As most people do, I take the summer to spend time with family. I had to take a break from that time to fly home to New York so I could work the next day. Forgetting the fact that this was a holiday weekend, I decided to document the drama of what it’s like for crew to get from point A to point B on standby.
Denver to New York City, July 1st, 2017
6:02 a.m. – Arrive at airport. Trying for a 7:45am flight, since people always miss the morning flights.
6:16 – Frantic woman in workout gear asks me if I know which terminal her airline uses. I feel her lose patience as I look it up in my flight tracking app, and wonder why she doesn’t just do this herself. “My flight leaves in 15 minutes,” she announces as we board the train. I tell her she is two terminals away. I feel bad for hoping there are more like her, but people like her are how people like me get places. “Good luck,” I tell her, uselessly.
6:35 – Arrive at my gate to find a maudlin young family watch their plane to Atlanta pull away. Mother is devastated to hear that her car seat and luggage, unlike them, have made the flight. Her three year old boy asks, “Mommy, are we going on a plane today?” After a pregnant pause, she says, “I don’t know.” She helplessly watches the plane exit our sight as she stands motionless with her baby in a stroller, and her curly headed son bops around the boarding area without a care in the world.
7:45 – After agonizing my way through the boarding process, awaiting my name to be called to collect my boarding pass, I hear the Dot Matrix Printer of Doom rattle off the flight manifest. I am not on it.
8:17 – List myself on another flight to Newark instead of JFK, as it’s the next option to the New York metro area. A dad and two kids, who are likely using buddy passes, are told by the customer service agent that there are no flights with room on them to catch their Tokyo flight today. The daughter, about age 5, quietly cries. It kills me inside, partly because my son and I are to make the same journey next week. I list for my Newark flight, which has no room on it, and check on my Tokyo flight…which I now learn also has no room on it.
8:51 – At the Newark gate now. Fretting as I look around at all the telltale Travelpro suitcases, just like mine – standard crew issue. People who can and probably will take my seat.
9:26 – Person next to me starts a long conversation with a polite yet uninterested stranger, asking if she has a sister named Becky. She does not, but continues on anyway. I now know all about San Diego Becky’s life as I anxiously await a possible seat assignment.
9:32 – The printer sound tells me all I need to know. The gate closes. I stand in front of the monitors finding the next option. I feel like I’m in a slow motion, depressing episode of The Amazing Race, where the only prize is decent sleep and retained employment.
9:36 – Walk up to the LaGuardia gate. It’s delayed until nearly the same time as the next Newark flight, which had room on it earlier today. I ask, “Should I bother?” Gate agent says, “Well…” Enough said.
10:07 – Losing morale. I need ice cream or alcohol. I decide it’s too early for ice cream. I order a drink, because somehow that is more acceptable to me at this hour.
11:30 – I’ve now seen an otherwise normal looking girl with a tattoo with an evil clown that says “Juggalo” on it. I’m almost glad to have missed all those flights just to have seen this.
11:42 – List for the next JFK flight. It looked good earlier, but now the gate agent says it is carrying cargo so is now weight-restricted. On to the Newark flight I was told looked good.
12:10 – I see the list for this supposedly good flight. I am now 26th and last on the list for a seat. Always last, because it’s not my airline. Behind me, a motorized cart can not pull through the group of “gate lice”. No one budges as the cart stops and the group stares at it like a herd of cows. Someone seated near me loudly declares, while watching the scene, that she can’t believe how stupid people are. He gets through after everyone shifts no more than one inch, glued to a non-moving line to board. This literally takes nearly two full minutes.
12:13 – The boarding stops and reverses course. Delayed two hours. I walk to the LaGuardia gate.
12:43 – My name is called nearly immediately after listing! I am handed a boarding pass, as is the retired older flight attendant who’d sat next to me at the Newark flight. We laugh a bit too hard when we see each other – clearly the release of tension from a tough day standing by.
1:35 – After another sudden delay, rather than being annoyed, myself, the retired flight attendant and our other fellow passengers are slap happy. I’m somehow in an aisle seat in the exit row, ready to go home. That wasn’t so bad.
3:17 – Finally take off, after an extended delay. I’m signing off now to take a deep nap and drool unapologetically.