I travel a medium amount for work and most of the time my trips are fun and uneventful. I don’t like to be away from my family but it is good to see new places and meet face to face with friends from work who live in other parts of the world.
Sometimes however, happiness can be found by the hilarious circumstances created when the travel industry and our busy schedules collide.
For this particular trip I woke up at 4 am. I always try to get an early start on my travel so I can get home sooner and so I am prepared for any travel surprises. After a quick pass through security, very few people arrive at the airport around 5 am; I headed straight to my gate to confirm I knew where it was and check for crowds, boarding delays, and any other potential travel challenges. Gate 20, my gate was unusually quiet, but I figured that was the result of an early morning flight and that didn’t leave for another hour. My next stop was my routine trip to McDonald’s at Gate 32. This is a sojourn I make on most international flights as I find a pre-flight hamburger, large Mocha Frappe, and bottle of water always make my trip a little more enjoyable. I had visited that particular McDonald’s at Gate 32 often at 5 am, so I was surprised this time to find lots of customers standing outside waiting while all of the employees stood inside the cage looking security gates staring back out. I was able to determine that the manager had not yet arrived with the money so they were not going to open until the money arrived, which might not be until 6 am, when I would hopefully be on a flight catching up on my sleep or possibly a little work. An immediate solution came to my mind and clearly it had occurred to the other sleepy travelers standing outside the cage. We had money and we would give it to McDonald’s. Most of us travelers used credit cards and we would be glad to give up a few cents in change in exchange for a tiny sip of coffee or bite of an Egg McMuffin to get our morning started. But the employees behind the cage were like the guards at a prison. No money comes in and no food goes out!
Not to worry though. I knew of a Starbucks’ at Gate 28. I needed a little exercise and I figured I could lead the other traveler’s to their desperately needed coffee elixir, as long as I got a head start so I would be the first to order. As I arrived at Gate 28, I recognized my naiveté, as I noticed the Starbuck’s line that already forming because for some reason the Starbuck’s was not open either. Word from the crowd was the prep person had not made it in on this very early Monday morning. The manager was there with the money, but nothing had been prepared for the morning rush and they could not open until all the preparations had been made. Another solution came to mind. Why not open with a more limited coffee offering so those of us in line could make our flights? But the manager at the counter just kind of grunted at me. She did not see the wisdom of my idea. But I was able to confirm she did have the money, although my question about having the money brought suspicious looks from more than just the manager. Another solution! Starbucks at Gate 22. Various members of the crowd confirmed that Starbucks at Gate 22 was not open either. Apparently it is hard get good help at 5 am on Monday mornings. The manager overheard our discussions about Gate 22 still being closed and felt the need to make a call to determine their challenges. Which meant she also stopped her urgent prep work and all of the employees seemed to follow her lead. After getting confirmation that no, they were not open either, she went back to work. By now it is 5:25 and I am back in the middle of the line and Starbuck’s has not even opened yet. My flight will be boarding in 5 minutes if it has not started already. Time for an executive decision; Get on a 4 hour plane ride with no food, coffee, or water, or possibly be late getting on my flight. Strongly preferring to be early rather than late, I forgo my pre-flight ritual and head for Gate 20, which is only 8 gates away. Or for those of you familiar with DFW Airport, what seems like a 3 mile walk. Now that I am in a hurry, it seems the area has become overcrowded with Starbuck’s customers and potential travelers waiting on their flights. So I pick my way through the crowad and then increase my pace heading to Gate 20. I would take the moving sidewalks to increase my speed, but every sidewalk along the corridor to Gate 20 have been shut down for maintenance. It seems like everything was going my way this morning. As I get to Gate 24, I realize that crowds have thinned significantly and off in the distance I don’t see any crowds at all. As I pass Gate 22 at a crisp walk, I don’t see anyone at Gate 20. The sudden realization that either my flight has left or it is not boarding at Gate 20, rushes over me in a small wave of panic. As I run through my options I start looking for a display board to check my departure gate. If it is still terminal D, I could possibly run to my gate, but if it is in another terminal, I am missing this flight. So you know those big video screens that show the gates for all of the arriving and departing flights. They are everywhere, except around Gate 20. On a side note, why do they show all of the arriving flights? Friends and family can’t get through security to wait on someone at the gate, so who needs to know which gate a flight is arriving at, besides the people on the plane? Don’t travelers only need to know from which gate their flight is departing?
Anyway, I now need to make another executive decision, do I go down to Gate 19 or up to Gate 21 to find a video display of the departure gates. The wrong direction could cost me precious minutes. I head back the way I came believing I might have seen a working video display next to the non-working moving sidewalks. Success! My flight is leaving from Gate 28. The gate next to the unopened Starbuck’s I had just come from! It is now 5:40 and my flight should be boarding. Do I run or walk calmly toward the crowd? I chose walking calmly but quickly. The crowd is a good sign. As I get to my gate, I hear the announcement. My flight is delayed. Good news for a person like me who can’t find the right gate, but bad news for a person like me who has a one hour layover in New York before catching a flight to Halifax. One hour does not leave a lot of room for delays.
More interestingly, the reason for the delay is announced. I live in Texas where days are smoldering and the nights stay pretty hot. With a low of 90 degrees the night before, and sitting on heat producing tarmac, our enclosed aluminum tube that flies had heated up beyond humanly bearable limits and had not yet had the chance to cool down. So they had the air conditioning running at full blast to cool it down. Another side note: have you ever been in an airplane when they shut down the engines to save fuel, but left the AC running. It is like using your breath to blow out a forest fire. Air Conditioning on airplanes only works when the engines are running! By the way, I did a quick check of the Starbucks to see if I could get something to eat and drink, but the line was at least 50 people long at that point. 50 people going through Starbuck’s could take a while. Someone was willing to miss their flight. I did see however that the Bar-B-Q restaurant was opening up. A few people were checking in with them and walking away with sustenance. So I headed over and found they were selling sausage and egg burritos that were not on any menu. They were literally pulling them out of a bag and handing them out. So I grabbed my bottle of water and burrito of unknown origin and headed back to my gate to eat and wait patiently.
We were all surprised when they started boarding the plane 20 minutes later. As we boarded the plane, we realized being on time was more important than being cool. The sweatfest had begun. Much like Texas in the afternoon, we literally walked into a wall of heat. It was early in the morning, many of us were unable get coffee, our flight was delayed, and now the heat. Everyone immediately began commenting and complaining in half-raised voices. Once people made it to their seats they shed as much clothing as was allowed and began fanning themselves vigorously. I don’t think I have seen so many people in t-shirts on one flight in my life. Suit jackets, ties, and sweatshirts were being stuffed into every available bin space. Amazingly, we all understood our group dilemma, so we boarded and got seated as quickly as possible so they could start the engines and turn on the real air conditioning. Once we were all settled and anticipating our quick departure, we got the dreaded news. An indicator light was out and we would have to sit in the sweltering heat and wait for a mechanic to come check it out. My one hour window to transfer planes in LaGuardia was getting smaller and smaller.
[Success Hack – Being prepared is a key to success. But I let my routines interfere with my preparation. My routines led to assumptions which led to my mistakes. I should have double checked my gate and opted for the wonderful nutritional food they have on the plane. I should celebrate my success: I persevered and made the flight. But also take responsibility for my failures. I was lucky the flight was delayed, and I made a series of errors that could have led to failure instead of success. Plan ahead and persevere towards the most important outcome like making the flight vs. routines like getting breakfast]
[Happiness Hack – You are going to make mistakes like not checking the gate and there are many environmental factors that will work against you like the restaurants not being open and the plane being overheated. Don’t waste your time being angry at yourself or someone else. Find the humor and help others find the humor and you will be happier.]
[Extra Hack – being angry in these situations is like taking poison and expecting someone else to die. Don’t let things you can’t control ruin your day or distract you from your goal. Stay calm, have fun, and decide what to do next. ]
Next Week Part 2 – More Adventures with Travel Delays and Why Do Bus Drivers Take Breaks While Passengers are on the Bus?