Last week I was in Cleveland, Ohio for a business meeting. My flight home went through Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Upon checking in at Cleveland I was informed that Chicago had been shut down all morning because of storms and no flights had left yet that were Chicago-bound. So instead of a smooth flight home, through Chicago, and landing in D-town at 5:30 I had an experience of delayed flights, cancelled flights, sitting on a plane for 55 minutes until we were cleared to take off, lost luggage, not getting home until 12:01 a.m. the next day, and super crowded airport terminals in Chicago did not make for a fun day.
I did fall in love with my airline's handy iPhone app, which helped me arrange for an earlier flight scheduled to leave now around 7:15 p.m. and getting home around 8:30. I also added my name to a couple other flight's stand-by lists. This meant going from one terminal to another in hopes I got on an earlier flight. My Fitbit was a happy camper as I more than made my daily step goal.
After realizing I wasn't going to have any luck flying stand-by, I made my way to the terminal for my confirmed 7:15 p.m. flight (and an outrageously-priced margarita).
People are everywhere and there is no place to sit. After walking around for awhile, I finally find a seat in the middle of the terminal and sit down. The seat next to me opens up and a traveler's assistant comes up and asks if the seat next to me is available. He is pushing an elderly woman with a cat in a carrier on her lap. The woman is wearing a wool jacket and skirt with a scarf tied around her head. She doesn't speak any English.
The traveler's aid points to her gate and tries communicating with her that 10:15 her flight to Minneapolis leaves at that gate. As the gate is some distance away, I ask the transporter if she will be back (or someone else) to assist the woman in getting to the gate with her cat carrier and two bags. She shakes her head no. I become concerned on (1) how will she know when to board, (2) how will she get to the gate with everything, and (3) was the cat alive. I think I forgot to mention that the cat had not moved at all.
She tries communicating with me as best as we could. She asked "Minneapolis"? I said no. Now I'm really worrying. My flight's departure had been pushed back to 8:30 p.m., then 9-something. Her flight was scheduled for 10:15. I asked a young man sitting across from me if he was flying to Minneapolis and he said yes. I asked him if he could assist her when it came time to board. He said yes, but then we learned he was on an earlier flight. He asked if I could perhaps get her on his flight. The woman gave me her ticket and I learned that she was from Moldova in Eastern Europe and had been flying all day. Now I'm more worried about the cat. I went and talked to the gate agent and explained and she said there was no way the woman could get on their flight. Back to the drawing board. I go back to my seat and the young man now tells me her 10:15 flight has been delayed and will not take off until after midnight, and the gate has been changed. By this time, another woman who is also from Iowa and on my flight (Linda) has sat down across from me and she has joined our conversation.
I find an airline employee, explain that I have a feeble older woman with a cat in a carrier and two additional bags, her flight has been moved to another gate and we need transport to take her there. She said she has called someone. I return to my seat and my Moldovan traveling companion with the cat hands me a piece of paper with a name and phone numbers written on it. Linda takes out her phone and calls the number. Turns out it was the elderly woman's daughter-in-law. We explain to her that due to weather and air traffic control problems, her flight is now scheduled to arrive at 12:15 a.m. The phone is passed back and forth between the elderly woman and Linda. Our flight to Iowa is supposed to board soon and we just cannot get on the Iowa flight without making sure this woman is taken care of and gets to her gate and final destination. I go searching again and find a transport agent and ask him if he can move her to the correct gate. He takes her ticket and checks the flight board. He comes back and tells us her flight has been cancelled. He makes a call and says someone will be over soon to help her. After waiting awhile, I go find a ticket agent at another gate, explain the situation that this woman has been flying from eastern Europe and needs to be taken care of. She makes a phone call, comes over and tells us to come NOW as they are boarding the earlier flight to Minneapolis (the same one I had tried getting her on). I pick up the cat carrier and one of her bags and my new friend Linda, who has been talking with the woman's daughter-in-law, helps the woman to the gate. I get to the gate first with the cat and the gate agent says she can't take the cat. I told her she would take the cat as there was a ticket for the cat to ride in the cabin and point to the Moldovan woman and tell her she had arrived from Eastern Europe earlier in the evening with her cat and the woman only speaks Russian. She quickly changed her mind and started conversing with the woman in Russian and helps her on. My new friend and I wrap each other in a hug and start crying -- tears of joy that this woman was being properly taken care of instead of plopped down in a foreign country and having someone pointing her to the correct gate.
Lesson learned: stop thinking of yourself and look out for others who really have it rough.