Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.
— Narrator, Fight Club
It’s 2:30 PM (CEST, Paris time), and me and my travel companions — my mother, sister, brother-in-law, and brother-in-law’s mother — are sitting at Gate 16 in Terminal 1 of Charles de Gaulle International Airport. Getting here was fraught with stress and confusion, including a later-than-I-would-have-liked departure from our vacation apartment, an accident on the RER, a frustrating check-in line that didn’t move for nearly an hour, and me leading our group on a mad dash through the airport, security, and passport control to finally reach the gate. This was after we had learned, the night before, that our Icelandair flight was being rerouted through Glasgow due to further volcanic eruptions.
The monitors proudly declared that our flight was “a l’heure” (on time), but that was clearly false. Gate 16 was oddly empty, of plane, of personnel, of fellow travelers. When we made it through security just before 2PM, there was one other couple sitting anxiously in the rows of uncomfortable chairs, and we asked them if they were headed for the United States. Boston, they said, and we exchanged relieved looks, since that’s where my group was headed as well. Safety in numbers, I suggested.
Before too long, the gate area was bustling with frazzled travelers, all looking from the monitors (“a l’heure!” they still declared) to other waiting passengers, asking anxiously to see if they had missed the flight. No, we assured them. At least, we didn’t think so. There were still no airport personnel to ask, even though the monitors were no longer giving us relevant information.
We began to talk. Some of us were trying to end up in Boston, others New York. We all had been told that the 2:15 flight was rerouted to Glasgow, but would still leave at 2:15, and then we’d continue on to our respective destinations, but we were beginning to be suspicious. How to find anything out? I pulled out my new iPad. Is that a new iPad, six people wanted to know. Yes, I said. Can you get internet on it? I’m trying, I said. The guy across from me pulled out his laptop, said he’d try as well. We paid our fees for an hour of wifi and began searching the de Gaulle website, Icelandair, Logan Airport, JFK Airport, Glasgow. Only Glasgow was helpful at all — Logan, JFK, and de Gaulle had no records of the new flight numbers we had been given — but even Glasgow claimed an on time arrival of the Paris flight.
Several of the passengers spread out to harrass the airport personnel who had arrived to deal with other departures. “Je ne sais pas,” most of them said, their palms up, shrugging. My sister managed to badger someone enough to learn that our plane was nowhere in sight because it hadn’t yet left Glasgow. After that, we managed to find a record online of the Glasgow to Paris flight, and indeed, it appeared to be delayed in Glasgow. That was all the information we could get. I suggested we might be in a Twilight Zone episode, a bunch of strangers stranded in an airport terminal for all eternity.
For the next six hours, we commiserated. One couple was from Rhode Island, and lived right near where my sister and I went to high school. After some conversation, we realized we knew people in common. The New Yorkers looked amazed. We explained that was typical for Rhode Island. I overheard one of the New Yorkers explain that he was graduating from NYU on Tuesday, with a degree in architectural history. I asked him about it — one of my best friends is a professor in historic preservation — and we got to talking. A mother and daughter (who had actually been on our flight to Paris the week before) took it upon themselves to keep us posted about important developments, such as the free beer being given away at the snack bar if we showed our boarding passes. Those with working phones let others call loved ones with updates. We shared Pringles and chocolate purchased from the snack bar with the last of our collective Euros, everyone digging into their pockets for their last 1 or 2 Euro coins.
Finally, finally, the plane arrived, and we boarded for Glasgow. On the way, I sat next to the NYU student, and we shared life stories and exchanged contact information. In Glasgow, the comraderie continued through further delays. At the Boston-bound gate, we chatted with the Rhode Island couple, and a group of young twenty-somethings who had gone drinking together during the delay and were acting like old friends even though they hadn’t know each other that morning. A hundred feet away, at the New York-bound gate, someone broke out a guitar and a sing-along commenced.
We took bets with the New Yorkers as to which flight would leave first, and watched the monitors. The Boston flight got delayed further, and the New Yorkers cheered. Then the New York flight was delayed, and the Bostonians cheered. Finally, at 2AM BST (Glasgow time), the Boston flight boarded. We stuck our tongues out at the New Yorkers, bid farewell, and finally headed home. Seven-and-a-half hours later, and more than 24 hours after leaving our Paris apartment, we landed in Boston, and I was home.
Will I ever hear from the people to whom I gave my card? It’s doubtful, but that’s all right. These were single-serving friends. We got each other through what could have been a truly unbearable travel day, by commiserating, joking, and keeping each other distracted while we waited for the time to pass. Spirits were good, no one lost their temper, and we helped each other laugh about the experience.
Thank goodness for single-serving friends. May you find yours whenever you need them.
Special thanks to my brother-in-law for reminding me of the Fight Club line that inspired this article. Even after hours and hours and hours of travel, he still managed to be funny.