After 30 years
in the US,
a first — a night
stranded in an airport
bought food from Dunkin’ Donuts — the
only restaurant open in the entire airport.
Another long schlep to Terminal C and
on the way I met more passengers —
Americans lost on their way home. At the
Dunkin’ Donuts I ordered a breakfast sand-
wich made up of blueberry waffles, eggs,
sausage with hash browns and very refreshing
apple juice. It seemed like one of the best meals I
had ever eaten.
The airport was getting quieter. I looked for a com-
fortable spot to sleep close to the gate where my
flight would take off. Already many passengers were
stretched out on the seats. I found a quiet, dark spot,
although there were large television monitors that
kept flashing ads for United. But the sound was
Finally I stretched out on four seats, made a pillow
out of some dirty clothes and covered myself with
two jackets I was carrying. My bed was narrow and
I had a hard time trying to figure out a comfortable
position. I did not know what to do with my arms.
Each time I moved slightly, the jackets would slip
and fall on the floor. I had taken my shoes off, and I
was worried somebody might steal them. I was also
concerned about losing my cell phone, so I hid it in
An elderly man sleeping behind me started to snore. I
noticed a woman lying down and reading Infidel, Ayaan
Hirsi Ali’s account of the crisis in the lives of African
Muslim women. Another woman worked on her computer.
A man walked to the men’s room just wearing his undershirt and pants. There was a slight buzz of neon lights. I
could hear thunder and rain outside the airport. But I
could not make my mind quiet as a string of songs — mostly Bollywood — kept playing in my head. My body was
tired, but my mind kept telling me to stay awake.
A few hours passed by, and I did not sleep. Then after a
long gap I began to hear human voices. It was 4.30 am and
when I opened my eyes I saw a few people outside a store.
I put on my shoes and headed in that direction. The
Starbucks outlet had opened. ‘Ah more food,’ I said to
myself! I got myself a tall Pike coffee and a blueberry scone
(yes, I am very fond of blueberries) and waited for my
The sun came up. The airport woke up with passengers,
many who had just arrived looking rested and clean. I was
envious. We boarded a little before 7 am and were stuck in
the plane for an hour and half as the rains had moved to the
New York City area. It took another three hours to reach
my home in Queens.
I spent the rest of the day sleeping in my own bed. ;
It was around 11 pm three Mondays ago at he Dulles International Airport. I had been at airports for six hours, exhausted, sleep deprived and, of course, hungry. My last meal was a snack of a muffin and coffee at
the Pittsburgh International Airport and it was
past my dinner time. Now I was listed number
three to go stand-by to Newark International
Airport. And I tried to sweet talk a young
Pakistani employee of United Airlines, hoping that
he would make a miracle happen and somehow
find me a seat on the plane that was about to depart.
Unfortunately, no miracle happened. The flight to Newark
was fully booked.
At that moment it hit me that I would have to spend the
night at the airport, since the next flight to New York City
was at 7 am. Three decades in the United States and this
was going to be a first for me.
That evening the greater Washington, DC area had been
hit with heavy rains and thunderstorms. My original flight
from Pittsburgh to DC was delayed by more than an hour.
By the time I landed at Dulles airport my connecting flight
to La Guardia was gone, as was another to JFK. My last
chance to leave DC that night was the flight to Newark. I
dashed from Terminal C to A, a long complicated trip, with
escalators, elevators, moving walkways, and a huge vehicle
that worked as a bus and also attached itself to the airport
buildings, all the while dragging my carry-on bag. But I did
not succeed, even after I made a subtle attempt at speaking
in Urdu with the Pakistani man.
It was not just my case. Bad weather had canceled many
flights and there were long lines of passengers trying to
rebook themselves out of DC. I stood in a line that barely
moved. Behind me was a young American couple from
Binghamton, NY, who had missed their flight to Atlanta.
The man ahead of me asked whether he could borrow my
BlackBerry. Since he did not know how to use it, I dialed a
suburban Chicago number for him. He later told me he had
missed his flight to Qatar.
A group of five young men and women, some with
Harvard University T-shirts were trying to book a hotel
room that they could all share.
Since many flights had been canceled or delayed because
of weather conditions, United would not take the responsibility of providing us with hotel and food. That was a given.
So, there was no sense in getting angry or frustrated.
But the airport was nearly shut down; all restaurants,
bars, even newsstands that sell candy and water were
closed despite the long lines and many stranded passengers. Surprisingly, there were no vending machines.
I had my BlackBerry and I felt energized connected with
friends on Facebook and Twitter. It was surreal, but I felt
quite well protected as many of my Facebook friends in different time zones continued an ongoing conversation with
me. It helped a lot, taking my mind off from the fact that I
was stranded far from home and my comfortable bed.
I got my boarding card after midnight. There was not
enough time to look for a hotel and be back at the airport
for a 7 am flight.
Quite by chance I saw a man with a brown paper bag
which seemed to contain food. He told me that he had