People are amazing. When necessary, we can be strong, supportive, calm and we can empower ourselves and others with a spirit of hope and confidence that can help weather the worst storms. We are resilient – equally capable of dealing with the aftermath of those storms.
I don’t normally dwell on the same subject for consecutive posts, but the fire at the Chicago ATC TRACON Facility was a big enough event to support two posts. Last week, I talked about rerouting my travel immediately after that fire. Three days later, I had to travel through Chicago on my way home and, just like on Friday, people provided the comfort that the airlines still couldn’t deliver.
I won’t bore you with the convoluted exercise in logic that led me to stick with my original reservations. For the record, I flew from Iowa (DSM) at 4:05 PM, laid-over at Midway in Chicago for about 4 hours until connecting to a flight to Connecticut.
Several flights from DSM to Chicago had been cancelled during the day and there was a collective angst as we stood in all the normal lines. We grew quietly impatient while the attendants processed a cart full of boxes for a family in line ahead of us. Once at the gate, we paced until our plane arrived. Flying into a mess, none of us were certain we would be going beyond Midway. We boarded that plane like sheep.
The flight – Shortly after takeoff, the Captain got our attention by announcing:
“Ladies and gentlemen, this will not be a normal flight.”
“Instead of our normal cruising altitude, we will be flying at 13,000 feet.”
The man next to me said “that seems low.” We agreed that it was well over 2 miles in the air, but we could see the ground the whole way. We joked about being glad to be flying over relatively flat Iowa and Illinois. We talked about how seeing the ground throughout your flight is not comforting the way seeing the shore from a boat is. The woman in the window seat said “this looks the same as when I drive to Chicago.”
People – Midway airport was packed! Three full days after the fire, the airlines were busy shuffling people through an incomplete system. Flights were still being cancelled and thousands of passengers were trying to knit together badly fractured itineraries. Restaurants, bars, charging stations, restrooms and any place you could sit were overflowing with people. But there was a surrealistic calm in the terminal, no yelling, no pushing and no racing to get ahead of someone. In fact, people seemed a bit more polite than normal.
Food court – If you’re not one to associate “food court” with fine dining, Midway won’t do anything to change your mind on a good day. This wasn’t a good day but the place was chockablock full of people in search of food and people with food in search of a place to sit and eat. If you study the photos, you will notice that some restaurants had small or no lines. They also had little or no food. Ben & Jerry’s was out of many flavors, but they had chocolate and that was dinner.
I’m not normally the bold social type, but I asked a man sitting at a high table if I could join him. I had been standing / walking a long time and the thought of sitting with my iPad on a table was enough to overcome my shy tendencies.
Soon, the man left and I had the table to myself. I ate my ice cream, I browsed and I continued a comforting group text conversation with my wife and daughter. Then a man walked past my luxury island heading to an empty low table. He was juggling three plates of food and a carry-on bag while trying to corral two young children. As he approached his target, a couple sat down. He looked sad as he searched in vain for another empty table. There were none. When we made eye contact, I motioned him to come and take my place. He made me feel so good as he thanked me that I ended up thanking him.
Reilly’s Daughter – Back on my feet, I ventured past the food court, past the Chinese buffet where only rice and broccoli remained available and past the Mexican buffet with a line that snaked into the seating area. I checked the two bars and remarkably, I found an empty stool at Reilly’s Daughter. Reilly was the name we gave to our second Irish Setter. My wife quipped in a text message that Reilly’s daughter would be Maddie, our 4th setter and a descendent from the big boy’s lineage. Monday Night Football was about to start, and I was happily seated between two Kansas City fans – beer and football. Suddenly, things almost seemed normal in that dark corner of Midway.
I stayed at the bar until it was time to board. The flight to Hartford was almost empty, 68 passengers according to the flight attendant. 68 passengers and from the comments, groans and expletives, 67 were Patriots fans. Fortunately, we didn’t begin boarding until halftime, although a last second KC Field Goal only made the mood more sour. Still, we were all going home and as the line started moving down the Jetway, we were all getting happy.
BDL was empty when we arrived. No lines, no crowds, no worries. The board indicated that a few flights were still delayed but it no longer mattered to me. In my last nod to the others stuck in my situation, I hoped that delayed meant that they wouldn’t be cancelled.