There are times when it doesn’t really matter if a flight is delayed; it’s merely a chance to catch up on emails or have a Venti coffee instead of a Grande.
This, however, was not one of those times.
On my last day on a week-long work trip to Latin America, I received an email from my airline revealing that my flight back to the U.S. later that evening was going to be delayed… and then came another email notice… and then yet another. When I got to the airport, I learned of the final delay which, because of Saturday schedules, meant that I would have to wait five more hours to make my connection home. And that meant I would have to miss a long-planned and very special date with my nine-year-old son.
More than a year ago, my son asked if I would take him to see the play, Billy Elliott, should it ever come back to town. Several months back, I saw it would be coming to a venue about 90 minutes away, so I bought two tickets for the last weekend performance and told him I had a very big surprise. The flight’s delay was one surprise I had not planned.
Before takeoff, I called my son from the plane to let him know that I would likely not make it in time. He was quite sad. I was much sadder.
The stranger and seasoned business traveler sitting next me overheard the conversation and tried to comfort me. It helped… but just a little. I had a glass of wine – okay, maybe two – a sleep-inducing aspirin and went to sleep. When I woke, the stranger couldn’t even wait until I fully took off my eye shade to tell me: “While you were sleeping, the pilot announced he was able to make up some time in the air.” Excitedly, he offered, “You might make it!”
We celebrated clinking airline coffee mugs containing bad airline coffee. He shared stories about raising his three daughters and how hard he worked to be there for their important life moments. He then shared with me his sadness to see his youngest almost ready to leave home.
When we landed he instructed me, “You grab your stuff and I’ll block the other passengers from getting past you so you can run for it.”
I was touched and took him up on his offer to be my personal offensive lineman.
When I got off the plane, there was a representative from the airline waiting to help me get to the flight. This later connection would mean that I could likely make the play as long if I didn’t shower and was willing to miss a bit of the first act. I asked her if there was any chance to make the flight that was leaving in 15 minutes, but she countered with a stern “no,” explaining that it was too tight and I still had to go through customs.
I then told her why I was trying to rush home. She smiled knowingly and said, “Just a moment.” She whipped out her cell phone and called the gate for the earlier flight, asking if there was any way they could hold it open for me. She even got a cart to drive me down the excruciatingly long terminals. Her determination was so palpable that I felt like was being rushed to a medical emergency. We hugged each other when we finally arrived to the gate, which they had left open to get this mother home.
As the door closed behind me, I realized how many working parents try so hard. I see Facebook posts about the times we make it home in time to say good night… and hear stories about the times when we’re home only in time to watch them sleep. I know from personal experience that we cut lines, go without food or drink and take the middle seat next to the bathroom just so we can be there for an evening hug.
As I write this, a tweet from U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, confirms it: “So sorry… I had to run to catch my flight home so I can see my kiddies.”
I made it to the play on time… and even had a chance to take a shower and put on something pretty for my special date. We laughed and cried and held hands. When the final curtain fell, he turned to me, gave me a sweet and sincere kiss and said, “Thank you, Mommy.”
My son had no idea what it took to get me home in time for our special day… but I did. I hope the story helps to remind other working parents that the village of working moms – and dads – extends far beyond the walls of their own school and community. It includes everyone from colleagues at work to strangers in airports. I realized the enormity of my own village that day and never felt more proud to be a member.
Next time you see someone running down the terminal, remember to get out of the way or, if possible, even serve as their offensive line. Chances are you might just help them make it home in time to say good night.
Gail Becker is chair of Canada, Latin America and U.S. Western Region.