Of course 99 times out of a hundred, a flight delay is a bad thing.
You miss something important at the other end. You have to spend hours in a terminal. The airline tries to voodoo you with flight delay vouchers. But it’s funny how things turn out.
The world is full of serendipity. When plans change, anything can happen.
Here, we’ve hand-picked a few of the best flight delay experiences. So the next time you’re cursing your luck, remember: you’re not alone, and things might not be be as bad as you think.
This happened recently at the Delhi airport while waiting 2.5 hours for my flight to Bangalore.
Next to me sat a French woman, maybe in her forties, rather charming and ardent for her age. Thank God the airport WiFi doesn’t work after 30 mins, so I was out of things to do and I got a chance to indulge in a conversation with this lady.
She told me she was going to the Tibetan settlement in Karnataka to pursue Tibetan language, the sheer obscurity of which caught my attention. On asking her why, she said she decided to study ancient Tibetan medicine techniques. She had the experience of living in many parts of Asia, and spoke about her life in China, especially Chengdu, where she stayed for four years to learn an ancient form of martial arts. We spoke abut the good and not so good things in China, government policies and oppression among other issues.
She also spoke of her divorce, which she expected to never see in life at the time of getting married and how she realized that nothing is permanent and since everything has to come to end, she better be having fun along the way. So she decided to quit her standard job and learn martial arts instead. That’s when she went to China.
The next eight years of her life were dedicated to Tibetan medicine. Two to three years for learning the language and the rest for studying the subject. What amazed me most was how clearly she was able to think about what she wanted do with the upcoming years of her life at that age.
Not that I think of a standard job as a waste, but the courage to take such a risk is something I wish I can have at some point in my life. We spoke for two hours straight. This was one of those rare instances when a couple of hours add perspective that otherwise takes years to build.
I once had a four-hour layover in Washington DC’s Dulles Airport. I decided to call my great-aunt, who lived in DC.
I knew her pretty well, because she was my grandmother’s closest sister, and she would often be visiting her when we would be. Not being especially close to the grandmother on the other side of the family, I was always fond of my great-aunt, like she was another grandmother.
So I called her. And we chatted for three hours, reminiscing about things we had done together, and how when the rest of the family would go shopping, she and I would stay home and drink tea and read.
At the end I was able to tell her how much I loved her and how much she meant to me. And she said she loved me too. She had never had children of her own, so I think she was pleased that I could tell her I loved her. I spoke and wrote to her a few more times before she died (she lived to 88) but I have always treasured that long talk.
Paul is a former college English instructor and current Amtrak café attendant
I met the bassist for The Roots and got invited to see Jimmy Fallon Live and to go backstage.
My flight was delayed going back to NYC from Houston. I ended up at one of the restaurants in the airport, and figured I’d get a meal to go and a beer at the bar. The guy sitting next to me at the bar got up to use the restroom and left his iPhone on the counter, and I saw it go off with ‘MOM’ on the screen. When he got back I offhandedly mentioned that he had a missed call. We ended up talking and found out we were on the same delayed flight back to NYC.
I started asking questions about his guitar case and he said he was on the way back from ACL. That got us talking about life as a musician, making it, and impacts on family life. By the time we were headed to the plane I still had no idea who he was, except that he was in a successful band, and that his wife didn’t really like the extra fame. It wasn’t until the gate that he mentioned that he was part of a band on TV. “Oh what show?” I ask. “Jimmy Fallon, you know, The Roots?”
He got to board first since he had the extra legroom upgrade via Jetblue. As he left he told me he thought I was cool (probably because I wasn’t a fawning groupie) and said he would swing by the back and say hi during the flight. When he did, he offered me and a friend the chance to check out the show. And that was how I ended up at The Jimmy Fallon Show the day after my birthday. I got two seconds of TV time, high-fived Ghostface Killah (Wu-Tang!), and got to go backstage and shake hands with the rest of The Roots.
Jen is a designer in Chicago, by way of NYC
I think my MacBook charger might have helped a guy to start a revolution.
Long ago, I had a four-hour delay at Chicago O`Hare Airport, and ended up wandering around. Bored.
I met this guy, I can’t recall his name, who was in his late 20s. Early 30s, maybe. Very artsy, geeky-looking guy with a laptop. He asked me for a Macbook charger and I sat down with him for a while. He was talking about computer networks and easy user interactions, Apple products, Silicon Valley tech companies, etc. My kind of cool nerdy topics to talk about.
Some 20 minutes in, he talks about how he had a magnificent idea and he emailed, phoned and pretty much broke into the office of some big guys in Silicon Valley to share it. His idea could make a ton of money and grow an awesome company, he said, and he needed to talk with the right people because it was too risky to show this to anybody else.
Anyway… after his initial meeting, he was given a couple of weeks to come up with something based on that. He didn’t tell me what the idea was, of course, but they liked it so much that he was going back to the valley again.
He was very vague, but he made it sound super interesting. He was quiet for a while. I just saw him doing his stuff. I got bored. I tried to glance at a plastic-wrapped device he was testing. I didn’t understand a thing.
There he was, waiting for his flight, using his Macbook to code something into… a physical device… that you can attach to an iPhone or iPad… to read a credit card. I thought ‘ah, that’s cool!’ I saw him swiping a card on his iPhone and saying ‘yes!’ to himself. I was intrigued.
We shook hands after some minutes and then he left, extremely happy. Almost a year later, I read about Squareup. It was everywhere on the internet. I thought ‘I KNOW ABOUT THIS’.
Fast forward to the present: The charger does not work anymore. And he probably doesn’t remember any of this. I still do, though. Thanks, Chicago Airport.
Bonus story: On my last delayed flight in Shanghai, an old woman peed on a plant.
Mauricio is Creative Director at Imagination
I had a flight delay from Amsterdam to Nairobi in 2005.
The airline gave us a €40 voucher as a way to make up for it. We could use it anywhere in the airport, with one catch: you could only use it for one purchase. You could buy a pack of gum or a steak dinner, but it was only good for one redemption, and then it was gone.
The bartender gently reminded me of this as he sat a towering Heineken in front of me. I thought about my predicament for a second, looked down the bar at the other gentleman quietly hunched over their drinks and said, “I’ll take as many of these as I can get for 40 euro!”
I bought beers for everyone at the bar, and I struck up conversations with all of them. When they were done with the pints of American goodwill that I had provided for them, they started to buy drinks for me and each other. We drank for the ENTIRE 6-hour delay, and by the end I was learning the best drinking songs from Ireland, Scotland, and Holland. I finally looked over at my watch and realized my flight was departing in ten minutes.
I stumbled down the terminal and ran to my gate. Just as I was about to get on my flight, one of the gents from the UK came running down with one of my suitcases. “MATT! MATT! you forgot your bag!” He ran all the way up to the flight attendant desk and threw my luggage over the rope to me. I caught it and fell backwards onto the ground, laughing hysterically.
I went onto the plane, passed out in my seat, and woke up nearly 10 hours later in Nairobi with a colossal hangover.
Matt is the co-host of the Does This Work podcast
Flight delays happen, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. You may be entitled to as much as $680 in compensation if your flight was delayed, canceled or overbooked within the last three years.
Pick up tips, tricks and good vibes from fellow travelers.
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