May 3, 2007

My Day at the Airport

Valerie J. Steimle

If you’ve never spent the day at an airport all by yourself, you are really missing out on something. I don’t mean a couple of hours, I mean the whole day. Twelve hours. I had the opportunity last Friday (April 27) to do such a thing. Trying to get myself home from Albuquerque, N.M., I went to the airport with my brother, father and daughter all going in different directions. Since my brother had the rental car, we all went to the airport regardless of our flight times. My brother and father had the earliest flight, so my daughter and I checked our airlines to see if we could get an earlier flight as well. Sarah got hers to Phoenix and I got mine to Dallas. The time was only 9:35am so we got off to a good start.

I got to Dallas and I was on stand by for the next flight to get the rest of the way home. I was originally supposed to get home at 2am but this was much better. If all went well, I would be back by 4pm. I was excited. I was pumped. I was already planning what I could do with my extra time as I was rushing to my next gate. But as I rounded the corner of the hallway, I was stopped dead in my tracks. Not only was the flight over booked, I was number 23 on the standby list. There was no way I was getting on that plane. So I waited for the 2:15pm flight, and then I waited for the 4:45pm flight and then the 7:55pm flight---all with the same message: overbooked and no room.

There happened to be a Jazz Festival the same weekend and everyone wanted to get on those flights. So I got my boarding pass for the 9:40pm flight and sat at the gate for a nice long wait. By now it was 5pm and I had already taken two rides on the train around the airport to see the outside world. I called my family to talk. I watched a bird chase a butterfly outside the window. I bought some lunch and watched CNN news for a while. I wrote in my notebook for my morning pages and I read my book Jesus the Christ. I looked at pictures on my digital camera and even prayed a while as I sat there. By 5pm, I was beginning to feel like the Tom Hanks character, Victor Navorski, in that movie: The Terminal. Although I wasn’t planning on sleeping there over night, I had that “never-going-to-get-out-of-here” feeling.

I used the rest room a couple of times and bought a pack of life savors. I watched the clouds roll by and observed the little men working to get luggage on and off the plane. Ahhh, the sunset. What a beautiful sight. I made conversation with the other standby victims and watched people rush by to catch their plane flights. By now the 7:55 flight had just left and the last flight out of Dallas, my flight, at 9:40 was changed to 10pm. 10pm!? Come to find out the plane flying in was coming from Canada. Canada?........ to Dallas? I’ll be lucky to get out of here before midnight. I took a walk around the airport mall. What a long day it was.

It’s a humbling experience to be all by yourself for so long a time. The first six hours I became self-absorbed. Only thinking about myself and my situation. The last six hours I paid attention to what was going on around me. I talked to people. I became involved with what was going on in the airport. I helped two older women with their missed flight. I conversed with the others who were on the flight with me at 10pm. That made the stay much more pleasant and very memorable. Finally, we were all boarded by 10:10 and I was on my way home. The time went faster when I was more involved and it didn’t seem so bad.

I will always remember this day. Remember how I felt all alone for the first six hours and how much better it is to share. Remember that the next time—if there is a next time--to open up to others in the same situation. Remember that my day went much better when I thought about others instead of myself. I’ll always remember my day at the airport.


  1. Perfect Valerie, I can totally relate. I got stuck for about 8 hours in the Montreal Airport in Canada. Way fewer people, news/TV in French and small airport. So I managed to read 3 books. I think you had a better experience. I just decided I would take the earlier flight next time.

  2. Can't think of anything more annoying. My airport experiences have been OK. Well, there was the time an engine flamed up just after takeoff in Aukland, New Zealand. United decided to fly over the ocea, dump their fuel, and reland, rather than fly on three engines to Hawaii. We were on our way home from Sydney, and travelling as heavily as we could. Suitcase full of books. They put us up in a hotel overnight, and we didn't get a flight until the next afternoon. Neither could we leave the hotel for fear of missing word of the flight. What boring fun.

    It ranked right along with flying from SF to join my AF husband in Japan in 1960, on a noisy four-engine prop job, with six children, age 5-13. They didn't like tomato juice, the stewartess heard nothing I said, Marolyn spilled the first tomato juice all down her white dress, and I ended up quickly drinking seven paper cups brimming with tomato juice not once, but six or seven times before we landed at Tachikawa. Hated the stuff for years.

    Couldn't find my 7-year-old when the rest of us toured Wake Island, but there wasn't much of anywhere to lose him. He found us when we returned.

    After we'd been in Japan awhile, another wife told me, "You mean they didn't assign an airman to accompany you? They always do." Story of my life. I catch on too late with too little.

    But it's a great trip"

  3. Thank you for the insight, Valerie. My lesson Sunday is about loving others first and how much happier we become and able to love even the "unlovable." May I share your thoughts with my Sisters?

    I spent a day in an airport in Toulon, France, in 1976. There had been a mixup in the time changes and my exchange family didn't appear unitl an hour and half after the small airport closed. One concerned gentleman tried to get me to take a cab to wherever I was going, but I was 16 and terrified of getting lost...I knew that I could get a flight home if I needed to, but I thought if I left the airport I would be lost forever...silly, I know. But the fear was real...I would do things differently now...what an adventure!

  4. What adventures all you sister have had. Mine seems small in comparison. It's fun to hear of all of your stories.
    Yes Kari, you can use my story for your lesson. I'm glad I can help.

  5. One of the reasons I love to travel alone is so I can be unencumbered with no one asking for my time. That's when everything goes well. When things don't go well, I much prefer company.

    My husband, Derrill, and I went to the jazz festival in Phoenix last year, which, unfortunately, was the same weekend of the Nascar races to which a very noisy contingent of Seattlites were bound. We boarded the plane, then had to get off while they fixed something, and the Nascar people headed straight for the bar. When they returned, the tiny vestiges of self control and discipline they had been exhibiting were gone. They were noisy and profane, and the stewards did nothing about it. They even joined in the jollity. I was determined to write Alaska Airlines a letter, but alas, I never did.

    That's my airport story. It doesn't live up to anyone else's, but you know how we are here: someone's posting reminds us, and we just have to share.


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