My daughter and I traveled to Los Angeles for a couple of weeks recently, and we had some travel “snafus” on the way home with some flight cancellations. We originally were supposed to fly nonstop from LA to Charlotte. Long story short, we ultimately ended up being booked on a connecting flight through Columbus, Ohio, with a five hour overnight-ish layover in the Columbus airport. We made some new friends, and I made some observations.
I’ve spent lots of time in airports. When I first graduated from college, I was a flight attendant for a while. I worked in the travel industry till I was married in 2000, and we are still pretty regular fliers. We aren’t flying every week, but we fly pretty regularly. This last trip was a new experience for me. First, I always book nonstop flights, so I haven’t had the inconvenience of having to connect in a long time. We are very fortunate that Charlotte is a hub airport for American Airlines. Secondly, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever had to spend five hours in an airport from about midnight to 5am…until last night. And those five hours gave me some time to make some observations.
- When you’re in a less-than-ideal situation, you bond with others in the same boat. It’s true. Three ladies in the airport with us had been traveling for 36 hours because of cancellations. They didn’t have any food, but I had a bag full of snacks. I offered them a turkey sandwich and some chips, and they were grateful. I was happy I could help. One of them said the turkey sandwich tasted like Thanksgiving! I hope they’ve made it to the Cayman Islands by now.
- Some folks can sleep anywhere. It was impressive how some of the other people who were waiting could sleep! I didn’t even think about sleep. In fact, I just strolled around the airport taking silly pictures…walking a few miles while I waited. But folks were sleeping with their heads on carry-on luggage. Some slept on the floor, and some slept in chairs. Some were even snoring! They were really asleep.
- Connecting is a pain in the butt. I’ve known this for years. My husband always gets miffed with me when we discuss retiring and moving. He wants to move to a beach. I want to live in a city that’s a hub airport. Give me Charlotte, Atlanta, or even Houston or Dallas…but please don’t make me live somewhere that requires connecting flights to everywhere.
- All airports are not created equal. I knew this too, but as we landed in Columbus, I expected to go to our gate and wait out the five hours till our next flight. Nope. After we had been sitting in the gate for about an hour, two security type personnel came over and rudely told us (there were about seven passengers waiting for the next flight), “You have to move outside the security barrier now. Let’s go.” What?!?! Was it really necessary to approach us so rudely? Trust me, our layover wasn’t long enough to get a hotel room, or I’d have gotten us one. We were not happy about having to hang out in the airport, but honestly, I was trying to make the best of it. They were just rude, rude, rude. And one of them, the female, appeared to need a visit to a doctor about an eye infection of some sort…ick. To add insult to injury, there were quite a few vending options inside the security barrier but very few outside the barrier. It seems as though they could have come to us earlier and said, “I’m sorry, but in about 30 minutes, we’re going to need you to move to the lobby area outside security. If you need to get anything from vending, you might want to do it now.” But nope…rude, rude, rude. ***I know several lovely people who live in Columbus…I think most folks there are great!***
- All vending machines are not created equal. Kudos to Columbus for having a Jeni’s Ice Cream vending machine/kiosk in the terminal. I wish they were in every airport! Heck, I wish they were on every street corner! I would have loved to have gotten some for my daughter and her friend. It looked delicious. Too bad security didn’t give me the option of going to get it before they hustled us out of the terminal area like cattle. Also, on the outside of the machine, it said, “Welcome to Columbus, home of the best ice creams (and the nicest people) in the world!” I guess those security folks didn’t get the “nicest people” memo.
- The smell of bacon is stronger at 5am when you’re boarding a flight. No joke, just as we started to board, I guess a restaurant opened and put some bacon on to cook. Does anything smell more yummy than bacon in the morning?
- Little noises are enhanced when you’re in an airport and running on no sleep. Squishing plastic water bottles? Flip flops on sweaty feet? Cracking knuckles? Those noises don’t normally bother me, but in the last five minutes before we boarded the plane, my ears were sensitive to all those little noises that normally go unnoticed. I wanted to snatch water bottles out of people’s hands. I wanted to throw powder at people’s feet to stop the sweaty flip flop sound. And I wanted to pass out gloves to stop the knuckle cracking. Clearly, I was nearing my limit.
- Attitude is everything…really. I was not thrilled about the cancellations/re-routing situation. I was unhappy. But I didn’t take it out on the American Airlines reservation agent. It wasn’t her fault. I’m sure she was having a terrible day with all the cancellations. And when we landed in Columbus, I decided I wasn’t going to try to sleep. I was going to walk around taking goofy pictures to entertain myself. I wasn’t going to be unhappy. I made that decision. And despite the rude security personnel (bless their hearts!), I was pretty darn happy.
- Small acts of kindness mean a lot. During our flight from LA to Columbus, I was talking with the flight attendant about our predicament…I was laughing about it. But she felt terrible and made sure the girls had plenty of snacks for our layover. Kudos to her for her kindness.
- Shiny airport floors would be great for running and sliding. I considered it. I wanted to do it. But would I break a hip? Or an arm? Besides, my daughter would have been horrified. I kept my cool. I didn’t run and slide…but it would have been fun!
- An alarming number of people walk around barefoot in airports. I have TSA Pre-check. One of the main reasons I wanted pre-check was so I wouldn’t have to remove my shoes at security. It totally grosses me out to walk barefoot where all those other sweaty feet have walked. Yuck. But I noticed quite a few people walking through the airport lobby with no shoes last night. That’s almost as bad as the ones who go to the airport lav with no shoes…ick.
That’s my wisdom from the airport. If you’ve made other observations, I’d love to hear them. And for the record, we love American Airlines. I think they are experiencing some labor issues right now, but I certainly hope it all gets resolved soon…for my sake, but especially for the sake of the airline. Labor disputes can cripple an airline, inconveniencing passengers and employees too. My hope is that everyone involved will realize there is a better way to do things.