“Thank you for flying United! We hope to see you again soon!” And soon they did. My whole life I’ve lived in airports - slept on the outdated terminal carpets, lost luggage, endured thorough bag searches from security, and I have gone through all of that only to be denied boarding once we got to the gate. I’m used to the hours of packing and hotel arrangements only to be told, “Sorry, there are no seats left on this flight. Should we roll you over to the 8pm instead?” For the many times I’ve gotten a seat, however, it makes the entire ordeal worth it. I would trade nothing for the experiences I have gained from the “yes”.
This past spring my mother, sister, cousin and I all conspired to fly to Hawaii for a weekend. The stress of school had hit its peak and we were all desperate for a spontaneous break. The last weekend in April we listed for a morning flight to Kauai and began to dream of the shave ice we were bound to have in just a few short moments. We were given our seats without a hitch, buckled up and ready to spend a weekend with the beach. Within twenty minutes of our flight, the engine began to malfunction and we had an emergency landing back at the airport from which we had just departed. The flight was cancelled, and sunbathing in Hawaii quickly became a distant thought. We were four girls in an airport on a Thursday morning, bags all packed and spirits optimistic- we couldn’t just go home. We spent the next hour and a half scouring the United Airlines website, seeing which flight we could hop on last minute. San Francisco had over seventy open seats. Just like that our weekend in tropical paradise morphed into one of clam chowder and sea lions along the coast of California. Flying standby would be an absolute nightmare if it weren’t for keeping an open mind. Far too often we may be planning for a trip to pan out one way, when in fact plans morph into something completely different. Flexibility is what makes the spontaneity not only bearable, but in hindsight an incredible experience. If we had just gone home, defeated after our flight had been cancelled, then we would have never heel clicked on the San Francisco pier or eaten fresh calamari. Opportunities are everywhere - one just has to be open to them.
I have been turned away at airports too many times to count. I have shown up at the gate only to turn back around, able to do nothing else but try again the next day. That is all we can do. Try. My parents divorced when I was nine (my sister four), and my father lives a thousand miles away from us in Arkansas. Flight benefits have maintained a strong relationship with my father because growing up I was able to afford to visit him once a month. When making a college decision, flight benefits allowed me to visit campuses in person without breaking the bank. The entire side of my father’s family lives in Northern Ireland, and flying standby has encouraged me to build relationships with them because I was able to visit every summer. Looking back, standby has benefited my family relationships and cultural awareness, and I am infinitely grateful for the opportunities it has granted me.
At the end of the day, when flying standby doesn’t quite work out, all you can do is pick yourself up and try again tomorrow. And we need to keep trying because for the times there’s a “yes”, you get to see Prague, Ireland, New Zealand- and it makes it all worth it. Excuse me while I catch my plane to Tokyo.