“Any Flight Attendant Will Tell You That Friday Evening Flights Are Heartbreaking.”

Story by Phil Ware

I confess that I have a great deal of ambivalence about traveling! 

I love traveling… You meet new people. You go to new places. You experience different cultures. You see different sites. 

I hate traveling… Travel is often all about edgy people, crowded airports, stinky toilets, bad food, long delays, and bumpy rides. 

Most of all, I hate being away from my family. Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, out of the normal routine, and far from the voices I love to hear, is not fun for me. So when I travel, I particularly notice families and how they interact. I get my vicarious family fix from watching a loving family negotiate the rigors of travel. It’s nearly always an adventure. Kids are wide-eyed with wonder. Parents are vigilant not wanting to lose one of their precious ones in the moving mass of confusion. Somebody spills something. Another one wanders off looking at the incoming planes. Parents are disheveled. I chuckle and make up stories about the good families I see along the way. I imagine what some “deer in the headlights” looking parent has been through. 

Then, there are the children without families. 

Any flight attendant will tell you that Friday evening flights are heartbreaking. All the little ones flying alone with an ID necklace, a nervous frown, and a trembling lip. 

On a recent trip to Orlando for an Internet conference, I rode into the Magic Kingdom at the back of a 767. As I deplaned, I was one of the last adult passengers off the plane. As I walked down the left aisle, scattered all over the plane were unattached, worried children. They were all alone and last in line to leave for what was supposed to be their greatest adventure. 

I’m sure an excited, loving, and anxious non-custodial parent waited for many of them on the other side of the door. For others, it was a sometimes-wonderful-but-usually-undependable “Magic Kingdom” parent. From the kids’ side of the door, it was just a big plane after a long trip, following a huge changeover connection in Atlanta, finished with a long wait as they watched all the “real families” deplane together. Finally, last in line, with the help of kind stranger, they could leave. 

I wanted to hug them all. I wanted an eraser for their hearts. I wanted to tell them that their story would turn out okay. My experience with those who have flown alone as children, tells me that I can’t. It’s not the flight of the plane, it’s the flight of their family, and with it their loss of security, their heartbreak, their feelings of responsibility for what happened (no matter how irrational those thoughts are) that leave the lasting scars. 

Any time I say such things, I get strong reactions. Some are from kids who have lost their families to divorce and tell it’s much more painful than I describe. Some are from parents forced by an unfaithful, abusive, addicted, or dangerous spouse to leave for the safety and security of themselves and their children. They have a mixture of anger, desperation, and remorse as they tell me about their concern for their children when they are away from them and with their other parent. Some reactions are from those in the middle of the divorce mess who don’t really want to hear about it or who are desperately trying to prevent it from happening against the wishes of their leaving spouse. 

I sure don’t want to hurt those already reeling with their own feelings of anguish and insecurity. But, I do want to be as clear as I can to those who are deciding what to do about their marriage. I want to jolt awake those dreaming about that possible affair, or those looking for a “cheap” fling to liven things up. I want to fire a flare across the conscience of couples who are drifting apart or who are neglecting their time with each other, threatening their marriages and children. I want to awaken the workaholic and help that person see that no job is worth destroying his or her family, marriage, and children. 

Dr. Laura reminds parents they made a commitment, and as adults, for the sake of their kids, they can keep it. (Sorry Dr. Laura, I believe God said that one first!) Our singles’ minister reminds me that the people who most hate divorce are those whose lives have been destroyed by it. He also reminds those he talks to about divorce, that a couple can decide whether or not they will divorce, but they can’t decide if they divorce whether or not they will hurt their kids. He doesn’t say it to hurt those who have been through it, but he wants to prevent others from ending up there if at all possible. 

So please, if you are married, get on your knees and thank God for your spouse. If you can’t do that, then please, ask God to help you find something in your partner to love and build from there. If you are in a mess of a marriage, don’t stay in denial. Do something! Get some help, now! And if you have kids, please, please, don’t make them be last in line to get off the plane for the Magic Kingdom. 

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