Chances of flight delays must increase exponentially the more one flies. No doubt someone has calculated the statics. Still, I'm always surprised and irritated (to put it mildly) when it happens to me.
We were dutifully lined-up for boarding when the United Airlines Rep casually announced that our non-stop, direct flight would now be making an unscheduled refueling stop that would tack 2+ hours onto our journey, because the fuel pump feeding one of our engines wasn't working, I took it in stride, really. . .
As it happened, the flight was packed with pre-teens headed for Summer Camp.
Think Camp Walden “Prank Scene” from Parent Trap (Haley Mills version, of course)
My seat, a dreaded middle seat, was mired in the midst of them.
Watching and listening to young teens bantering and bouncing, I speculated that the decision to schedule a pitstop rather than order a plane change might have been based largely on the thought of having to accommodate a busload of unescorted minors. A Rosalind Russell type exec from another Haley Mills classic, The Trouble With Angels, sprang to mind.
However, when the stop over resulted in an even longer delay because other passengers were not so complacent about flying on a jet with a faulty fuel pump, and the "paperwork which needed signing" took longer to sort out that expected, and something or else other resulted in every slim chance I once had of making my connecting flight being blown, I was done.
When we landed, I did what I had to do. After calmly waiting my turn to disembark, I scooted past the crowd waiting to find out what the heck they were supposed to do now? And made for the United Club.
(Now a plug for Club cards: In case you don't know it, what those airline premium credit cards buys you is access to The Club.)
Scared what I might say—scream---had I chanced trying to explain what had happened, I simply handed the United rep my boarding pass. The rep glanced at it and knew exactly what had happened. Then quickly, cheerfully, swiftly she rebooked me on another flight. Happy to have the flight rebooked, I dared the unthinkable. I asked for more: "May I have a window seat?"
To be fair, United Reps deal with flight changes, seat requests, rebookings all day long. It's their job. And most of them do it pleasantly. But rarely, if ever in my experience, had a Rep rebooked or even completed a flight check-in with such delight. As this Rep clicked and rebooked and changed my seat and reissued my boarding pass manner suggested that there was nothing she would rather be doing that helping me. (It was so surprising, I pulled out my glasses so I could read her name badge: Chris Orr.) I couldn't allow such remarkable behavior go unnoted. As she was finishing the flight changes, I thanked Chris, making a point of saying how much I appreciated her pleasant, cheerful attitude.
Looking a bit surprised, Chris thanked me for the complement, saying it was her job. "Not everyone doing your job, does it so pleasantly," I remarked, adding how I fly often, and have had more experience that I like to recall with flight rebookings. She smiled then explained:
Chris then relayed a harrowing tale of her and a travel companion’s holiday gone bad in a big movie way. Of being abducted, blindfolded, beaten, tortured, driven out into the desert and almost dumped for dead. Of her broken nose and ribs, of being threatened with death and believing it. How, while their attackers were busy beating and torturing her, her companion, sneaked to the front of the car, snatched back his backpack—stuffed full of all their belongings, cameras, passports, wallets, and booty: rings, necklace earrings the kidnappers had pulled from her ears—and hid it in the darkness of the floorboards between his feet. How faced with certain death, her will to live was so strong and rage so intense she kicked open the door of a moving car, kicked so ferociously she busted three bones in her foot in the process, then she and her companion hurled themselves out onto the road, miraculously landing and rolling instead of being run over. How scraped and bloody, dehydrated she ran literally blinded, having lost her contacts, behind her companion, into a night market. How he bound her to him by looping his belt around her wrist. How in the market, with their kidnappers chasing, desperate to recover the backpack in pursuit, they ran. And instead of helping, wallahs hollered "thieves" and tried to stop them. How despite the belt, the two became separated, how she blindly ran on anyway until she ran around a corner, down a street and smashed into someone big, huge…
And it was him. And together again, they hailed a taxi. And even the taxi driver, seeing them hurt, battered, bloody, sensed their distress, their vulnerability, and so tried to gouge them for more rupee and more. How when they began recognizing their surroundings, knowing they were close to their hotel, they finally just tossed coins at the driver, and when he scrambled to collect the money, they jumped out and ran.
Now, years after, that kidnapping is with her. So vivid, she recounts it in detail on request. But rather than weighing heavy, like a cross to bear, Chris treats it like a totem, a gratitude rock, a reminder that life is a choice, a gift.
I boarded the flight Chris had rebooked and slide to the window seat she’d so cheerfully found, wondering: Is that what it takes? Does it take being kidnapped or otherwise beaten down somehow, and so badly, that we are left with one choice: fight with all we've have in us or quit? It that what must happen to make us realize it is our choice?
Where we walk may not be ours to choose. But how we walk is our choice.
Like Chris, I choose joy.
- Parent Trap, 1961 version starring Haley Mills
- Come Fly With Me, sung by Frank Sinatra
- Coffee, Tea or Me by Trudy Baker, Rachel Jones & Donald Bain