Tower inferno

Looking past travel inconvenience

On Sept. 26, I thought I was inconvenienced by a jerk in an air traffic control tower, which was an incorrect assumption.

Brian Howard, an air traffic controller based in Aurora, Illinois, lit the basement on fire of the air traffic control center, which grounded hundreds of flights in Chicago and backed up the rest of the country.

I had planned on a nice easy trip to New York for my 21 birthday. I had intended to leave Grand Rapids airport at 6 p.m. and connect through Detroit to New York.

At 11:30 a.m., Delta informed me my flight had been canceled. I was furious. They had booked me on a 12:50 p.m. flight to Atlanta to connect to New York. There wasn’t even a chance I’d make the flight, so panicked, I called Delta’s hotline.

I found a two-hour wait to talk to a person and decided to try and reroute my flight. Thankfully, I found a Kalamazoo to Minneapolis flight that connected to New York. It was going in the wrong direction and I’d have to sprint to get to Kalamazoo on time, but I was just happy to be going.

Ten minutes from the Kalamazoo airport, my brother called me. A United airlines employee, my brother was keeping his watchful eye on me to make sure I got to where I was going safely. My flight had again been canceled. I was enraged and intent on tearing the head off the first Delta employee I met.

Thankfully my level headed and lovely travel partner decided it was her turn to do the talking. The desk agent in Kalamazoo set us up on a Flint to Atlanta flight that connected mercifully to New York.

The catch was that I had two hours and 45 minutes before my plane took off. We were two hours from Flint. We rolled into Flint as the low gas light in my car rang, sprinted through the airport and thankfully had a few minutes to spare.

As we arrived in Atlanta-Hartsfield airport, the busiest airport in the United States, we were met with a travel weary crowd. This jerk in Chicago had caused thousands of people to be diverted to and stranded in Atlanta.

We met an elderly couple that would be sleeping on the floor of the terminal and leaving the next afternoon. They wouldn’t even be returning to the correct airport and would have a long drive home through rural Indiana following their ordeal.

Again, my controlled panic took over. We had little time to navigate the utterly massive airport. By a stroke of divine intervention, we landed two gates away from our next gate. The odds against that stroke of luck were simply astronomical.

I returned to Detroit on Sunday and faced a four-hour night drive back to Big Rapids via Flint that had me cursing Howard all night long as I tried to avoid nodding off.

This past week, I decided to look into the story and it changed my perspective.

Howard is a veteran of the Navy and had just been told he’d be transferred to Hawaii. He was disgruntled and clearly very troubled.

Suddenly my travel issues didn’t matter. I got where I had intended to go, and I returned safely. I felt shame for dispelling anger and rage towards someone who clearly was ill.

Howard attempted to take his life. No, I should not feel sorry for him just for that reason. That would be shallow of me. It made me realize that I have it very good.

I have a job I love, a family that helps get me to New York on a fall weekend while I’m away at school and people that I can bring with me to enjoy my weekend away.

Depression is an illness, it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain. It’s been well documented. Brian Howard may or may not suffer depression, I am not going to diagnose him.

You don’t have to be depressed to attempt suicide, but depression does increase the chances.

I suffered from it for the majority of my time in high school, and continued to suffer from it as I reached college. My insensitivity towards something I experienced felt asinine.

It’s that same old lesson of avoiding a passing of judgment before you have the facts. I, like many that day, wanted to give Howard a nice kick in the shins.

Now, I just want to give myself that kick with my steel-toed boots.