Canceled or delayed flights are often unavoidable, but how you handle the delay is up to you. (Photo: Corbis Images)
I missed my aunt’s funeral because of a travel delay.
It all started when my flight was canceled. In a desperate, last-ditch effort to make the event, I booked a one-way ticket from Chicago to Schenectady, N.Y., on Amtrak. That train wound up having a six-hour delay. After a 19-hour train ride on two hours of sleep, I pulled into Schenectady at 8 p.m. — well after my aunt’s service, burial, and celebration.
I would be lying if I said that no profanity rippled off my tongue. Most curse the dreaded travel delay — when planes, trains, buses, and boats cannot make it from point A to point B “on time.” I’ve seen grown men blow up in anger at the airport when they could not persuade a gate agent to allow a plane to take off in the midst of a Chicago blizzard. (Both times, the men were escorted out of the terminal.)
Amid exasperated sighs, muffled cries, and volcanic eruptions of anger, most people fail to focus on the upside of travel delays: time.
Not time wasted. But rather, time gifted.
Let me explain: While I was stuck on that slow-moving Amtrak train, missing a significant family event, there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing. That lack of control granted me a unique freedom. Rather than dwell on something out of my control, I surrendered to making the most of that delay.
It’s a perspective that I encourage other agitated road warriors enduring delays to consider. It can prove extremely challenging, of course, but it’s better than being that guy escorted out of the terminal for causing a gate agent to cry.
Perhaps the way I spent my 19 hours on the Amtrak train will provide inspiration for the next time you encounter a travel delay (and aren’t accompanied by children who likely also need pacifying).
Time to connect
Having a conversation with another passenger can help pass the time (Photo: Corbis Images)
The train became an intimate setting in which to dish on life with perfect strangers. We were all in the same boat — or in this case, train — so why not get to know a little bit about the people surrounding me? Everyone has a story, after all. And the stories people shared with me were quite beautiful.
I met a middle-aged married couple who taught school all over the globe, from Africa to India to across North America. I met a Minnesota mom who took pride in homeschooling her daughter. I met an Amtrak employee who was on his last shift before taking an office job to be more present for his family. I met a group of old ladies on their way to a spiritual healing ceremony in the Northeast.
I could have put my headphones on and tuned out the train. Instead, I embraced the connections this time afforded me to make, and learned something new from each person I met.
Time to reflect
Use the time to reflect through writing (Photo: Corbis Images)
We’re inadvertently being gifted time when we’re “delayed” — time that we might not otherwise make for ourselves to take stock of a life we so often rush through. So I used the time to self-assess by jotting down things for which I was grateful and drawing up a list of new goals. Rather than being pissed off about the delay, I felt productive.
Time to admire
Take in the views (Photo: Corbis Images)
The train coasted alongside Lake Erie and through forests just beginning to burst into autumn hues of red, orange, and gold. I drank in the views outside my window. If I were in a huff about the major delay, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate this evolving landscape. Or maybe it was the natural landscape that was soothing me?
Time to decompress
Finally dig into that book you’ve been too busy to read (Photo: Corbis Images)
Delays force us to slow down. Which is good, because most of us glorify being busy. (Hey, I’m guilty.) Although I am a terrible sleeper in moving vehicles, I managed to capture two hours. I also unwound through reading and meditation.
Time to inspire
Making the best of your situation will likely have an affect on those around you. (Photo: Corbis Images)
There’s nothing worse than being in an environment of unhappy people. Delays can easily foster a grumbling pessimism. But it’s amazing how a simple smile and a warm greeting can keep an environment upbeat, especially for overworked train attendants, who don’t possess the power to snap their fingers and make the train fly. And even if they could, we’d probably still experience a delay in the air.