Ordinarily, I abbreviate the stories that I use as illustrations of the ways in which our people live out Samford's mission, but this week I am copying a lengthy account from David Shipley, Director of International Programs, regarding the heroic efforts of our staff on the day after Christmas. Here goes:
Yesterday, the International Studies Office attempted to send 62 students and faculty to London. The weather in the East and South made things interesting. I knew we were in for it when the Atlanta airport closed to incoming traffic around 4 pm. At that moment, our JanTerm faculty and staff were sitting on a plane at the Birmingham airport waiting to take off. They had to deplane and wait for what turned into a four hour delay. Stuck with them was my assistant, Saint Meg Lozner, who somehow managed to hold the operation together for the next 10 hours. Another saving grace is that Delta delayed our London flight from 10:30 pm to 1 am. That gave us extra time to get all the students to Atlanta.
While the JanTerm leadership was stuck in the Birmingham airport, I and my wife started to look for the 15 students who were flying to Atlanta yesterday from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida, and North and South Carolina. Most were delayed several hours with one delayed seven hours. Two flights got cancelled altogether. One student from Indianapolis caught a later flight. Two students from Louisville had to rebook for today, and they are still en route to London via Detroit. In the meantime, our student assistant, Tyler Theune, began checking students in at the departure gate for London in Atlanta with a list I typed up and sent to him via email (all our paperwork and visa letters were still in Birmingham).
Meg and the faculty finally left Birmingham around 8 pm. I figured the worst was over. Then it got interesting. When Meg and faculty landed in Atlanta—still on the tarmac--she received a frantic phone call from Tyler in the International concourse. He said Delta was threatening our group with a 2 day layover if some or all 60 of us didn't get on an earlier flight they had created to deal with the sudden demand. Meg called me at home from her plane in Atlanta, and we decided to get as many of our group on the earlier flight as we could. There was no assurance the flight at 1 am was still going, and I couldn't handle 60 Samford students spending the night in the Atlanta airport. Meg and faculty ran to the departing concourse to catch the earlier flight; she and Tyler checked everyone in; I tracked down three missing students who were supposed to be there by calling parents' cell phones. AND YET, one student was still sitting in the Charlotte airport waiting for her flight to Atlanta.
Meg managed to get 55 Samford students and faculty on the new flight. I had Meg wait for the Charlotte student in Atlanta, and, lo and behold, the 1 am flight was not cancelled. They both joined up in Atlanta and took our original flight to London—with 40 other passengers. Meanwhile, because Meg couldn't leave Christmas Day due to snow, Prof. Scott Fisk in London had to get ready for the incoming group and meet them at Heathrow with the coach to take them to Daniel House. Many thanks for his efforts.
About three hours ago, Meg called from Daniel House that all had arrived (3 hours late) and were getting settled in. None of the faculty had their luggage. It will be delivered tomorrow—along with the remaining two students from Louisville. But as Meg put it, a Christmas miracle had occurred. All I can say is: "Thank God for cell phones." It took 50 calls over a 10 hour period to get everyone off the ground in Atlanta. More importantly, it took dedication from staff and faculty to make it all happen.
The world is better because Samford people have cell phones . . . and lots of persistence.