How United Airlines – and Not God – Taught Me to be Patient

There are few stories that begin with ‘so I was at Chicago O’Hare Airport…’ that don’t end with ‘….I was so angry I wanted to punch a baby.’ But this one is a story of transcendence thanks to the wonderful work of United Airlines.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie Evan Almighty, is the following:

God: Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient?  (thanks IMDB)

Last night, I was returning home from a business trip in Chicago after a few days on the road. Anyone who travels for business knows that there is magic in making an earlier flight. Home earlier. Bed earlier. Maybe see the kids. I was scheduled to depart on a 9:05pm flight, and got to the airport around 7PM. Once through security, I saw that my 9:05 was already showing 9:50. #Suck.

But wait, the 7:10 flight was delayed until 7:50.  Perfect! Queue sprint to the gate to get on the earlier flight.  Think OJ Simpson in those old commercials without the murder.

I got to the gate before boarding even began. One of the deeply pleasant (sarcasm) gate agents finally looked up long enough to put me on standby. Seriously though, how do they teach airline agents to literally stare at their computer screens, randomly clicking, without even looking up and saying ‘I will be with you in one minute’. It’s a skill. I can’t do it, I’m too afraid.

She finally put me on standby with the added bonus of a $75 fee. This is new I guess, and even though I am Premier on United, apparently you need to be extra Premier to waive the fee. That’s precious.

Boarding begins, and finally they start the standby list. Unfortunately during that time a few newcomers had put their name on the list, and all had higher status than I do, which bumps you down. I went from 4th in line to 7th.

Waiting…..waiting. They called my name. Score. Win. Joy. Getting home early. And then literally as I was waiting in line to board, well after the gate was supposed to close, a woman ran up who was the ‘no-show’ my seat came from. Rather than honoring the ‘be at the gate 10 minutes before close or your seat is forfeited, United took my ticket back out of my hand, gave the seat to the late arrival, and barely apologized.

Balls.  Kicked.

That’s like holding a winning lottery ticket only to find out it was for the wrong drawing date.

Well, back to the 9:05 – I mean 9:50. Actually, I mean this:

United Boarding

No shit. More than 2 hours delayed.  Getting home at close to 4AM because I live an hour from the airport.

Of course first the gate agent (a different one now) had to put me back on the original plane, but only after I waited 10 minutes for them to do whatever critical dot matrix paperwork printing they have to do to let a plane take off into the wonderful sky.

She asked me what that seat number was, and I started to say ‘I don’t f*cking know…’ and then pulled myself back. United was giving me an opportunity to be patient. I smiled at the agent (I think you can call that type of teeth gritting a smile), dug out my reservation and provided my seat. She printed the ticket, apologized, and I went so far as to force myself to say ‘it’s okay, I’ll get home eventually, you’re just doing your job.’

And frankly it worked. My tension abated, and I did what any red blooded business man does when delayed in the airport. I went to the bar and drank. And that’s where I had a lovely conversation with a lesbian folk singer who spent 5 years teaching surfing in Costa Rica. Not kidding.

Epilogue: We actually didn’t take off until closer to midnight in Chicago. I pulled into my driveway at 4:10AM. But I got home and saw my kids this morning, no different than if I had arrived at midnight. I can’t wait to see who will give me an opportunity to be patient today. Hopefully an insurance company….

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