This time last year, I was on a plane parked at one of Logan Airport’s many terminals, sitting comfortably in my window seat and admiring the view. The eighty-ninth minute had passed since the last passenger had boarded the plane, but the United Airlines flight bound for Houston hadn’t budged an inch. We were in the midst of the holiday travel season. In other words, we were going nowhere fast.
On this flight were the usual suspects – college students heading home at the last possible minute for their winter vacation, young professionals like myself whose work schedules allotted little vacation time, and retirees who just didn’t care anymore. Throw in a few screaming kids and their inept parents and you’ve got a Christmas Molotov cocktail in the making. Bottoms up, folks.
You can plan as much as you like, but traveling anywhere at anytime of the year is fraught with difficulties. Doing so during the holiday travel season, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is even worse. Most holiday travel tips concern documentation and scheduling on the one hand, and cutting financial corners on the other. But what about when it’s too late for all that crap?
I know what you’re thinking. “Great, this is what I get for traveling this late in the season. Why didn’t I leave earlier, or try to avoid the Christmas rush?” Yes, there will be unforeseen difficulties during your trip next week. The plane breaks down. There are crying children everywhere. You forgot to fill up before hitting the Mass Pike, and now it looks like you won’t have enough fumes to reach the next gas station.
Whether you’re traveling by planes, trains, automobiles or Fung Wah, it’s important to remember one very simple rule: calm the f*ck down. Once you’ve regained your composure, checked your pulse, and remembered breathing, here’s a number of things you can do to ensure a happy trip during an otherwise sh*tty time.
Accept Delays For What They Are, Which Is Normal
Arguing that airlines are in complete control of arrival and departure times is akin to saying meteorologists control the weather. Neither statement is true, as they fly in the face of human error, weather patterns and rudimentary logic.
When minute ninety clicked on my watch, a flight attendant’s soothing voice beckoned for my attention. “Hello everyone. We regret to inform you that our plane is grounded due to mechanical difficulties. Another will be en route shortly, but until then, we ask that you please exit the plane with all your belongings.”
“Well shit,” remarked James, one of my newfound row buddies. His girlfriend Sarah rolled her eyes and reached over for her purse.
“Don’t worry,” I said with mocking cheer. “It’s a lot worse than you think. The airport bars are closed.”
Make Friends (If Anyone Normal Is Around)
Originally scheduled for an eight o’clock departure, the flight had already been delayed by an hour due to unspecified mechanical faults. The staff regularly assured me then that all would be fine, but the latest news proved otherwise. Now approaching the day’s final hour, everything in our terminal was closed until morning.
Internalizing my feelings of animosity would do neither myself nor anyone around me any good. That’s why the religiously inclined “talk to God” whenever they’re having a bad moment. But if you’re like me, an ex-Catholic who attends mass once a year with his parents, then prayer isn’t an option. Try making friends instead.
James and Sarah just happened to be sitting next to me, and as the minutes ticked by, our mutual hatred for all things United found solace in our close proximity. James was a private in the U.S. Army home for Christmas, and Sarah was a graduate student in Boston. The two reconnected a few days prior, but now they were embarking on the storied tradition of “spending Christmas with the family.” Together, the three of used the powers of complaint to make it through the night.
Try Being Nice To People (If No One Normal Is Around To Be Friends With)
I was lucky to have met these lovebirds. Otherwise, my penchant for pessimism would have gained clout in a moment when positivity was my only ally. Not every trip home affords you with the chance to meet new people, especially if you’re driving on the Mass Pike alone. So despite most Bostonians’ better judgment, it’s good form to be nice to others this time of year. Even if you never want to see them again.
When the unlucky flight attendant made the announcement, a chorus of boos and angry exclamations met her otherwise kind demeanor. The general attitude was understandable, but that doesn’t excuse being a dick to someone, especially when he or she is also on their way home.
Seeking higher ground, the three of us thanked the bemused flight attendant and the rest of the staff with clenched teeth. She smiled as best as she could in light of the situation, and that was that. I didn’t think I would see her again, and frankly I didn’t want to. I know retrospectively I was being an asshole, but that is why we use retrospection – to realize how insanely arrogant we are in order to try and apologize for our behavior.
While deciding between waiting out in the airport or catching a to-be-reimbursed cab ride home, the promised replacement aircraft arrived. Within the hour, we were all shooed aboard by the same flight crew as before, a move that pained many passengers who moments before had been complete dicks to the attendants.
Me, Sarah and James, however, had held back our rage and politely addressed the staff in our minute interactions. Small things like this can pay off in a big way, and for the three of us, that meant drinks were on the house.
So not only were our individual inclinations to find comfort in each others’ misery paying off, but so too were our kind(-ish) acts toward the otherwise denigrated flight staff. With the young flight attendant in attendance, the four of us raised our screwdrivers to cheer the new plane, the sleeping children who’d earlier screamed without fail, and the Christmas season