"I could be in Bora Bora by now."
There's something about airports that makes everybody savages.
All of a sudden we lose all perspective and immediately wherever you're going becomes so much more important than where anybody else is going.
I once saw a woman ask if she could get in front of a man in the security line because her plane was boarding and the man replied with, "I have a plane to catch too." I then saw him at my gate. For my plane. And I was two hours early.
I usually try way too hard to be exceptionally friendly and abnormally patient. I thank every employee. I let people in front of me in line even when they don't ask. Because I'm grossly nice. Like, disgustingly nice. But today I hit the end of my airport patience rope.
Two words: Stand by.
I fly a lot. I spend way too much money on airfare. So when a Southwest airlines employee who's a friend of my family gave me the opportunity to use a standby pass for free I took him up on his offer.
But I didn't think flights would be so full and I'd spend hours waiting to make flights. Even, worse I didn't know I'd be treated like the scum of the airport.
Empathy and good manners can only help so much when employees have no interest in helping you. That capitalized NON-REVENUE on my ticket was my scarlet letter. And no please and thank you rainstorm was going to get me out of this one.
I sit in the Seattle airport praying for the misfortune of others as flights fill up with paying customers — a slow TSA employee, a missed connection, the adorable drug dogs I'm not allowed to pet to find something in someone's bag, an alien abduction. "Please, God, anything. One can only watch so many miserable retirees who hate their spouses lose patience with each other. I know you like me more than them. That's how prayer works, right?"
The only thing that is getting me through this incorrigible experience is the families I've seen. I could watch five year olds who can't sit still excitedly squirm in uncomfortable airport chairs for hours.
Twenty four hours ago, when I was waiting to get onto my original flight, a great family sat next to me. The children — two, probably aged six and eight — were so genuine and polite and excited and well-spoken. They laughed with their grandparents and listened to each others' stories. None of them had pads or tabs or airs or beats. Just conversation. And it was so refreshing.
I didn't even care when the little boy playing with grandpa accidentally ran over my Quiznos with his roller suitcase.
It was still delicious.
After a handful of full airplanes and cries on the phone to my boyfriend, I make a flight to Baltimore 27 hours after my initial attempt. I'm just thankful I got the heck out of one airport, even if it means spending more time in another before heading to Pittsburgh.
"This is all to get to effing Pittsburgh?"
As I'm double checking with the fifteenth Southwest employee of the day and first one in Baltimore what my odds are looking like for getting home, I think about the rollercoaster of emotions I'd experienced in the last twenty four hours. (Pardon my cliche.) I'd gone from sad-to-leave-Seattle to a "we'll get them next time" optimism and on to complete and utter hopelessness. At this point in Baltimore, I'm just feeling numb. Just a "whatever happens, man" kind of way.
I'm not interested in smiling at the employees or really even having any friendliness. I'm simply exhausted.
But as the PIT-bound flight starts to load, a middle-aged man who's missed his connecting flight starts screaming at the employee at the counter next to me.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN I HAVE TO PAY FOR MY OWN HOTEL?! THIS IS YOUR FAULT. I FLY SO OFTEN AND NEVER HAVE I EVER EXPERIENCED SUCH BULL SHI* AS WITH SOUTHWEST. YOU GUYS ARE F***ING A** HOLES."
F bomb. F bomb. F bomb.
"I am canceling your flight in the morning, sir. You will have to find another flight home."
Man doesn't comprehend that he just got himself kicked off his flight and walks away screaming. He's going to have a great morning.
"How are you doing?" the employee asks me.
"Better than him," I say.
I was being honest.
Yet at the same time, I know that my day had been three times longer than that man's. I'd been bumped back from eight total flights. I'd been talked down to by employees all day long. And yet here I was. Certainly not cursing at anybody.
Patience is a real virtue. I sound like Master Po, but it's freaking true.
Nonetheless, you don't have to have patience to treat people with general respect, and not think others as less than yourself. You could be the most impatient person in the world, but never in a million years consider to call someone a name because you missed a flight.
It's nice to be able to make light out of a situation like that with the Southwest employees. "I'm so sorry you guys have to deal with people like that," I say. And I mean it.
"It's part of the job," they reply.
I sigh and thank them for all they do as the man who yelled before starts walking back up to ask another question, as if he hadn't just cursed them out. That's what happens when you think you're better than others. You think it's your right to scream at anyone and get away with it. And then nonchalantly ask a question as if nothing happened. You lose sight of the fact that these people you're screaming at have a little more authority than they let on.
If patience is a virtue, arrogance is its evil twin.
I cheer as my boarding pass prints, give it a big kiss and head to board the plane before I have to witness the man lose his mind again, doing heel clicks all the way down the jet bridge.
In the end, I got a round trip flight to Seattle for free. I got to spend an awesome weekend with my brother and an extra night in a pretty cool city. Flying non-revenue is a privilege I am thankful for, and I think I still came out on top.
32 hours later, I was headed home.