Traveler Bypasses Mob Scene

June 8, 2010

in Airport Stories

I’ve been flying for most of my career, so I’ve seen my share of aborted landings, drunks, medical issues and, of course, my share of delays. But this evening I hope never to repeat.

The scene: Nashville Tennessee to Chicago Illinois, August 2007

My flight was scheduled to depart at around 7:00pm, and I had arrived with plenty of time, checked my bags, and made it to the gate.

This particular airline is the one that has no specific seat assignments, at the time the system was a series of three lines, A, B, and C. Invariably this system always created a few “bohemians,” who camp out at the head of the lines replete with food, pillows and blankets for what only could have been days before the flight was to leave. Sure enough, when I turned the corner into the gate area, there they were camped at the head of the lines.

I smiled, all was well.

This particular gate area is at the very end of the concourse (aren’t they all?) which was essentially a circular configuration with gates around the periphery. The gate agent stations in this particular area were a good 20 feet away from the windows that made up the outer walls. The seating areas were between the windows and the backs of those gate stations. But, of course, nobody was sitting in those seats as we all were trying to keep up with the bohemians in line.

I made it only a few back from them in the “A” line.

Then, the dreaded voice: “For those passengers going to Chicago on flight…” (Why does every agent in the world seem to start that sentence the same way when announcing a delay?) “… your flight is delayed by about an hour because of thunderstorms in the area.”

Likely story. We actually sat down in the area between the station and windows. Some went for food, I crawled into reading news.

One hour later: “For those passengers going…” (That damn sentence again! Do they read from a script or something?) “…your flight is delayed by another an hour due to a ground stop at Midway because of continuing thunderstorms in the area.”

Riiiight. Back to news.

The next hour’s delay was accompanied by the dreaded: “Your flight is delayed. We will give you updates as to how long.”

Ok, now we’ve broken on through to the other side of airport delays with that phrase. The mood in the gate area suddenly went from dour to silently boiling.

To alleviate the mood, decrease boredom, or to just deflect the mood away from the gate agents, a male agent was kind enough to turn around the gate screen, normally used to monitor boarding, to face the seating area and it was displaying the air traffic control of the Midwest region. What we saw was actually a bit shocking. Apparently, the remnants of Hurricane Dean had been sucked up by the jet stream and was being shot across the Chicago area like a buzzsaw, one major squall after another. As each squall passed, we could watch all of the airlines parked in the air, jump on the airports like pigeons on freshly dropped bread, then retreat to their orbits as the next squall came through.

At around midnight, we poor souls were offered hotel rooms. Which I was very surprised at, as airlines are not obligated to do this for weather delays.

It’s important to note at this point that I would have gladly taken the offer and removed myself from this little corner café of hell had I not been closing on my condo the next day. I was getting to the point that I was having fantasies of stealing the plane and driving it up I-65 all the way to Chicago. But I digress.

At roughly 2:30am I noticed a female gate agent pulling from the back of the gate station the ancient numbered plastic flag-cards the airline used before the A, B, C, line system was rolled out. She then disappeared around the front of the station where the microphones were, and shortly her voice broke over the speakers. She had good news!

We all stood.

There was a plane just down the concourse with twelve open seats and she would give cards to the first twelve people to get them on board!

Chaos. It was like those pigeons were now in the gate area. She was swarmed. Shouting, shoving, pushing, then screaming. Finally, as she disappeared into the mass of humanity surrounding her, a fellow passenger threw a heavy roundhouse punch, which landed on the male gate agent, folding him up like a lawn chair.

I hadn’t moved from my standing position, just observing the disaster unfolding in front of me when I see the female agent, slightly worse for the wear, sneak around the rear of the station away from the mess. With cards.

I walked right up to her and simply said: “Excuse me, is your offer still good?”

The next thing I knew, I had card-in-hand and bag-on-back and was tearing down the concourse toward the gate with the mythical waiting plane, three or four police officers sprinting just as hard the opposite direction to the mob scene behind me. I didn’t care that my checked bag was still on the other plane, it’ll just have to catch up to me later.

There I stood in the aisle, every eye on that plane fixed, with daggers, on my forehead. I didn’t care. I made it, I was going to get my new home. I found a seat, and finally relaxed.

As a final insult, somebody had miscounted the open seats on the plane, there were only six open seats, not twelve. I was the sixth to board.

I had to watch the six behind me be turned around and escorted back into the pit of doom I had just left.

May their souls receive mercy.

I closed successfully later that day…

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

EA June 9, 2010 at 4:31 am

Well told. Congratulations on your condo.


Dina June 9, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I don't see why some people think punching gate agents is a good way to get a seat on an airplane… XD


ps June 9, 2010 at 5:29 pm

It was Nashville, what would you expect? Probably the same thing goes on at the bus station and the local Piggly Wiggly.


Coop June 15, 2010 at 9:19 am

That's a great story.

To "ps": What are you implying? IMO, the usual suspects in a mob scene as described would not be the local folk, but passengers from other locales; perhaps even from YOUR hometown.


ps June 15, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Based on my stopovers in Nashville I have dealt with similar situations that did not even involve Air Wal-Mart, I mean Southwest. And judging by the drawls and size of the clientele they were not from anywhere near my hometown.


madachode June 10, 2010 at 3:27 am

Next time you want to sit around like a donkey and wait for weather to clear why don't you use some brains and rent a car, drive, then punch yourself in the junk for being a sheep ?


Bob June 13, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Why would anyone subject themselves to flying Southwest Airlines ?


Rich October 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

All the time. They have the best customer service around. Note they offer hotel vouchers when they did not have to. Try getting that out of US Air or Delta. Despite this story they also have an excellent on time record.

This is an older story (2007), they have solved the 'camp out' problem by adding numbers to the A, B, C grouping.


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