Before I tell you all the things your mother will, "Everything will be fine", "We'll work it out," etc., let me go through exactly what it feels like to be stranded in Chicago O'Hare international airport, or any airport for that matter, for twenty hours straight.
I had just arrived back from my two week trip to Rome, finally gotten through stressful as ever customs barely missing the goodbye group hug from my group, and had a very sorrowful goodbye when I find out my friend and my flight has been delayed. "It's only a twenty minute delay," she said. Well, that did not pan out how we hoped.
Peyton, Elise, Bridget, and me getting amazing gelato by the Trevi fountain after some leather shopping
By the time we arrive at our gate the flight has been pushed back another twenty minutes and at this point my friend is concerned she is going to miss her connecting flight so she gets a flight change, oh how I wish I had followed her. Now I'm alone. My flight is departing at 6:50 p.m., originally a departure at 5:10 p.m. so I grab dinner not having had a meal in eleven hours.
I get on the phone with my mom to update her about what is going on and to see if I should change my flight but the only available flight departs in fifteen minutes and I would not have the time to transfer my luggage to a different flight so I decide to stick with flight AA2839. Biggest mistake of my life but at least I learned how to deal with it so I can bestow my wisdom upon all you wonderful people.
An hour later, I get back to my gate to find out the flight has been delayed, again. Apparently the plane had got stuck in Seattle but was on its way to Chicago. The plane arrives and I think "finally". Turns out I spoke too soon. Our pilot's wife went into labor so they need to find a new pilot and by the time they find one and we start to board, I am getting excited. I get the window seat because there are many empty seats on the plane, I am ready to get home and sleep in my bed. I am pumped. Things are finally looking up.
And then they make an announcement about the plane tires needing to be changed.
My reaction to having to de-board the plane
Of course this is important. It is a necessity to land the plane safely so even though it is almost seven p.m., I am trying to stay calm. I call my mom, update her again, and start to miss my Rome friends (which means I am now sobbing my eyes out and there is a child staring at me who also begins crying, it's a chain reaction I guess). All the underlying stress probably is not doing much to assist the flow of my tears but I still have hope I will get home tonight.
They said at best it would be fixed in an hour. Eight o'clock rolls around and it gets pushed back to nine and almost immediately ten. I am stressed. I just want to be home and sleep because I have not slept in what feels like forever. It is three a.m. Rome time, I am exhausted. When the flight gets delayed to eleven they change our gate so we can maybe get out on a different plane.
Well that plane gets cancelled after only twenty minutes. I'm stressed and tired and trying my hardest not to cry. And quite frankly, I am pissed. I was supposed to leave the airport at five and arrive home by seven and now it is almost midnight. Because I am an unaccompanied minor, I do not get the hotel voucher, I get to stay in Room 1 "with games and a TV," as the too-peppy-for-midnight flight attendant informed me.
Cherry on top, my flight out the next morning started getting delayed, but do not worry I eventually got out with only a two hour delay and four gate changes.
If my story has scared you away from traveling alone, do not let it. The good thing about me having this experience means you will be more prepared when it happens to you, because yes it is going to happen to you (at some point in your life). Let's just hope you will be old enough to get that hotel voucher (yes, I am salty about it. don't @ me).
I have seven tips for you so you can be as well prepared as possible. A slight disclaimer before I get into this, I am not an "experienced" traveler. I have not been through everything so I do not know all the answers but I am going to do my best to hopefully ease some of your tensions about traveling alone.
1. Communication, meaning conversations over the phone or in-person. Sadly this is not a situation that can be solved through Snapchat.
Like any good relationship, communication is KEY. I know it is scary. I have been there, done that and it is still a bit nerve-racking for me to go and talk to the service desk attendants but it will help tremendously. Some things cannot be answered via the internet and if they do not have an answer for you they can at least lead you in the right direction. When it comes down to it, your travel plans are your travel plans so you get to decide what you do in the end. I was not smart enough to go and talk to someone because I am still my introverted self but if I had I probably would have gotten out of the airport way earlier.
If you do not want to talk to them however, you need to at least keep in contact with your parents. They know way more than we think they do and they can help tremendously in these types of situations. I am the type of person who wants to figure out everything on my own and will never ask for help because I do not want to burden others but I would have been lost without my mom. She sorted everything out and made sure that I had a flight out the next morning.
2. Keep Updated
Anytime I have a flight anywhere I get message reminders about when my flight is from my airline. It lets you know if there is a gate change or updated departure time, as well as reminding the day before and day of your flight that you have a flight that day. These texts are life savers. They typically update before the screen at your gate will which means timely updates and knowing if your gate changes so you do not walk all the way to a gate that is no longer yours.
Also, check those monitors. If you cannot get in contact with someone and you are not getting updated via text, check the giant monitors they have in several places around the airport that give flight information. Another pro tip, check on the flight before yours, as in the plane that will land and become your plane? Yeah. Keep up with her because that is one of the best ways to track and predict a delay in your travel plans.
3. Stay at Your Gate
If your flight has been delayed, stay close to your gate. Yes, the texts are great but they do not tell you much more than delays and gate changes. Typically the flight attendants will make an announcement that explains why the delay or gate change is happening so you can estimate how long the problem will actually take to fix and not just their best case estimate. It is vital that you stay near you gate in order to hear these announcements.
4. Don't Stress
I know this is overused, cliché advice that is not always attainable. I am not saying you cannot stress at all, trying to prevent any stress will probably just stress you out more. But I would do your best to think optimistically yet realistically about your situation. Thinking about the best case scenario will keep you sane and thinking realistically keeps you on track in case your original plans derail.
5. They know you are a minor, everything will be okay
The employees at the airline know what they are doing. I promise. I know saying everything will be okay sounds like something your mom would tell you, and she probably will, but it is true. Even if your flight does get cancelled, you will get home eventually. And time is going to pass no matter what so just keep looking forward to your next flight and it will get there eventually.
6. Skip the Line
If your flight does get cancelled, do not wait in that long line of people waiting to get hotel vouchers. If you are under eighteen the airport is responsible for you which means you get to stay in a special room, that sadly does not have a bed. I waited in line of at least sixty people just for them to call a guy down to escort me to Room 1. So skip the line, let them know you are an unaccompanied minor and do away with all the stress that builds up thinking about whether or not they will let you to the hotel or not (newsflash, they will not). Yeah, skip the line and get some well deserved rest.
7. You are not alone
It is okay. It happens to everyone and if it has not happened to you then consider yourself lucky. Odds are, you are not the only minor on your flight and even if you are, literally all the adults sympathize with you. I had this one young mom, breaking down herself with her no more than two year old kid, tell me everything would okay. The airline is aware of all the minors on each flight, therefore you have nothing to worry about because they know what to do with you in these types of situations.
In the event that you are traveling alone and there are issues with your flight, god forbid it get cancelled, take a second to breath and update those parentals back at home so they are in the know about what your situation is, and do not be too prideful to ask for help. You will be shocked by how many people will be willing to help.