Columns 2015

Sempi Fi!

This is a story with disparate characters who eventually come together. The characters include me, a Marine and Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines gets mentioned because coming home to them after flying on other carriers is like climbing back into mom’s womb.

But let’s start at the beginning. I was flying from Philadelphia to San Diego on United with a plane change in Houston. A thunderstorm was in full roar as we boarded the flight to San Diego. We sat on the runway for four hours waiting to take off during which time United offered us each one cookie and a glass of water. Then we were informed we’d be going back to the gate because we needed more gas. We sat at the gate for another hour only to have the pilot announce they’d had a problem with the gas tank and so fueling had taken longer than expected and now the flight crew had run out of time and needed to change.

We were all asked to de-plane but stay in the boarding area as a new pilot and co-pilot were on the way and we’d be departing within the half hour. Two hours later someone noticed that the sign over the door now read, “Los Angeles”. We asked the lady at the counter where our San Diego flight was. She told us she was off duty, picked up her purse and left. We asked the man who came to the counter a few minutes later. He told us he was there to board the LA flight and had no knowledge of any San Diego flight. Turns out the flight had been canceled but United had felt no need to announce that at our gate. We were pointed towards customer service. 

The customer service line snaked around three blocks. That’s where the Marine comes in. I wish I’d gotten his name but I was too woozy from no food, exhaustion and the sneaky feeling that a hypertensive diabetic under stress was not able to make the best decisions for her welfare. Crying in the bathroom stall didn’t help. But that Marine did. I don’t know if I reminded him of his grandmother or he was just a Marine doing what he’s trained to do – protect and defend. I don’t think I ever more felt like I needed a strong arm to lean on as I did eight hours into this nightmare day at the Houston airport.

He told me to follow him to a counter where we got booked on standby for a future flight without the long wait in the customer service line. He got me back to a seat in the waiting area and stayed close. When they announced that our gate had changed from C33 to E17, he didn’t rush ahead of the crowd to get there first but walked at a pace I could maintain and kept looking over his shoulder to make sure I was ok.

The day continued endlessly with the flight being delayed again and again. My Marine got off standby and got a ticket immediately as an active duty military in uniform. He deserved it. Every time I felt like just dropping everything and crying in the middle of the terminal, I looked up and saw this nice young man watching to make sure I was going to be ok.

To all Marines everywhere, Semper Fi! You guys rock. To this one Marine in particular, you made my day of horror a day to remember for your kindness. If this is what the Marines are teaching our young men and women in uniform, then you are doing an amazing job.

Now this is the part of the story where Alaska Airlines comes in. After traveling on an airline that clearly felt no need to make announcements, help travelers or even pretend to be nice, getting on Alaska Airlines two days later was like coming home. Staff smiled. Announcements were made. You were kept informed of what was happening. Flight attendants acted as though they actually liked their job. I know people have occasional problems with Alaska Airlines. They are not perfect. But once you’ve traveled on some other airlines, you come to realize just how special Alaska Airlines really is.

The takeaway of this story? They don’t treat liberals nicely in Texas, Marines rock and Alaska Airlines owns my heart.