After spending more than seven hours in the Ft. Lauderdale airport on Monday, I found myself trying to check into a Fairm0nt Inn at 9:00 pm with my family in tow.
For a variety of reasons including cancelled flights and incompetent airline staff, I had been standing in lines for more than three hours straight. My kids were actually holding up well with SAG, two old iPhones and a variety of kind-hearted strangers pitching in on entertainment duty.
We ended up at the back of the hotel check-in line which was dominated by families in the same boat as us, most of whom I had been developing relationships with throughout the evening, none of whom had kids as young as ours.
There was only one person at the front desk of the hotel and she was working as quickly as she could to check us in. However, check-in for each of us with airline vouchers was taking about twice as long as a normal hotel check-in (which for some reason takes almost as long as a Space Shuttle launch.)
At one point, the front-desk clerk asked if there was anyone in line who already had a confirmed registration. There was one couple, who she moved to the front and processed RELATIVELY quickly (okay, not quite as long as a Space Shuttle launch, and faster than each of us, but still silly slow.)
Despite the fact that we decided to take a cab to the hotel instead of waiting for the mini-van shuttle, we were still the end of the line of missed-flight refugees. Each check in took so long, soon other vacationers and business travelers were queuing behind us.
Eventually, I heard the woman behind me, (Karen) talking on her cell-phone. She had discretely called the hotel directly to ask that help be sent to assist at the front desk. I started watching the women who was working solo behind the front desk and began to suspect she had actually answered the phone. Was it possible she was actually the ONLY employee currently in the hotel? And the two of them were chatting?
After Karen hung up, we got to talking. Her husband then came in from outside, where he had been on the phone, discretely calling the Marriot head-quarters and seeing if THEY could do anything to help. (Their call-center, based in India, wasn’t actually able to provide any assistance – go figure.)
I was in love with this couple, who I soon discovered lived in New York. These were people who saw the problem and tried to FIX IT without being rude to anyone. Without complaining or being over-bearing, they just tried to make things happen. Unfortunately, they failed.
I informed Karen that if they had confirmed reservations they could actually go to the front of the line. She replied that she would never do that to me and my family. She was empathetic to what all the missed-flight-refugees were experiencing, even if it was inconveniencing her. We chatted about the awkward irony of the front-desk clerk answering her call and a variety of other things, as the line slowly inched forward.
Finally, there was just one more family in front of me, a mother traveling with her three teen-age daughters. Their flight was suppose to have left at 6 pm, their rescheduled flight was at 6 am, it was now 9:40 pm, her kids had not eaten anything, and yet she had stepped in to show my kids pictures of dogs when she saw my patience wearing thin.
At this point the front desk clerk looked up and said, “If any of you have confirmed reservations you can step to the left.” The SEVEN people in line behind me ALL moved to the left. After more than 45 minutes my family was now LAST IN LINE, AGAIN. And seven individual adults plus Karen-from-New-York’s family had moved in front of us.
Karen-from-New-York, was now at the front of the new line. She turned and said to the rest of the confirmed reservations guests in line behind her, “I hope you don’t mind, but I think we should let her go first because she has been in line for hours at the airport and she has small kids.”
Three people immediately spoke up.
“We all have been in lines.”
“I have to work in the morning.”
“I have to be at work at 5 am.”
The anger and resistance from the group was palpable. Even though they had been in line BEHIND ME to begin with not a single one was going along with Karen’s suggestion.
I started to shake and muttered, “I am going to cry.” I bent down and told PJ, “Please go get your Dad and Little Dude.”
I wanted to tell him what was going on and walk away from the situation for a minute.
The woman in front of me with the three teenagers kept her head down and continued to fill out her paperwork. I am sure she was afraid to get caught up in the brewing storm and just wanted to get her kids upstairs and into bed.
I said to the confirmed-reservations mob, “This woman’s flight was supposed to leave at 6 pm, they now have a flight at 6 am. I think they deserve to go to their room.”
Now the line of confirmed reservations folks were on fire… “Why doesn’t this hotel have more help? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about that?”
I pointed to my friend from New York and I said, “SHE did try to do something about it. Almost 45 minutes ago, SHE called this hotel and asked for more assistance to be sent to the front desk. She did that FOR YOU. And HE called Marriot’s 800 line. THEY actually did try to do something about it.”
Karen’s husband turned around and looked at the crowd and said, “So, you’re saying you have a problem with it??”
It was pure New York and I almost laughed except I was too tired and too in awe. Let’s face it, I am not afraid of confrontation as illustrated here. But that, well, it was confrontation on a level where I have just never gone. But, in my humble opinion, was totally appropriate for the situation.
The group was momentarily silent – maybe they were in awe, too.
Maybe they were embarrassed.
I pointed at the three people who specifically said they had problems and said, “Well, HE has a problem with it. And HE has a problem with it. And SHE has a problem with it.”
By then my husband had arrived, and having no idea what was going on and just seeing me pointing at the strangers laughed and said, “Are you starting a fight?”
I explained to him that we were now at the END of the line, and every single person in the other line who had been behind us, all of whom had arrived at the hotel at least 25 or more minutes after we had already been in line, were now IN FRONT of us. He just took the kids and moved away quietly.
A few more minutes went by, during which I faced forward trying not to cry and replaying the events of the afternoon and evening over in my head. I contemplated why I wasn’t pushier at the airport to begin with, as more aggressive people ended up on earlier flights, making their connections. I mulled over the decision I made to argue with the airport personal that it was NOT okay for my 3 and 4-year-olds to spend the night on the airport floor and insisting they give me a hotel voucher. Maybe we should have slept at the airport, after all, the hotel voucher had now cost me $30 in cab fair and most importantly my faith in humanity.
I was lost in thought and my continued attempt to remain calm as the woman with three daughters finished up and the hotel employee began to deal with Karen’s family.
Almost immediately, she stepped back in front of me and told me I was next.
I said, “I don’t have confirmed reservation.”
She said, “I know. You are next.”
I am not sure what Karen-from-New-York told her, if anything, but I was now back at the front of the line.
I made polite small talk with her as we filled out the paperwork and she gave me my keys. I knew none of it was her fault.
Despite the pleasant exchange, I felt completely defeated As I walked away with my head down, I heard the woman-who-goes-to-work-at-5-am say something about graciousness.
It took all the grace I had not to kick her in the shins. It took all the grace I had not to stare her down while explaining I didn’t owe her anything as she was more than happy to cut in line in front of my children. The only reason she hadn’t was Karen-from-New-York and the over-worked hotel staffer concluded it wasn’t the best policy.
Instead of joining my husband in one queen bed, I chose to wedge myself between my kids on the other bed. They were too tired to argue about the fact that they were going to sleep without any dinner. They were happy to snuggle in tight with me as I lay squished, vacillating between crying and laughing.
“So, you are saying you got a problem with that?”
I love New Yorkers.