Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport
I write to you from Atlanta, capital city of Georgia, famous for being the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and hometown of iconic hip-hop duo, Outkast. For the moment, however, this place is famous to me for being nowhere near where I live. Nevertheless, it appears I’ll be spending Christmas here this year, which is to say in limbo — terrible, soul-sucking limbo.
All manner of inclement weather has descended over the Midwest, tornadoes being the most prevalent and destructive (casualties already number in the double digits before nightfall). 71 degrees was the reported temperature in Washington, D.C. when I left on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, in meteorology news, global warming remains a myth unproven.
I was hesitant to attempt this trip from the start, knowing there was a chance my flight would be delayed or canceled on account of said weather, meaning I’d run the risk of missing my connection, then inevitably end up face down on the rough, frigid carpet floor in some godless corner of Terminal Abject Misery, my topcoat and an electrical outlet the only sources of comfort to call my own.
And so it was to be.
Our flight took off from Reagan National, landing 20 or so minutes later at BWI. This is not a good sign. According to the pilot, something is wrong with the plane — a malfunction worryingly never identified — so we were grounded in Baltimore until further notice. My hope of catching the scheduled connection to Atlanta was now dead and buried, as was that of making it home for the holidays. Good.
While everyone stood in line at the gate, waiting for their turn to chew out the poor guy working the desk, I found myself a quiet place to sit and process the impending decathlon of stress and inconvenience that was about to consume the next however many hours of my life. There was no escaping, so I may as well come to terms and accept that beforehand, rather than resorting to incessant bleating and screaming like everyone else.
Travelers present who can only be described as hysterical include:
- Female (18-25): kicking things and throwing a literal tantrum on the floor
- Male (30-40): loudly repeating “I can’t believe this. Can you believe this? I can’t fucking believe this.” a minimum of fifteen times in three minutes.
- Female (menopausal, has admitted to intoxication and hot flashes): threatening to call the police — it’s unclear what she thinks this will accomplish.
- Male (25-30): who is so obviously from New York it’s not even worth asking, informing no one in particular that “this would never happen in New York”
The list goes woefully on.
The most disheartening part of these situations is seeing the intense self-centeredness brought out in people, along with their complete forsaking of humanity under even slightly unfavorable circumstances. Everyone is on the phone complaining to their friends or family, and understandably so, but they’re all describing the situation as something that’s happening to them personally. As if everyone else weren’t frustrated by what’s going on, and they are the sole victims of this heinous crime perpetrated by, well…global warming, actually.
There’s also the ugliness and cruelty leveled at customer service representatives, whose only mistake in this ordeal was to be employed by Delta. Travelers are clearly relishing the opportunity to just fucking tear into someone, to channel all the misdirected anger from their lives towards someone who isn’t allowed to respond without losing their job. The capacity for patience and understanding exercised by these men and women is nothing short of saintly, to be true.
It also seems kind of sadistic that the airport administration is continuing to play jaunty Christmas tunes over the speakers in spite of the mayhem ensuing from hundreds of missed flights. More people are crying than is really necessary, and I’ve never seen or heard more eye-rolling and scoffing in my life. I know, the nerve of these airlines, intentionally ruining your holiday.
No one is banding together, either. Typically the only thing that makes airport nightmares tolerable is the sense of camaraderie that develops from strangers commiserating over the prevailing circumstances — not so here. Everyone is looking at their phone, screaming on it, or just moping and pouting. The total number of travelers passing the time by reading is one, and it’s all that’s keeping me sane amongst the lunacy.
This feels nothing at all like Home Alone, and I’m upset by that.
We finally get the hell out of Baltimore and land around 2 AM in Atlanta, where the airline has provided cab and hotel vouchers, neither of which work — so that’s fucked up. The check-in line at the Sheraton is incredibly long due to the number of marooned travelers being put up there, and that’s fucked up, too. All the restaurants are closed by the time I get to my room just before 4 AM, which is, you know.
The next flight to Dallas is in five hours, could be worse. I get up early to make sure nothing goes further awry at the airport, though I’m prepared for the worst, at this point. Sitting in the food court — which smells exactly like urinal cakes and sadness — I continue to observe the relentless pessimism and moodiness everyone has made their default setting (myself included, to some extent). What I ended up taking away most from it all was just not to do that, a lesson taught by Mrs. Park.
She is an adorable Asian woman of 50 or so years who works at the food court, diminutive in size but colossal in heart. Mrs. Park is a lively and delightful human being, smiling at everyone like they were a relative she hadn’t seen in years, treating us all like it’s our birthday. I am very hungry, but the only thing available is fast food, and no goddamn way am I eating that shit on Christmas; because then they win, whoever “they” are. So when I decline her offer for a meal, she brings me a free cup of coffee instead. Bless her tiny, radiant Korean soul.
“There might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.”
Her efforts fail to lift the spirits of most people here, but that doesn’t deter her from making them, which is what it should really be about, I think; doing what you can to help others in times of hardship, even when they’re not reciprocal or deserving of it (and you’re the one stuck working at the airport food court for the holidays). I didn’t get to hug my mom or sister on Christmas this year, but I got a big one from Mrs. Park, and that’ll do for me.