A 27-hour flight delay can make it crystal clear how much personal growth one has made in a noticeably short time.
I learned this personally this past week.
It was not so long ago that any one of these travel hiccups would send me into such a panic-induced rage that I would morph into “Dude Karen” before everyone’s eyes. (“Dude Karen,” only because we can’t agree whether a male “Karen” is a “Ken” or a “Kyle” or something else.)
Thankfully, that never came to be, despite what became quite an extended debacle creating multiple meltdown opportunities.
Here’s what happened instead.
The plan was to spend a week with friends in northern Indiana. They would be picking me up in Chicago, the closest airport.
As I waited, the departure time was gradually delayed over two hours. Then, an announcement that we were not flying out today at all. A tire on the plane was broken and the flight out was rescheduled until the next morning.
Not so long ago, “Dude Karen” would have unleashed venom on some poor undeserving soul, and most likely cancelled the trip. I would handle the panic of bungled plans by allowing it to inspire rash, emotionally charged choices that I would quickly regret.
There will always be that initial rush of anxiety in those situations. This time, the wave was permitted to pass, and then I responded with the next step. In this case, securing a hotel voucher for the night.
By letting the emotions pass and then staying present, I could receive the gift of a self-care night. This meant watching a Red Sox game on TV and enjoying truffle fries and fried Brussels Sprouts from the trendy Italian bistro next door. I made the most of an unexpected opportunity.
Right away, TSA would not accept my boarding pass because the updated flight information was not in their system.
Me: “Can I just show you the one on my phone?”
I was directed to the airline counter for a new boarding pass, and upon my return: “It’s still showing up as yesterday’s flight, and now your name is Susan. I’m calling a supervisor.”
I immediately heard Whitney Houston’s “My Name is Not Susan” in my head. There really is a song for everything.
The supervisor arrived, ran the pass on my phone as I had initially offered, and sent me off with wishes for a safe flight.
As I demolished some greasy yet satisfying bacon and home fries with my coffee while waiting at the gate, I thought, “I must have gotten all of this out of my system now, right? Right?”
Right before boarding, we learned they did not have the tool to fix the tire and it needed to be flown in from Chicago (it took them this long to figure that out?) and they suggested we find another flight because they had no idea when this one was leaving.
I was still calm but resolved that I was getting to Chicago today no matter what flight I needed to take. I walked up to the desk with calm determination: “Hi, how are we going to work together to get me to Chicago today?”
I was quickly booked for the next scheduled flight. That felt almost too easy, and I felt a heavy, dropping feeling in my gut as though there was something wrong. I peeked at my boarding pass. Again, the pass had Susan’s name on it. Susan was continuing to unknowingly complicate my day.
The lady who helped me so easily just minutes before was now forced to cancel my seat and find a new one on a now overbooked flight.
“One of two things is about to happen. Either this seat is changing to my name, or I’m boarding as Susan. But we’re going to get me on that plane. We’ve got this.”
Those words didn’t come from fear, anger, or frustration, but from a knowing that this was going to work. The details didn’t matter; I knew the outcome. It was a calm but powerful feeling.
After some frantic typing and a couple of phone calls, my new pass came through, with a seat upgrade. Susan was off the hook. With the extra few hours came the opportunity for lunch, and for crushing some greasy, overpriced handmade potato chips. Oh, and a salad.
Waiting at the gate a few hours later, I felt myself fading. I was exhausted from the whole ordeal, and my stomach was screaming in protest over my earlier meal choices. I didn’t know if I had any energy left for further hijinks.
Of course, this flight was delayed. First for 15 minutes, then 45. After an hour, the delay turned indefinite due to storms in the flight path.
The frustration became too much for many like myself, now stranded here over 24 hours. I could feel the thick, angry energy all around me, and it started to overwhelm me.
Mostly, I now felt a heavy guilt over my friends still waiting for me in Chicago. Logically I knew that this was not my fault but deeper down, I was connecting to the kid who would catch hell when these things happened, even when out of my control. That experience led my mind to create a story that my friends were resenting me for screwing up the trip.
I wrote that feeling out in our group chat and seeing it on the screen was enough for me to pause and reset. I couldn’t change or control any of their experiences in the moment, whatever they were.
It turned out they were having a great time exploring Chicago. They sent pictures of their adventures through the day. I felt like I was missing out but there was still a great deal of relief.
I allowed myself to feel and express my sadness and frustration without letting them take control. Even in that really tired, emotional space, “Dude Karen” felt no need to appear. All I needed to know was, “Can I get my phone fully charged?” and, “Will I have time to pee before we board?”
The answer to both was “no,” as we received clearance to board a couple of minutes later. I wasn’t complaining because after 27 hours I was finally en route to Chicago.
While it was an experience I would rather have avoided altogether, I am grateful that I was able to experience fully how far along I truly am with my personal growth and healing journey.
Cheers to growth, and to me. Thank you to the airline, and “Susan” for the opportunity to exhibit my progress. Also, my gratitude to “Dude Karen” for teaching me the areas where I needed to grow.