Severe weather is out of the airline’s control. If you ever have a flight that is delayed or cancelled to due weather, don’t blame the airline. Blame the air traffic controllers or Mother Nature, but trust me when I say that the airline isn’t out to get you. In fact, they have your best interest at heart, even though it seems like they are trying to ruin your day.
Want to guarantee yourself a crazy travel day? Try to travel during severe weather circumstances. Want to add a cherry on top? Try to travel in severe weather as a Non-Rev.
Picture this: airport terminals filling up with passengers as more flights are cancelled. Passengers running from gate to gate trying to jump on an earlier flight because theirs is delayed. Luggage everywhere. People sleeping on the ground. Disheartened spirits.
If you’ve ever attempted to fly in extreme weather, you know that it’s absolute mayhem. If you’ve ever attempted to fly in extreme weather as a Stand-By, you know it’s 99% useless.
But that 1% chance of getting on a plane is still there, flickering it’s little light. So you go for it, because miracles happen, right?
Right, if you know how to play the game.
Thankfully, I do (and so does my mom).
In all of my years of flying, I’ve pretty much flown in all of the weather circumstances you can think of. I’ve been on a small connection flight during a severe thunderstorm- the flight attendant literally announced that she thought they were going to crash on the previous flight due to the lightening (this wasn’t my normal airline, mind you). I’ve been on the last flight able to land in New York during a snowstorm- the plane slid on the runway upon landing and almost hit the fence lining The Hudson River. I’ve flown in extreme wind scenarios, where the turbulence was constant and the plane felt like a rollercoaster- I remember spilling my Coke on the man sitting next to me on the way to Phoenix, Arizona when I was 7. Whoops.
But this past week I checked off another extreme weather flight- I flew from Atlanta to Chicago during a tornado. Not only was it a miracle that the plane left Atlanta, but it was a miracle that I was on it.
Let me give you the backstory:
It was already a crazy travel week to begin with for this Fly Girl. Moving across the country, a screening of a movie, and a premiere all in one week.
On Saturday, I had moved out of my house in LA across the country to Atlanta, all of my belongings on the airplane. (Blog post about moving across the country using only carry-ons and checked bags to follow) My mom had flown into LA to help me, and we landed in Atlanta with 5 suitcases and a trunk at 1:30 in the morning on Sunday. On our way home, us tired little pups that we were after working, my mom exclaims “OH MY GOSH” as I was drifting off to sleep in the passenger seat.
“ WE FORGOT YOUR COAT IN THE COAT CLOSET” she yells.
My prized possession. The pink designer coat that I purchased in December using the Christmas money my parents gave me. A coat that is so dear to me, I refuse to pack it because I don’t want it to get messed up. But I also refuse to wear it onboard, for fear of it getting dirty. The solution? Bring it in a hanging bag and ask the flight attendant to hang it in the coat closet.
But then you have to remember to go get the coat.
In my defense, we landed so late and we had been running around like crazy all day… but really it was my fault.
We get off the interstate at the first exit we see and speed back around to the airport. Game plan: go to the lost and found and give them details about the coat: size, color, detailing, color of the hanging bag, name and phone number on the bag…
Except I had no form of identification labeled on the bag. Nothing, nada, zippo. Just a gray bag that says “Club Monaco”. A target for a cleaning crew member to easily be able to snatch up and never look back.
The only thing I had going for me was that we were the last flight of the night- that airplane was done for the day and was to stay at that gate until the new leg the next morning.
I gave all of my information to the lost and found women. Filled out another form online. My mom even found a Facebook group for Atlanta travel and asked if anyone had seen it. We got back a response from a gate agent who worked the gate we flew into it. She said she went down to the plane and the coat closet was empty.
It was hopeless. The cleaning crew had sold my coat on eBay by now.
Sunday afternoon my dad flew in from Florida and decided to stop by Lost and Found to check it out.
And there was my coat in its Gray Club Monaco hanging bag. A miracle.
What does this have to do with tornadoes? Nothing. This event just occurred in the craziest travel week of my life, so I’d thought I’d include it for effect.
OK so moving on- Tuesday rolls around and I am invited to attend a screening of a movie I am in, Rounding Third, in Nashville. It was a plus one invitation, so I invited my mom to come with me. She went back to LA on Monday with my dad to visit my sister, so on Tuesday she would fly straight from LA to Nashville.
Tuesday morning I was packing up for the airport, and the flight loads suddenly worsened. There were thunderstorms in the Atlanta area, so many flights were getting delayed and things were a little bumpy at the airport. I knew I had to be in Nashville by 6pm, and I didn’t want to risk it, so I hopped in the car and drove. Thankfully Nashville is close enough to Georgia that the drive is doable- it took me 4 hours. This was my first road trip ever as the driver (again, thank you flight benefits), and honestly it was a beautiful drive. My mom made it to Nashville as well, we were on time to the screening, and I watched myself on a giant silver screen for the first time. It was such a cool experience.
That night in our hotel room, my mom and I made our plans for the return drive to Atlanta. We wanted to leave on the earlier side because we had some errands to run before leaving on Thursday for Chicago. We were headed to the premiere of another movie I am in, The Case For Christ, but since we had been so busy prior we needed to use Wednesday to shop for jewelry, get our nails done, etc.
As we were falling asleep in Nashville, my mom checked the weather for the next day. “TORNADO WARNING” flashed across her computer screen- EFFECTIVE WEDNESDAY 10A.M.- 3 P.M.
Great. Looks like we needed to leave even earlier.
That next morning we hopped out of bed at 7 a.m. and jumped in the car. We were going to beat this thing. We began the drive back to Atlanta, and my dad calls us saying the tornado warning started earlier and he was currently in the basement taking cover.
We knew we had to get back, but now we had to be extremely careful.
Thankfully for the first 2 hours we were in Tennessee and North GA, where the tornadoes weren’t present. But once we hit the middle of Georgia, the drive became difficult. Pounding rain, flash floods, fog, oh my! My mom, the trooper that she is, drove the whole way. We made it back to our house in one piece, just a little wet.
After four hours of driving in scary circumstances, to say we were tired and hungry was an understatement. We enjoyed a nice lunch with my dad, and soon after my mom brought over her laptop. “Let’s check the loads for tomorrow,” she said, “I just want to know what’s been going on at the airport due to these tornadoes”.
She opened her laptop. Signed into the portal. Looked at all the flights from Atlanta to Chicago for Wednesday to see what had been going on so far. And every flight had been delayed, some cancelled. The Non-Rev lists were never ending; so many passengers were trying to jump onto earlier flights since theirs was delayed.
It didn’t look good. With cancelled flights, that means hundreds of passengers would have to be rebooked for the next day, Thursday, meaning they would take any empty seat that was available for us to take as a non-rev.
Which means it would be impossible for my mom and I to get to Chicago on Thursday for the premiere.
We hadn’t even been home for more than 45 minutes. Our suitcases were still in the foyer, chilling out waiting to be unpacked. And my mom exclaims, “We have to go to the airport ASAP.”
She was right.
I ran upstairs, unpacked, repacked for Chicago, ran a mile, and took a shower all within an hour.
We hopped in the car and sped towards the airport, in hopes of making it on one of the only On Time flights to Chicago that day.
After sprinting through the airport to make it on time, we arrived at the gate to find out that our flight had actually been delayed. This meant that passengers from other delayed flights would now try to hop on ours because it would still leave sooner than their delayed one. And for some reason, our names weren’t listed on the screen? We were not on the Stand-By list. We went up to the gate agent and she assured us that they had us on their list, but the screens were just glitching.
But that made us nervous. Sometimes we rely too much on technology and not enough on other people.
We wanted a Plan B. There was another delayed flight that was going to end up leaving around the same time as ours, and it had a couple seats on it. It was a tight one though- and the gate was in a whole different terminal than ours.
I was sweaty. I was tired. I was worried. I wanted to jump ship and try for the other, more promising flight. But my mom said, let’s just stick around here for 15 more minutes. We are finally boarding.
They began the boarding process. At least 40 paying passengers from other flights came up to our gate and tried to hop on our flight. I gave my mom a knowing look, communicating that we were probably not going to get on. Everyone had boarded and the gate agents looked frantic. The screen showed 10 seats, but our names were still not there and no other names had appeared. They kept announcing to the gatehouse that all Stand-Bys needed to be present at the gate. But they weren’t boarding any of us. It seemed like a trick.
Time was running out and they still had not cleared any revenue or non-revenue standby. But you know the rules by now- paying stand-by passengers would get a seat before any non-revenue passenger. That’s the first rule in the book.
Except suddenly the gate agent calls our names. We run up, and she gives us boarding passes. She has to manually enter us into the system, which we thought was odd. But we were on. And we got on that plane, somehow.
When we got onboard there were still 6 seats empty. We assumed they would clear more people, obviously, since there were empty seats and many people who wanted to occupy them. But 5 minutes later the boarding door closed. Which was weird, because nobody else had come on board after my mom and I.
Our plane took off in the calm of the storm. The ride to Chicago was definitely not calm though- the turbulence was heavy and I almost threw up from motion sickness. But we landed safely, dodging the tornadoes and making it to Chicago a day in advance.
We didn’t even have a place to stay. My mom had made that decision so fast that we didn’t even have time to book a hotel, so right after we deplaned we took a seat in the gatehouse, logged on to the Midway International Airport free Wi-Fi, and booked a hotel through Hotels.com
We also decided to take a look at the Atlanta to Chicago loads, just to see what ended up happening.
And what we found was astounding. We were the only flight that took off to Chicago that day. All other flights that had been delayed eventually cancelled. We also found out that the computer systems began to crash, and that is why no other Stand-By passengers got on our flight. That’s also how two non-revs got on- because the gate agents literally were not able to enter those 40 other paying passengers onto the Stand-By list.
If we had jumped ship to the other flight like I had wanted, we would not have gotten on the plane. If we had waited until Thursday morning to go to Chicago, we also would not have gotten on the plane. I would have missed my first red carpet and my first premiere.
But we made it. It was truly a miracle. Since we had an extra night in Chicago, my mom and I were able to run all of our pre-premiere errands in The Windy City. I arrived to the red carpet with freshly painted nails, new jewelry gifted to me by Kendra Scott, and my hair blown out by Dry Bar. The premiere was everything I had dreamed of and more, and I am so thankful I was able to be there to be apart of it.
Sometimes you are meant to be somewhere, and God will get you there no matter what. Sometimes we follow his path but then get scared and want to jump ship at the last minute. But He knows what’s best for us and He will get you where you need to go.
The peace I felt was overwhelming- I knew that God was looking out for me. That He wanted me at that premiere so He orchestrated a miracle for me to get there.
But it also takes teamwork and flexibility. Fast decisions on the fly. I am so thankful that my mom had been intuitive enough to check those flights when we got back from Nashville. She was on top of her game the entire travel experience, and I am so grateful for her.
There’s camaraderie within the Non-Revenue world. When I meet other Stand-By passengers, there’s this knowing smile that I always crack at them. Because they get it. We understand what we go through. The crazy stories we have to tell. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s even a Facebook group for Non-Revs, and everyone on that page is so willing to help each other out. It truly is a community. And communities stick together.
In All Kinds of Weather, we all stick together.
-The Fly Girl