“This is a TWA Emergency”

Years ago – I would flit off to Spain and Portugal every few months.   Once I was returning on a Wednesday TWA flight from Lisbon to Chicago. The flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 pm. I arrived at the airport in good order (probably 90 minutes ahead of departure) and got in the check in line. There were no clerks checking in passengers. So we stood. 12:15 pm. 12:30. 12:45. No clerk. No nothing. People were grumbling. Looking at watches and the marquee with flight information.   Finally at about 1:00 pm, a man emerged from the back – behind the counter – and advised that the flight was oversold and was taking no passengers (which was odd since some folks had stood there for two hours).  “Come back on Friday and we’ll make sure we get you on a flight.”  And the clerk beat a hasty retreat. 

The Portuguese travelers picked up their suitcases and headed for the exits.  Not so the 14 Americans who remained.  Fuming.  We huddled.   Brief introductions.  Two of us went off in search of answers and help.  I left my luggage with a bunch of complete strangers.  After a call to TWA from the American Embassy (“please take care of these folks“), we were offered lunch.  TWA personnel took our names – promising to call family to let them know of the glitch in service.  The plan was to fly us to Frankfurt that afternoon and put us up in the Airport Hotel.  Next morning, we would head off to our respective destinations. 

Lunch was okay and the BOAC flight to Frankfurt uneventful.  I checked into a non descript hotel room in Frankfurt.  Showered.  And shuffled down for a late dinner.  Then back up to the room.  And sleep.  Next morning, I was on a flight through London to New York.  I arrived home – finally.  Lauren seemed especially glad to see me.  

I learned that the TWA folks in Lisbon had called my home.  Donna was playing tennis and Lauren (age 10) was home alone.  Lauren answered the phone.  “This is a TWA emergency!  I must speak with Mrs. Petersen.  TWA Emergency.”  Lauren said her mom was not home and – click – the line went dead.  Lauren called the tennis center.  Hysterical.  Donna rushed home and after an hour of calling – and waiting – learned that I had not deep sixed into the Atlantic but simply been delayed.  Lauren was relieved.  When Donna arrived home, she had been sobbing.  Holding my picture.   TWA emergency.