Airline Policy


The voice on the other end of the line was firm: "I'm sorry, ma'am!" "I am not authorized to release that information to you!"

I slammed my fist into the phone booth in desperation as a lump the size of a grapefruit rose in my throat. This was my last chance, my last hope! I had to know! But all the pent-up emotion of the last 12 hours enveloped me so completely that the only words I could force around the lump were, "But-But . . ."

My quandary had begun at 4 o'clock that morning. A voice on my answering machine filtered through my fogged brain and incorporated itself into my dreams. Even when I finally awoke, my sleepy body refused to respond fast enough to pick up the phone while the caller was still on the line. I pressed the "play" button instead, and it was my brother-in-law's voice that spoke through the recording: "He's gone!"

All traces of sleep instantly vanished. It could only mean one thing!

My father-in-law had been struggling with brain cancer for the past two years. When we had flown to Belgium to see him two months earlier, we had known that he didn't have much time left. But in the early hours of that dark morning, reality was hard to swallow. Why now? Why so soon? Why hadn't we been given the chance to say good-bye? Suddenly there was only one thing that mattered: Flying to Belgium as quickly as possible!

Things are never as simple as they seem, however. Our 12 month-old son was sick. He had never quite recovered from the six-hour time change of our last overseas trip, and he still wasn't sleeping through the night. I couldn't see taking him out of the country again. I couldn't see taking him on an airplane with his ears already so congested. And mostly, I couldn't see further disrupting the poor child's sleep pattern. Besides, a funeral was no place for our fussy son! But what else could we do?

I tried to put it out of my mind as I called my parents in California. They had known and loved my father-in-law. They needed to know he was gone. But my mother's first question dredged the problem back up: "What will you do with the baby?"

"I don't know," I sighed, trying to hide my frustration.

Her reply was calm: "I'll fly out this afternoon to take care of him!"

If my mother had been any closer than three time zones, I would have run all the way to California just to give her a hug!

But now we faced a new dilemma. Our plane for Brussels would leave in the early evening. The earliest flight my mother could get at such short notice wouldn't arrive until three hours later. Who would care for my son until she arrived? I phoned a lady who had done some babysitting for me, and her reassuring voice temporarily lifted my anxiety: "Of course I'll take him until your mother arrives!"

There were still other details. How would we get to the airport, two hours away? How would my mother get to our house? And when she did, how would she find the babysitter's home in order to pick up our son? But these details quickly resolved themselves, too. A member of our youth group volunteered to drive us to the airport, while another friend agreed to take care of my mother's transportation.

It was at this point that I finally realized God was providing for every need, and I set about packing our bags with a lighter heart.

Anxiety didn't set in again until we were on our way to the airport. By this time, my parents had already left for the airport and there was no way to contact them. What if mom missed her flight? What if she got bumped? What if the lady at the desk didn't want to accept her last minute reservation? What if? What if? Though I knew these thoughts were ridiculous, I became obsessed with knowing whether or not my mother had caught her flight.

I couldn't do anything but stew about it for the next two hours, however. The line to check-in seemed to be a mile long, and then we had to pass through the radar checkpoint and find our gate. Surely after all that time dad would be back from the airport! But it was only the answering machine that responded to my call.

In desperation I dialed the number of the airline. I gave the telephone attendant my mother's name and flight number, but all the voice on the other end could say was: "I'm sorry, ma'am! I'm not authorized to release that information to you!"

"But-but . . ." I stammered.

"It's airline policy, ma'am. I'm very sorry!"

"You don't understand!" I nearly screamed, my words stumbling over each other in my rush to get them out. "My father-in-law just passed away! I'm boarding an emergency flight for Brussels in a few minutes! I just left my baby with a stranger until my mother arrives aboard your flight from California. I have to know if she is on that flight!!!!"

Though the lengthy silence on the other end initially fed my panic, it turned out to be sent by God. Without it, I would never have heard the still, small voice: "My God will meet all your needs!" (Phil 4:19) A wave of peace immediately washed over me. "You will, won't You?" I whispered, looking up in the direction of the airport ceiling. Suddenly it no longer mattered whether or not I received my confirmation. God would provide!

That was when the telephone attendant finally broke the silence: "Ma'am," she said, with enough emotion to make me understand that she, too, was a mother. "You can feel comfortable boarding your flight for Brussels!"

Lyn Chaffart

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