An über mistake...
Updated: Jul 27, 2019
I recently had a midnight flight from Cape Town to Seattle. The plane was loaded, seatbelts fastened, and tray tables locked when the captain announced we were grounded until the fog lifted. Two hours later he told us to go home because the flight was cancelled.
First of all, I’d like to say that I AM GRATEFUL the airline didn’t hold us hostage for eight hours. However, at least 500 of us needed to go BACK through immigration with only two officers to process us.
People were losing their minds. And by people, I mean small children and babies. Toddlers collapsed in tantrums and frazzled parents triaged their children according to need. Oldest children were forsaken as parents attended to younger siblings.
In retrospect, the airline should have escorted families to the front of the line for everyone’s sanity. By the time I collected my luggage, it was three in the morning. I had a home to go to. Those who didn’t got to stand in another line to collect a hotel voucher.
Before I called a taxi, a man approached me and asked if I needed an Uber.
“Why, yes!” I said, delighted with my luck.
He said he was an Uber driver. I asked if I should order an Uber so he could accept my request. He suggested that we skip the app and I just pay cash.
I know, I should have said, “No way!” and taken my leave. Instead I loaded my luggage in his run-down Honda and buckled up.
When Eric and I Uber from the airport at night we upgrade to an Uber Black. The stretch of road between the airport and the city center is a dangerous place to risk a breakdown. I remembered this when we were driving past the sprawling townships and the Honda’s low-fuel gauge lit up.
This is how women disappear. They get into dodgy cars with strangers in the middle of the night. Even if this guy didn’t have ill intentions, he was exhausted, and the fog was thick.
I activated super-friendly-Sarah to keep the guy awake and me alive by peppering him with questions about his life.
My driver was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He used to own a clothing shop with his wife and two children. Then his wife lost her fight with cancer, and he lost his business. He now drove for Uber to make ends meet. When he heard that our flight was cancelled, he hustled to the airport to work overtime.
South Africa reminds me of my privilege Every. Single. Day. I’m white. I’m educated. I have money. I have a safety net for my safety net.
My driver got me to my home safely. The only snag was my family wasn’t expecting me at four in the morning, and I didn’t have keys. The love-of-my-life slept through me repeatedly ringing the doorbell. Thankfully my daughter answered her phone and opened the gate, saving me from a cold night on the streets.
The next evening, I returned to the airport. It was chaos. Thousands of people needed to check in, and hordes of feral kids ran around us while we waited in lines. Their parents looked like zombies praying for the authorities to remove said children from their care.
One corpse of a mother told me, “Here’s the thing: nobody has sympathy for parents. They judge us like, ‘Well, you made poor life choices by having children.’” As she approached the ticketing agent she added, “And on days like this I agree with them.”
I raised my fist in solidarity and wished her luck on her journey. I’ve travelled with three small children, and it isn’t for the faint of heart.
So, if you’re on a flight with a crying baby—offer the parents a word of encouragement or a drink, then put your earplugs in. If the kid behind you is kicking your seat, use your nice voice when you tell him that you’re going to rip his legs off if he doesn’t stop. It's way scarier.
Yes, parents weren’t of sound mind when they chose to be parents but give them grace. Most likely they are doing the best that they can.
Believe me: you don’t want these parents to throw in the towel. They might stick their kids in a dubious Uber, book a flight to Barbados and live their best life now—sans enfants.