My One British Airways Flight - An Experience that is Etched in my Memory
It was Christmas 2009. I was living in Ireland. I had flown back to Canada to see my terminally ill mother, for what we all secretly knew would be the last time. It was a strange time in my life, new to adulthood, living in a foreign country and trying to navigate who I was.
On my journey back to Ireland in late December, I had a stopover at Heathrow Airport in London. Heathrow is chaos at the absolute best of times. The U.K and Ireland had been walloped with a snowstorm, and it seemed they had never seen snow before. All flights were cancelled, staff couldn't get to the airport to relieve those at work, people were sleeping on the floor. Everyone was miserable, upset and stuck at Heathrow.
I was a somewhat seasoned traveller, even in my early 20s. But certainly not to the level I am now. And I certainly had not yet come into my assertive manner in quite the same way.
There was a giant line at the British Airways customer service desk. I stood in that line for hours as two, then one person served person after person with their travel woes. I still vividly remember the shaven bald man in the blue dress shirt at the desk. As I very slowly inched closer to the front of the line, word was spreading that he was not a kind man.
The woman in front of me looked to be a few years older than me, she had a baby with her in a small stroller, and she understandably seemed stressed.
Finally it was her turn to talk to this man. You could tell that she was on the verge of tears, desperate for guidance on what to do with her baby in this situation, and not at all aggressive. She wanted to know how soon she could get out and on her way. "Do I look like the damn weatherman to you?", he snarled at her. Taken aback, she started to sniffle.
"I don't have enough food and diapers for my baby. Where can I get supplies? Do you provide any compensation to help me purchase things?" Ignoring her for a second, he stood up and shouted down the line. "This window closes at 10 pm, whether or not you have been served!" I looked at my watch, it was quarter to 10. I secretly hoped she would get on with it and I would have my turn. Clearly the hundred or so people behind me would be out of luck.
He turned back to her and said, "Well, if I was travelling with a baby, I would make sure I had enough diapers and supplies in case of this sort of situation."
"I had more! I wasn't allowed to take it all on the plane! The staff made me get rid of some of it!" she desperately tried to explain. He tells her in a heated tone that there is nothing that he can do and she will have to wait, as he cannot control the weather.
The baby is fussing now, and she is turning away to tend to him. She holds the baby in one arm, and grabs the diaper bag in the other. She leaves a pile of passports and ticket information on the corner of the counter. She steps to the side for a moment. I'm impatient now, a fact that I am so incredibly ashamed of today.
"Ma'am, you cannot leave that stuff here! You must clear your things from the counter!" "But, my arms are full, I have the baby! Please, I will just be a second!", she says as she frantically tries to get the kid in the stroller, while he fusses.
"MA'AM, take your things, I will throw them in the bin!!"
For a moment, her panic is replaced by anger, and rightfully so. "The baby, please!! Give me one minute!!", she says as she turns away once more. The counter was long and she had placed her things in the corner of it, there was plenty of room for him to move on to the next customer.
He then proceeds to make a big show of getting the giant garage bin and sweeping all of her belongings in the garbage, including passports, putting the garbage bin back behind the counter and then moving on to me.
She starts to cry. And I'm tearing up as I write this. "My passports!"
Without taking his eyes off me for a second, he grabs the garbage bin, slams it on the counter in front of her, continues serving me and then slams the window closed.
I wish I had stood up for her that day. I wish I had offered to sit with her and the baby. I wish I had offered to go get them food or seek out some supplies. I wish I had done anything, but stand aside, horrified.
I wonder if he would had treated her differently if she had been white, if she had been older, if she had been with a man.
That experience is forever etched in my brain in great detail. Years later, it comes back to me every time I need a reminder on who I want to be when I am a bystander to an awful incident.
This has all come rushing back to me because in two days, I'll be getting on my first British Airways flight since that incident. I'm dreading it.