I had a miserable travel experience on American Airlines two weeks ago. I had to fly out of Norfolk to Ft. Lauderdale at 5am to make a 10:30am meeting in Miami. The flight from Norfolk had a connection in Charlotte with a 40-minute window to make the connection.
As it turned out, we boarded the plane on time, there was bad weather across the country, but that did not affect the route to Charlotte. But after sitting on the plane for 10 minutes, the pilot announced that the plane had to take on fuel. Perplexing since the plane was on the ground at 4am when I arrived at the gate. So we sat there another 30 minutes while the plane was fueled and finally ready to go.
Just when the plane touched down in Charlotte, I got an alert telling me the departure gate for my connecting flight, and that flight was scheduled to take off in 7 minutes. We were not even at the gate yet!
So finally, off the plane to learn that the connection gate was the farthest point possible from where my flight arrived. So I ran, and ran, and ran only to see down the hall my gate and the flight team closing the jet way door. It took another minute of running to get to the gate where I was told, “Sorry, we closed the jet way door!” To which I asked, “Didn’t your manifest tell you there were people connecting through Norfolk?” The airline service rep said, “Yep, and here is your boarding pass for the next flight out in two and a half hours!”
I was undone! Poor planning by American Airlines to board us in Norfolk before fueling their plane, then not waiting an extra few minutes for passengers to make their connection was totally incompetent and inconsiderate. What’s more, the service rep told me that I should have known that American Eagle flights land at the farthest terminal, lessening my chance to make my connection. I asked, “How is that information helpful to me at this point in time?” Wasn’t that something the airline should have been aware of?
Standing next to me watching this drama go down was a young woman who was being even more hosed by American. She was on standby for the next flight to Ft. Lauderdale and firm booked four hours out on the second flight. We struck up conversation about how inconsiderate the airline was, especially since I lost my priority boarding and good seat in their snafu. We decided to fight back, she, to be higher on the standby list for the next flight out and me, demanding my priority seat and boarding.
After an hour and a half of standing on lines, talking with powerless service rep after powerless service rep I finally found one who said, “I can’t change it in the computer, but I can do this!” He took out a pen and changed my boarding status and said, if you have any issues getting on board, just point to me!”
I went back to the seating area feeling satisfied, but my newfound travel protester was not as lucky. So many people had missed their connection; the airline was backed up for hours.
We sat in silence for about 10 minutes and she turned to me and asked, “How long have you been married?” I smiled, looked at my ring and said, “39 wonderful, blissful years!” She smiled and asked, “What is the secret?” I said, “Never say or do anything either of you can’t get over in 15 minutes. You can win the battle, but lose the war.” She revealed that she is just starting a new relationship, and at age, 38, she has been frustrated by her relationships. She said she was religious, an avid church going person, he was agnostic. She wondered it that was a deal breaker. I told her that when I met my wife Pat, I was somewhat agnostic. Being born at the start of the civil rights movement, I resented the passive nature of the black church in the face of church bombings, lynchings, voter suppression, and economic imbalance. But I was a person of faith and wanted to believe in something. Pat was a Buddhist, a peaceful, inclusive religion that I totally embraced. I told my new found friend that if religion was important, what were the underpinnings that made it important? Was it ethical conduct, kindness, the ability to display empathy, commitment to relationship and family? I told her Pat brought all of that out of me, and more.
Her name was Danielle, and as we talked, and I glowing talked about why I loved my wife, it dawned on me that I missed my flight to be able to help Danielle through a difficult decision.
Danielle is one year older than my daughter who is experiencing the same frustrations. My daughter sees in me a relationship with her mother that forces her to challenge those who wish to enter her life. In my dealings with Pat, I try to show my daughter a role model of a loving, caring husband, a committed father and a determined breadwinner.
In conveying all this to Danielle, she whipped out her cell phone to show me texts she got from her boyfriend the day before, which was Sunday. They said, “Hello sweetie, I hope you enjoyed church today. I hope to join you in service some day.”
That encouraged her, and at that moment they announced by flight. I walked away feeling good for her. There was something there in that relationship that was the seed to something good.
Dear Danielle, I hope you made it!
(You can follow Will on Twitter: @willjwright