My 36 hours of hell spent at four airports

The last time I wrote a blog post, I was stationed next to an outlet at the Denver International Airport, patiently waiting for my iPhone to charge and feverishly typing out said blog post. I typically enjoy my time spent in airports; it’s a prime spot for people-watching, and boy did I see some interesting individuals that morning. Little did I know I was about to go through one hellish ordeal in order to reach my final destination of Rochester, NY.

I should have seen the signs. A friend back home texted me describing the blizzard-like weather we were having and was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to fly home that Monday night. Even my Colorado friend’s mother was concerned for the likelihood of me reaching the final destination. She tracked my flights for me as I was driven to the airport by her daughter.

“The flight I’m slightly concerned about is the one from Washington-Dulles to Rochester,” I said, so blithely unaware that my concern was the biggest understatement of all.

As I was on my way to the Denver airport, this was my level of concern about not being able to make it home that night.
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So, I finished typing my January 6th blog post and proceeded to my gate at the Denver airport. This flight was delayed but I didn’t mind. I was preoccupied by Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s been a worthwhile read so far. I suggest you read it before its movie adaptation starring Ben Affleck is released.

I successfully made it to Washington-Dulles airport around 8pm that night. Upon walking off the plane, I discovered my flight to Rochester had been delayed. No surprise there. It seemed like every flight was delayed that night.

Wrong. It was delayed again. And again. And again.

Not only was I close to having a mini panic attack because my lackadaisical comment from earlier was about to come true, but I hadn’t eaten since 2pm in the Denver airport. Figuring in the time difference made it eleven hours since I had last seen a morsel of food. And I just threw out my half-eaten tuna sandwich thinking the 3-hour flight had caused it to spoil. Shit.

This was all I could think about as I waited to rebook my flight.
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“The flight leaving for Rochester has been cancelled,” an airline worker announced over the loudspeaker around midnight. “Please proceed to the customer service line for assistance.”

I looked over my shoulder, and my jaw dropped at the sight of the customer service line. There must have been at least 300 people trying to rebook flights home. I watched as parents gathered up sleeping children and hustled over to customer service. All of us in line glared with green-eyed jealousy at those who paraded past us having already made it through the line, a discounted hotel voucher in hand.

Thank God my iPod still had a good amount of battery life left. I situated myself in a line that was only moving a little over a foot per minute and put my headphones in. I was comforted by the opening guitar strums of “Ghosts” by On an On, a song I have recently become obsessed with. I’m actually listening to it now as I write this post.

My music was the only thing keeping me sane at this point.
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Two hours later, I was finally rebooking my flight. At this point, I was hungry, frustrated, and overtired; I should have been sleeping in my own bed at this point in the night. Then again, the airline workers were in the same boat as I was, so I tried my best to act as pleasant as I could.

“I can get you on an early flight to JFK tomorrow morning,” the airline worker said.

“That’s not going to work. I live eight hours away from that airport,” I proclaimed.


“No, sir. An upstate New York airport. Try Syracuse or Buffalo if there aren’t any flights to Rochester,” I fumed, trying to hide the anger laced in each word.

“I am going to put you on a connecting flight that will fly to Atlanta and then to Buffalo. Will that work?” he asked.

“Fine. Just book it. Thanks,” I sighed.

I probably should have said this to the airline worker who was rebooking my flight. Oops.
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After he booked the flight, I asked about hotel accommodations for the night. The best he could do was offer me a discounted voucher for nearby hotels, and I had to provide my own transportation over there. Screw that. I curled up on the floor of gate A6 next to an outlet, once again charging my phone that had gotten dangerously close to dying.

I tried to settle in by using my backpack as a pillow and draping my North Face jacket over me. I gripped my purse and phone in one hand and closed my eyes.

Hunkered down at gate A6 for the night.
Hunkered down at gate A6 for the night.

Not even five minutes had passed before a piercing alarm started going off. I raised my head and looked around as people who had curled up in the airport waiting chairs started moving to find out what was going on. But every single airport worker walked around as if nothing was happening.

Listening to an alarm going off for over a half hour was its own form of torture.
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I checked the time on my phone. 3:30am. Excellent.

Any intention of getting sleep at this airport disappeared as I looked around and noticed people attempting to go back to sleep despite the shrill cry of the alarm. So, I watched Netflix for a while and then headed around 4:45am to a couple of chairs in a deserted alcove.

5:30am rolls around, and I get up to grab a quick bite to eat. I bought a ticket on a shuttle that would take me from Washington-Dulles airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia. As I waited for the shuttle, I called my airline and tried to track my luggage. No way in hell was I leaving Dulles without knowing for sure that my luggage would be on the next flight out to Rochester.

That first bite to eat in over 12 hours was heaven.
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The customer service woman I spoke to over the phone assured me that it would arrive in Rochester on the next available flight, so I boarded the shuttle around 8am breathing only a slight sigh of relief. At this point, I had been wearing my makeup for over 24 hours and had no deodorant, toothbrush, or other essentials with me. It was all in my checked bag that may or may not arrive in Rochester in the next few days.

I arrived at the Reagan airport around 9am, and my flight was scheduled to leave at noon. I made it through security looking haggard as ever and proceeded to find the nearest cafe. I ordered a red eye for the first time in my life and once again sat down by an electrical outlet to charge my phone.

The red eye did absolutely nothing for me. I frequently dozed off to the point where I was pretty sure the women sitting at the table across from me were staring. I knew I should have ordered a dead eye. One shot of espresso just wasn’t enough.

“The flight to Atlanta has been delayed to 1:11pm. If this causes you to miss your connecting flight, please see the nearest airline attendant,” an airline worker said over the loudspeaker.

Of course. Why wouldn’t this delay cause me to miss my connecting flight in Atlanta? I was beginning to think I would have to change my address to the Reagan airport. Send all of my mail here because at the rate I’m going, I will never get home.

How I felt standing in a customer service line once again.
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So for the third time, I stood in a customer service line where the worker booked me on two flights in case I missed my connecting. It turns out the connecting flight was delayed as well, so it was my lucky day. I boarded the plane for Atlanta and immediately fell asleep as soon as we were in the air.

When we landed, I checked my phone and saw a text message from my father saying my connecting flight to Buffalo had been cancelled. I wasn’t even the slightest bit surprised. I was too tired to even display a hint of emotion.

Now, the Atlanta airport is one of my favorites because of the wide range of restaurants and shops I could kill time in. I succeeded in booking a flight to Rochester that was scheduled to leave at 8:25pm and decided to treat myself to a dinner at an actual restaurant. If only I was twenty-one, or else I would have spent my entire time at the bar.

Flight’s delayed again. And again. Here we go.

Finally at 10:30pm, I boarded the long-awaited flight to Rochester. I’ve always dreaded flying back home after a vacation, but I couldn’t wait to look out the plane window and see my beloved Rochester. I didn’t even care about the freezing temperatures I was due to experience.

I landed at 12:30am on Wednesday, January 8th. I had spent the past 36 hours trying to get home, and I finally made it. It was 36 hours of hell, but I’m pretty sure I shaved a few years off my purgatory sentence because of what I endured.

I felt a need for celebration when I finally landed in Rochester.
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I guess you could say I learned a valuable lesson over the course of those 36 hours. From now on, I will pack not only the essential items of a toothbrush, deodorant, makeup, a change of clothes, etc in my carry-on bag, but I will also never expect my flights to pan out.

I’ll have airline apps downloaded on my phone and ready to be accessed, extra money for emergency expenses, and a calm head on my shoulders to deal with future setbacks.

As they say, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” Or in my case, when airlines cancel your flights, muster up every ounce of patience you have and stand in those damn customer service lines.


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