Farewell, Flight 1530

Lessons from Missing My First Flight in Six Years

I missed a 7am flight to Seattle with a layover in Denver, but I knew I wouldn’t make it anyway.

I left the house at 6:07, got to the curb at 6:36, flight boarded at 6:30. I knew I was goin’ miss it as soon as I started driving.

I drove on anyway, because I knew how this worked. Thankfully, this wasn't my first missed flight.

Thalia in Estes Park, CO - Oct 13, 2018

It was fall break 2018, my sister and I were returning from Denver after a long weekend visiting the springs, eating vegan ice cream, and witnessing awe-inspiring rock formations.

On the morning of our departure, I was unprepared and inexperienced. I was only two years into my independent travel life, still fresh and with much unseen. My driver's license was also fresh - the temporary paper kind they give you while you wait for the hard copy.

You can't fly very easily with those, I quickly learned.

My sister and I were late, no doubt. I don't remember if we took too long to leave the house, got stuck in traffic, or got lost, but the fact was we arrived later than we should have. To our surprise, the boarding door was still open and my sister was offered a seat on the quickly departing flight. I, meanwhile, was going through extra security due to my inadequate form of ID. They could seat her, but they couldn't wait on me. So they left us both.

I bawled.

Now, not too much on me. I was 19-years-old out west for the first time in my life having a new experience that was deeply stressful and anxiety-inducing chiefly because I didn't know what happened next. I had no idea how rebooking worked. I didn't even know what standby meant. So, I catastrophized and just knew in my bones that I was never getting back to Orangeburg for school the next day and I was never going to afford the thousands of dollars I thought it'd cost to get home. I cried so hard the gate agents thought someone had died and my sister herself thought someone had hurt me.

Nope. I was just green, embarrassed, and uninformed, a horrible recipe for tears and fear.

As you likely know and the gate agents patiently explained, there are often more flights, and for this airline, there was no charge for same-day standby flights. We could get on the next flight home, at no additional cost, which left in an hour.

Six years later, I found myself in a similar predicament but with time and tens of thousands of miles of flight experience to know that everything would be okay.

I've been humbled quite often this year as a traveler, being reminded – sometimes gently, sometimes not so much – that there is always something I can learn, something I can do better. Here are a few lessons from missing flight #1530 on a beautiful Tuesday morning.

Thalia in Snoqualmie Falls Park, Washington - Apr 24, 2024

People don’t have to be nice, but it’s great when they are

People are generally willing to help you get where you want to go. Though there was a man who called out "We've all got flights. It's called planning!" after me as I politely and calmly asked to skip people in line (something I had never done and never thought I'd have to do and frankly don't want to do again), everyone knew I was going to miss my flight, yet they helped me along anyway. And you know what, that man’s not wrong. I didn’t plan as much as I should have for this trip in general, down to my arrival to the airport.

But I’m grateful for the people who extended me grace instead of shame. They could've said no when I asked to skip them, but they didn't. The gate agent who rebooked me could've simply not looked for an option for me that got me to Seattle quickly, but she looked thoroughly and gave me the best option for me, not just the first option that came on her screen. There are, of course, always those people who want to not only see you suffer but ensure you suffer when you’ve clearly messed up. But, thankfully, those people at this particular time on this day were outnumbered by people who were hopeful at best and indifferent at least.

Always go through the south terminal

The TSA Precheck and Clear combo line at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is only at the South Terminal. I, flying a non-Delta domestic flight for the first time in at least 4 years, was not aware. Therefore, if you have both memberships, you should only go to the south terminal for domestic flights, regardless of the airline.

Never run in an airport

Death to ego, allat. But sometimes pride matters. I'd rather walk to Seattle with no shoes than run through Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport to an empty gate.

It’s always more helpful to move slowly because it supports an ease of spirit and mind that allows you to be at your mental and emotional best even in the most stressful of situations. Moving slowly gives you more time to think about solutions and alternatives when faced with a problem. Moving slowly supports a constant mindfulness of how you feel, where those feelings come from, and what you ought to do with them.

In the rare event you move a little too slow (it was a little delusional for me to show up 20 minutes before takeoff thinking I was goin get on that plane), know that you’re not the first person to show up late and that you’ll get to where you’re trying to go eventually. Mistakes are not a reflection of who you are or your capacity as a person, especially if the mistake is an isolated event. Rare mistakes are simply reminders that a) you’re human and b) there’s always opportunity to tighten up.

Use the mindfulness a slower speed offers you to focus on being grateful for the opportunity to show up and do the things you want to do, even if you make a few mistakes along the way. Yeah, you missed the flight, but now you have time to write, eat expensive food, and use the bathroom.

There's always time for what matters, even if you mess up.

Thalia is so much better at handling mistakes than she was 3 years ago and I love that so much for her.