Friday, February 24, 2012

I Really Can't Stay (But Baby it's Cold Outside)

Dear trekkers and epic trip takers,

As you may recall, I recently returned to the Pacific Northwest from Florida- that was a bit of an adventure.  But every new military spouse or serviceperson should know what I learned on this trip (and if you aren't military, you can share it with somebody just joining the armed forces!).

My flight was going to land at the SeaTac, the  international airport located between Seattle (largest city in Washington) and Tacoma.  Family would pick me up, and we'd start the drive home from there.

Leaving the Sunshine State, my dear friends, who had generously hosted me for the duration of my stay in Florida, drove me to a local airport.  I caught an Embraer RJ145 (we were leaving a fairly small airport) into Dallas, Texas.  In Dallas I had a short layover - just enough time to casually find my next gate, sit down for about ten minutes, and then board the plane in a leisurely fashion.  My flight was on a Boeing 757 out to San Francisco, California.

We experienced some considerable headwinds on the way to San Francisco as we flew against the jet stream, and landed at our airport 45 minutes late.  This was not a problem, however, as that still left me an hour to find my next gate.  As I exited the plane, family members were texting me asking for updates.  I let them know all was well.

And it was!  At first.

I eventually found a readerboard listing current flights and their gates.  Oddly, my SeaTac flight was not listed.  I was not overly concerned at first.  But as the numbers continued to scroll and still my flight did not appear, I began to wonder.  All day family members had been posting on Facebook and sending me messages about the snow conditions in the SeaTac area.  While we don't live close to the airport, the reports of snow seemed to be widespread and considerably significant (for the area, which is accustomed to temperate weather) at SeaTac airport.  I wondered if the flight had been cancelled due to inclement weather.

After an exasperating half hour of trying to chase down useless employees who gazed vacantly passed me like I did not exist, and wandered away mid-sentence while I stood helplessly at their kiosk, I sent a text to my mom.

Fortunately she was still up (it was almost ten thirty at night) and she looked online.  Sure enough, flight cancelled.  She gave me a number to call the airline, and the clerk I spoke with confirmed the flight was cancelled.  I was rescheduled, she said, for a ten thirty flight the next morning.  No, the airline did not offer reaccomodations due to weather cancellations.  I would be on my own for the night.

Airports are not the most hospitable of places to sleep.  While they are not the worst, by any stretch, there is still no place you can go to be reasonably safe while you sleep, to escape the lights and the noise and the blaring PA system.

At the behest of the airline clerk I had spoken with, I was wandering the terminal like an orphan, looking for a customer service desk where I could speak with an employee about possible hotel discounts.  I was not enthusiastic about the idea of leaving the airport by taxi and trying to find a hotel, and attempting to return by taxi in time to catch my morning flight.  But my family and my husband were not enthusiastic about pregnant little ol' me sleeping on a chair in the airport all alone.

Back home, my mom was praying about the situation.  As she prayed, she remembered a commercial for the USO (United Service Organizations) she had seen.  She sent me a text with their phone number for that airport, and I called - a very gracious volunteer answered the phone and said they were upstairs on the mezzanine level - come on up!

I would have to exit security to get there, so I would need my new boarding pass to get back in.  It was past  11:00 PM now, and the airline desk was closed.  Another employee suggested I go downstairs to the baggage claim for my airline and ask them for a new boarding pass.  I was anxious to have my new boarding in pass before morning, when I knew lines would be long and hallways crowded.

Downstairs, there was barely a soul in sight.  I found the baggage claim for my airline and the employee asked for my I.D.  I explained my situation.

"I'm sorry," she seemed confused, "we don't print boarding passes down here."  As she said this, she printed my boarding pass and handed it to me.

"Thank you very much," I said, equally confused.

I made my way back up to the mezzanine level and located the USO.  The moment I walked in, the chaos and confusion ended.

It was quiet in there.  Volunteers welcomed me.  I showed my dependent I.D. and signed in.  There was coffee, soda, water, hot cocoa, tea, doughnuts, danish rolls, cookies, rice krispie treats, chips, cereal, milk, fruit bowls, snack baskets, an endless array of treats of all varieties.  There was a closet to store my baggage.  There were shelves of blankets and pillows with fresh pillowcases.  There was a darkened room with couches, lounge chairs, a TV, X-box games, a bookshelf of free books.  Restrooms just around the corner.  And computers and a printer where I could have checked my flight and printed a boarding pass, if I so desired.

I was almost overwhelmed by the warm welcome!  My parents, still awake back home and anxious to hear how I was doing, were filled with relief that I had a place to stay.  The Lord had provided through prayer.

I spent a peaceful night, sleeping deeply and soundly.  In the morning I enjoyed breakfast, selected a book to bring on the plane, brushed my teeth and combed my hair, enjoyed conversation with a WWII vet who was volunteering at the USO.

Ironically, he had met his wife at the Seattle USO in 1941 when he was in the Army, and she was a dance hostess.  He told me how she had started volunteering there at the age of 17, but lied about her age and said she was 18 so they would let her in!  He was thrilled to share with me stories of his experiences, and historical tidbits of Seattle and Sedro Woolley, where he grew up.

The rest of the flight is another story, but I will be forever grateful to the USO for being there and making me feel safe and welcomed when I was tired, hungry, and frazzled.  When I thanked the gentleman who signed me in, he shook his head.

"Don't thank me," he said.  "Thank your husband!"

Thank you, Mr H, for providing for me even when you couldn't be there.  Thank you, USO volunteers, for making my husband's life a little easier by looking out for his wife when duty called him away.

Mrs H



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