For a teenager, the pace and complexity of travel can be dizzying — especially if you are traveling alone.
On July 13 my uncle dropped me off at LaGuardia Airport in New York to fly home to Santa Fe after a summer break. Soon after boarding my first leg to Dallas/Ft. Worth, the pilot’s voice came over the overhead speakers with news that our plane had an engine problem and would be out of service until later that afternoon. This mechanical delay ensured that I would miss my connecting flight to Albuquerque.
With commendable patience, the American Airlines staff redirected the extricated passengers onto new flights. I was rerouted to Chicago O’Hare on a flight that would eventually get me to Albuquerque five hours later than my original arrival schedule. Unfortunately, American Airlines’ good intentions were thwarted by electrical storms in New York and subsequently Chicago. After being grounded for one and a half hours in New York City and one and a half hours on the runway in Chicago, American Airlines gave me ten minutes to sprint across Chicago’s spiderous O’Hare Airport terminal to catch my flight to Albuquerque.
As I arrived breathless at the departure gate, I discovered that the flight to Albuquerque had been cancelled. This time, the American staff seemed eager to escape the maddened crowds and a stranded 15-year old girl seemed the least of their worries. Spinning with the reality of predicament, I inquired at a nearby service counter as to whether I could get a hotel room only to be told that hotels are not available to unaccompanied 15 year olds. Apparently, the minimum age to reserve a room in a hotel is 18. In an effort to accommodate me, American Airlines handed me off to some O’Hare staff members to spend the night in an airport “lounge” for young people under the age of sixteen.
I followed a disgruntled airport staff person to a room in the international terminal where I was supposed to spend the night. Behind an unmarked and unlocked door, I was taken into a narrow corridor that included a small desk, a vending machine, a TV and a pile of chairs. My boarding pass was taken and I was told me that a cot would be set up in the corridor. To my alarm I discovered that no staff person would be assigned to the room during the night and that the door to the larger terminal would be open at all times.
Dismayed by the prospect of a night alone in an easily accessible hallway, I wrestled my phone, boarding pass, and independence back from the over-bearing airport steward and returned to the dull light of the cavernous airport. The nation’s weather had confounded many other travelers, and O’Hare was filled with thousands of stranded passengers. Two hours later, the airport was nearly asleep. People were either napping, listening to music, or reading. The walkways that had once been packed were now empty.
Until 3:30 a.m., I reclined on my backpack listening to music. From 3:30 until 5:30 a.m., I walked the length of the Chicago airport. It was a surreal and lonely exercise routine. By 4:30 a.m., the security gates were alive with travelers pursuing early flights. From a blurred silence the airport slowly transformed into a frenetic hive of travelers and airport staff. The walkways that had previously been deserted were now packed — people rushing to planes that would, if they were lucky, bring them to destination points across the globe.
Later that morning, I finally settled into my seat en route to Albuquerque and headed safely home. My 30-hour trip from Connecticut to Santa Fe was finally over. Lessons learned: Stay flexible; keep your cool; bring a phone charger, phone/music, and toothbrush on every flight just in case. Your never know when simple will become complex.
Eliza Harrison is a sophomore at Santa Fe Prep. You can reach her at echarrison@ gmail.co