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Commentary: A delayed flight & a sense of hope

Crystal Piatt
courtesy photo

I’m just back from a rare vacation, one that to my great fortune took me to a tropical island, allowing me to start off the new year on a white sugar sand beach, surrounded by turquoise waters and five friends, providing me with a much-needed dose of fun and a sense of calm.

For nine days, I fell asleep to the sound of waves rolling onto the shore and woke to the upbeat Reggae rhythms of Bankie Banx. I drank coconut rum and watched sailboats and superyachts cruise past. I left my phone in airplane mode, spending my time looking at palm fronds and shooting stars instead of my screen. I channeled my inner dolphin and dipped in and out of the ocean, remembering the quote by Danish author Isak Dinesen who said, “The cure for everything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea.”

All the stress, worry, and anxiety that had been weighing heavily on me for months dissolved. Dinesen was right; I was cured.

When my time in Margaritaville came to an end and I landed in Miami to change planes, my hard-won relaxation came to a screeching halt. The airport was a chaotic obstacle course of humanity, wheelie bags, and electric carts. TV monitors throughout the terminal were tuned to CNN, though the breaking news was not of American politics or Middle East bombings. It was about Mother Nature waging a war of weather. Iowa City got 15 inches of snow. Washington DC was getting pummeled with rain. Flooding ensued along the East coast. Four deaths had been counted so far after multiple tornadoes tore across the South. Almost a million people were without power. 1,800 flights had been canceled and upwards of 9,000 flights had been delayed.

Mine was one of them.

Three hours after the scheduled departure time I finally boarded my connecting flight. We taxied out to the runway, only to learn we were number 45 in line for takeoff. We waited so long for our turn we had to go back to the gate to refuel. By this time, we were delayed so many hours that the flight crew was on the verge of exceeding the FAA’s shift allotment. At this rate, the benefits of my vacation were guaranteed to fade faster than my suntan.

Passengers were tired and as the exhaustion mounted, one would have expected tempers to be running high. But here’s the shocking thing: no one was complaining. No one was even talking much. The quiet mood on the plane was one of acceptance, patience, and that most elusive behavior these days: politeness.

As I sat there, buckled into my hard, narrow seat with limited leg room, I reminded myself of the people that were in far less fortunate positions. My snowbound friends in Iowa had lost power. Others around the country had lost their homes, a few had lost their lives. Those of us traveling by plane had merely lost a few hours of sleep.

With a little perspective, one can always find the silver lining.

I thought of the pioneers who suffered as they crossed the country in covered wagons. They did not have this luxury of jetting across the sky at 600 miles per hour in an aluminum tube. Our delay and cramped seating were merely minor inconveniences on a list of (hashtag) “First World problems.”

I put in my earbuds and soothed myself with some Bankie Banx music, clinging to that “Island time” feeling, and eventually we lifted off the ground.

After landing safely, another shocking thing happened: people waited their turn to exit their rows. No one pushed to get ahead of anyone. Some helped others get their bags out of the overhead bins. Some, including me, thanked the crew as they deplaned.

All this to say, as we enter an election year that is likely to be more turbulent than our bumpy flight, the experience of this challenging trip home gave me hope that civility and manners still exist. Because for as much as I needed the vacation, it’s this kind of hope that I needed most.

Beth Howard is an author and pie baker who lives on a farm in Donnellson, Iowa. Learn more about her work at

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio.

Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.