Help, stranded at the airport!

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarad A. Denton
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
For many, the holidays can be stressful enough even without travel plans going awry.

For me, the combination of a cancelled flight, missed connection and prospect of spending the night in an airport terminal was enough to catapult me into "Scrooge" mode.

My personal holiday nightmare started when I arrived at the Rapid City Regional Airport, S.D., to begin a holiday vacation with my family. I was excited because within a few short hours I would be celebrating with friends and loved ones I had not seen in a long time.

However, as luck would have it, my scheduled flight was cancelled due to a winter storm.

I then returned home, feeling incredibly discouraged and more than a little worried I would miss Christmas with my family. I quickly reminded myself that my situation paled in comparison to the countless servicemembers deployed overseas that are going to miss spending this holiday season with their families. I went to bed feeling a little less self-centered and a little more confident that I would be able to see my family soon.

Unfortunately, the weather had other plans. While my flight was not cancelled, it was delayed several hours. I ended up departing Rapid City for Denver International Airport 30 minutes before my connection flight was supposed to leave out of Denver. To make matters worse, Rapid City Regional Airport suffered a power failure leaving airlines unable to update flights in their computer systems, which meant by the time I landed at Denver, my connecting flight had left without me.

I stood in line at the airline's customer service counter, waiting for the airline representative to book me on the next available flight.

I casually listened to the people around me discuss holiday plans as I thought about my own. I had to remind myself of the sacrifice deployed servicemembers were making so I could fly home and see my family. However, as the possibility of sleeping in an airport overnight became a reality, those thoughts of fellow servicemembers started to give me less consolation.

Dejected, I looked for a place to eat and think about where I would stay the night.

The answer came to me almost out of the blue. I found the information booth and asked if the airport had a United Service Organizations branch. And as luck would have it, they did.

Nearly exhausted, I made my way to the USO. I hoped there would be a couch or chair I could use to grab a few hours sleep before I had to find a place to stay in the terminal itself.

I was warmly greeted by the receptionist who was quick to point out all the amenities offered to servicemembers trying to get home for the holidays. Airmen, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers sat together talking, watching movies or sharing a snack while festive music played in the background. Hundreds of coins in display cases lined the walls as a testament to the people who had come before us.

I was moved to say the least. I felt inspired that there was a place I could come and feel welcome, if only for a few hours before they had to close.

I found a room where other people were sleeping and decided this would be a good place to rest. I was barely asleep an hour before a gentle nudge woke me. One of the attendants working at the USO was going around and asking everyone what time their flight was. Groggily, I answered her. She told me one of the USO employees had volunteered to stay at work overnight and watch over all the stranded servicemembers.

Isabelle Conrad, a Denver, Colo. resident, sacrificed her holiday plans to provide a place for stranded servicemembers like me to sleep.

She could have easily ignored the situation and gone home to her family, and no one would have blamed her; she didn't. She gave myself and all the other stranded servicemembers a place to feel comfortable.

From the bottom of my heart this holiday season, I wanted to express my deepest gratitude to Ms. Conrad and all the people that support the USO and the armed forces. Thank you for making my trip home a little less stressful and a lot more comfortable.