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The Five Emotional Stages of Flight Delays

There’s no better feeling than strutting into the airport full of excitement and wonder for the trip ahead. The escape you have been waiting for is finally here, and you are just two flights away.

You board flight number one and blissfully sit back and relax. After a few snacks and a quick nap, you’re already descending, and think to yourself, ‘What a great flight, one down, one to go!’

As you head to your connecting gate, you stop for a quick margarita and happen to see your flight status on the monitor – DELAYED 6 hours! Instantly, that state of blissful ignorance you had been living in is swept away and replaced with such an array of emotions your unexpecting brain can’t fully process what is happening.

Depending on the specific situation and duration of the delays, timeframes may vary, but no one is safe from the five stages of emotional turmoil that erupts when getting stuck at the airport.

1. Denial

Staring at the monitor, jaw dropped, your eyes are telling you that you are about to spend 6 hours in a germ-infested cesspool of humans. Your brain, on the other hand, instinctively trying to protect you from the world’s dangers, refuses to accept this information. Being stuck at the airport and having your plans altered is the worst possible thing that could happen, and it can’t possibly be happening now. You see it, you know it is inevitable, but you refuse to accept it and storm off to the nearest ticket counter.

2. Anger

Once the reality sets in that you are in fact destined to roam the terminals for endless hours – potentially blowing half your vacation budget on Saran-wrapped sandwiches and gossip magazines – you are outraged.

This is absolutely unacceptable, how dare this airline inconvenience you so selfishly. And before you know it you’re trash talking the airline, the employees, your mother-in-law and pretty much anyone who even looks at you the wrong way.

3. Bargaining

After about 30 minutes of hating everyone and everything, the brain gets tired (being mad takes a lot of energy), and it needs to shift gears. Irritation is replaced with desperation, and you go back to the ticket counter begging for forgiveness and an earlier flight. Something must be available, anything! You’ll sit in the middle, next to the toilet, in cargo if you have to, anywhere to get you out of the airport!

4. Depression

One hour later, with all hope gone, the despair kicks in. Nothing can save you from this nightmare. Nothing has ever been or could be worse than this. The airport is no longer a gateway to the time of your life; it is a prison cell designed specifically for your torture. You have nothing left to do but find a corner, put your headphones on and wallow in self-pity. This day will never end. It is the worst day of your life, and you might as well cancel the entire vacation.

5. Acceptance

About two hours and three margaritas later, you slowly start to come to terms with your predicament and even begin to think that it’s not all that bad. You are so far in that you realize it’s out of your hands, so might as well try to make the most of it. You even muster up the positivity to tell yourself you’re more than halfway there. Things could always be worse, at least you are on your way.

I recently found myself in this very situation. I was about 3 ½ hours into my delay and deep into stage four when someone struck up a conversation with me. At first, I was hesitant to engage, but they must have sensed my sorrow and kept talking. Before I knew it, I had a new friend who, not only lives in the same county as I do but was also from my hometown of St. Louis – small world!

It was within this conversation that I realized I had let something entirely out of my control dictate my attitude, and well that’s just not my style! Here I sat with a fellow traveler and new friend, and probably hundreds of others in the same situation, and I was whining because I had to wait a few extra hours.

Looking back on that day, yes I remember the five stages, but vaguely. What stands out is the humor of the situation and how in the end everything worked out just fine. I think about the people I met, that I wouldn’t have if my flight were on time. And I am reminded that things happen in life that we cannot control, and sometimes these are where the best memories are made.

About the Author: I’m Sarah and I love exploring our planet and learning from its many wonders. You can follow my adventures and insights on my blog Happy travels and fins up!