AA 1356, In Memorandum

Originally published in August 2019


I woke up this morning in a hotel expecting to take an early afternoon American nonstop flight from Albuquerque to Chicago. Yet somehow, it’s 11:30 PM and I’ve found myself a thousand miles away in Denver about to take a United flight. Wild.

So here I am, sitting on a worn chair at the end of this airport terminal. There’s a few strangers nearby browsing their phones while straddling the line between sanity and deliriousness. I wonder what they’re scrolling through. Others are sleeping on the ground, clutching their possessions like a toddler protecting her toys. Are they not afraid of getting their stuff stolen? What about how dirty the ground is? Brave.

I notice I always seem to end up here. One of my favorite trips with friends involved laying over at this airport. On the other hand, I recall another nasty flight cancellation when a serious snowstorm passed through Denver some day in early May on my way back home from college - seriously, how can there be a blizzard in May?

Let’s say I have a love/hate relationship with this place. Today’s manifestation of that relationship - and with airlines in general - is of the latter.

Rewind back several hours. My original flight got canceled due to stormy weather on the inbound flight. Quite truthfully, it’s no big deal. Getting home a few hours past usual doesn’t even register as a tremor on the scale of life problems. Not specifically my life problems, but in the grand scheme of things. Neglible.

Of course, I wasn’t the only one on my team who had a flight canceled today. Everybody who lives in Chicago had to undergo the same panic this morning. We all woke up at the same hotel at the same time. Look at where we ended up. They’ve all arrived home by now, sleeping soundly in their own bed. I drew the short end of the stick. Unlucky.

The person on the other end of the phone working Customer Service at American Airlines was a nice lady named Karen. I had to wait an hour to speak with her to change my flight. Twice. Then she had to wait an hour to speak with the United Airlines rep to put me on a new flight. Twice. Almost four hours in total. I don’t care if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Agnostic, or Capitalist. Whichever God you pray to, he doesn’t want to get involved in this. Lawless.

At long last, we’re beginning to board for this second leg. I don’t have a seat so I have to go to the gate counter to ask for one. I always wait until the end to go up and ask for a seat. I assume by then most of the seats in the back are filled so they have to start giving out premium ones. I have no idea if that’s how it works, but sure enough, I get put in Economy Plus. I notice they didn’t give me my usual window seat preference to rest my head against. If anybody can hear me, please cue up Jesse McCartney’s “How Do You Sleep?”.

On second thought, I might be stuck in middle seat purgatory but 7th row ensures I’ll be among the first quartile to deplane. Blessed.

The guy sitting on my right is watching House of Cards on his iPad. I think I see Kate Mara. Is this Season One? That was forever ago. I can hear the audio. We’re on a plane. He’s got headphones in but it certainly doesn’t sound that way at all.

I take a quick glimpse over at the guy sitting to my left. He’s scrolling Instagram. I look back and look over again. Now it’s Clash Royale. He realizes I’m preparing to stow my laptop away for takeoff and tells me it’s not a safety hazard so I don’t actually need to put it away. Are you kidding me? Sir, it’s midnight and I’m almost home. Best not turn back now.

He cranes his neck, looks past the barrier separating Economy Plus and First Class. “Oh look, there’s a spot left in First Class. Wonder if I can get it”, he ponders out loud in a slightly high-pitched voice. Then he leans over to me and whispers, “That’s what happens when you fly every week”.

Oh, don’t I know buddy. Don’t I know…

The flight attendant comes by asking for our drink order. My seatmates both order an alcoholic drink. I think one of them is a Rum and Coke. She looks at me, expecting a similar request. Laughable. I’ll stick with ginger ale.

Thank goodness we’ve finally landed. Now it’s past 3:00 AM and I’m in a new time zone. A part of me fears I won’t be able to find an Uber or Lyft driver nearby this early in the morning but, miraculously, I do. There’s a few office lights flickering amidst the skyscrapers on the horizon, the only sign at this decrepit hour of a bustling metropolis during the day. I presume the employees inside must be real office warriors. Tenacious.

I see my front door. I’ve made it. I shower and slowly crawl into bed.

It took a roundabout trip but I’ve finally ended up in the same place as all my teammates. And is it the end or the journey that matters? Does it even matter? You decide.

Rest in peace, AA 1356. Truth be told, I hardly got to know you.

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