“Ladies and Gentlemen, BCA Flight 1251 departing for Philadelphia has been delayed for two more hours. We apologize for the inconvenience. If you are making connecting flights in Philadelphia, please come forward at this time to the service desk.”
At the sound of the attendant’s voice, I watch weary passengers rise and drag their suitcases to the service desk, while new people quickly grab the vacated seats. This flight has already been delayed for three hours. Heavy fog blanketing the UK and spreading across the Channel to Europe has left so many of us stranded in a peculiar kind of limbo.
Two more hours. We who are waiting in the cattle car section are now firmly boxed. Young folks sprawl on the floor, the rest of us claim our seats with the ferocity lions protecting their prey. Since I travel alone, I can’t abandon my bags to head for the ladies room, lest I lose my coveted chair. Come to think of it, I would love to get up and walk around, but there’s really nowhere to go.
What a trip this has been. When my magazine sent me to write an article, Off The Tourist Trail: London Adventures On A Budget, I looked forward to the challenge. I found some great bookstores, a few specialty boutiques, a great little shop for war memorabilia, and some lovely restaurants. On my limited budget, I was quite pleased. Or would have been. I had planned to start writing the story here, but nothing comes to mind. I’m too worried about Chelsea. My errant daughter landed on my doorstep a week before my trip, eight months pregnant, deserted by her boyfriend. Life seems to be turning in circles.
My eyes keep drifting to the windows, where the gray presses against the glass and beyond I can make out some hulking shapes and dim blinking lights. Some days I feel like I’m disappearing into the fog. I suppose it’s because I’m nearing that certain age when women become all but invisible, just vague figures in someone’s peripheral vision until they are called to action.
Damn, I really need to get on with it. Self-pity is such an unattractive trait. Since the divorce, my oldest daughter likes to remind me of that fact. I still wear a ring on my left hand, not a diamond, but a ring nonetheless. My hand feels naked without one. I tell myself I’m easing into my new state.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry to announce that BCA Flight 1251 departing for Philadelphia has been cancelled. Please go to the main desk at once for re-booking. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
I drag my carry-on and blend in with the stream of passengers who span a range of moods from dejected to furious. A red-faced man barrels through shoving me aside to get to the counter. In front of me an older woman in a shoddy pink coat trips, spilling half the contents of her purse, and I stop to help her as the rest of the people stampede past.
“You’re in a hurry to get to the counter, aren’t you?” she says, and I shake my head. It’s too late to catch the next flight or the next. I may never get out of this airport. “It doesn’t matter as long as I get a plane. I’ll go cargo.”
She laughs. “That’s the right attitude. Everyone is in such a hurry these days. I suppose the world’s sped up since my day.”
“Not sure it’s such a good thing.” I pat her shoulder. “Are you all right? Not hurt?”
“Oh no. Just run along, dear. I’ll be fine. I’m in no rush.”
“No, here. Let me help you up. Are you sure you don’t need some assistance?”
She gives me a smile, her blue eyes twinkling with good will and a sort of joy. “You get along now. You won’t get a plane. Good luck to you, dear.”
By the time I reach the counter, I stand at the end of a long, long line. Does it matter? A few business class passengers saunter past the much shorter line and are hurried along. I suppose first class has its own entrance and exit.
The rest of us cattle fidget and shuffle and wait. I listen to customers berate the attendants as if they can control the weather. I wish I had chosen another day to fly. Right now, I believe I could settle down in a plastic seat and nod off.
At last I reach the counter where a harried woman with dark hair and large almond shaped eyes gives me a tentative smile. I return it. I figure she’s had a long day herself.
“BCA Flight 1251?” she says, and I nod. She sighs. “I’m so sorry, but our next available flight is not until Friday morning, Flight 962, leaving at 9 a.m. arriving at 11:36, Philadelphia time.”
“I’m very sorry.”
“Do you have anything going into New York or Newark?”
She does a quick scan. “I’m sorry. We have nothing. So many flights were cancelled.”
“Baltimore? Washington? Boston?”
She shakes her head.
“But I need to be home. My daughter’s waiting for me.”
“Is she ill, Madame?”
“She’s pregnant.” I look away. Once again, I feel trapped. I take a breath. I can’t swim across the ocean. I need to relax. Chelsea’s an adult. She doesn’t need me. Tears prick my eyes, and I blink to keep them at bay.
“There is a first class seat available on Flight 409 tomorrow morning at 8:30,” the woman says. “There would be an additional charge of eight-thousand-four-hundred-ninety-six U.S. dollars.”
I want to laugh at the thought. My coat is ten years old, and I bought my suit from a consignment shop. Divorce has come at a heavy price. I shake my head. “It sounds lovely, but no thank you. You’ve been very kind and helpful, but I’ll take the Friday flight.”
“Excuse me, Danielle,” someone calls. “Could you come here?” The rep excuses herself for a moment, and I pull out my phone. It can’t be helped. Weather is weather. I’ll text Chelsea and tell her I’ll be there as soon as I can. I hope it’s good enough.
“Madame?” Danielle is back. “I’m sorry I had to leave you. It seems that we can get you on that 8:30 flight tomorrow after all. A seat is available. The last seat. You’re very lucky. “
“But I thought you only had one seat in First Class.”
“We do, did. It’s taken care of, Madame. Once we issue your ticket, we’ll have someone escort you to the First Class lounge.”
“But I don’t understand.”
Danielle smiles. “I’m not sure you need to, Madame. When good luck falls into your lap, you should take it, yes?”
I look around. The crowd has thinned. Moving down the corridor far ahead, I catch a glimpse of a woman in a pink coat. She walks with surprising vigor and laughs with one of the airport officials who strides by her side.