When United ‘deplaned’ me and mine
A late evening flight. Torrential storm. Night at the airport.
I was flying United Airlines from Newark to Atlanta with my daughter. Our late evening flight headed for take-off a little late due to bad weather and a delayed incoming.
And then the bad weather turned to brutal. Or close.
A crazy downpour and non-stop lightning kept us standing on the tarmac for over 2 hours. After which, well past the time when we should have landed in Atlanta, we were returned to the gate. The reason — bad weather and the crew had timed out.
Sorry, we were told, but this flight ain’t going anywhere.
Our only option was to fly out the next morning. With one counter open for rebooking, the line already 50 deep, the prospect of waiting another hour with a kid dead on her feet was pretty daunting.
Just then, I got a text from United with a link to pick an option for the next day’s flight. 2 minutes later, we were all set - rebooked with seat assignments and all. Just a few clicks and no prolonged wait.
But we still had hours to wait. It was past midnight and the New York area was in the throes of lashing rain, heavy winds and zero visibility. Going home wasn’t an option; they’re weren’t any Ubers to even get to an airport hotel. So we decided to stay put at the terminal to catch the 7.00 am out.
After a long trudge through the different gates, I finally found a spot with the 2 things I needed most. A phone charging station that worked, and a bench seat without armrests so my exhausted 6 year old could stretch across to sleep.
As the night grew deep, I realized that the quest for the bench seat had also landed me in a fairly deserted section of the terminal. The rest of the stranded passengers were elsewhere — the wide expanse of 200 empty seats had a desolate, somewhat creepy air about it, more so, given the bursts of lightning and thunder.
But even worse — in the absence of warm bodies, it had also gotten very cold. There was no way I could get to another place carrying kid and luggage, so I stayed awake and miserable while she huddled in her sleep.
And then, heavensent! A United ground crew member waved as she whizzed past us in her motor cart. Five minutes later, she was back with blankets. Oh, and the poor kid needs a pillow, so here’s one for each for you.
Trust me, you have to feel that alone and cold and see your child suffer, to really appreciate the warmth that followed.
She actually mentioned that she had seen me earlier but didn’t know where I’d gotten to, so she’d set out to look for passengers with kids who might need help. She also gave me meal vouchers which weren’t of use since I couldn’t move, so she got me bottles of water. The blankets were cozy, but the cheerful chat warmed me in equal measure.
Small acts of kindness. Huge difference.
The night went slowly; the storm didn’t. Come morning, and we were all set to leave. But the adventure didn’t end for us just yet. Our departure gate was changed to one at the other end. And the irony — after 6 idle hours, when we could have gotten anywhere, we ended up in a disoriented sprint through the now crowded terminal to make the flight.
We finally landed, only to find that our bags hadn’t made it. Again, the United staff was polite and helpful. This time the vouchers they gave us were used for a hot breakfast while we waited for the next incoming flight and our luggage.
But our travel story had a happy ending after all, thanks to the United crew.
On the return flight, my daughter asked if she could see the cockpit. The attendant took the request to the Captain, while we prepared her for a refusal. But not only did he allow her to come visit, he actually put his cap on her head and had her take the Captain’s seat for a few minutes. And her Mom was allowed in too — because, of course, someone needs to take the pictures of a super thrilled kid!
I’ve flown many different airlines over the years. Numerous uneventful trips across countries and continents. But this one I’ll remember. And so will my little girl.