I was excited to visit Argentina, with some time planned in Colombia and Uruguay. I booked educational tours after working hours centered on Black history in Colombia and Argentina and wine tours for all three countries. As I’m considering leaving the United States for good, added to my itinerary was an opportunity to connect with work colleagues in another country’s office to learn more about the local work culture. While waiting for my flight’s boarding to begin, I couldn’t contain my excitement as I thought more about my trip.
Shortly after Priority boarding, there was a sudden delay. The crew asked the passengers to disembark the plane, and the passengers in the boarding area grew confused. Due to a lack of communication on the part of the airline, I kept refreshing my app, which revealed new delayed boarding times until the flight finally appeared canceled. Instantly, I went to the boarding staff and asked about the cancellations while multitasking in search of other flights. Confused by the information appearing on the app, the staff asked me to wait while they asked their other crew members. As they left, I shook my head in disappointment and turned, facing an impatient crowd hovering over me and asking what was happening as they heard me mention the word canceled. I was hesitant to explain my conversation with the boarding staff as I felt it’d cause the emotional domino effect it eventually did.
Promptly after I disclosed my conversation to the group, they all began looking at their phones, and disgruntled murmurs swept the waiting area. The crowd quickly dispersed, and I returned to searching for flights but soon realized my backup plan was no longer affordable. Prices had skyrocketed from several hundred dollars to several thousand. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing because I felt a wave of dismay I didn’t want to project onto staff members who spend their careers managing the often impossible expectations of others. However, a part of me knew from experience that airlines did everything they could to avoid refunding or reimbursing passengers for the inconveniences they caused, especially when the major inconvenience was due to poor, opaque communication between staff and passengers. In many cases, there was no staff available to relay flight details or information on how to receive additional support.
That evening ended in a passenger rat race back down to the flight check-in queue outside of airport security, only for staff to explain we’d all be rebooked for the next flight the following day. Male passengers clambered out from all sides and over my petite figure to cut the line and intimidate the staff member, who announced the news, into offering support he couldn’t. I tried to remain calm before sternly asking the male passengers to respect others patiently waiting to speak to someone.
Due to the subsequent delays and cancellations caused by our initial flight, hotels were sold out, expensive Uber rides were in high demand, and the freezing airport approached closing time. I was stuck debating whether it made sense to pay for an expensive Uber ride back home and another returning to the airport in under four hours.
As the airport reopened, I rushed to the restroom to freshen up before passing through airport security again. I was exhausted, hungry, and thankful to find deliverance deep in a Starbucks latte. Approaching the newly assigned gate, caffeinated and somewhat awake, I halted at the information that beamed across the boarding gate’s digital prompt and the conflicting information on the mobile app. The flight was simultaneously on-time and delayed another several hours.
Other passengers started to flood the waiting area, shocked to see no staff at the gate for a flight that should’ve been boarding momentarily. A few angry passengers gave up and decided to leave, finding another flight back home. Another passenger and I immediately called the airline after their automated WhatsApp chatbot failed to resolve our issues. Despite yet another inconvenience, again, I tried to focus on breathing. However, a combination of overhearing the other passenger’s ridiculous conversation with an agent and what appeared to be a similar one I was having with mine, I grew livid.
The agents asked us why we didn’t make the initial flight, were confused, and relayed further conflicting information. In an outburst, I began shouting at the agent, who suggested refunds were not being offered and that there wasn’t anything else she could do to assist me other than book a flight a few days away. I expressed that the service was unacceptable and inconsiderate to myself and others who spent their evening sleeping in an airport. I was surrounded yet again by another crowd with hopeful attentiveness that they’d arrive at their destination.
Thankfully, the call ended as the flight crew unapologetically approached the boarding gate. Everyone looked at each other with disbelief that not one crew member sought to make an announcement that provided updates or extended an apology. Frequent crew huddles and whispers drove passengers to grow anxious, and within reason. Resulting from those huddles were updates of further delays.
Defeated, a few of us sat in a group to make light of a stressful situation. The gentleman and I who called the airlines were bombarded with questions as our audience claimed they thought, from our responses, the calls had been jokes. We assured them that the calls were painfully authentic, and they thanked me for “sticking up for the other passengers on my call.”
But I hadn’t felt that I had done a noble deed. As the group chatted, I sat in shame and was periodically pulled back into the conversation by them to share more details about the call. I wasn’t happy with raising my voice at a customer service agent — regardless of how inconsiderate she was — because I thought about how it felt when I worked in customer service and was treated poorly. I also fixated on how I imagined my fellow passengers perceived my behavior and possibly attributed it to the stereotype of an “angry Black woman.”
Once we eventually boarded the flight hours later, and after frantically sending emails requesting refunds or reschedules, I tried hard to hold back tears. All that anger for what? I eventually boarded my flight, and what if I hadn’t? Was it worth all this guilt and shame I would feel anyway? Being angry that day remains a valuable moment of reflection for other inevitable travel frustrations. That moment reminds me that not everyone follows a similar honor system or has the consideration for others that I do. It is wrong to expect that they should. Reacting with anger depicts how I internalize experiences and the feelings outside of the present situation I had allowed to fester.
I’ve got more work to do on myself, and I’m glad traveling has illuminated how I need to show up my best self at home and abroad.