Just when the going gets tough, the tough seek shelter due to airport policies. Yesterday’s futile attempts to thwart inbound weather to the NYC area were met with the usual barrage of extending EDCTs (estimated departure clearance time), ground stops, and rest and duty legalities. A thunderstorm towering over 40,000 above the Sarasota / Bradenton International Airport rained lighting from above that kept our ground support staff indoors while the cracks of thunder were only challenged by the airport’s lightning detection alarms. Eventually in these moments there’s nothing we can do but wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Harmonic bands of weather slowly encroached upon LGA, necessitating even more restrictions for flights like ours with dreams of enjoying the airport Marriott hotel for the third time this week. And even if the folks in the ATC facilities managing the flow of thousands of passengers decided to cut us some slack, the barrage of lightning at the airport kept us tethered to the jetbridge, and flights like those pictured above stood for hours waiting to be marshalled in to the gate.

Eventually, something has to give. Some of our contemporaries may have let patience fill that role, but not the crew of Flight 2412. Instead, it was an even lengthier delay imposed by ATC, forcing us to take a plane full of passengers who are already over an hour delayed and deplane them to rest in the terminal while the next wave of weather (and increasing delays) takes more than a New York minute out of everyone’s travel plans.

Managing what had to have been more than a few dozen flights at our company alone in a similar predicament, I took a moment in a quiet, empty airplane to discuss our options as a crew. Having started in separate cities under differing rest opportunities, a flight crew running on minimum rest and flight attendants who had an earlier start this morning weighed our options. The more we wait to see what happens as the big red blobs on the weather radar attack the five boroughs, the longer we push our individual fatigue constraints while increasing the following day’s departure to give our passengers any semblance of getting to their intended destination at a reasonable time.

Before I could even make the announcement from the gate, our passengers’ phones were buzzing with notifications that their flight was delayed until 6:30 the following morning. Alternative plans laid out, bags retrieved, we all decided to cut our losses there and wash, rinse, and repeat in the morning.

Moments like this are what we as instructors crave to share with our students, empowering them with some experiences to deal with the rigors of airline travel during the summer months. The many other facets of our responsibilities as Captains that have literally nothing to do with flying airplanes, remembering once again that in the service industry we call home, our jobs are more than calling “positive rate, gear up.” Moments like these are worth their weight in gold, and not just for honing our servant leadership skills, but our abilities to empathize with our passengers and crew, providing them with whatever they may need to help ease the burdens of a missed business meeting, a delayed family reunion, or more.

Eventually, after an unplanned layover in a hotel way too fancy for pilots (each room had a ukulele and coloring pencils in it), most of those who enjoyed hours of thunderous rain and winds being serenaded by the most annoying lightening detection system alarm known to man made it LaGuardia. Smiles abound, abundances of sincere thanks in both word and expression, we eventually parted our ways as our adventure was over.

Looking into July, my schedule is devoid of New York, and I’m thinking that the city so nice they named it twice was just having a hard time saying goodbye. But don’t worry, LaGuardia Airport Marriott, I’m sure I’ll be back soon…at least to enjoy that new gym you just renovated.

Thunderstorms will continue to thwart even the best laid plans, and my fellow crew members will continue to turn these moments into memories, but for me, Flight 2412 is one to remember. Hopefully the tall tales of a triumphant crew battling weather, turbulence, and Sarasota lightning safety protocols will be enough for the next few weeks.