The woman sitting next to me is a lovely, talkative lady by the name of Ms. Wiegand. I’m not exactly sure how to spell that (I’ll know when she adds me on Facebook) but until I’m 32 I’m not allowed to call her by her first name.

Let’s backtrack a bit. In fact, let’s go back an entire year and a half.

It’s two weeks before the end of our junior year in high school, and I’m saying a surprisingly emotional farewell to a good friend of mine I met approximately 37 weeks ago. In our short time together, he worked a lot with mystudent club, became a major contributor to the tech crew at Garfield, and even made an appearance or two on stage; and he worked his way into absolutely everybody’s hearts (some a particular bit more than others – you know who you are, ladies). He first experienced the joys of darkroom photography at Garfield; he became known for his graphic design work, doing posters and branding for multiple clubs and activities; and he had a unique sense of style that got him known as one of the best-dressed people on campus; he was a friendly, caring, outgoing person whose personality should have been writ as a model for the younger generation; and he had one of those laughs, the kind that you don’t forget easily, the one thing that would echo in my ears when I was reminded of him – he always laughed.

His name was Philipp Burckhardt, and we were losing him to Germany.

Now fast-forward a year and half: his exchange program took him back home from his year abroad; our mutual friends and I progressed another year, making th majority of us seniors and focused on our own escape; the club that he, I, and my friend Carol had worked so hard on had disbanded. He lived his life and we lived ours, with an occasional phone call or e-mail bridging that gap.

And then I began making my plans to travel for my year off, and the possibility of me visiting Phil became more and more solid. Eventually, we set a day (December 11th) and tentative plans (travelling around Switzerland and Austria) – and after changing the date three times, I left for the airport at 4:15 the morning of December 16th.


I just got to the gate, and found a crowd of people apprehensively waiting around the counter. I think that this flight has a lot of stand-by passengers, which isn’t unusual, Seattle to JFK is a popular flight; I’m not worried about getting on, though, because I’m at the top of the stand-by list – and as it goes, if there are any empty seats on the flight, I would be the first to board. This is unless there are what’s called “weight and balance” issues – where the aircraft is over the allowable weight. This might happen if there is particularly stormy weather, or if the plane’s commercial cargo (yes, private airliners sell cargo space to companies for shipping purposes) means that some passengers can’t be allowed on. If you’ve ever had the gate agent annuce that you have a completely full flight, but when you take off there are a few empty seats, thats because they’re carrying particularly large commercial cargo.


I was wrong; these people aren’t stand-bys. They’re volunteers, one of the banes of stand-by everywhere – there is now a next-to-zero chance of me getting on this flight. “Volunteers” are the people who, when the flight gets oversold, offer to give up their seat; technically most flights get oversold, so I’m sure you’ll run into this at some point. This isn’t a glitch in the system – the airlines want to cram as many people onboard as possible, so they calculate the percentage of people not likely to actually show up and they’re mostly right when they do that, but, as is the case with averages, sometimes the numbers change and suddenly they have more paying passengers than seats. Because the passengers are all paying, they can’t be kicked off; at this point the airline starts to offer deals for people to stay behind – and usually they’re good deals (average $400 credit per seat on the airline in addition to being put on the next flight, with a nice hotel coupon or two thrown in). If you have this opportunity, definitely take it if you don’t absolutely have to be at your destination at the allotted time – but wait first, as sometmes they sweeten the deal the longer they have the problem.

And speaking of problems, remember when I said that this only happens when they have more paying passengers than they have seats? And when I said I only get on empty seats? This is why volunteers are not good for me. At this point the only thing I can do is (wait and) hope that they take too many volunteers – maybe a 10% chance of that happening, not even.

The only chance I have now is to take a later flight to New York – this flight is supposed to land at 2:15, and my flight to Frankfurt leaves approximately five hours later; if I could get on any flight to New York landing before 6:30 I could still make it to my connection.

This really doesn’t bode well…shoot. I hope they have another flight leaving soon.


Well, I’m on the flight.

Yeah, the one I was waiting for before; no, I’m not sure exactly what happened. I know the gate agent made a mistake; he told the volunteers (five of them) that he didn’t need them, and then proceeded to give them all first-class upgrades for just offering their seat. This created a really interesting scene: one of the volunteers, a larger black woman, got so excited that she started telling the gate agent that she wanted to kiss him; and after he gave in to her demands, to the cheers of the gatehouse audience, she gayly pranced aboard the aircraft behind the rest of the volunteers.

I, however, stayed behind, with the company a few more stand-bys to, y’know, party at the gate. After a few tense minutes, the agent called my name, and that of one other standby and said, “You two come with me” – words from above – and we traipsed down the jetway.

And now I’m on the plane, looking at seat 4B. A nice aisle seat, next to Ms. Wiegand. Oh, come on, you know who Ms. Wiegand is. Don’t pretend you don’t know. What’s that? You mean you didn’t guess that she was the friendly black woman?


We just landed and I’m absolutley starving. Food first, talk second.