Airports are loud places, even in the middle of the night.
I got to experience this first-hand not from a commuter perspective, but from that of someone who was trying to get some sleep! Thanks to the weather patterns that frequently occur in the spring in the Midwest, I wound up having to stay the night at a Dallas airport.
When flying back to Kansas, I often take the 4:45 pm Southwest flight because I can put in a nearly full day of work and the airport is only about 25 minutes by Metro from the office. Normally, this allows me to leave comfortably around 2 or 2:15 to get to the airport, and pull into my hometown by 8 pm or so.
None of that was happening this time.
On my Metro ride to the airport, I got a notification that my flight was cancelled. I quickly texted my ride to confirm if she could pick me up later, and while I did that the next available flight was already sold out. I finally booked a flight through Dallas that wasn’t scheduled to land until after midnight. So be it.
There was enough time to kill between when I arrived at the airport (early for my 4:45 that was cancelled) and the next flight at 7:40 that I was able to visit two different terminals to grab a free meal and some drinks to help me cope with the delay.
Shout out to the Priority Pass, which I got as a perk for getting the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. The Pass allows me $28 worth of food and drink at several airport lounges and restaurants. I would never pay for the Pass individually, but it is a great benefit for an already good credit card. If you’re traveling with a guest, they get the $28 value as well. You can learn more about this and other cards here.
The flight to Dallas was prefaced with weather notifications that a tornado had touched down south of Lawrence, Kansas, but that the weather reports were forecasting all would be clear by midnight. This was likely the cause of the initial flight cancellation.
Once we landed in Dallas, those of us traveling on to Kansas City were directed to a gate that was set to board. We watched as the departure time came and went. Airline staff rushed about and spoke quietly over a phone. I knew this couldn’t be good news.
Sure enough but despite moments ago a “we’ll board shortly” response, the announcement came across the airwaves: the flight to Kansas City was cancelled for the night. Some chaos ensued when everyone attempted to line up at the check-in counter to get on a new flight. Several people in line got notifications that they were automatically booked onto the next available flight.
I did get a notice that my flight was going to be at 12:30 the next afternoon. I waited through the line to confirm that indeed that was the only option, and to boot there were no lodging options within walking distance or shuttle ride away.
At this point it was almost 11pm and I was exhausted, and my cell phone was nearing its final stretch of battery life. It made little sense to try to call a bunch of hotels and then spend money and time to take a taxi there and back, only to have to return to the airport the next day and go through security and all of that again.
Seeing many other people in the same predicament, I decided to take a chance on finding a corner of the airport to curl up and try to rest until the morning. Hopefully I would be able to get on the first flight of the morning on stand-by. At least I’d be there already.
I found a large-ish alcove with portraits around it and several empty benches. There was even a light switch. Across from that were the bathrooms. It was about as quiet and secluded as you could get in an airport.
I found a corner of the room that was hidden from the main entrance, dumped my bag and left it completely unattended so I could run across to the bathroom unencumbered. When I returned, of course nothing had happened, but there was a woman with three toddlers on the other side of the room. So much for being alone.
We chatted briefly about our situation and then agreed to lights out. I felt really bad for her. I was frazzled enough, but this woman was alone with kids, including a baby. One of the girls was running around in circles crying “I want to go home!” Honey, I hear you.
I felt grateful for things not being so bad, especially as I started hearing the weather reports of what had happened since we left DC. Multiple tornadoes had touched down in northeast Kansas. The small town of Linwood had significant damage. The airport was closed because of debris cluttering the runway. Some people had lost their homes.
My family and friends in St. Marys were fine, I had shelter and although it wasn’t ideal, I felt secure. I was not the only one who was suffering through an overnight experience in the airport. Tomorrow I would get on a plane and get home at some point.
When the kids regarded me with some suspicion, the woman reassured them that I was there “to protect” them. While that may seem laughable in the face of real danger (seriously, would I be able to fight off attackers?), it warmed my heart and bonded us in a way that made me feel braver and safer. It was at that point that I lay down to go to sleep.
My slumber was rudely and continually disrupted throughout the short night by multiple overhead announcements on the PA system in various languages every 40 minutes or so. I got up to pee about 3 times (those free drinks came back to haunt me). Maintenance crews swept and buffed the floors outside of the room with loud machines. The bench that had looked so comfortable was curved and slippery. It was freezing cold.
Despite the rough night, my suffering paid off in the form of catching the first flight out albeit barely. I put my name on the standby list and was told to wait until all the passengers had boarded. I started pacing in front of the check-in desk as the final few people proceeded onto the plane. Barely audible, I thought I might have heard my last name so I went to the desk and the man had sure enough said it! I can’t believe how little effort he put into announcing the standby passengers, but it resulted in me being the last passenger on the plane.
Once aboard, the assigned seat was not available. Eventually someone who appeared to work for the airline got up reluctantly and I got a seat towards the front of the plane, on the aisle. Score!
I was supposed to put in a full day of work and had a meeting at 10 that morning, so I especially was eager to get there quickly. Thankfully the flight was uneventful and my ride delivered me to my mom’s house within 10 minutes of the meeting. It was just enough time to say “hi!” and get set up. The rest of the time there was fine…until it was time to go back home. I should have expected it after seeing a funky and somewhat ominous sunset the night before.
My return flight was scheduled to leave from Manhattan, a tiny airport about 40 minutes west of my hometown. While the flight schedules don’t usually work out well for me and there’s a connection in either Chicago or Dallas, it was a Saturday and I wanted to give it a try again.
Everything was smooth up until about 40 minutes prior to departure. Since it’s such a small airport, there is only one security gate and it doesn’t take that long. I knew from the last time that I couldn’t bring a jar of jam (luckily then my mom hadn’t left the airport and the security guard returned it to her), and they needed all the food items removed from my backpack the same as liquids and laptops.
The entire process of getting people through security took about 30 minutes. Shortly after entering the boarding area, I saw that there was a delay. I already had a tight connection in Dallas, and certainly didn’t want to miss that and get stuck yet again there, but I was reassured it would be enough time.
Another delay meant that I needed to reschedule my Dallas flight to a later one, which I did. Then I waited as the boarding time came and went. Fifteen minutes later we did board and the plane left the terminal and started to taxi the runway. The sole flight attendant announced that they were asked to hold for 20 minutes. It turned into 30. The next announcement said another 40 minutes.
At this point I knew I would miss the next flight too, so I asked if there was any way we could return to the terminal because there was no way I would make my connecting flight and needed to make plans to reschedule, which might mean leaving the next day. Besides, my cell phone wasn’t getting any reception and the battery level was dropping fast.
After waiting 15 more minutes, we did go back to the terminal. The flight continued to be delayed a further 30-45 minutes, although I lost track of the exact number. I’d also found out that the initial reason for the delay was due to the weather, which was not announced at all. If I’d known that, I would have just rescheduled for the next day right then and could have caught my mom before she went back home.
Upon returning to the terminal, I waited in line to talk to an agent to get rescheduled. I was not alone. I asked if there were any available flights out of Kansas City, but they were all full and nothing was even available the next day until the evening. There was little choice but to take the same exact flight the next day.
I called my mom, who didn’t believe that I’d been delayed. I had to convince her that I wasn’t pulling a stunt and I needed someone to come get me. I waited another 45 minutes at the airport before they came back.
Five hours of wasted time at the airport, however, yielded me an extra day with my family. So all in all it really wasn’t too bad. The flight on Sunday was problem-free and although I didn’t get into DC until 10pm, it was nice to have that extra time.
Typically I don’t have so many issues when traveling, but it goes to show you that it can happen as a one-two punch. There’s not much you can do about it when the weather is involved. I was lucky to have a family to go back to on the return leg and I had the extra day as a buffer, which was fortunate.
I knew it was a risk to fly in the spring in the afternoon, and the Manhattan airport isn’t always the best choice for me. Next time I will stick to AM flights to and from Kansas City!