I had been standing in the departure area, leaning against a column right in front of the boarding gate, when I noticed my flight's status change on the screen. At first it just said DELAY. Then it blipped to CANCELLED, then back to DELAY. I thought, this can't be good.

Other passengers bum rushed the podium, and the United workers typed away at their keyboards and made casual estimates about how long the delay would be and whether or not certain passengers would make their connections. I decided to wait it out and stayed by my column.

After about fifteen minutes I started to get anxious—it now seemed as though the plane was definitely not going to take off anytime soon. The gate agents had rebooked several passengers and sent them scurrying down the concourse to other flights. Meanwhile, nothing was happening out at the plane: no baggage was being loaded, and the catering trucks drove past without replenishing our aircraft. No coveralled workers loitered around the landing gear. It was like a ghost town down there.

Also, there was no crew in sight. So maybe that was it—the crew was running late. But then I saw them strolling up to the counter, stickered roller bags in tow. They seemed to be in no hurry, fully aware of whatever predicament was shielded from our view. The captain consulted with the main gate agent, and they made some hand motions that I couldn’t decipher, gesturing out at the plane and at one point scanning the departure area as if surveying the motley gang of leftover passengers who hadn’t changed their itineraries already.

I inched closer to the podium to see if I could get the scoop. I thought I heard the word “cat.” I moved closer, feigning a disinterested look, shuffling my boarding passes and hotel reservations. That’s when I heard the whole story, relayed by the first officer to one of the flight attendants:

“It’s a cat, it got out of its box and is running around the baggage compartment. It’s totally crazy and won’t calm down. They can’t load the bags until they get that cat out of the plane. They’ve located a FedEx worker who is a cat whisperer, and she’s on her way.”

I thought, seriously?

Sure enough, though, in a few minutes a FedEx van drove up to the plane and a woman hopped out of the driver’s seat. She was met by two United ramp agents in their coveralls, and they slowly opened the baggage hatch and the FedEx lady climbed inside the belly of the plane. The two United guys stood outside the plane like they were guarding it or something.

By this point, several other passengers gathered around, having heard variations of the story as it circulated throughout the departure area. One version had it that the cat was rabid. Then there was a kid who was convinced that the baggage compartment was full of zombies. Another person had misheard the story and was telling people that a whole crate full of cats broke open in the hold. Actually, I was beginning to think I had garbled the story in the first place—maybe it was a bunch of cats or a zombie.

In any case, we all leaned up against the glass and watched for what would happen. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, the workers responded to what must have been a rap on the baggage door, and they released its pressure-turn handle and opened up the door; the FedEx lady came crawling out with a little black kitty under her arm. She took the cat to her van and drove off.

One of the workers ran over to the baggage carts and moved them into position, the other worker hurling luggage into the plane. The crew got on board like nothing had happened. Pretty soon we were boarding, and the plane took off half empty, but only 50 minutes behind schedule—most of us would make our connections, and those who wouldn’t would make the next flights out of Denver. At the end of the day, it was really just an ordinary bit of traveling, plus an escaped cat.


Fredric Stanley is a frequent traveler and an occasional writer. His home airport is Chicago O’Hare.

Category: Airports

Latest Stories
Checking In/Checking Out

Filter by Category

Everyone has a story to tell...

Submit Yours Here

Points of Departure: