As my plane pulled into the gate, a wave of boiling animosity flooded the cabin. People rose to their feet, muttering and cursing to themselves and each other as they grabbed for their bags and began to storm off the plane.
I was in the last row at the rear of the plane, so I was in no rush. I was content to play peek-a-boo with the angelic toddler seated in front of me. Besides, I’d prepared myself for this.
My fellow passengers weren’t angry about a bad flight. They were upset because there’d been no flight at all.
We’d been crawling through a conga line of airplanes at Chicago International Airport trying to make our way to a runway following a rain delay when our pilot informed us that he and the crew didn’t have enough hours left in their shift to complete our flight … or start it for that matter.
The announcement was met with harsh whispers and flabbergasted groans. As for me, I responded to my fate with a giggle.
I wasn’t delirious or in denial. It was 11:30 p.m. I was going to be spending the night in the airport. I wasn’t thrilled, but I wasn’t that upset. I’d prepared myself for this.
This wasn’t going to be my first Chicago airport sleepover. Ten years earlier, Chuck and I had been stuck in Chicago overnight during a snowstorm just after Christmas. The bad weather prevented us from flying into Chicago, so we missed our connecting flight back to California. Our only option was to camp out at the airport and play standby bingo the following morning.
A decade later, I was in the same situation. I was returning home from my first business trip. This trip to enchanting Davenport, Iowa also marked my first solo trip. Every other time I’ve flown by myself, I was meeting up with family or friends. This was my first lone wolf trip, and I knew it wasn’t going to go smoothly.
I’d warned my boss and my editor about my history with Chicago International and told them I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up getting stuck there.
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Typically, I enjoy being right, but not this time.
My puddle jumper flight to Chicago was delayed by a thunderstorm, which also delayed my connecting flight to California, so I wasn’t too worried, but in the end, my Sacramento-bound flight left without me. Luckily, or so I thought at the time, I found another flight on a different airline.
By the time I was added to the passenger roster, my new fellow fliers were already grumpy because their flight had been delayed because of the weather. When our plane arrived, staff rushed to deplane the passengers, clean things up and usher us on. However, we didn’t leave the gate for 40 minutes because of the incoming and outgoing flight traffic jam resulting from the weather delay. The pilot kept us posted and said even after we left the gate, we still probably wouldn’t take off for another hour.
I was patient through it all. I just wanted to go home. But when the pilot announced we were returning to our gate and there was no crew to relieve them, I just couldn’t be angry. It’s not like the crew had been conspiring to make us miserable. Weather happens. It’s just part of travel. I’d prepared myself for this.
After I got off the plane, I decided to nest at a charging station and juice up my cell phone. Other people who were on the plane were barking at a customer service agent or frantically speaking into their phones trying to find other flights or hotel arrangements.
In all the commotion, I overheard that our flight was being rescheduled for 7 a.m. I let that sink in as the more relaxed of the exiled passengers began to find the best benches to use as sleeping quarters.
I’ve never been awake for 24 hours, I thought as I tried to figure out what to do with myself. Maybe today is that day.
It was after midnight and I was stuck at the airport. Might as well make the most of it. Challenge accepted.