After a good night’s sleep, I left for Schiphol in the early morning of September 12. Because I had already flown from Schiphol three months prior and didn’t have any delays going through customs, I decided not to leave too early, but at the normally indicated time. There was also nothing on the news that indicated anything about the crowds at Schiphol. So when I arrived at Schiphol and saw the huge queues, I hoped it wouldn’t be as bad as it looked.
Check-in was quite quick but after that, we had to join the back of the queue. Back…more backward… no, not here but even further…outwards…wtf?! Round and round we go. Like sheep to the slaughter, we shuffled past each other, 6 rows thick. After an hour we got a very old stroopwafel to keep us quiet. It was still a long way to go.
At the beginning of the line, people still accepted quietly their fate. Some grumbled but what else could you do, but shuffle along? Halfway down the queue, the first irritations started. People realized, they were going to miss their flight and wanted to cut in line, or worse, started cursing ground staff. Ground staff got rid of the rioters and we shuffled on in silence.
Two-thirds of the way down the line, people started dropping out. I was traveling alone so going to the bathroom or getting a cup of tea was not an option for me. I would have to go back and so I slowly shuffled on, thirsty and in need of a toilet. The print gentleman I chatted with while shuffling finally gave up. He had already missed his flight and the next one wouldn’t leave until 10 p.m. All he had to do was go to London. So we said our goodbyes and I firmly shuffled on.
I quietly shuffled alone again until the gates came in sight. People started pushing now. To this day I still find it a miracle that no one was hurt. When it was finally my turn to scan my ticket, the ticket was invalid. I would already be late for my flight and therefore was automatically not allowed through. Normally I would walk away defeated, but now there was too much at stake. I explained to a staff member, my flight hadn’t left yet and asked if I could still go through. She scanned my ticket and my race against the clock began. Again I ran to the top of the line and asked another staff member the same. “Run!” he said as he let me through.
With two heavy bags, I ran upstairs to find another huge line. Priority check! Again I explained and she let me through. I ran to the start of the baggage check and ….. so close but yet so far away …. A whole queue of wheelchairs passed that were allowed first.
Impatiently wiggling from one leg to the other, I waited to be allowed through.
“May I see the contents of your bag?” the security man asked smiling after I’ve had a body check.
I nodded, “Go ahead.” He slid the backpack to me without looking and told me which way I should run to where my gate was. Thanks. Highly appreciated. I ran to the last gate. Almost. I’m almost there, or so I thought. Just a passport check and I’m going to catch my flight.
Yes! I’m through. With a backpack bouncing on my back and a heavy laptop bag in my hand, I raced through the crowd to my gate. D7…D7…D7…fortunately my gate was not at the end of the world…..I arrived huffing and puffing with a red sweaty face.
‘Is it gone yet?’ I gasped…
Two nicely dressed ladies looked at me in surprise. ‘The flight to Houston? Is it gone?’ They nodded and referred me back to the United desk on the other side of Schiphol. There was also a queue of at least two hours to go back to where I had come from.
Defeated I dropped my stuff and sat down. I was tired of shuffling for almost 6 hours. I was thirsty and I had no idea what to do next. I called the travel agency where I booked my tickets. They also referred me to the United desk on the other side of Schiphol. They couldn’t do anything more for me. So much for service with a smile.
My brain was racing about what to do. I checked my phone for flights. One went to San Francisco at two o’clock. Shall I book the flight or not? “Wait a minute,” said my friend who called from Portland. Go to the gate where that flight departs and ask if they have a seat. I didn’t have much time left so I ran to that gate, explained my situation, and asked for a spot.
“But ma’am, we’re flying to Delhi.” Shit, wrong gate. Mumbling to myself, I ran to the next gate where a flight to Bonaire departed. Where the hell is San Francisco? Eventually, I did find the flight to San Francisco hidden in the corner.
As soon as the staff arrived, several people jumped up. We looked at each other and immediately knew, we all had the same idea to get on this flight. I saw my chances diminish. “We still have a spot for you.” I heard her say. With a few clicks, they had me booked for the flight to San Francisco. With a mixture of surprise, relief, and gratitude I boarded the plane not long after.
Eleven hours later I landed in San Francisco. I only had an hour to catch my flight to Portland. The United staff asked everyone with a short layover to come forward so that we could get out of the plane first. As soon as the doors opened, I started to run but again I ran in a net of long queues for customs. When I saw the six shuffling rows, I knew I wasn’t going to make my flight to Portland.
“Plan B is to catch the flight to Seattle. Go to gate 23. The flight is late.’ Friend D kept it cool and informed me of the departing flights. After all the customs checks I ran again huffing and puffing to the end of the world. With my shoelaces not tied because I had no time to lose, I wondered while running why my gate is never at the beginning of an airport. Why am I running so much today?
They saw me coming from afar, probably because I don’t run gracefully. I threw myself at the desk, huffing and puffing. ‘Amsterdam…..missed the flight…Portland…Seattle…’
They were about to close the doors but were waiting for the last passenger which was, so I decided, happen to be me. The friendly United gentleman asked if I wanted to go to Seattle, just to be sure. That was still three hours from Portland. Yes, I want to Seattle! I’ve never wanted to be on a flight so much. He printed out a ticket for me and closed the door behind me. I dropped into my seat by the window and exhaled. I made it.
If you’ve made it this far, reading my travel drama, you may be wondering what this has to do with my work as a graphic designer. It has everything to do with the kind of service you can give to your customer. Although the overpaid management has fallen short, the ground staff continued to do their job cheerfully and well. I was amazed at how calm but resolute they dealt with antisocial travelers.
I was even more surprised by the staff of United Airlines. They didn’t brush me off by saying to just call customer service. They helped me, released my stress, and find a solution to my problem. Without much effort, I was booked every time with a smile and a friendly chat. When I boarded the plane on my flight to Seattle, huffing and puffing with a redhead, they gave me a glass of water and a word of encouragement. “You made it. Sit down, here’s some water, we’ll be leaving in a minute.” People! I want to hug you all. United Airlines, you guys are the best!
The moral of this story is, as an entrepreneur you take away the stress and worries from your customer. United did that for me as I have been doing this for my clients for years. They often come to me through Google with a problem, after they had negative experiences with other graphic designers or web designers, they had little confidence that things will turn out all right. With a smile, I take away their worries and have a solution for the problem they have.
Just like I landed safely and stress-free in Seattle because of United Airlines, I’ll make sure your project gets off the ground safely!
* Note: While flying to San Francisco, my suitcase went to Denver. But even my suitcase was delivered the next day by United in Portland, where I was able to pick it up without much trouble.