A Pilot's Perspective.

By Barry Meek.

December 2005

Christmas at the Airport

Christmas comes but once a year. We should be thankful for that! Before you get the idea you're reading the ramblings of a Grinch, let me get into it. I love the spirit of Christmas, the goodwill toward each other we are supposed to feel, and the peace that I do indeed enjoy. But spending it with family is a tradition that, quite frankly is overrated. Christmas or any of the other holidays for that matter. For some, it's an absolute disaster.

Because it's something our society has held on to for generations, we carry it on, in spite of the inconveniences and hassles that are inevitable. Many movies owe their success to scenarios like this: Christmas is at Grandma's house in Winnipeg. The entire family, spread out from Ottawa to Vancouver is flying home. There will be six more adults and all the grandchildren staying in the little two bedroom house for three full days. Grandma has the carpets cleaned, airs out the cellar, assembles all the bedding they own, while Grandpa puts up the tree and stocks the liquor cabinet. The tension mounts. Meanwhile, one sister-in-law dreads contact with another, while brother Earl, will predictably drink himself into a stupor, upsetting everyone. Old skeletons will come out of the closet. More tension. The kids will fight over each others new toys, and the neighbors dog will discover his Christmas dinner served on the back porch when Grandma puts the turkey outside to stay cold!

Have you seen that movie? Ever seen it happen closer to home, as in your own family? Many have. By the way, statistics show that more murders occur in December than at any other time of the year except July and August. I contend that's because families who don't see each other a lot, get together at Christmas, then suddenly realize they don't like getting together. Then, the fights are on!

A few years ago, while I was working at Vancouver International Airport, we witnessed several hundred families who avoided situations like that. Here's how they did it. They spent their entire holiday at the airport. Vancouver was totally isolated by a snowstorm that year. Nothing was moving from Christmas eve until Dec. 27 in or out of YVR. Besides that, the only route through the mountains and out of Vancouver by road, was also closed by snowslides for 3 days.

The airlines staff in the terminal building did what they could to help out the stranded travelers, including distributing air mattresses for sleeping. Passengers from points other than Vancouver who were connecting to fly elsewhere, couldn't even get a cab and go home. Thus trapped, most had their luggage checked, and who knew where it ended up. They were separated from their razors, their underwear, their medications, for 2 days or more. Infants formulas and baby foods were packed in lost luggage, and at that time, there was no pharmacy or food store at the terminal. Volunteers risked driving slippery, slushy streets to go out and buy provisions for these unfortunate travelers. Some staff members even invited whole families into their homes for Christmas dinner. Lifetime friendships were undoubtedly spawned during that time.

We witnessed and experienced the true spirit of Christmas that year. No question, everyone was inconvenienced, and it crossed my mind that we could have made a fortune by renting out our shower room. But there were countless examples of sharing and goodwill, and the entire terminal seemed to be at real peace that Christmas Eve. There was no bickering, fighting or drinking. There were however, several decorated trees, lights, and even a Santa.

Someone should have made a movie about it. Come to think of it, that's been done too.

Given the traditions that live on in families, and the fact that many holidays are a time we dread, I wonder why folks don't change their habits and expectations. Grandma's house may not be the best place for the entire family anymore. Obviously not every family is this dysfunctional, but you shake your head at those that recreate stressful situations every holiday.

The folks stranded at the airport were forced to function outside their traditions, had no choice but to make the best of their holiday. It was different. Although they were disappointed and uncomfortable, most don't remember what presents they received. But no one who will forget that Christmas at the airport.'

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