By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Gray’s Anatomy girl finally tires of BlackBerrying her boyfriend and begins sobbing uncontrollably, her thick tears visible in the half darkness: “They won’t tell us anything; there’s no flight attendants anywhere. I just wanna go home.” A fistfight breaks out by the one working bathroom, which smells like Malibu Creek runoff; a vicious anxiety attack seizes a mother whose two children are screaming like hyenas; a lady who looks uncannily like Kathy Bates stands up and begins muttering: “Please help me, someone please help me, my medication is in my baggage and I need to get it now.” A bald, menacing-looking guy starts banging on the cockpit door, saying he and his new wife “have to get off the plane.” (There isn’t a crew member to be found!)
Finally, as the tension peaks, the captain emerges from his den. It’s 1:30 a.m., five hours since the second time we left the gate. “Ladies and gentlemen, we are next to de-ice, but this crew has timed out and we are gonna have to take you back to the gate and cancel this flight. You are gonna have to gather your luggage at baggage claim and please call 1-800-JetBlue to reschedule.”
The angry Frenchman tears into the captain in a hybrid of French and English.
“We will not get off this plane until someone from customer service is here to help us,” someone screams from the darkness. More anonymous, tired, angry voices follow. “What baggage claim do we go to?” “Why did it take so long for you to cancel this flight?” “Where the hell are the flight attendants?” “Will JetBlue pay for a hotel room?” “My dog is sick, are there any vets open in Queens at this hour?” “Can someone ple-e-ease help me? I have nowhere to go.”
The doors open and a gust of cold air greets us as we deboard the plane into the waiting arms of . . . no one, except the hundreds of haggard figures who have turned JetBlue’s JFK terminal into a refugee camp.
This ominous greeting is nothing compared to what waits for us at baggage claim. With JetBlue flight cancellations accumulating like a real blizzard, there are now, at 2 a.m., close to a thousand people packed into baggage claim and at least three times as many bags strewn across the floor like dead bodies. People mill about crying, exasperated, looking for a JetBlue employee (“call 1-800-JetBlue for customer service”) to help them find their bags, to tell them what’s next. It is a disaster zone.
By the time I find my bags — 5 a.m. — everyhotel room in Queens is booked, so I hunker down with the rest of the airport campers. Over the following days and nights, I roam the airport looking for information, check in to see if I can get on a standby flight (“call 1-800-JetBlue”), eat pizza, wash my face and brush my teeth in the bathroom, sleep on the floor, check my e-mail when I can, talk to fellow refugees. I’ve taken on a real-life version of Tom Hanks’ role in The Terminal. For its part, JetBlue has all but abandoned its post, leaving its customer-service line — which replies every time with, “I’m sorry, our lines are full, please call back at a later date . . . ” — to deal with the crisis. By Thursday evening, I finally give in and book a $150-a-night hotel room in Manhattan to regroup, rest and plot my way home.
The hotel provides me the respite I need to battle JetBlue. I recruit the help of a friend in Los Angeles and we tag-team the customer-service line. I wonder about the folks who couldn’t afford to get out of the airport. A day later, my friend awakes me from a deep slumber. “Grab your shit and get to the airport, you’ve got a seat at 4:05.” For the first time in days, I no longer feel like a spirit wandering in limbo trying to find a way home.
The flight takes off only an hour late, Terra Blues chips and spring water flow, flight attendants, still a bit dazed and unsure, try to be jovial. I spot a woman I recognize from my first flight last Tuesday, nearly 100 hours in the murky past. She winks and waves with a smile. We are whole again.