In July 2007, I spent four days (and three very long nights) in Atlanta airport. This was not the intended plan. The plan was to fly from Mexico (Mecc-i-co!) to Atlanta for a few hours stop over before heading back to African soil. I had been traveling and working for six weeks in the States with a great friend and we had chosen to spend our last week in Mexico diving and feasting (rather than stay in the US where the dollar was crushing our spirits). We arrived in Atlanta at 7am, underwent the daunting task of showing our South African passports and travel visas to the customs officials (AKA former school bullies) and checked as much of our baggage in as possible. We spent the day using up our last dollars, posting unnecessary postcards and eating gigantic things we were sure to never eat again.
At 5pm, we went to our boarding gate with our boarding details and were told that our seats had been 'overbooked'. Overbooked? Yes, as in there were two other folk already sitting in our seats on the plane. We were given an overnight bag and told to wait around until there were seats available on another flight. Our bags, however, would not be returned to us. We would be in limbo. No more dollars. No more phone chargers. No more options. Were we mad? Yes! Did they care? Nope.
And so our squatting began. The contents of our overnight bags were helpful. We brushed our teeth and pulled on the over-sized white T-shirts. Atlanta airport does aircon the same way that most Americans do - 30 degrees outside, 10 degrees inside. We were desperately under dressed in our summer shorts and slops and superbly under-nourished. As luck should have it, I had sliced my finger open that morning, as one does when trying to shove a beach towel into a backpack already occupied by a razor blade in a space-saving ziplock toiletry bag. This injury was to be our meal ticket. Literally.
My finger would not stop bleeding through the dressing I had put on it that morning. In desperation, I approached one of the take-away restaurants for a first aid kit. One thing led to another and before we knew it we had the airport security guards and all the business owners supplying dressings, meal vouchers and free internet. We could stop the bleeding, fill our bellies and inform our families back home that we were not on our intended flight.
It would be three nights 'sleeping' on airport benches and floors before we were finally sent via Paris back home to Africa. If you haven't seen it, check out the hospitality at Charls De Gaulle airport. We slept like logs on these fantastic loungers and could charge our phones at their complimentary charging stations with multiple international plug points.
If you can choose to be stuck anywhere, I'd pick Paris over Atlanta any day. And if your flight is 'overbooked' and your seats get given away... make friends with the security guards. It may be the only way you get any sleep at all.
Slept in an airport recently? Let us know how it went.