I had been out of town on business for a week. Friday I started seeing signs of sickness; mainly the fact that I was trying desperately not to cough one of my lungs out. I flew out of Minneapolis around 5:30 PM on Friday, February 29 and should have been arriving at my home in Pensacola, FL sometime around 11:00 PM. However, fate had something else in mind…
Act I, Scene I
“Ladies and gentlemen, flight XYZ to Pensacola has been canceled.” Many emotions burst into existence all around me; dismay, anger, laughter, confusion. Several expletives could be heard among the crowd and someone behind me clapped sarcastically. This could not be good.
The first sign of trouble came when I had previously arrived at the gate. Pensacola 11:00 the sign said. I looked at my ticket… 10:15. Great, a delay. I’m not much for confrontation and the ticket counter looked somewhat busy. I took a seat somewhere in close proximity so that I could catch what was going on. Crew members were missing said the lady at the counter. Check back in 30 minutes. As I sat among the myriad strangers all wanting desperately to get to Pensacola, waves of people crashed upon the counter like the ocean hitting a rocky shore. Wave after wave and always the same reply. We don’t know yet. Please have a seat and we will make an announcement when we have more information. The waves did not stop. Relentless. Signs of wear started appearing on the ticket clerk, her warm smile lost to frustration. She was deflecting the questions and it was very apparent from my vantage point that she just did not have the answers they so badly needed to hear.
After the cancellation announcement the mob rose up almost instantly. Questions were being thrown at the ticket clerk from every direction. Voices raised and soon the mob was infuriated, yelling their protests and threats of law suites. I kept my seat and watched the onslaught. There wasn’t much I could do after all. I don’t understand why they are yelling at her. She didn’t cancel the flight. After several intense minutes the battle worn lady’s insistence that a line be formed produced the desired effect. The mob was broken and a line formed, separated now and diluted by other calm, sane people. The line was very long. I kept my seat. No reason to have sore feet as well as being stuck here. Hotel and meal vouchers were being distributed one by one as they re-booked flights. Several people decided to rent a car and drive through the night. Others made a mad dash for gate E2 to try and catch a flight to Mobile that was leaving soon. The enemy mob still made their complaints known, only they were singled out now. Manageable. Stupid.
Only four more people to go. I take my place in the queue. Just ahead of me a young mother was trying to get her flight rebooked as her son of around three years old watched an animated movie on a portable DVD player. Why did this have to happen. I’m leaving again on Monday morning. I should have stayed in Minneapolis and gotten some sleep. No matter. I walk up to the desk and greet the ticket clerk with a kind hello. I know she’s had a rough night and so I immediately show her that I am no threat. She is friendly and smiles as she clacks away on the keyboard. It always seemed funny to me in movies and on television when the ticket clerks at the airport clack away at a keyboard to find flight information. Amazingly it’s fairly accurate. As she is finishing up the transaction and printing my new boarding pass I ask, “Is their a shuttle to take me to the hotel?”
The question had the same effect as if I had killed her pet dog. She looked appalled and I knew the answer that would come even before she spoke. “I am so sorry to tell you this, sir, but there are no more hotel rooms.” Some huge event is in town and all the hotels in Charlotte are booked. Well, it looks like a night in the airport. I can handle that. “So, when does my flight leave?”