Airport trauma: "You weren't there man. You weren't there."

Everybody goes in. Not everybody comes out…

Last week I got stranded at the airport.

At the conclusion of what ended up being an almost ten-hour ordeal, I huddled in the corner of my room in a whimpering heap, my soul crushed and my idealism shattered.

I was broken.

Don’t roll your eyes. It had never happened to me before, so I had no idea about how bad things can get when you pull back the seedy curtain of life’s sparkly air-travel veneer. It’s bad behind there, you guys. Really bad.

I don’t travel a lot, so airplanes have always been a bit of a novelty to me. The food on little trays! The wheelie luggage! The only time I buy magazines! I’m the person who always accepts the headset and actually gets excited looking out the window.

At least, I was that person. (Squints and gazes into distance.)

It all started when I got dropped off at Brisbane Airport around 4pm. I had checked-in online and was ready for my flight at 4:45. Easy. My phone was only at 30% battery, but the flight to Sydney is only an hour, so I figured I was safe.

I was wrong.

I marched on into the lounge with a spring in my step and a sparkle in my eye.

Everything was still hopeful then. Still possible. I still saw beauty in the world.

Then I looked up at the departures board. There were a bunch of words that I’d never seen at the airport before, like ‘DELAYED’ and ‘CANCELLED’. But I was still so young, so naïve. I didn’t think that it could possibly have anything to do with my flight. My flight was going to be fun! It was leaving in half and hour and I would probably be served a sandwich!

I took a seat in the food court and started reading the news on my phone. I guess I got so engrossed in current events that I didn’t even notice the change.

Things descended into chaos quickly.

I looked up. A darkness had descended over the terminal.

At some point while I was reading, everything around me had plunged into Thunderdome-style chaos.

Babies were screaming. People were trading locks of their hair for pre-packaged chicken caeser wraps.

Everybody was suddenly dressed like post-apocalyptic bikies.

Something had gone seriously wrong.

I made my way over to the departures board. My flight had been cancelled. I asked a dishevelled looking woman  nearby what was going on. She mumbled something about wind in Sydney and then ran away screaming.

I was struggling to process the information I had just been given. Cancelled? What? That can’t be right. That stuff only happens in scary stories! I was going to eat a mini sandwich and watch a crappy movie that I can barely hear with my headset! WHAT WILL BECOME OF ME NOW?

An announcement over the loudspeaker suddenly echoed through the terminal: people on my flight needed to head over to some desk to get re-allocated. The Desk That Would Decide Our Fates.

Nothing could prepare me for the stampede that followed. Everybody was fighting to get a good place in the line that led to the magic desk. Some people walked away from the desk with blank faces. Others just fell to their knees in despair.

My turn finally came. I approached with trepidation, like I was walking into some kind of sadistic prank. I felt like I was going to ask the Wizard of Oz for a way home but would probably end up walking away with a Rebecca Black album and some kind of flesh-eating virus.


The wizard called me over. My life was in his hands. He grabbed my useless boarding pass, typed some numbers in a computer and told me the news: Re-booked. Three hour wait. Free coffee voucher.

Good. Something I could trade.

I was one of the lucky ones.

I think that was the Newsagent’s once. During happier times.

I found a dark place I could hide until my flight. I heard a rumour that people were fighting to the death for bottled water, so I needed to stay safe. I used up what power was left on my phone trying to get messages to loved ones.

Flight boarding time finally arrived – an hour later than promised. People crawled to the gate on their knees. Those who were being left behind begged for a place on board the plane, but we ignored them. We all ignored them. I’ll always wonder what became of their poor, poor souls. The guilt plagues me to this day.

I’d like to tell you nothing went wrong on the plane, but that would be a lie. Everything went wrong on the plane. Someone left medication in their luggage. Someone puked. Only one of the toilets worked.

We sat on the runway for an hour and a half before we left. When we finally lifted off the ground, everybody just held hands and sobbed.

The flight attendants petrified everyone when they stopped smiling and declared marshal law. It was every man for himself. Rules were forgotten. It was like the seatbelt sign meant nothing.

When we landed in Sydney, it was chaos. Every delayed and/or cancelled flight that had been struggling to get there had somehow managed to land at exactly the same time.

And what is the best possible scenario in an airport filled with thousands of exhausted, broken souls who need a train?

No trains. Trackwork, of course. People were giving away their wedding rings just for a standing-place on one of the few rail buses. It was a dead-end.

Someone suddenly yelled something about available taxis and everyone started running. The weakest were crushed. But there was no point in pushing. We were all screwed anyway: the line was hundreds of metres long. Hundreds. It was a five minute walk just to get to the end of it. “WE’RE NOT ANIMALS!” a broken woman cried. She was met with silence. Silence and despair.

I asked someone about halfway down how long they’d been waiting. They said two hours. I joined the queue and left my fate in the hands of the cruel, cruel gods. I looked down at the only remaining comfort in my life – my phone.

It died.

By the time I got home I had lost all faith I humanity. I saw some things that night, you guys. Some bad things. Things I’ll never forget. The ten hours it took me to get home changed something in me. Some of the light in my eyes has faded, and I’ll never get it back. The world is a much harsher place than I thought it was.

I don’t think anyone really believes me when I tell them how bad it was. To them I just say: “You weren’t there man. You weren’t there.”

I just hope the people we left behind made it out alive.

Have you ever been through an airport trauma?