To keep someone from using it for harm, Kelly hid the plastic knife on the ticket counter as we were slowly reconfiguring our individualized and extremely complex travel arrangements. It was after 9:30 p.m., most of us had been in the airport for 10 or more hours, and the incremental disappointments had reached a boiling point. “Maybe you better wait over there after you get our luggage,” she warned me, pointing beyond the crowd. “Just in case things get crazy.”
By the time I got the luggage, that warning was well-proven. Several men and women were screaming at the Continental manager, a man named Dan who, very unwisely, tried to leave the airport before most of us were re-booked. Rebooking each of us took an average of 30 minutes with all the voucher production for taxis (like the one paying someone to drive me over four hours tomorrow to Boston to catch a flight, and even more astonishing, a bank of taxis on the road right now to Newark, NJ), hotels, meals, and most of all, new flights, train or bus tickets. If Continental avoided bankruptcy until now, this could be the breaking point.
“How dare you try to leave when your workers have been working themselves to the bone,” someone yelled at Dan. The crowd got ugly in a hurry, and no doubt would have physically prevented Dan from leaving the premises. He threatened to call the police and pleaded that he had been at work for 8 a.m. “We’ve been here most of that time too, our kids are hungry, the restaurants are closed, and you’re not going anywhere,” one woman said as several men tried to climb over the ticket counter. It wasn’t until a man yelled out Dan’s full name, instructing everyone to pull out their cell phones and call the airline that Dan went back to work.
Truth to told, aside from the righteous activity of making the manager go down with his ship, most of the dramatic moments with the 60 or passengers on this plane made me embarrassed to be a human and an American. “You WILL book me and my colleagues to Washington IMMEDIATELY because I have $25,000 I have to spend in Virginia tomorrow!” one man screamed into the face of a young Asian man working hours past his shift, who was so shaken, he started to tear up. Some of the unfortunate Continental workers mentioned quitting on the spot and also that they had a shift beginning at 4 a.m. tomorrow. “People, such a disappointment,” I told the vividly red-haired Leanne, the Continental worker who helped me, before hugging the Asian guy. Trying to reason with the crowd — “Hey, let’s treat these workers better. It’s not their fault” — only inflamed some of the travelers. If we had a bigger plane load of people, there would have been bloodshed.
Luckily, I’m with Kelly, who keeps us laughing and models the attitude of, “Hey, this is what’s happening, so let’s just make the best of it.” We also got to recount all the stories, first to the Nepalese hotel shuttle driver, who kept calling out, “Amazing! I can’t believe it. The manager? It was a revolution!” then acting out our airport adventures for much of the staff on duty at the hotel, and now telling you. I may not have gotten home (yet), but I’ve gotten a hell of a story.