Susan Reinhardt, 49, a marketer for Verizon, had a confirmed seat on a 4:30 p.m. flight from Newark to Buffalo, but it was delayed for four hours because of bad weather and she was looking for alternatives.
Using her Blackberry to search Continental's Web site, she noted that the 7 p.m. flight was delayed by only about 20 minutes, so she asked the gate agent whether she could get on the standby list for that flight.
"He said, 'It's pretty open ... easy eight standby seats. You won't have a problem getting on it,' she said in a telephone interview. "I said, 'Can you put me on standby?' He said, 'No, you've got to go on the customer service line.' "
But that line "was a gazillion deep because of all the delays," enough to dissuade her from making the switch. "I said, ehhh."
When she heard about the crash, Reinhardt was happy for her good fortune, but shaken nevertheless. "The heart-wrenching piece for me was I was at the gate talking to this gate agent and a young woman came up and she wanted to know: Should she stay on the 7 o'clock flight because of all the delays? Did the gate agent think the 4:30 was going to get out before the 7?
"He said, 'No, you will still get in before the 4:30,' and she said, 'OK, I'm going to stay on the 7 o'clock, I'm calling my boyfriend.' And she did."
For a while, the two women stood together at the gate -- both of them using their Blackberries to study the flight information. Then, they went their separate ways. "I said, 'Good for you. Have a nice trip.' That's the killer for me."
Reinhardt said her flight was uneventful. She and the other passengers landed at the airport in Buffalo shortly before 11 p.m., oblivious to what had happened just minutes before and a few miles away.
"I walked out and I saw all these people standing there and I'm thinking, 'It's Thursday at 11 at night. Why are all these people in Buffalo? Who are they waiting for?' Video Watch witnesses describe fiery crash »
"They were waiting for that plane that didn't come in. Of course, I didn't know that until I got to my car and then my phone starts ringing."
Reinhardt said the close call has made her "a little more philosophical where, if it wasn't my time, OK, it wasn't my time. What is the meaning of my life now? What am I supposed to do because it wasn't my time? I've had several people say, you know, sometimes you can't ask why. It just is the way it is."
Reinhardt said she plans to go to one of the memorial services. "I think I need to do that for some kind of closure."
To read about another would-be passenger on the flight who was delayed by bad weather, visit this page on CNN.com.