Today, I was set to work a flight serving a hub city from an outlying area. We were scheduled to depart in the early evening hours, arriving in plenty of time to allow passenger connections to what likely would be the last flight of the night to their final destinations.
The inbound flight crew briefed me on a maintenance issue that had popped up during their inbound flight; one affecting our aircraft's ability to accurately measure airspeed. They had notified maintenance while airborne so that the ground team could research the issue, assemble the proper people and parts, and have the best chance to correct the problem with hopefully no delay, or at worst, with as little delay as possible. One of the steps proactively taken (while our aircraft was still inbound) was to put the part most likely broken on another flight coming in from a city that had the part on hand. While maintenance didn't know if the part would be necessary, they rightly decided to take this extra step.
Our plane was scheduled for a quick turn so while maintenance was taking their first look at the component failure, we began boarding the plane. Sometime early-on during that process, maintenance determined that we did indeed have to wait for the already airborne part to arrive. We ceased boarding, briefed the passengers both in the jetway and those who had already enplaned.
Naturally, the stress level of many (probably most) of our passengers spiked at that moment. Is this going to be a safe aircraft upon which to fly? It's pretty important to accurately know one's airspeed, right? If the plane can't be made safe, will the maintenance team or the Captain make the call to halt the operation? What time will the plane be fixed? Will I make my downline connection? If I don't make my downline connection, should I stay here where I can sleep in my own bed, or will the airline provide a hotel? Should I try to book a quick flight on another carrier, or with this same airline, but through another hub? If I can book another flight, what happens to my already-checked bags? Boy, this line at the counter is long and I'm on an estimated 27 minute phone-hold with the airline. And the list goes on and on.
To make a long story short, our team worked hard to do whatever we could to keep people informed, book alternative flights, provide drinks to those on the aircraft, open our personal cellular hotspots, obtain hotel vouchers, and the likes. Ultimately, maintenance did fix the aircraft, but the delay made it so folks were right on the cusp of making or missing their connections. Some did make them. Others didn't.
After all the passengers had deplaned at our destination, we secured the aircraft and started to make our way off the jetway. We ran into one gentleman that I had personally interacted with on a couple of occasions. Our interactions weren't particularly remarkable - he had normal questions and displayed no outward signs of stress beyond that which the situation warranted. But in this last interaction, he came up to me, shook my hand, and thanked our crew for their compassion and effort. I asked him if he was going to make his connection, and to where he was connecting. He said that he did not make the connection, and that he was trying to get to Houston. He was going back because Hurricane Harvey had left his house was in six feet of water.
I become emotional as I reflect upon the grace exhibited by this gentleman during an unbelievably difficult situation. To sit there knowing that one is returning to devastation and loss on that massive a scale... the loss of one's family photos, baby quilt, antique watch passed down through the generations, critical and personal family documents. That doesn't even begin to address the financial devastation, near and long term living uncertainties. Again, the list goes on and on. To conduct oneself in so kind a manner just boggles my mind.
Seat 3A, I will likely never cross paths with you again. But I will always remember that special display of humanity, of the quiet dignity and grace that you exhibited last night. My heart reaches out to you and thousands more like you. You are what is good in mankind.