Norman: A special day at the airport

Charlie Norman

For several years after I retired from my job with the airline, I’d drive up to DFW and do some volunteer work. I’d be all dressed up in my old airline uniform, wore my old ID badge, and carried a clipboard for notes/numbers/airport diagrams for reference.

I’d go up there every week or two and make a day of it by roaming the concourses looking for folks who might need a hand — helping them find their next flight, carrying an extra piece of luggage, or assisting an elderly person maneuver the crowds. I’d usually make 25-30 personal contacts on behalf of my former employer each time I went, and felt especially useful many a day.

Sometimes, I just knew I was meant to be there. Timing is everything, and so it was on this special day. I’d been there about six hours and actually on my way toward the exit in Terminal D when I was passing the big “Arrivals/Departures” monitor near Gate 40. I then noticed one lone twenty-something woman peering up at the screen.

She looked a little confused and concerned, so I stopped and asked if I could help. She was of Asian descent and spoke no English, but pointed up at the screen. I figured she was looking for her connecting flight. I asked/motioned for her to show me her ticket and she readily complied. I saw from her ticket that her destination was Seoul, Korea, and that she had just flown in from Uruguay for her connecting flight there at DFW.

The thing is, I was also aware there was only one flight per day to Seoul, and it had left a couple hours earlier. Not good. I spoke no Korean (assuming that was her language), but I knew where to go for the International Help Desk not too far away for some assistance.   

So I get the lady I’ll call “Binna” to follow me. We go to the counter and I begin to intervene on her behalf and explain the situation to the agent (who does speak Korean) and who was immediately sympathetic. Sure enough, Binna was on a delayed fight out of Uruguay and therefore missed her connecting flight at DFW. She was on her way to her wedding in two days in Korea!

She had no cell phone, no US money, no place to go, and the next flight to get her to Seoul was the following afternoon. The agent and I came up with a plan for Binna. She got rebooked for the flight the next day (First Class, no less), and we used my cell phone to call a relative in California to explain what happened, who in turn, was able to relay the info to family in Korea.

Because it was no fault of her own the for the delay in Uruguay (airline mechanical), it was protocol to secure a hotel, transportation, and meal voucher for the inconvenienced customer. That got all settled (with next day’s boarding pass in hand), and we made arrangements with the hotel for her to be able to send an email to her family explaining things more fully. The agent went over everything again --- when and where for hotel pick up, ticketing, vouchers, etc.

Knowing Binna would probably appreciate an escort outside “security” to catch her van ride to her hotel, and into a world she knew not of, I did just that. As we waited outside by the curb, I could tell Binna was gonna be OK. The hotel van appeared, and I was able to communicate with the driver briefly the situation. He assured me Binna was in good hands.

I opened the door for her to get in, then Binna looked me in the eye with tears in hers. Then she gave me the sweetest hug of gratitude I could ever imagine. Though we spoke different languages, we had connected as humans with a kindred spirit. She had a need and I was there to help.

It was a great privilege to be used that way that day. As the van drove her off, we waved goodbye, and I too had tears.

So I start walking toward my car in the parking garage, when I spotted a middle-aged gentleman, standing by his van near the curb looking a little distraught. I asked him if something was wrong. In his European accent, he asked if I would mind watching his vehicle for just a very few minutes (4-5?), while he took his two large bags for check-in at the counter right inside for his flight to Frankfurt.

I realized this is definitely not airline protocol, and could be a security issue. The man explains further that his vehicle is a rental and he must take it to South Remote Parking area to turn in, and he did not want to lug his two large bags on/off a courtesy van. It could be quite cumbersome.

I’ve been there. I get it. I glanced around, and saw the Lufthansa counter inside with no one in line. Oh, why not? I mean, if parking patrol comes by, I’ll try to be his advocate. “OK, make it quick.”  “Oh yes, yes! Thank you, Thank you!”

He pulls these two huge suitcases out of the van, and high-tails to the counter about 50 feet inside. I dutifully watch his van, no cops come by, and four minutes later my new German acquaintance comes hustling out. The deed was done. All good.

He starts thanking me again and again. I tell him it was my privilege. He then notices my tie (an American Flag design) and says, “I love your tie! And I love the United States of America! How blessed you are to call this place home!” It took me back a bit, and reminded me once again to not take my wonderful country for granted.

He shook my hand in genuine gratitude, and as he drove off, the words just came as I sang softly to myself “God Bless America, land that I love”... and the tears started to flow once again.

Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at chas234@windstream.net.