I zipped through security with my First Class priority boarding pass. The trams which take you out to the gates were crammed with travelers coming and going. I was standing next to a buff blond guy with greenish blue eyes and a skin tight t-shirt stretched over his pecs. I tried not to drool on his shoes. At one point, I felt a hand on my ass. I’m pretty sure it was his from the look he was giving me, but it could have just been someone else who lost their balance in the rocking train. Sadly, I moved to get out at Concourse B and he stayed behind. Too bad. I was feeling flirty again.
I arrived at gate B50 a little before six. The flight to Chicago departed at 7:10, so I had a little time. I walked around the concourse, exploring. A late breakfast and an early lunch left me feeling hungry now. I only had the seven dollars in my wallet, but I was also walking around with an additional thousand in an envelope in my duffel. I found a bathroom, went into a stall and quietly transferred a hundred dollars in twenties to my wallet. I could feel the unusual extra thickness of the leather tri-fold in my back pocket. The remaining cash I left in the duffel bag, which was never leaving my sight. Armed with fresh funds, I went in search of fresh food.
Near the center of the concourse, I found the Cantina Grill and had three steak tacos and some chips and salsa, washed down with a Diet Coke. It was surprisingly delicious for airport food. Afterwards, I walked across to Ben & Jerry’s and had some chocolate ice cream. Boring, but yummy just the same.
When I got back to my gate after my dinner run, it was packed with fellow passengers. Every chair was taken and many had given up and were sitting, and in some cases, laying, on the floor wherever they could find a few feet of empty space. I don’t know how big this plane was, but it was going to be packed. Another reason to be grateful for First Class.
As I looked around for a place to sit, my eyes locked on a middle aged couple. She was crying silently, her red rimmed eyes betraying her sadness. Her husband had also been crying, I thought, but at the moment appeared aggravated about something, angry at some unknown circumstance or person. He was trying to explain something to his wife but I could tell she wasn’t listening.
I forced myself to look away, but it made my heart sad. Maybe because I had had such a great day and was feeling, dare I say it, kind of happy. I just didn’t want anyone flying with me to be upset. But there was nothing I could do to calm their emotions.
A couple of minutes later, I saw the gate agent at the counter reach for the microphone to make an announcement.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for those of you waiting in the B50 gate area to board United Flight 782, there has been a schedule change. Due to severe weather currently in Chicago, our flight has been delayed for approximately thirty minutes. We will update you again just as soon as we know more and thank you for your patience. Please remain in the gate area in case there are additional changes.”
I heard the sad woman let out a wail of frustration and watched as she pushed her way through the crowd out of the gate area, showing no regard for who or what she may be stepping on. This woman was seriously hurting. I saw her head for the women’s restroom across the concourse, her husband hot on her heels, juggling both of their carry-on bags and apologizing to everyone he struggled to pass.
Since I had never found a seat, I walked over to where he was standing while waiting for his wife with a perplexed, defeated look on his face. I felt compelled to try and help somehow but I had no clue as to what I could do.
“Rough night?” I asked gently.
“What? Oh...yeah, you could say that. Our daughter is having emergency surgery tonight in Chicago and this is the only flight left to get us there. I’m worried sick about her. My son Greg called and said all he knew was that she was in a car accident and was taken to the emergency room. He’s supposed to pick us up at the airport.” He was near tears again.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?” It sounds good to ask, but really, what could I do? I was at the mercy of United same as he.
“Not unless you can get the stuck up bitch at the gate to change our seats. We got the last two seats available on this flight, but we are sitting way far apart. My wife needs me–she is seriously losing it and I don’t know how to help her. The delay has just about sent her over the edge I think. I need to get us to Chicago and I really need to be with her on the plane.”
“I take it you have explained the situation to the gate agent, but no dice?”
“Three times. But she keeps saying they are overbooked and some people won’t get seats at all and I should be happy I have a seat tonight. Then she says there’s nothing she can do. Look at her, just standing there doing nothing now.” She did indeed appear to be doing nothing from where we were standing.
I don’t know why, but I suddenly wanted to try to do something for this couple. I couldn’t imagine the fear and anxiety of having your son or daughter needing surgery and you are so far away. I couldn’t get them to Chicago any faster, or fix the weather, but I needed to find a way to help somehow.
I stuck out my hand. “My name is Jack, by the way.”
“Adam...Adam Colson. And this is my wife, Mary Beth,” he said, just as she walked out of the bathroom. She saw him and stepped over, looking a little better now. She had washed her face, brushed her long auburn hair and was slightly calmer. The agitation and worry was still pinging all over her face though. She paid me no real attention. I didn’t mind. She had more important things to think about.
“Adam, I’m sorry for falling apart. I just don’t know what to do. Jennifer needs me and I can’t get to her. She’ll never forgive me.” Her tears started flowing again. More likely she would never forgive herself. It was heartbreaking.
Adam put his arm around her shoulder and squeezed her close. “There, there honey. We’ll get there in time. Until then, we have to trust the doctors to know how to help her. She’ll understand, I promise.” He was saying the right words, but they were little comfort. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed quietly. He looked up at me with pleading eyes, as if to say, “Do something man, I’m drowning here.”
“Excuse me one minute, Adam. I’ll be right back.” He nodded, not really caring if I returned or not, and went back to speaking softly to Mary Beth and rubbing her back while she cried.
I walked over to the now idle gate agent, trying to think of something. As I approached, she looked up at me with pursed lips where a smile should have been, and said in a cold tone, “Can I help you with something?” Clearly I was just another person to aggravate her tonight. I understand serving the public can be a royal pain, especially when nerves are shot and delays are mounting. Patience can wear thin. Hers was non-existent.
“Yes, actually, I hope you can. I would like to know if there are two seats open in First Class on this flight.”
“I doubt it, but I’ll check.” How helpful of her. Hope she didn’t break a nail on the keyboard.
“No sir. Just as I thought. We only have one seat open in first–4B.” I looked at my boarding pass–my seat was 4A. Which meant the seat next to me was empty. Now I had a plan. Would the agent play along?
“Ma’am,” I said, being as sweet as I could be. “My seat is 4A. Could I give my seat to another passenger and then buy the empty seat next to it for another passenger?”
“Well, it would be highly irregular. We’ve already printed the inflight passenger manifests and I can’t change any seats at this time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to make a call.” She turned her back to me and reached for a phone. I couldn’t believe the audacity, but willed myself to remain calm. There had to be somebody who could help.
I scanned the surrounding area. There was another desk across the concourse with a sign above it reading “Customer Service”. There was a handsome looking guy standing there with his head down, working on his computer. He had one passenger in front of him, waiting. He looked up, spoke to the passenger, and judging by the relief on her face, he must have solved a serious problem for her. She walked away smiling. Maybe this was my angel helper.
I trotted over and stood before him. Up close, he was in his late thirties, with short, medium-brown hair and an average build. Nothing to excite me, but I wasn’t there to flirt–I needed real help.
“Can I help you, young man?” he asked. His name tag identified him as Kevin. He seemed eager to assist.
“I certainly hope so, Kevin. The woman over at Gate 50 wouldn’t help at all.”
He looked across and grimaced, seemingly not surprised. “What do you need? Worried about missing a connection in Chicago?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. I want to give my seat to another passenger and buy the empty seat next to it for his wife. Can I do that somehow?”
“Let me see your boarding pass and I’ll look into it.” I handed it over, hoping against hope. He started typing on his computer.
“Well, Mr. Schaeffer, I see you are in Seat 4A. Seat 4B is definitely open. Now you want to give up your seat and then pay the fare for 4B?”
“Yes, can I?” He hadn’t said no yet.
“And how will you be getting to Chicago tonight, Mr. Schaeffer?” I hadn’t thought of needing my own seat still. I was too busy trying to help out Adam and Mary Beth.
“Well, the other two people I’m doing this for are already on this flight. Could I just swap seats with them and then pay to upgrade the other to First?”
“I might be able to do so. Do you know their names?” I told him. He typed some more into his computer, looked at the screen, then typed some more. Finally he looked up.
“Here’s what I can do. I can’t do a simple swap of seats. Security pays attention this close to departure and the manifests are posted to the system. What I can do, however, is cancel your seat, then apply the cost of your ticket to a full fare coach seat for you, with the remainder going to help pay for the upgrades to First for the other two passengers. Is this what you want to do?”
Oh crap! His idea sounded super expensive. But then I remembered my brand new Amex Centurion card. I pulled it out and handed it over quickly, before either one of us changed our minds. His eyes opened wide when he saw the card.
“Very well, Mr. Schaeffer. Let me work some magic in the computers and see if I can make this happen for you.” Sometimes you just have to find the right person.
While he typed away, I saw the gate agent across the concourse staring daggers at me. Right about now, she was probably figuring I was attempting an end run around her dodge. She was overtly smirking at me, certain I would fail. Really? All she had to do tonight was take pleasure in not helping someone? Disgusting.
“Okay, Mr. Schaeffer. I think this last update will just about do it. I applied the cost of your current ticket to the cost of the upgrades, and unfortunately for you, the downgrade, and the balance charged on your card was $1,274.00.” The look on my face must have conveyed my shock. I had never spent so much money unless I was paying college tuition. It was more than the down payment on my car.
“That is what you wanted me to do, correct, Mr. Schaeffer?”
I recovered quickly. I hoped Todd wouldn’t be mad at me. “Yes, yes. It’s fine, Kevin. Thank you so much for your help. I do have one more request, if I can?”
“Sure, what is it?”
“Well, I just met this couple a few minutes ago. Their daughter was in a car accident and they are trying to get to her in Chicago. They’re pretty upset. I don’t really want them to know I did this. Is there a way you can let them know and leave me out of it? Maybe you could tell them United decided to assist them in a one-time special way because of their circumstance or something.”
“I see. Well, let me say this was extraordinarily generous on your part to help them. I’ll tell you what. Leave it to me. I’ll print all three new boarding passes here. In fact, let me do it right now.” He started clicking away again and soon three new boarding passes printed below him. He handed me mine–24D–and then held onto the Colsons’.
“Can you point them out to me? I’d rather not draw attention by calling them to the desk.”
I showed him where they were sitting—Mary Beth was leaning on Adam’s left shoulder with her eyes closed. He described them back to me so he knew he had the right couple, then scooted around the counter and sauntered over to them. He must have asked to see their old boarding passes; I saw Adam hand them over. I could imagine Kevin looking at the boarding passes, saying there must have been some mistake and then he reached into his pocket and gave them the new First Class passes.
Even from where I was standing, I could see the wonder and surprise on both their faces. Then more tears of relief as they realized they could now sit together on the flight. I shed a few tears of my own, which I quickly wiped away with my shirt sleeve as Kevin returned. His eyes looked a little moist as well.
“That was the best part of my day. Hell, my month. Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer. I try to help people all the time, but I seldom get to see the impact of something like what you did here tonight. You’re a good man, indeed. They are fortunate to have met you this evening, as am I.”
Now I was a little embarrassed. “Kevin, I’m just fortunate to have the resources to help out a little bit. I couldn’t have done it without you. You’re the one who made it happen when no one else would help.”
“Thank you, but I think you sell yourself short there. I don’t know of one in a thousand who have the resources and could help, who would actually do it. I stand by what I said. You are definitely one of the good guys, Mr. Schaeffer.”
I blushed. “Thank you again for your help, Kevin.”
“My pleasure, Mr. Schaeffer. Have a pleasant flight. It looks like the delay will be lifted soon. You should be underway shortly.”
Sure enough, passengers were lining up to board at the gate. I saw Adam and Mary Beth standing in the line for First Class, his arm around her, holding her close. This was a guy who deeply loved his wife. It felt good to know I had helped lessen his sense of impotence in the face of an impossible situation. He could now give his wife the support and love she needed and hopefully their daughter would be okay.
When they handed their boarding passes to the agent, she looked surprised, but thankfully she didn’t say anything to them. They passed into the jet way arm in arm.
After nearly everyone else had boarded, my group–Group 5–was called. When I handed my boarding pass to the agent she looked at it and handed it back with a disgusted look on her face. I gave her a big smile. I won, she lost and there was a couple on this plane who could hold each other’s hands and pray for their daughter who needed them. Where I sat didn’t matter.