The Passenger

A soft pinging plays as the stewardess who’s probably been working in this airport for far too long asks, for the third time, for a passenger to give up their seat on the overbooked plane. The terminal is cold and stiff, unlike the hot and stuffy air awaiting me in 600 miles and 4 hours. I look out the large windows facing the tarmac. The sun is shrouded in bright white clouds and a murky snow coats the grass. In the distance, an outline of my big gray city is barely visible. A line of older people begins to form in front of the desk of arguing flight attendants. I sit and stare at the bustling terminal until the same stewardess grips the intercom again and for the fourth time pleads, “Ladies and gentleman… This flight has been overbooked. If no one chooses to give up their place, the flight cannot leave. Southwest is willing to give away a 500 dollar voucher to another flight, if no one takes this we will randomly select one passenger.” 

She puts the microphone down and I see her begin to lecture a much younger, and likely more patient, flight attendant. The terminal falls to low chatter and the piercing screaming of three toddlers. Every person in the terminal knows someone would have to be crazy to willingly give up their spot on the only flight to Key West 12 hours before Christmas Eve. I whip out my phone and check the time, 12:22. The flight was supposed to board 30 minutes ago and now it seems that I’ll never get to escape this stiff bench and give my ears the relief of silence 10,000 ft in the sky. 

My eyes adjust to a rapidly darkening room as the layers of clouds thicken just outside the glass. I can understand why someone would want to leave Minneapolis in December. I don’t blame the passengers or the flight attendant for being so stubborn. Still, the tension in the room is tangible and all I want is for someone to just give in and let the rest of us leave. After not even a minute, for the fifth time in 30 minutes, a chiming plays again.

Instead of the gruff voice of a weathered old woman, a warm, eager voice of a man begins to play with the intonation of a grade-school PSA.

“Hello ladies and gentleman, this is Captain Pearson speaking for flight 2869. I hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas Eve with us at Southwest airlines.” 

He leaves a bit of space after an idiotic chuckle for a laugh but the room rings silent.

“Anyway… I am obliged to alert you all that a severe winter storm is approaching, and with this delay, there is the possibility of cancellation. I encourage anyone to please give up their seat so we can all go about our trip without further disruption.”

I can feel the collective stomach of the room drop. Instead of the sunny beaches and glorious sunsets of Key West, one of us will be stuck in the luxurious Minneapolis airport during a blizzard. 

How cliche, I think to myself with a grin, what Hallmark plot is this?

The minute that follows is one of the most tense moments of my life, second only to the time at work when I made an ill-timed joke about one of my colleagues’ late mother. In my defense, I didn’t realize she was a late mother at that time.

I took a week off work for this trip; I really could not miss this flight. The decision was pretty spontaneous. I was sick of the same routine over and over and I remembered how my parents would take my brother and me to Key West every winter vacation when I was young. Maybe the change of scenery or the déjà vu from my childhood would help me… 

The fluorescent lighting above seems to get stronger and stronger by the second, and the processed air seems to become more oppressive by the instant. The older people preemptively standing in a line like silver generals on a hill look around as if telling us that we were selfish for refusing to give up our seats that we paid for. I begin to think about why I’m really taking this trip.

Help me what?

Suddenly, the intercom screeches back on and Captain Perfect’s voice begins to replay like a scratched record. At this point, it probably would make sense for someone to just give up already instead of a random selection. Someone like me, I conclude. I mean, I’ll leave it up to another 5’11’’ guy on an irrationally expensive trip for no reason with a bit more honor than me. 

“Okay… since no one wants to give up their seat, uh, we will commence a random selection,” the captain states. I should interject, but I don’t. The odds I get selected are low anyways, and honestly some of these entitled rich people on their vacations should be humbled a bit. But then I kind of feel like this is some sort of Hunger Games drawing. A part of me is sure my name will be the one read out. 

“Marissa Waltzon, would you please check in at the desk to receive your flight voucher,” the captain states.

I quietly grunt a, “Yesss!” with a celebratory fist. As if I would actually be chosen at random. I guess this isn’t really a Hallmark film after all. 

I look around as the room releases a sigh of relief and the stewardess begins to check people onto the flight. I don’t really feel bad for this Marissa. She’s probably some Karen who’s been harassing the airport employees like most of the women here. 

“Sucks to suck.” I mindlessly let out with a grin as I gather my bags to board the plane. 

I then notice the woman next to me, a very young woman actually, and she seems equally offended and heartbroken. She gazes up at me like a wounded street cat. She’s an attractive woman unlike the others in the terminal. She seems to actually take care of herself. 

Her mouth hangs open as if debating whether she wants to say something or not. She definitely is one of those types. I prepare myself to back off and apologize to avoid any confrontation when she looks me up and down and scoffs before turning around to walk over to the desk. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t incredibly offended by that gesture, but I guess that’s women for you. I definitely need to go up and apologize. I’m above that. I speed over to the desk with my backpack in hand.

Right before approaching her I realize, Wait, what do I even say? Oh, sorry for having the maturity of a twelve year old boy. I hope you have a lovely Christmas Eve in an airport… There is no reason for me to even have to apologize. This is stupid.

Before I can turn around to retreat, Marrissa begins to talk to the flight attendant and I can’t help but overhear.

“Are there no other flights to Key West tonight?” she pleads.

The flight attendant shakes her head before tapping her iPad screen with ridiculously long, grotesque pink nails. 

“Ma’am, all flights for the next week are fully booked,” she nonchalantly says, not even bothering to glance up from her screen.

“How about Tampa? Tallahassee? Miami? Orlando?” she says, exasperated. Each time, the flight attendant shakes her head. “Well, is there anything you can do? Please, my mother is on her last legs and she has no one,” she begs. The flight attendant looks up at her, flaunting her wrinkled pale face and obvious wig that’s a bit sideways. 

Annoyed, she says, “Ma’am, it is Christmas week. All direct flights to Florida are booked, you should know that. The best I can do is fly you out to Missoula and get you on a flight to Miami from there in about 36 hours.” She looks down and starts typing before concluding with, “Unfortunately, the voucher can’t fully cover that and you’ll need to pay about 400 additional dollars.”

“Where the hell is Missoula? My mom doesn’t have two days, and I don’t have 400 dollars. This is ridiculous, aren’t you supposed to help me?” Marissa cries.

“Montana,” she replies, not even batting an eye. Marissa’s jaw drops and she stares at the stewardess in shock. “You can always drive,” she replies as if it were some sick joke.

Oh great, now I feel like a double asshole. This has to be some movie plot somewhere. Okay… I need to step up and help this poor woman. She’ll appreciate me so much. 

Nobly, I step up, struggling to find the words.

“Hello ma’am, uhm I’m sorry about your predicament and uhm, uhh,” I stutter.

She turns to look at me like she’s about to kill me before immediately turning back to the attendant.

“Wait no, uhmm, uh, do you wanna trade spots?” I manage to get out. Wow, this is pathetic.

“Huh?” she blurts out.

“I mean if you want to take my place… I can use the voucher,” I try to say as calmly as possible.

Before she can reply, the attendant working the line states that this is the last call to board over the intercom.

Panicked, she looks at me and gives me a nod of approval, and I try to flash a smile but it seems to fall a bit flat.

She whispers a brief, “Thank you,” before hurrying to the line and walking through the tunnel to the plane. I’m shocked. 

She’s walking through my tunnel to my plane to sit in my seat. Is that really all I get? She didn’t even ask my name or insist otherwise. Did I really give my vacation plans to a woman who didn’t even ask my name? Aren’t I owed at least that? That’s it, last time I’m being noble…  Totally unfulfilling… I really didn’t get any credit at all. Zero?!

I snap back to reality when I begin to think about my hotel reservations and my car rental. Oh my God, what have I done? I realize.

I talk to the flight attendant and she redirects me to another desk. After maybe an hour of frustrating back and forth with a much kinder employee, she issues me that ticket to Missoula and Miami for an additional 150 dollars. I go to my stiff bench to hunker down for the rest of the day as it begins to snow. The plane lifts off and here I am, still waiting to board, like I always am. As I sit and wait, I think about Marissa and her mom and the flight of ungrateful passengers and rude attendants, all waiting to get to the next place and do the next thing, moving from one boarding terminal to another while I’ll be sitting on this uncomfortable-ass bench. 

I guess that’s how the world works sometimes… 


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