Friday, August 12, 2016


It's one of those "I was/wasn't supposed to be there" moments - like the time my uncle missed the massacre at the Dome of the Rock by hours because of a flight delay, or the eighty-year-old couple who never might have met but for one tripping in the park and the other coming to their aid ...

Originally, I had an American flight, on Sunday.

But American canceled on me, and booked me on the next-best option - which left the gate before I cleared security.


They wanted to book me on the next flight, but that would not get me where I needed to be until 11:45 or something the next day! Horrors!

So I resolved to drive - 800+ miles, but I like a nighttime drive, and I'd be in control. Aces.

Along the way out of security, I sat down and called my mom to let her know what was up, then called my boss. "Use your best judgment" he said, but discouraged driving. I booked a 5:30 a.m. on Delta, it'd get me there HOURS before the American flight would! Yay!

And so, I went home to sleep just a few hours. The house fresh and clean so I could come home and not have that to think about, I didn't even sleep in my bed. Pulled up the couch, closed my eyes till 3:00 a.m.

I'd had a BAD night's sleep Saturday, and this was even worse, of course. For some reason, before the first planned trip out, I'd had butterflies constantly - not typical for me, for travel. I don't get *nervous* usually. Just sick.

I didn't wake up until 3:23 a.m. Ugh. Not the worst thing, honestly; my city's airport is much smiled-at for calling itself "international". It's not what you'd call the most challenging to travel through.

Still, I wasted no time. Brush teeth, braid hair, pull on clean shirt, get out. I was back and got a great parking spot before 4:00 a.m. easy.

I did decide to check in, so I could check my suitcase.

It was at this point, heading toward my gate, I realized: I'd left my phone charging at home. Clever girl. Our airport being what it is, I could have gone and gotten it, and I knew that, but ... sometimes, you just have to minimize your stress. How much do I need that phone, really? Not all that desperately. So home it would stay.

Gate. Sit. Relax.

After a while, they told us there was some sort of computer issue - worldwide. Hm. Oh.

... and there it began, fella babies.

I'll be honest, the flight out to Atlanta airport - my first leg - seems such a long time ago, I have no memory of how long it was delayed. Significantly, let's leave it there. But we got to Atlanta.

This was not, and did not feel like, a coup. Atlanta was every bit the cluster-festivity we expected it to be, and more. Everything you could dream of.

Initially, we did go to the assigned gate for the next flight out. Nobody imagined that would be the end of it, and it wasn't. Flight canceled of course, and then it was on ... to The Line.

The Line stretched down one of Atlanta airport's impossibly huge concourses. The Line was so extreme, all afternoon people walking by it offered condolences, were incredulous they'd have to be in it, recorded us on their phones, photographed us. I've seen news stories on airline outages before, and I can tell you, having my sweaty ass broadcast internationally was NOT on my list of things I was pleased to put up with that day.

Throughout our tenure on The Line, most of us made friends, chatted, smilingly rolled our eyes. We were a bit concerned about how fast The Line moved - because, in fact, it actually did. Not as reassuring as it might seem; we fully expected the end of The Line to be someone telling us we were up a certain excremental creek, thank you for playing, we're fresh out of paddles. (One suspects Delta might well have run out of paddles merely in the hopes nobody would turn them on any Deltoid fannies.)

It took about an hour and fifteen minutes or so to clear The Line. Throughout this time, I had my laptop on top of my carryon, kicking the latter along the way when we moved, typing on the former when we didn't. I emailed my boss, my mom, the hotel for our meeting this week, and a certain sports team, 67 of whose tickets I had for safekeeping on my person. "Can the tickets be reprinted?" Yes, for $5 each, but they'd cap that at $40. Whew. Hotel event coordinator was overwhelmingly lovely - she changed our lunch date to "what would you like waiting for you in your room?" and I may or may not have admitted a liking for hard cider.

The Line moved across a wet patch on the floor. My carryon is not wheeled. Ew.

Throughout the day, I reminded myself of two important things: unlike a friend of my family, who's been a part of our lives all of my own, I am not losing a foot today. And I don't work for Delta today.

As baselines for "how bad is  your day?" these things might seem almost extreme for comparison, but remembering our family friend honestly did keep me from turning into a freaking, stress-riding shrew. I prayed for her and meant it. I took NSAIDs for my headache and knew, whatever came, my problems would end - maybe even within just hours.

We came to the end of The Line around 2:30 I think. Maybe. One loses all sense of time, even dates, in an aiport, and that is of course very intentional. Can't have people aware of what's going on about them.

I got to the gate for the 3:32 flight before I really looked at the new boarding pass.

It was for August 9.

I was pretty out of it, but Monday, I was reasonably certain, was in fact August 8.

Two more compatriots from The Line appear. I ask them if they saw the date on their HOORAY, YOU REACHED THE END OF THE LINE release slips. They crumple when the realize our mutual mistake.

There is no going back to The Line and cutting it.

We turn to the nearest gate agent, and wait.

The problem being shared, so too is the solution. A 7:28 p.m. out of gate such-and-such.

We find gate such-and-such and settle in. It is a nice gate. Small, quiet, clean.

It is, naturally, too good to last.

There are three gate changes as the afternoon wears on. Atlanta is, by the way, the largest airport in the world. You need to catch a train to get from one concourse to another. You can, if you are especially sleep-deprived and castaway by Delta airlines (hometown carrier for ATL), miss the right concourse and have to get back ON the train again. These are things that can happen.

At last, I ended up at gate A1. I kept thinking about steak sauce, what it has that Worcestershire sauce doesn't, and that family friend. This gate is large, but crowded, ugly-lit, dirty - and low on seating. By this point in the day, my tailbone is hurting in any case. Air travel is hard on a fat lady's tailbone. Sitting too straight, sitting not straight enough. It's all very trying. Sitting on the ground is no better. I finally capitulate and try to lie down.

In that magical carryon - un-wheeled, as I have mentioned - what I have not mentioned is its very weighty contents. Apart from the laptop, it holds a presentation projector. Tiny, to be sure, but still. I'm hucking *equipment* all over G-d's creation, hung off my shoulder. It also holds my tablet computer.

Battery life still kicking, but sinking, on the laptop, I decide at last to fire up the Galaxy tab. It has updates. I let it update.

This takes roughly sixteen months, and renders everything on the tablet unusable. No email. No KINDLE. I poke at it listlessly less than half an hour, and finally just turn the thing off. I haven't so much as fiddled with it since. Some stress we tend to invite in. I was not feeling hospitable for tech issue frustrations, so. Shut it down.

The gate is moved again, but this time only across the way, to A2.

Right about here, for whatever reason, I indulge in that most heedless rashness: belief that this next flight is Going to Happen. It is from the chairs here, waiting, I say the most coherent prayer for our family friend. It is here I watch the most luminously beautiful lot of students, traveling together, laughing and finding their own flight has been canceled. They thread their way away, and the sun seems to be dipping slightly.

On the plane. It is a miracle.

I email my boss. My hotel. My mom.

And we sit at the gate an hour and a half. Some ticketing issue with a lady and her young son. They get on the plane very late in the game. They get off again. I can't pretend that my feelings at this point were completely charitable; whatever this lady needed to get to, or away from - she kept hundreds of others waiting, as if we hadn't all done enough of that by this time.

But wait. More waiting. Lady and son are long gone off the plane again, and it transpires; our weight paperwork is not right.

I don't know what time the plane pulled away - between time zone shifts and delays, I know it was well past the final delayed takeoff time for our flight. But we lifted away from the tarmac, and flew at long last.

I cannot tell you how good the beds are at the event property where my meeting was held.

I also still cannot tell you how Stella Artois cider tastes. (I most often drink Virginia cider.) There were two Stellas in my fridge; but no bottle opener. And none to be had with room service.

Just as well.

The thing about these massive airline outages is that they are genuine crises for too many passengers. As for me - I was on time for the meeting, it went well. I didn't get to the "rehearsal" session, I didn't get to tour the hotel nor the city, and I didn't get to test that projector I'd been hauling around - which turned out to be not bright enough for the room. So it goes.

But for some, computer outages like this lead to real-world consequences that matter. I'm inevitably reminded of Douglas Adams' character Trillian, who hitches a ride and gets the adventure of her life. But who, in another scenario, misses the flight as it were. This Trillian meets a group of aliens who've lost their brain. Literally - the master mission module for their spaceship is lost in space, and they have no memories, no mission, nothing to do ... but to settle on a distant planet(/oid) and monitor Earth.

I felt a bit like that Monday. After an initial surge of "I want to quit and go home" frustration, I fell into the day and went where it took me. Call that a buffeting - it might have been - or me being flexible - if I was, it was more from exhaustion than Zen-like philosophical limberness ... whatever it was, at some point relatively early on, I abdicated action and succumbed to passivity. There can be ease in that, and I needed all the ease I could get on Monday.

My time card runs from about 3:30 a.m. Eastern time to 11:30 p.m. for Monday. Yes, I am paid hourly. So two hours on Sunday for the aborted American enterprise. Twenty more Monday. Unlike most folks, I will be paid for this debacle. Whatever Delta chooses to do may not be super relevant to me, in time. A $200 voucher for future use - with Delta - is not as attractive as one might like. But they have their own problems.

And, as in politics, so goes travel. We have little choice - Delta will live on.


Stephen G Parks said...

13 years ago yesterday (August 14, 2003) was the day of the great east coast blackout.

I was on my way from Toronto to Sydney, Australia, via Vancouver. I was in the airport, lined up at the gate (boarding had commenced) when the power died. They stopped the rest of us from boarding, but wouldn't allow those on board to deplane. Eventually, the airline sent us home, with the warning to hurry back when the power returned.

I had just converted the remainder of my Canadian $ to Aus, so no local currency, no ATMs, no credit cards accepted by anybody, all of the forexs closed. The municipal buses all went 'free' during the event, but it still took about 3 hours to get home.

I had no food in my apartment (I'd planned well for a long absence). I turned on the bedroom light and went to sleep. When the power returned, around 3am, and the light woke me up, I phoned the airline and learned I had a 10am departure. Be there or else. I found an ATM and a taxi and that wasn't a problem.

It was by far the least organized (and least secure) boarding I'd ever experienced. At the last minute, they changed us to a larger plane, to help relieve the Toronto/Vancouver congestion, but our luggage didn't make the new plane (they did warn us, wait for your bags or go now). We sat 'wherever'. I got a window by the emergency exit - nice leg room. The flight attendants had to do repeated head counts against a manifest that was hand-written on a clipboard.

Lead flight attendant came on the PA and said, "We have coffee and pop. We can go now, or we can wait four hours for your dinner service to be prepared and delivered. Do we go or wait?"

Everyone shouted "Go!" We went. Realistically, I think we were going anyway, she just wanted to nip any complaining in the bud.

I arrived in Sydney 24 hours late. At the airport, Qantas had staff taking our accommodation details and copies of our luggage bar codes so they could deliver our bags once they caught up.

The idiot in front of me in line reamed out this poor teenage Qantas employee because his critically important business presentation was still in the hold of an Air Canada plane in Toronto. He made her cry. As if any of that was her fault. I seriously don't know how I didn't yell at him. Me-now would've loudly explained his own stupidity to him in detail until he shut up.

Instead, I did the Canadian thing and apologized to her for his behaviour.

2 days later, my bags caught up to me. Air Canada give me triple air miles for that trip - Toronto to Sydney x3 is a lot of miles. I flew from Johannesburg to Toronto on those a few years later.

DLM said...

Oh my stars, what an adventure. I would have commiserated with the young lady myself; there is no excuse in the world for being a schmuck to any professional with no control over your situation. In being a schmuck to someone who DOES have control, there is merely idiocy - and maybe some spit in your coffee. You point out, of course, the exact reason for my mantra last Monday, that "I do not work for Delta." It is sad and dismaying to think the abuse those folks must have taken at every turn (being an airline employee any time at all probably doesn't lack for nasty customers).