Gate-checking Mindfulness

I was bumped off of a United flight yesterday morning. I was shocked, as I didn’t think this actually happened anymore. Given the wealth of technology that airlines use to track fuel and routes, I had naturally assumed it would help them with the issue of knowing how many seats a plane had, and how many guests they had booked. I make too many assumptions. This was a big bump - or perhaps a major software glitch. Over 35 confirmed passengers did not get on United Flight 765 to Denver. We could have assembled a round robin basketball tournament with that many folks.

Oh, United, you make it hard to love you. Next time, I'm taking Southwest.

I had gotten up at to be appropriately showered, dressed, and taxi’d to the airport to get a flight so that I could make some late morning meetings in Denver. I laugh at myself on these mornings. I look bleary-eyed into the mirror at my little corporate uniform (almost always the same insurance standard issue – black suit and light blouse, insert pair of heels and pearls) and have a conversation to that reflection – “Really, Abbie, you chose the flight? Did you know that it meant the flight was leaving at – not that you had to get up at that time?”

Things were going so well. I had a friendly taxi driver and was watching the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise on the horizon of a city that normally shrouds itself in fog until .  I was showing as confirmed on the flight boards. I was patiently waiting for my seat assignment – striking the pose of what I have truly become as of late – a calm, cool, collected, frequent traveler. Most days, I am somewhere between surrender and actual peace with travel. And although the writing was on the wall for the long list of stand-by passengers, I felt that I was safe because I was “confirmed.”

And then they started boarding, and I got a little more nervous. And then the gate door closed. Not a single attendant had said anything to those of us still “confirmed” but without a seat. Sadly, it’s the seat I needed, not the confirmation.

I had been deep breathing for about 10 minutes prior to this realization. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. Hold. Repeat. I am working very hard on mindful breathing in yoga (and outside of the mat) so I am trying to stop several times a day to really concentrate on my breath. This seemed like a good time to try it.

When I realized I was not getting on the , my breath shallowed out, I panicked thinking of the meetings I would miss, and I rolled my eyes secretly at a gate attendant telling everyone to be patient. I wish I hadn’t done the latter, as it breaks my cardinal rule of never being rude to airport staff. In my defense, United had let us down by not informing us of ANYTHING, and no one saw me do it. No excuses though – I’ll own the eye roll. Oh, and a little, mostly silent, huff.

To my left, a sweet woman with two kids was hauling her items (including the adorable, very well-behaved boys) to the counter. They had just come from Hawaii on a red-eye. She was alone and also bumped, and also trying to get to Denver. I glanced at my bags and the fact that I only had to get myself there. I was not the only one bumped who had been up early. My breath slowed down, I inhaled deeply. I was next at the counter. The representative looked up – his hands ready to type on the computer – and with a face that said – give me your best complaint – we’re ready for it.

I handed him my boarding pass, smiled, and said – can YOU fly me to Denver? He laughed. And he got me my aisle seat on the next flight. And he gave me $400 in airline vouchers. And I lucked out with no one in the seat next to me.

Sure, I wasn’t going to make my first meeting. I also wasn’t going to be able to change my fate. And in an instance of not being able to control when I got to my destination, I realized again that I could control my breath – and my attitude – about how I got there. That’s mindfulness – and it makes a difference.