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The storm’s secondary effects included as many as 100 canceled flights, like mine to Berlin. For the first time ever in all my years of traveling, I was told to go home and come back the next day. I had officially become a statistic.
Up until now, I had experienced long delays but held a bit of pride at always arriving just before the snowstorm hit or being on the flight that just made it out before others had to be canceled for one reason or another. I believed my good fortune was due partially to me holding up my end of the bargain: arriving early, being prepared and aware at security checkpoints, staying informed and keeping my wits about me.
Plus, a pre-9/11 incident in what can happen when one gets emotional at an airport, which ended with my then-boyfriend being arrested for “terrorist threat” for trying to defend me, helped me develop traveling nerves of steel. My first rule of thumb in every airport situation is to not get excited.
I arrived early at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport on this morning too, saw the flashing red lights on the monitor next to my flight and went straight to the ticketing counter. Though there were only four people ahead of me in the “membership has its privileges” line, it turns out theirs were the most complicated tickets known to mankind, judging from the length of time it took to resolve their issues.
Just as I started commiserating with a Danish man who said he had been visiting Paris for fashion week and whose flight to Copenhagen had been canceled for a second day (likely due to strikes earlier this week), the line cutters began to appear.
We could forgive the mother and son who looked legitimately lost but not the businessman who decided to create his own line, uttering the word “business” to the rest of us as we stared back collectively responding, “Join the club, buddy.”
Since I was closest to the front now, I appointed myself a guard and the ears of the group. Every time a potential line-jumper approached the two agents the 80 or so of us were waiting to speak to, I went up right alongside to listen. It’s one thing to skip the line and ask a quick question, especially one that might benefit everyone, like "do we all get taxi vouchers." It’s another thing to jump in front of dozens of people to ask about your special case. When the agent hinted at turning her attention away from the passenger in front of her to treat the line cutter, I set off the protest.
So flummoxed was one man, he cut our line to ask about a flight to Athens that was not even canceled. I explained that the printout of his electronic ticket would allow him to get the boarding pass but first he had to go to the monitors to determine his check-in counter.
When I came away from meeting with the agents with a ticket in hand for the last seat on the first flight the next morning, I felt like I’d won something. I even tried to soften the blow for other Berlin-bound passengers, offering to share what I had learned with them but people looked at me suspiciously. One woman asked, “Why are you doing this?” Why not, I responded.
I wanted to share what I had learned for one reason: being armed with information at an airport is one of the most powerful weapons you can have in your arsenal as a traveler.
Oh, by the way, eventually the then-boyfriend was jailed for the night, made to wear an orange jumpsuit and prosecuted on the terrorist threat charge. All this for getting a little angry when the hell of dealing with an airline made his girlfriend start to cry. One of the conditions of his punishment, which amounted to mostly probation for a first offense, was that he could not step foot at that particular airport. This only posed a slight problem considering he was on summer break from his university on the other side of the United States.