There have been two times in my life in which I have cried at an airport. Ask my friend Eric. He was present for both of them.
The first time was when I was a sophomore in high school. My youth group was just returning from a two week mission trip in Peru, and though it had been an incredible experience, I was ready to be home. I don’t remember the reason – maybe our first flight had been delayed, or maybe it’s just impossible to get twenty or thirty-something teenagers through customs in a timely manner – but whatever the reason, we missed our flight. I was starting band camp the next day, and was afraid that I would practically be going straight from the airport to band camp without a chance to just be home. And so came the tears. Don’t worry. I did get to spend a little time at home before band camp, though not much.
The second time was on the way home from my senior trip to Germany. Again, it’s nearly impossible, even for a travelling wizard such as my senior English teacher, to get a group of thirty or so teenagers through customs in a timely manner, and we missed our flight. It wasn’t going to be possible for all of us to make it onto another flight together, so they were splitting the group, trying to evenly space out students with chaperones. I got put onto one of the earliest flights. One of my best friends was scheduled for a later flight, and because she was feeling sick, I told my teacher that I wanted to switch places with my friend so that she could get home first. The next thing I knew, I had a later flight, my friend had the exact same flight she had before, and the whiney kid who had been driving me nuts for the entire trip had been given my earlier flight. And so came the tears. I later found out that my new seat on that later flight was in first class.
I am very proud to say that this past Wednesday was not among the times that I’ve cried at an airport.
My journey to Kosovo was difficult from the start. As my family and I were sitting down near the security checkpoint to our last meal together, I got the notice that my very first flight out of Columbus was delayed by an hour because of the freezing temperatures. The layover time at Chicago O’Hare wasn’t long to begin with, so I was a little concerned, but still optimistic. I said goodbye to my family, went through security, found my gate, and eventually got on the plane at the new later time. And on that plane I sat for an extra half hour after the already later start. Apparently the belts carrying the luggage to the plane had frozen. The whole plane got sprayed with a pink foam, probably something to protect it from the cold.
I got off the plane at Chicago O’Hare with less than an hour until my flight to Istanbul was scheduled to leave. My flight arrived in terminal 1. All international flights left from terminal 5. I did my best power walk through terminal 1, got on the train to terminal 5, and made it to the security check with ten or fifteen minutes to go. When I rounded the corner to get to the security check, I found myself at the end of a long of people waiting to get through. An airport employee came up to me. “Are you on the flight to Istanbul?” I was a little surprised. Apparently I wasn’t the first to be running behind. “Yes, I am.” “You’re not gonna make it,” he said, “You should turn around and go ask Turkish Airlines to schedule you another flight.” I did as he said, dejected, but determined to handle the situation as well as I could.
At the Turkish Airlines desk, I found out that they only offered a flight to Istanbul at the same time every evening once a day. Therefore, I would not be able to get a flight for another 24 hours. I would also not be able to get my new boarding passes with my new flight information until the desk opened again at 5pm the next day. They told me to go see the other airline about getting a hotel for the evening.
And so I did. At THAT desk, I was informed that because the delay had been weather-related, and that the airline was not to blame, I was ineligible for a free hotel for the evening. So not only was I now going to be a day later getting to Kosovo and have a day less to prepare for teaching the next week, but I would also be spending more than $100 dollars extra for travel that I hadn’t anticipated. So I gathered my bags, found a seat, and called my dad. Together we found and booked a nearby hotel for the evening.
As I made my way alone from terminal to terminal, from desk to desk, and from airport to hotel, I expected myself to feel overwhelmed. I expected tears. Instead, I had a surprising sense of calm. I completed every task in front of me with an efficiency that surprised me. Maybe that calm came from all the prayers that I know have been said for me from many of the people back home that I love, and many of the people in Kosovo that I’m eventually going to love, but haven’t met yet. That’s my best guess. Anyway, I sat in my hotel room that night with a feeling of accomplishment. There really are few feelings quite like being met with a difficult obstacle and overcoming it with resilience, even if you don’t get the result you’ve hoped for.
Hopefully, I’ve seen the last of the times I’ll be crying in airports.