While I was in Italy, my blog posts focused on each day’s adventures and photos that captured the beautiful landscapes and treasures around us. Honestly, by the end of the long, fun packed days, I barely had the energy to write anything more than that!
Home now, I want to share some of the stories of Italy, providing depth to the experiences we had. Although this first tale didn’t actually take place in Italy, the events that unfolded enabled us to get to our destination in a timely, and miraculous, way.
Let me tell you about Jason.
Enroute to the Charlotte, NC airport, on our first travel day, the pilot suddenly announced that we were being diverted to Chattanooga, TN. Severe weather in the Charlotte area posed a threat to incoming aircraft. Airports in Knoxville and Chattanooga filled with airplanes, and deplaned passengers, as we all waited for clearance to proceed.
Most of us on board these planes had connecting flights in Charlotte. In our case, my daughter Elissa, grandson Dayan and I needed to catch our international flight to Rome, Italy. As time ticked by while we were grounded in Chattanooga, it became doubtful that we were going to make our connection.
We didn’t. The plane to Rome took off two hours before we made it to Charlotte.
We weren’t the only passengers stranded in Charlotte. As more and more planes arrived late, the airport filled with displaced travelers, intent on finding another flight to get them to their destinations. Imagine that scene. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people scrambling for seats on the few planes that remained at the airport. And imagine the moods of those desperate passengers. There was crying. There was anger. There was frustration.
We were concerned as well. We had a tour that started the next evening with a welcome dinner.
And we made a conscious decision. The weather couldn’t be helped. It wasn’t anyone’s fault that connecting flights were missed. We were determined to treat the American Airlines employees with patience and kindness.
We also took the action steps that we could. Dayan got on the phone with our Missouri travel agent, seeking advice. Ken attempted to book a new flight for us. There was an airplane leaving for London shortly. However, although he could see that there were seats available, he was not allowed to reserve them for us. We were required to speak to an American Airlines employee and arrange that ourselves. The problem with that was everyone was being told that flight was sold out.
As we moved slowly toward the help counter, a 45 minute process, chaos roiled around us. The three women in line ahead of us were trying to get to Rome as well. Dayan’s dad and stepmom offered helpful suggestions via phone. And Ken called back with this advice: Ask in a kind and authoritative way for seats that were still showing as available on the London flight, even if we were told it was sold out.
As we moved closer to the help counter, the situation sounded grim. There were simply no flights available until the next day. It seemed probable that we would not arrive in Rome until Friday, missing the beginning of our tour. The ladies in front of us didn’t seem to be finding seats as they spoke to a representive. We stepped up to speak to the next available rep. Dayan spoke confidently and kindly, explaining our situation. And then he asked for the seats on the London plane. The woman looked at her computer screen, and told us she didn’t want to waste any time. “Go quickly,” she said, “get to the departing plane’s gate and see if they can help you.”
We had not heard those words spoken to anyone else. With a spark of hope, we trotted through the packed airport, dodging people, pulling our carry on luggage behind us.
At the gate we were given conflicting information. No seats available. Get in another line. The plane had already been boarded and was preparing for take off. I got in the other line indicated while Elissa and Dayan stayed at the gate, talking to the women behind the counter there. When I turned around to check their progress, I saw Dayan talking to a young dark haired man. My grandson waved me over.
The man’s name was Jason. He was an American Airlines employee and he took it upon himself to get us on that plane. I don’t know where he came from or why he decided to help us, but we were so grateful for his assistance, even if it didn’t work out.
Jason moved to an empty counter and using the computer there, got to work. And he was determined. Others said there were no seats available. The computer kept freezing or getting bogged down in a loop. Jason kept working. He called out repeatedly to the two women, “These passengers are supposed to be on that plane. Hold the plane.”
The time for departure came and went. The airplane remained at the gate. Jason kept working. The women came to believe we were supposed to be on the London plane. One woman even took responsibility for accidently deleting us from the system, sure that we were on the original passenger list. A rep kept checking on our status. The plane needed to leave.
Jason kept working. He assured us we belonged on the flight. As he worked he shared with us that he was of Italian ancestry. Ah, the reason perhaps, that he was helping us so diligently. He said he still had family in a little town in northern Italy that we had probably never heard of. Lucca, it was called. “Lucca!” we answered, “Yes! We are visiting Lucca. We know of it.” And it turned out, Jason had been on vacation. This evening, this night of chaos, was his first shift back at work. He didn’t know it when he reported to work. We didn’t know it when we hurried to the gate. But he was there for us.
One by one, Jason got us entered into a system that didn’t want to accept us. They were victories worth cheering over as each boarding pass was printed out, and gratitudes were expressed each time the captain was told there were passengers still coming on board.
Jason did it. He got us on the plane to London. He gave Elissa the name of his great aunt, who owns a hotel in Lucca. We gave him our deepest thanks. As we took our seats on the airplane, among passengers who were, amazingly, not upset by the delay, I marveled over what had just happened. I can’t explain how it happened. I only know that we kept our hearts open and our attitudes pleasant and we asked. We asked and we received. And we flew to London overnight, and from there to Rome. Jason made that connecting flight happen as well.
We thought of Jason often during the Italy tour. We talked about him as we wandered through the magical village of Lucca. Could that older woman unlocking her door be his aunt? Did his family live down this lane? We loved that beautiful, medieval town. We loved the connection between it and the angel who came to our rescue in a crowded airport full of upset travelers.
We are grateful to the Divine, who met us where we were in the journey, and heard our request for help. We are grateful for our travel angel, who appeared with the intention of getting us on the plane. He created a pocket of calm and assurance around us, and brought together a team of people who worked on our behalf.
Grazie, Jason. Grazie mille. A thousand thank yous.