Photo Credit: Photo by Haiqal Osman on Unsplash
Travel Story: The Worst Flight Delay Of My Life
Written by: Budd Hansen
I am a procrastinator. I’ve had to own up to that going back to my college days working on papers at the last minute. I’m sure you all have a similar story, but what you don’t have is a story that started with the worst flight delay ever.
Sunday, April 15th, 2018, I flew into New York’s JFK airport on time, expecting to make my connecting flight. But instead, a lot of rain happened. My flight to Toronto was canceled, and nothing was flying out of JFK until the next morning. Back then I was an anxious traveler, always yearning for my final destination to decompress from travel anxiety. Delta agents advised that I standby, which meant looking for a hotel room. My guts were boiling hoping something would pop up.
I was traveling on business and had emails to catch up on.
Before I could find a room for the night, the Delta agent called to inform me that there was a flight to Toronto leaving that evening, but it was out of LaGuardia. They mentioned a car would take me, so without hesitation, I took my bags and marched with purpose through JFK. After the frustration and anxiety, I was on my way.
I get to LaGuardia and wait 45 minutes in the check-in line. I approach the WestJet counter and the damn flight is overbooked. The white guy standing at the counter next to me was livid, and being a black man I couldn’t outshine his frustration.
But to jail I went.
No, I’m kidding.
He, like the other 200 passengers, was irate. And at this point, I thought, “Hmmm, do I want my life to ‘look like’ it sucks?” So, there I stood, calmly. Like the aviator I am, I wanted to make a difference and not react to the high tension at the WestJet check-in counter.
They said, “…sorry, we messed up.”
I had a middle finger in my back-pocket for the Delta agents to sign, but instead, I ended up getting an Uber back through NYC traffic.
I was okay by the time I settled into the Crown Plaza near JFK. I finally ate dinner and washed off the road-warrior wounds of the day. All the worry, exhaustion, anxiety, and physical strain from running around black in NYC airports on a Sunday began to decompress out of my aura as I sunk further into the Tempur-Pedic bed. But I wasn’t home. I had to ensure my alarm was set for 5:40 am Eastern; which is 2:40 am Pacific.
I fell asleep around 11:00 PM, woke up at 12:19 AM to Post Malone’s Psycho playing on the T.V. Suddenly I cried. At the moment I was not sure why, but it felt good as tears soaked my pillow.
In seven days I was moving out of my apartment to stay with my mom. Because in 12 days I was moving into my new home. What’s anxiety again?
I woke up to a text notification informing me Flight XXX is delayed out of JFK; f*ck my life ya’ll.
But I got to sleep in longer and ate the continental breakfast. In the hotel lobby waiting for the airport shuttle, I overheard small talk about the weather. People were mentioning how bad the rain had been, and how it’s causing all their travel plans to implode. I am from Portland and the rain has never held me up. But it did that day.
We boarded the aircraft only to wait longer on the taxiway:
“Ummm folks, we’re gonna be taking-off here fairly shortly, just looking to uhh, get clearance from the tower and uhh…. the rain is surely starting to fall. Folks, we are third in line to take-off so it should be only about 10, maybe 20 minutes before we’ll have you all on your way to Toronto!”
We listened to for three f*ckin hours! Way passed FAA regulations.
By this time, no, I had not broken the ice with the passenger next to me. I hate small talk, and to me, conversations about the rain are like calling people from Portland weird. We live for the rain, and we plan for delays. The only thing I had to tell the person next to me was, “the pilot must be black…”
He laughed. Two other people heard and giggled as well, which was not my intention. What pilot procrastinates for over two hours before turning back to the gate? I know, it’s not always their call.
I told my grandma when I was seven years old that I wanted to be a pilot. She immediately told me she’d never fly on a plane with a black captain. I didn’t have words for her at the time, but today I do.
After two hours and forty-five minutes, we turned back to the gate. And I missed day one of my work conference.
And to my grandma, the pilot was actually white. Because I would have taken off in the rain. Like the joke for the white man sitting next to me, I had a story to write with this delay. So what if we aren’t the pilots, we sure do create being late.
Procrastination is when creativity is born. We later make an excuse for why we were late. I may not be a pilot, but the delay sure is writing the story. But I’ll make sure my excuses are covered during my flight lessons.
And because the pilot was white, it may not matter who’s managing delays. Most airlines leave it up to data management services anyway. But to the pilot who caused the greatest delay I’ve experienced out of my 332 flights, thank you.
You flew the lonesome black boy who counts on his delays.