Travel Delays: Stuck at the Airport and How to Cope

Apr 29, 2021

A long day to nowhere!  Sunday morning after visiting family for a week, I arrived at a small airport in Florida, ready to return home. But, that didn't happen. At least, not that day.

Three times we lined up and passed through the gate, found our seats, loaded our overhead bins, and buckled our seatbelts. Each time, we were filled with the hope that our travel was now about to begin. Three times, I disembarked the plane without having taken off.

The first two delays were due to a mechanical problem. The airport had to have a part flown in to repair the plane, then a special tool was needed.

When the plane was deemed fixed, we cheered! We pulled away from the gate, only to find ourselves sitting on the tarmac and not heading to the runway. The pilot dreadfully and apologetically announced again we weren't going anywhere. We lost our turn in the flight pattern order and were now delayed due to storms that were in our flight path after hours of clear skies.

It's the kind of day when you have to deal with the unexpected. Here are some of the ways I spent the day:

  • Working.  But it was hard to focus on work with the loud announcements & moving on/off airplanes
  • Work phone calls to Vicki and LeeAnn to resolve a website problem.
  • People watching. I noticed how the people around me were coping with the delays.
  • SOS Energy Call colleague Sasha Korper
  • Phone calls to my husband, sisters, coworkers, and friends.

I'd make phone calls to my husband each time the airlines announced a new boarding time for my flight. Sometimes when the airlines made frequent changes,  I was calling him every 15 to 20 minutes with flight updates. My constant phone calls made his day choppy and didn't really help either of us.

Over the years, I've had a couple of clients call me from airports when they experienced flight delays or flying anxiety. So, I was able to recognize it in myself. Part of me wanted to keep my husband up-to-date on flight details so that he wouldn't worry. But, I realized part of me was reaching out and connecting to him because I wanted empathy, comfort, and reassurance.

The little airport concession stand didn't have the kinds of food my body needed (gluten-free, etc.).  And, by 2 pm, there was no healthy food left.  Not having the food my body needed to nourish and refuel itself, I was experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar and began finding it harder to think clearly.

If our plane had left on time, I would have had a 3-1/2 hour layover in Atlanta. Most of the other passengers around me had much shorter layovers. With each departure update, passengers would line up at the agent's counter to arrange new connecting flights. I choose not to get in line right away, allowing those with tighter flight schedules to make their flight changes before taking my own turn. By the time I realized I would miss my connecting flight as well, there were no seats left for me, and I was now only on standby status.

I too willingly trusted each of the incremental flight delay announcements, believing each time that the new departure time would be my true departure time. 

Our original departure time was 11:45 a.m. Then 12:15 p.m, then 1:00 p.m. then 1:15, then 2:00, 2:30, 4:00, 4:30, 5:15. 6:00, 6:30,  As each departure time was updated, tension arose and anxiety increased.  By 8:30 p.m., I knew I would never make the last connecting flight out of Atlanta to NW Arkansas. 

When the reality hit me that I would even miss the standby by flight and end up sleeping in the Atlanta airport, I asked to disembark for the last time. By this time most of the airport was dark. 

Eleven hours after originally arriving at the airport, I was having trouble thinking clearly. I was so grateful to see one dim light above the Budget rental car kiosk. The Budget agent called me a "trooper", and it put a smile on my face. I needed that little boost of encouragement. Affirming words is my love language, and hearing him say that helped me lift my shoulders up just a bit, which I needed for the late-night hour drive back to my parent's home. I was so wired and tired, that I had a hard time adjusting to the rental car. I drove out of the airport before I realized my headlights weren't on. Yikes!

That night I knew I needed self-compassion. And a chance to review my day. What could I have done differently? Even though my choice to let others line up first for flight changes led to me having to fly out leave out of a different airport versus staying right there in Melbourne, I don't regret my act of civility. 

The hardest part of the experience in terms of coping was not having the right food to keep me think clearly. Next time, I will be more prepared, especially if flying out of a small airport.  

These are the coping techniques that worked:
Working with my breath, extending my exhales. Doing the sweeping breath.
Relaxing my muscles
Writing to author Mike Michalowicz, which he encourages readers to write in his book Clock Work
Remembering the Serenity Prayer
Reaching out to friends
Having self-compassion for my anxiety, and shifting feelings

A tool that I forgot to use, that I wish I had is the tapping on my pressure points. It often offers quick energetic shifts. (note to self: remember tapping for the next time I am dealing with things out of my control). I can talk about tapping in a future blog post.

I appreciate my colleague Sasha's quick energy assessment feedback for me to look deeper into my beliefs about "moving forward", and what limiting beliefs that I may have around that. When doing our inner work we can use the outer world as a mirror to reflect what is needing our attention in our inner world. I will use her suggestion as I process all that has happened this month. Good material for another blog. 

Life gets tricky. We find we are tougher than we realize. I love reflecting and learning.

My tricky week stimulated our conversations in the Joyful Healing Circle to talk about coping styles...