at one time, which meant that us four Gate Agents were working with 150 - 228 passengers while still working the other flights that were departing on time. Some passengers called the reservations number to rebook themselves, which was extremely helpful. Dealing with their checked bags after the fact can be challenging, but it's easier on the passenger -- & that's honestly why we're here. I can't guarantee a seamless flying experience for every passenger, but I can guarantee that I will work really hard to make sure any disruptions don't cause additional stress to you.
Once all three delays had cleared out of the gates, every other flight that morning ran perfectly seamless. I went back to my Floater duties & assisted in boarding a flight that was going to Denver. A passenger came down the jet bridge with her stroller, properly marked with a Special Handling tag for placement in the pit. We exchanged a good morning greeting, she took her baby out of the stroller, & onto the plane she went... typically, parents will collapse the stroller for us, but this mother had her hands full & it was just a stroller -- I was positive I could figure it out. Spoiler Alert: I tried & failed. Even Theresa, the Ramp Agent, tried & couldn't figure it out. So when I had a break in passengers boarding, I found the mother seated in 20A & asked her the easiest way to fold the stroller. I had to leave my pride behind, especially considering that I live with a toddler, & I have eleven nieces & nephews. I laughed at myself, feeling quite embarrassed for having to even ask, & thanked her for the quick on-board tutorial. The stroller made it safely to the pit, completely collapsed & safe.
Debilitating delays & silly strollers aside, I have to share a story that really meant the most to me from Saturday morning. Every once in awhile, I will see repeat-passengers flying through Colorado Springs. Sometimes they recognize me too, which is really cool, because we can catch up, I can hear about their trips, & it's like this giant reunion of happiness. I love it. After finishing up the boarding of the second delayed Denver departure, a woman with grey hair & glasses approached me at the podium -- it took me about two seconds to place her face, & I said, "Hey! I know you!" & she returned a smile back to me. She said, "I don't know if you remember, but my name is Anna. My mother was paralyzed, so I flew in to Colorado Springs to help care for her," her voice started to crack & her eyes began to look like a lake. She looked down at her feet before returning my gaze. "My mother died last night, so I'm going back home today. She's at the right hand of God & I don't have to worry anymore. I just wanted to say thank you for being so kind, & give you this," she said as she handed me a brown bag full of donut holes. Okay, so not only was she crying, but she got me crying. Hard. And not because donut holes are my favorite, but because it was a selfless gift in a time of mourning... just for being nice & doing my job. I couldn't even speak, I was so overwhelmed, so I just gave her a giant hug & told her I'd be praying for her, & what an incredible blessing to know that her mother was a saved woman.
Every single one of you reading this, I want each of you to know & to remember that your words & your actions do have an impact & create an impression. I don't care if it's in the flesh or through the internet, how you act & what you say has a direct impact on those people around you, so choose wisely the ways in which you interact with your peers. You may never understand the magnitude of your actions or words on others. So be patient, be kind, & love one another.
Okay. I need tissues again.
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.