British Airways canceled my flight home the night before I was supposed to leave London. The airline had been a pain in the ass from the minute I booked the ticket and this latest development added to my overall foreboding about the travel part of my otherwise stellar visit to England.
Navigating the rebooking onto another flight took time, patience, careful reading of fine print, and a sense of humor. All of which were in short supply for me as I sweated through the excruciating website. I went to bed unsure if I'd actually be able to leave the next day.
The airport was busy, chaotic, and took some time to navigate. Many people at the gate were discussing British Airways' constant delays, cancellations and nervously making jokes about hoping we’d actually take off. The air was tense.
As we finally boarded (an hour late), I began talking with a man in my row who was returning from Jerusalem. He was supposed to be traveling with his girlfriend but she had been turned away at the Jerusalem border after flying in from Columbia. She’d been held in a room with no food or water other than what was in her bag for 24 hours while she’d been processed and then put on a return flight. He’d traveled without her and was eager to get back.
The low hum of stress vibrating through my body over the past eighteen hours quieted as I contrasted my experience to my fellow passenger's.
Then, just before leaving the gate, three things happened.
- A woman got on board and sat down in the empty seat between us. She began coughing. She didn’t stop. We didn't speak the same language so when I asked if she was ok, she waved me off.
Both the man and I put on our masks. Annoying for us - it was an 11 hour flight - but I felt bad for her and her obvious discomfort.
- The flight attendant announced that if we were on the flight from another canceled flight, our food preferences hadn’t been transferred and no special meals (ie. allergy food) were available. I have celiac. Violently reactive to wheat, barley and rye.
Annoying for me - again, 11 hour flight - but I congratulated myself on having packed some snacks just in case.
- A final announcement was made. There was a severe nut allergy on board and we were asked not to eat anything containing nuts. Every single bit of food I had contained nuts.
So, an 11 hour flight, no food, and mask on. I gave in to the self-pity and began panicking.
And then the woman next to me pulled out a huge plastic bin full of flaky soft bread and began to eat.
The thought of getting cross contaminated and spending eleven hours in the airplane toilet was too much for me.
Tears filled my eyes.
As I sat feeling sorry for myself, I thought of the man’s story about his girlfriend being held in a room for 24 hours in Jerusalem.
So I took a breath, told myself to get my shit together, and decided to write a story instead.
Next to me, the coughing woman turned and, smiling kindly, offered me some bread.
From behind my mask, I smiled back, shook my head no, and began to write.