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Well, THAT Was Rather Sudden

November 17, 2014

It came out of the blue. I watched it unfold like some live action 3D movie. One minute I’m rushing through Chicago’s O’Hare airport trying desperately to catch a plane, the next a fight breaks out right in front of me.

First, a little context. Once again, I was traveling last week and once again my flight was delayed. This time it was delayed coming out of Louisville. My corporate scheduler always, always, always books me on a flight with a layover. It’s not just me. Other people at my company said the same thing. Apparently, it’s cheaper to have a layover every week. And like clockwork, every week my first flight is delayed and it causes problems with my second flight. (Cloud Computing. . .Sort Of.)

This time, both my outbound trip (I Don’t Really Know Edward H. McNamera. . .But I Hate Him Anyway) and my return flight last Friday were delayed. For the return, I wasn’t too worried. It wouldn’t have helped anyway. My flight was supposed to leave at around 6:30pm from Kentucky. I schedule them like that on purpose. It lets me work nearly an entire day. Sure, it screws with some of my weekend, but it’s a price I’ll pay.

Or so I thought. Sitting in the terminal in Louisville, they announced our flight was delayed by 30 minutes. Apparently the inbound flight crew wasn’t going to arrive in time. My layover in Chicago was only supposed to be 40 minutes. I checked with a very pleasant gate agent named Rick.

Well, Mr. Bliss. You will probably land before the flight to Salt Lake is scheduled to leave. If you run like hell, you might make it.


But, I tell you what I’m going to do, just in case. I’ve reserved a seat for you on the next flight out but it’s not until Saturday morning at 11:00am. If you miss the flight tonight, you go find a ticket agent and tell them the crazy guy in Louisville put you on another flight.

I’ve never found that getting mad at a gate agent helps anything. Rick did the best that could be done.

Behind me in line waiting to talk to Rick was a guy named Eric. Eric looked to be about 50 years old and he was trying to get home to Little Rock. His flight to Louisville was so screwed up that he ended up renting a truck and driving. Now he was trying to get home. His flight out of Chicago left 10 minutes before mine did.

The flight finally arrived in Louisville, we got on and headed for Chicago. Before they closed the cabin door, I texted a friend.

Might end up staying overnight in Chicago. Free for dinner?

Maybe. Text me when you arrive.

I lived in Chicago for a couple of years a long time ago. The thought of an extra night and a chance to eat deep dish stuffed spinach pizza at Giordanno’s was not at all unpleasant.

I checked with the flight attendant to find out which gate we would be landing at. I knew my Salt Lake flight was leaving from F4.

We will be arriving at gate C2.

Not looking good. Here’s a map of the Chicago terminal.


See that green line that goes from gate C9 to E3? Yeah, that’s a bus. And those shuttle busses run on a 15 minute schedule. I figure I had about 12 minutes to get to my gate. If I got the bus just right I might make it. In a way, it would have been easier if the flight from Kentucky were another 15 minutes later. In that case, I wouldn’t have even tried.

But, like many people on my plane, I really wanted to make it home Friday night.

As we landed, the captain asked those people who were not making connections to let us runners go first. I grabbed my bag and sprinted up the jetway and into the terminal along with everyone else, including Eric.

At this point it got weird. Eric started yelling.

Hey, outta the way. Coming through. We got places to go and people to see.

Not surprisingly, this annoyed some of his fellow travelers. Not me, because I let him go in front of me. But, there were a couple of guys in the 20’s who took exception to this old guy pushing passed them. I’m not even sure what they said, since at this point I was trying to make my own way through the crowd, albeit somewhat quieter than Eric.

I guess their comments got on Eric’s last nerve because I saw him turn around and rush them. Eric had a rollerboard style suitcase in each hand. That was good because I think otherwise he would have taken a swing at one of these guys. Instead he rushed back and chest bumped one of the young guys.

I say it got weird, because I knew Eric’s circumstance. He was in a hurry. A really big, every second counts, hurry. His attack required him to abandon, at least temporarily, his goal of making his flight and instead start an altercation that potentially would delay him, or even land him in jail or a hospital.

The two guys were just as surprised as I was.

Wha? . . . I just got assaulted.

At this point their language became more colorful and they decided since they were moving in the same direction as Eric, they weren’t interested in letting his challenge go unanswered.

It might have ended there, in a swarm of humanity as we each rushed our separate ways, except that we arrived at gate C9, the shuttle stop. Eric needed to get to terminal F also.

He stopped. They stopped. And the war of words continued to escalate.

What would you do? I’d met the guy a couple hours earlier, I was hurrying for my own plane. Look the other way? Call a cop? Pull out my camera phone?

Eric ended up in the wrong line. He misunderstood an instruction from the shuttle guide and ended up on the other side of the aisleway from the actual line and he was nose to nose with his two new friends. As I walked toward them I heard one of the young guys say,

Go ahead and take a swing at me. I’ll have a couple hundred witnesses.

The tension was reaching a breaking point. I walked over and reached between Eric and the closest guy. Putting my hand on his shoulder I said,

The line we need to be in is over here.

I don’t consider myself a brave person. I’m not a coward either, but I don’t look for confrontations. I freely admit this one could have turned out badly for me at this point. If they were determined to fight, I’d just literally stuck my nose in the middle of it.

Fortunately, it broke the tension. It gave Eric an out and it gave the two guys a chance to save face. They yelled at him as we walked to the other side of the aisle-way and lined up for what we hoped was not a 15 minute wait.

I don’t know if Eric made his plane. Last I saw him he was rushing down terminal F headed for his gate. I made my plane with about 8 minutes to spare. It was enough time to text my friend,

Caught my flight. Maybe dinner next time.

As I settled into my seat I thought about Eric and his actions. How odd that he was doing things that were directly counter to his stated goal. His goal was to get to his plane on time. Arguing and fighting with total strangers might have prevented that. Even his yelling at people to get out of his way was counter productive. He would have gotten to the shuttle stop just as fast or faster without being rude. It reminded me of one of my favorite sayings about your temper,

The man who can control his temper in an argument has a distinct advantage over the man who can’t.

I hope you got home safe Eric. I’m glad I could help.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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