My Name Is Frank

by Frank Gullo

3:30 PM.

We were seated on a United Express jet, parked at one of the many O'Hare gates, waiting for takeoff. This was the third and final flight leg of a busy travel day for me and my wife. We were on our way home to Buffalo, NY, after a relaxing vacation in New Mexico.

The flight attendant came down the cramped aisle between the seats, checking seatbelts and overhead bins. As we were on board a small express jet, she completed her check in just a few minutes.

I sat back and relaxed. We would be on our way home soon, a welcome return after two tiring earlier flights from Albuquerque to Denver and Denver to Chicago.

The cabin intercom buzzed and the captain started speaking. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. I just wanted everyone to know that we're waiting on about 30 bags from connecting flights. We've been informed that the bags will be here shortly and then we can be on our way."

I glanced at my wife, and she just rolled her eyes. "It'll be okay," I said, trying to reassure. "Just a few more minutes." Truth was, though, I was feeling it too and had been for the whole day. It just didn't seem to be our day. Our first flight from Albuquerque to Denver was late taking off, and our middle leg flight from Denver to Chicago had been grounded for well over an hour due to a mechanical problem with a cabin sensor. It would be just our luck if this flight was delayed as well.

A few minutes later, the captain gave us an update that seemed to contradict this possibility. "The bags are being loaded now, so it should be just a few minutes more. So sit back and relax, and we'll be in the air shortly." But before I could even begin to sit back, I heard the captain's voice again. "This is the captain again. During pre-flight -- we have a mechanical problem here. We'll update you if we need to deplane."

My wife's face sunk and she closed her eyes. I just shook my head. All I wanted was to get home.

Then the flight attendant delivered the coup de grace.

"We will need everybody to deplane. If you brought carry on luggage, please be sure to retrieve those items now. If you checked any bags prior to boarding, those items will be waiting for you at the gate." The mike went dead, as did my hope of getting back to Buffalo any time soon.

My wife and I stood up to exit or "deplane", to use the stupid airline term, when I noticed what looked like green paper under one of the seats in front of us. I looked closer and saw that it was money.

I motioned to my wife. "There's money. Who was sitting there?"

"It was the woman in the pink sweater."

As the jumble of people in the aisle began to shift and exit, I knelt and retrieved the cash from beneath the seat. It was a ten dollar bill. The woman who had dropped the money was up ahead in the line and had not noticed that she'd dropped anything on the plane. I held onto the money.

After a few minutes, we finished exiting the express jet. Since this was a small, crappy plane reserved for places like Buffalo, we had to exit down a stairway and walk across the tarmac to reach the gate waiting area.

As soon as we entered the gate, I hurried to the woman in the pink sweater.

"Ma'am," I said. "I noticed you dropped this under your seat on the plane." I reached out and handed her the ten dollar bill.

The woman -- middle-aged with a friendly face not unlike a teacher's -- looked surprised at first but quickly reacquainted herself.

"Why -- thank you. I -- I just had that in my hand. I -- thank you. I'm really impressed."

Her happiness made me feel better, made the day and delays seem not so bad. "You're having bad luck with your flight -- you don't deserve anything else on top of that."

"Well," she said, "I just hope someone does something good for you."

The exchange ended shortly after that and my wife and I sat down to wait for news about our grounded flight. I wondered if, like the TV show "My Name Is Earl", karma would reward me for my good deed and quickly move us on our way home. I smiled and sat down, sure it would only be a short wait before we were back on the plane.

But, for about 30 minutes, the gate representatives had no information about the plane, and the only change in any kind of status was from tired, travel-weary passengers shifting from one side of the gate to the other. Then, an announcement: "Passengers of United Express flight to Buffalo, we've learned that the flight has been canceled."

A collective groan issued from the passengers stranded at the gate.

"We are currently checking on later flights and will be reserving passengers on those flights as seating permits. Please check with a United Customer Service desk for additional information."

My wife was already up and moving into the larger airport concourse. A seasoned traveler who regular flies throughout the US and Europe, my wife was all-to-familiar with canceled flights, re-booking, and stand by, aspects of air travel that, until today, I had not experienced.

I caught up with her at the Customer Service desk, just in time to hear the representative start speaking.

"The 6:00 flight to Buffalo is over-sold by 11 people. I've put you on stand by for that flight but went ahead and reserved you for the 9:30 flight, in case you can't get on the earlier flight."

I was crestfallen. The rescheduled flight time was six hours later than our originally scheduled flight. It would kill the whole day and we wouldn't get back to our home in Buffalo probably until 11:00. I just kept shaking my head. This wasn't how karma was supposed to reward you.

"What about karma?" I asked my wife, as I picked at my dinner. We were seated at an in-terminal Chilli's, and my wife had managed to raise her spirits during dinner.

"Think of it this way, we are going home tonight. We're not stranded until tomorrow."

"Yeah, but karma should have put us on the early plane."

"Maybe karma needed to get some of the other people home before us."

I didn't respond but I knew she was right and attempted to settle down.

"You're right," I finally said. "There's probably no such thing as karma anyway."

After we finished our dinner, we made our way to the gate for the 6:00 flight to Buffalo. Given the large number of over-sold seats for the flight, we did not expect that we would get on the plane, but there was always a chance and, besides, we had nothing else to do.

As we arrived at the gate, we saw the woman in the pink sweater again.

"Our paths keep crossing," she said.

"Yes, I think everyone from the earlier flight is here."

"Are you leaving on this flight?"

"No," my wife responded. "We're on the 9:00 - we're on stand by for this one. You?"

The woman's face fell. "I'm on this flight. I'm - I'm sorry you two didn't get on this one."

"At least we're all going home tonight," I said.


"It was nice to see you again."

"You two. Good luck to both of you and thanks again."

Shortly afterwards, they began boarding for the 6:00 flight. One after the other, my wife and I spotted passengers who were on the canceled flight board the rescheduled flight. At one point, I made as if to quip and my wife just held my hand and said "don't" softly.

When all the passengers, had boarded, the gate representative consulted a computer monitor and called our names. My wife and I just looked at each other, but we moved forward.

"I thought the flight was oversold?" I asked the gate representative.

"They switched to a bigger plane," he said. "To fit all the passengers."

Yep, karma. You can't always see it working or what it has planned for you, but as I boarded the 6:00 plane for Buffalo, I felt it come through at last. In the words of TV's Earl, a popular expert on the subject, "As I go through life, fixing my mistakes one at a time, I've learned a thing or two about Karma, and part of keeping good Karma is sharing it with others. Do good things and good things will happen to you. Do bad things and it will come back and bite you in the ass."

Thank you, karma.

Frank Gullo
June, 2006