Last week I took my first red eye flight in over 20 years. Taking overnight flights used to be the norm when I worked in a bank with a West Coast presence. Notwithstanding the exhaustion, I would land at 6:00 am, go home to shower and change and be in the office for a full day of pretending to make good decisions while my brain fought for sleep. At some point, I came to my senses and realized that taking an overnight flight was a really bad idea. Until this week, when I realized the alternatives were so much worse.
This trip was for a fun ski trip. We booked it with high hopes that COVID, weather or airline staffing would not disrupt our flights. Our high hopes panned out until it was time to go home. Two days before we were to depart, two major storms erupted across the country. It was a good news, bad news kind of situation. Suddenly, we had lots of snow. Good for skiing, not so good for flying or driving.
The night before the return trip home, the airline cancelled our flight. We were in the bus heading to dinner, winding through the mountains. Cell phone service was spotty.
Nonetheless, I immediately got on the phone to the airline to look for alternatives at the same time thousands of other people across the country did the same. Miss Robo Voice said they would call me back in more than four hours. Grrreeeeat. By then, all the options would be gone.
But wait! There’s an app for that.
As I started searching the app, I realized our only viable option was to first get us to Denver. We would need a van service. The first company I called said they could help us. It would not be until the next afternoon that I realized what a big deal it was that I booked them in the next 10 minutes.
While I was searching for flights from Denver, where I thought we would have lots of options, I saw the options disappear before my eyes. This was not looking good. Just as we sat down at the dinner table, one of the friends we were traveling with handed me her phone. She too had been calling the airline, and somehow, she had a real person on the line. Fifteen minutes later, we had our red eye flight reserved, now aware that the next available option was at least three days away.
The next morning, the van driver called me to say he would be late picking us up. The snow coming in from Denver, coupled with the traffic had turned his three-hour drive into a five-hour ordeal. And he was just getting started. He had to go back over the same route, and it was still snowing. Five hours and one bathroom stop later, he dropped us at our destination. He had started his journey at 3:00 am, in the snow over mountain passes and back, to get us here almost 12 hours later. I could not have been more grateful. Then he said, “You got the last one we had.” Wow. Furthermore, he said he had been driving that route for 17 years and that this storm made the roads bad enough to be in his top 5 worse trips. Wow again.
As we checked into the hotel that would be our home for the next 12 hours, my eyes opened to all the help we had received to get there. I watched the hotel desk clerk help a pair of pilots in front of me get rooms that would help them sleep well. She gave me the same consideration. Later, I saw the airport shuttle driver helping us weary travelers get our bags onboard and then safely drive us to the terminal. The woman who checked in our bags was bright and cheerful in the wee hours of the morning. While we settled into our seats for the flight, wondering if we would sleep at all, the pilots sounded chipper as they informed us a crew would first have to de-ice the plane. After we arrived safely in Charlotte, our bags came through the carousel, and we breathed a sigh of relief.
I’ve made it home from many cancelled flights over the years. Usually, the next flight or the one after that is the extent of the delay. Something about this event made me realize something that is true every day: we need each other.
Every single moment that moved us closer to home had someone behind it, helping us along the way. The friend who got a real person on the line. The real person who patiently walked me through options while I sat in a busy restaurant, afraid to drop the call if I moved. The technicians who created the cell phone I was using. The van driver who drove a trip I would never want to drive on my own. The snow plow drivers who cleared the roads. The airline personnel. The de-icing crew. The flight controllers who guided our plane across the country. The baggage handlers. The parking attendant. I’m barely scratching the surface here, and we needed every one of them.
Somewhere during all of this, we found the space to move with gratitude. It’s a very different internal space than moving with anger and frustration.
I like to think of myself as an independent person, able to take charge and get things done. This trip reminded me that we are really interdependent. Help came in so many forms from so many people. Especially in modern society, there are multitudes of interconnected points, even when they are not obvious.
This trip has helped me remember just how much we need each other.
Where are others helping you achieve your goals? In what ways are you receiving help that might not be obvious? What happens if you choose gratitude, even when things are not working the way you want them to?
As much as I don’t want to repeat the experience of a trip that doesn’t work, I came away grateful. And gratitude IS something I want to repeat. Often.