For the Love of Fate and Airport Delays
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
Travel delays suck. We’ve all been there when you’re eager to get somewhere, you show up early to the airport and then for whatever reason end up waiting at the gate for hours with a bunch of other people just as pissed off as you. Or worst case you have to head back home with your tail tucked between your legs to try your luck again the next day.
If you’re lucky this doesn’t happen too often or when it does it’s mitigated to a short delay. For others, it seemingly happens all too frequently and leads to nightmarish travel scenarios. And then there’s me, who must have slept with the travel god’s wife in another life as that’s the only explanation I could find for the outright absurdity that is my experience traveling.
To give you an idea, when I first traveled alone, I was about 10 years old in Florida on vacation. I had a baseball game to go back to so my parents figured they could send me out on my own. I still remember them reiterating how simple it was – you just wait in the TSA line, follow signs to your gate, then board the plane, and someone will be waiting for you when you arrive.
If only that were the case. I don’t recall what led to this particular delay but my flight didn’t leave for a good 6 hours after it was scheduled. I didn’t have a debit card or anything at that age so was left to fend for myself, eventually finding a pitying airline worker who hooked me up with some food vouchers so I didn’t starve.
This really set the stage for the vast majority of trips I’ve taken since. Recently, this culminated in a particularly eventful experience that left me with quite a bit of time to ponder the thoughts I’m now putting on these pages.
I was flying out of Amsterdam after a conference rounding off a month-long stint in Europe. I heard murmurs of a worker's strike at Schiphol so I figured I’d play it safe and show up three hours early. Lo and behold there’s a ½ mile-long line outside that wrapped through several terminals. Suffice to say I didn’t even get to checking my bags and was told to make my way to the customer service line to rebook where there were two employees for a 100+ person line. Seeing as it took ~ten minutes/person I wasn’t about to wait so managed to finesse my way cutting to the front only to realize that was just to get the number which you then had to wait to be called.
For the next four hours, I stood there next to my luggage painstakingly watching the time go by, wishfully checking my phone at the off chance the lackluster airport Wi-Fi could distract me for a few minutes. Eventually, I got a return flight leaving the next day. Knowing the airport was still going to be a mess I showed up at 8am for my 1pm flight… and still barely made it. Thankfully my connecting flight in Atlanta wasn’t delayed. They just lost my bag…
Now I could go on but I’ll spare the details of every time inclement weather, IT system outages, flat tires, pilots going MIA, you name it) has led to woes whether it be sleeping on the floor in JFK (twice), taking a frenzied taxi from Heathrow to Gatwick to catch the last flight out of London, spending my entire 24th birthday in LAX, missing holidays (including Kings Day in Amsterdam), Bachelor parties, the Grammy’s (nearly)… you get the point.
This has left me in quite a number of situations where I’m forced to accept a fate outside my control and face all the emotions that come with it head-on. Oftentimes this is extreme FOMO from the experiences I no longer get to partake in, anger at the organizations responsible for the mishaps, persistent anxiety around the uncertainty of the situation, and a whole host of other not-so-pleasant states.
However, as of late, I’ve started finding solace in situations like this. A certain comfort, a refreshing ease from what on the surface appears to be an inevitable, stress-inducing experience. This all stems from a new perspective.
Take the above situation in Amsterdam I recently found myself in. I’m inching my way through a seemingly endless line and finally reach the desk to check my bags. I ask if we can hurry so I can make my flight that leaves shortly and they say I’ve missed my chance, condemning me to God knows how much more waiting. Objectively, this sucks. But there are a few things I can do from here:
1. Sulk in despair at how much it sucks
2. Fantasize about how great life would be if that never happened and I got to land on time
3. Accept that situation with a passive indifference knowing there’s nothing I can do about it
4. Lovingly embrace the situation, focusing on the good that can come of it.
This is a bit of an oversimplification but provides a starting point for how to think about the range of possible reactions. They aren’t mutually exclusive either, in fact, more often than not you’ll oscillate between these states. But regardless, you know which side you’d want to lean towards.
This sounds simple but it’s easier said than done when you find yourself in that ever so lovely position of spending countless mind-numbingly boring hours alone, staring off in the distance around hundreds of strangers all at their wit's end.
It’s in times like this when you need to really dig deep. Exercise the mental gymnastics necessary to see shift your mental state. Focus on all the things you can now do as a result of these circumstances.
Call someone you haven’t caught up with in a while. Throw in that podcast you had highly recommended to you but never got around to it. Hell, stand there and focus on your breath for a few minutes since you always tell yourself you’re “too busy” for mindfulness. No matter what situation you find yourself in there’s always something you can do to provide value in your life.
And once you find that thing, set an explicit intention to be grateful for what on the surface seemed like a shitty circumstance but that you now see as having brought this opportunity into your life. Don’t just passively accept the forces beyond your control, cultivate a relentless affection for it. Love Fate.
The great philosopher Nietzche says it far better than I:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it...but love it.
Amor Fati, this “love of fate” is one of the highest pursuits. Once you are able to garner a genuine, unshakeable love for all that has happened, knowing it’s the only way things could have happened, for if it were meant to be any different then you would not be right here and now, then you’ll notice life flows a little easier. Self-induced misery seems childlike. Regret becomes a foreign concept. You operate in a new omnipresent state of bliss.
So next time you find yourself in an airport and the voice on the intercom says in a sarcastically cheery voice that you’ll be waiting for god knows how long and will have to miss whatever you were imminently looking forward to. Take a deep breath and smile. Fate has gifted you with yet another beautiful opportunity.
PS: This was sitting in my drafts for months but after I got booted off my overbooked flight to Bali to visit my sister I haven’t seen in a year left me stranded in a foreign city for 24 hours, I figured it was time. Long story short, I got to explore Istanbul for a few hours and have a delectable meal at a close friend’s family restaurant. Thanks Turkish Airlines :)