Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sharing adversity is a tender foundation for building bonds.

Yesterday, my flight on Malev Airlines was delayed by about 1 hour. When it came time to board, everyone rushed for the gate and waited anxiously to get on the plane. Sitting next to me in the waiting area was a family: a dad, a mom and two or three kids. When business-class passengers were invited to board, the dad stood up and headed for the plane with nary a glance back, leaving his woman and kids behind to board with the rest of us. This did not feel right to me.

Then, when our flight finally arrived in Budapest, I was in a rush to make my tight connection, but tried to remember to still be polite. After all, pushing my way around wasn't going to save me enough time to be worth it. As I stepped down the aisle to deplane, that same woman, the one with the husband enjoying business class, shoved in front of me as abruptly as you might imagine, brusquely forcing her way off the plane. I felt I should be patient with her, in fact sorry for her, because her husband sat in business class reading the paper while she accompanied the kids in economy.

Arriving in the terminal, I learned that I had in fact missed my flight. A total of 8 people had missed flights, and 4 of us were destined to Beirut. The woman at the transfer desk was stressed out and rude. Many inconsiderate decisions were made, such as requiring passengers to share taxis to the airport and to carry all luggage to check in again the next day. One of my fellow Beirut travelers was even being sent back to London to start his trip all over again! Malev did the bare minimum of their legal requirement as far as looking out for us passengers, but really we were treated quite poorly. (I even went to the "help desk" this morning and filled out an official "complaint form"!)

But a lovely thing happened. The worse the airline treated us 8 strandees, the better we bonded with each other. The Beiruti being sent back to London blew me a kiss as we left him behind, visa-less and therefore unable to sleep in a hotel. The other Beirut family had a little girl who started out terribly cranky but actually warmed up as we all trekked from assignment to assignment together: security, wait for attendant, immigration, pick up bags, wait for taxi, etc. By the end we were almost having fun, and her parents and I became friends as we helped each other with our bags and immigration questions.

When we arrived at the hotel, a couple that was headed for the Balkans went to the bar and ordered a drink. I saw them there when I was asking a question at the front desk and ended up sitting down with them for a lovely chat. The other strandees and I exchanged our own share of banter. As I settled in for my 3 hours of sleep at a discount hotel, my heart was full after sharing pleasant moments with strangers in an unpleasant situation.

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