From the Editor’s Files: A big world made small by flight cancellations

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By Paul Rhodes, publisher and editor

It doesn’t matter how far you travel, somewhere on the way home you’ll be reminded just how small the world really is.
That’s a truth that has been reiterated over and over again for Kim and me as we travel this planet. We learned that lesson once again as we traveled over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
After taking a holiday cruise to the southern reaches of the Caribbean, Kim and I found ourselves ready to head back home to Kansas on New Year’s Eve. We had nerves of jelly as we waited to board our first flight in Miami that morning, and for good reason. Flights were being cancelled left and right, primarily due to staffing shortages caused by the most recent COVID surge.
Literally as we were in line to board our flight from Miami to Dallas, we both got emails about our flight from Dallas to Wichita that afternoon. Sorry, the email said, your flight has been cancelled due to weather-related issues.
Wow, we thought…it must be miserable in either Dallas or Wichita. At that point all we could do was board our flight to Dallas and see what was waiting there for us.
What we found in Dallas was overcast skies, but no hint of bad weather. And friends back in Wichita had told us it was sunny and nearly 60 degrees that afternoon, with bad weather headed our way overnight.
Okay…so the weather-related cancellation was probably just the airline’s way of not having to pay for overnight accommodations for a plane-load of people, and that was confirmed at the customer service desk a few minutes later.
Their idea of “taking care of us” was to put us on an afternoon flight the next day, which seemed much more likely to be cancelled because of actual bad weather. The customer service agent suggested we also get standby tickets for a final flight to Wichita that night.
If you’re ever traveling and want to meet someone from your town, just get in line to fix the last leg of your travel plans back home. We met all kinds of folks that afternoon who were simply trying to get back home to Wichita – a couple who had just visited Antarctica, a man who chose to rent a car and drive home to Wichita, and a couple from Medicine Lodge who split up and took their chances individually on getting back home that day.
From there, Kim and I were thrown into a simple – albeit excruciating – waiting game. We got a bite to eat and then planted ourselves at the gate for the evening flight to Wichita.
The pecking order for standby is based on all kinds of factors. I had a priority status with the airline, so I was No. 2 in line; Kim was No. 14.
First the plane had to get a flight crew. Then they had to complete the boarding process. Then they had to count empty seats. And then, finally, they started calling standbys. They would not move Kim up in line, but I was welcome to wait. As the final four passengers missed their flight, Kim and I and the man from Medicine Lodge got to board the plane. We had never been so grateful.
The gentleman from Medicine Lodge proved to be Tom Walters, pastor of First Christian Church in that community. His wife had made it onto an earlier flight to Wichita, and now he was going to be able to join her.
Pastor Tom first traded seats with Kim so she and I could sit together. Then, as our conversation unfolded as the plane was waiting to take off, Tom offered to give us a ride back to Goddard once we got home.
Tom had attended Manhattan Christian College about the same time I was attending Kansas State University. And, he had lived in Goddard much of his early life. With each layer of conversation, our worlds got smaller and smaller.
Back in Wichita, Tom’s wife Melody was waiting with their car. She had started for home earlier, but came back to the airport when she got a call from Tom as he was boarding.
Miraculously, Kim and I collected all of our luggage, including bags we had checked back in Miami early that morning. Tom and Melody weren’t as lucky and came up short one checked bag.
We piled ourselves and the collected luggage into Melody’s van, and I navigated us back to my home in Goddard. The Christmas lights were on for the evening, and had never looked brighter or more inviting.
We thanked Tom and Melody for their generosity, and as we entered the house I told Kim that word of our encounter would likely spread fast in Medicine Lodge. And sure enough, it did.
The next day I had an email from Kevin Noland, publisher of the Gyp Hill Premiere newspaper in Medicine Lodge. Pastor Tom had already discussed his adventures with Kevin, and Kevin shared that Tom had officiated at he and his wife Ronda’s wedding back in 1988, just a few years before Kevin and I got to know each other. “Small world,” Kevin wrote in his email.
Small world, indeed.