The Airport is Thunderdome

AirTran was very nice about the hour-long delay coming out of Chicago, but we lost precious minutes at every turn. They said we’d arrive in Atlanta around 11:15pm, and they were right, but we didn’t make it to the gate until 11:45pm, at least. 30 minutes sitting in giant, jet-engine airplane traffic after a measley 80-flight is a little obnoxious.

But so what? That’s nothing, really. It once took me 24 hours to fly from Phoenix to Atlanta (I could’ve gone to India in that time), so this is no big deal.

Then I realized: All my recent airplane suckage has happened while I’m headed back to the ATL. For two years, I’ve been snobbishly arguing that O’Hare is still the busiest airport in the world (I have no idea if it is), but the truth has been going right over my head: Having the busiest airport isn’t something to be proud of, it’s a reason to apologize.

I’ve never met anyone who says, “Come on over to my house tonight. It’s great, you’ll love it: we have the busiest street in the world out front!” The sad, secret truth in Chicago was always this: O’Hare wasn’t the busiest airport in the world because everybody wanted to come to the Midwest. It’s the same with Atlanta. Folks are just passing through. They’re not here to see us.

So the hour I spent getting my luggage on Sunday night seems silly. Or, rather, not so much silly as asinine to the point of turning my blood into hot knives. Sometimes this kind of shared agony bonds strangers together, leading to smiles and shrugs as we wait for our lot to improve. Other times it makes you want to drop a scripted, erudite, confidence-crumbling, audience-winning Sorkinesque monologue on the laughing schmucks taking up space by the baggage claim just to close out the scene and get the fucking credits to run on an episode you’re done with.

AirTran’s baggage carousels were down, so we had to get out bags from one of two other conveyors. No problem, except we have nothing to tell us which of two carousels our bags will arrive at, so those of us traveling alone have to wander back and forth between them wondering how concerned the TSA or the airline can be about our security when anybody can just walk off with our bags at this point.

Want to double the chance that your bag will be lost at the airport? Crowd around the baggage carousel so that you reduce the visibility of everyone not just over the baggage but over the other folks standing there like pigs at a trough.

There’s nothing I like better than seeing some strange passenger at the airport walk up to the carousel and throw my bag on it after I’ve been waiting forty minutes to find it. Something like this happened to me a couple years ago. The guy realized he had the wrong bag after he’d gotten to his car and had opened it up. Then he dragged it back and left again with a bag that looked nothing like mine. I hadn’t seen him leave the first time because you can’t see anything around the carousel after a flight. He could’ve just as easily kept it. So, people, back the fuck up.

While I’m thinking about this anecdote on Sunday night at carousel A or 4 in the baggage claim section, a huge dude in a polo shirt walks up to me and says, “Is this the AirTran pick-up?”

“Who even knows?” I say. “This is one of the two, but we don’t know what flight’s on what carousel.” I shrug.

He says nothing else. He just turns around and takes one step forward, exactly plugging the gap I was using to watch bags go by. We’re talking, then he just turns around and stands there in front of me.

“Excuse me, sir,” I wanted to ask him (and twenty other dudes over the course of the night), “Are you going to the hospital after this?”

“Uh, no,” he’d say.

“Then what’s the fucking rush? Back up so the rest of us can see.”

Instead, of course, I just seethed and loathed quietly, ’cause that’s how we do it in the Midwest.

5 Comments so far

  1. abby (unregistered) on August 22nd, 2006 @ 2:44 pm

    “AirTran’s baggage carousels were down, so we had to get out bags from one of two other conveyors.”

    I experienced the SAME SCENARIO over two weeks ago with AirTran. Still not fixed, huh? I finally found our bags on a carousel four or five down from the one that said it had our flight’s luggage. Some of the bags turned up at one, some at the other. very smooth operation.

  2. Jonathan Peterson (unregistered) on August 22nd, 2006 @ 5:05 pm

    Two planes enter

    One plane leaves

  3. John (unregistered) on August 23rd, 2006 @ 12:00 am

    I flew into and out of ATL this weekend. Outbound was smooth as silk. Coming back, the plane was ‘overweight,’ so I volunteered to delay my journey for a couple of hours in exchange for some ‘Delta Dollars.’ And then I had to listen to people whine and complain about air travel for the next four hours.

    My (unasked, because I’m not about to pick a fight with an illogical, irritated traveler) questions:

    Is it not in the best interest of the airline to get you to where you’re going as close to on time as possible?

    Have you considered that the very same heightened security measures that are causing you an inconvenience as a passenger might be causing the airlines similar problems, only in multiples?

    You realize, right, that a single incident (a thunderstorm, any sort of ground hold) can cause a ripple-effect in an airport as busy as Atlanta?

    I don’t work for an airline, nor any entity affiliated with one. I just wish people would try to have a little more perspective when it comes to something as complicated as coordinating air travel in this ‘new’ era. At the very least, please don’t take out your frustration on the flight attendant (something I saw happen more than once Monday).

  4. Will (unregistered) on August 23rd, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

    That bears repeating: It’s seldom the fault of the in-flight crew when things don’t work out. For the most part, having a good rapport with the airline crew and staff just makes everything go better. (It’s that shrug-and-sigh commiseration I mentioned earlier: we’re in this together.)

    In their defense, the AirTran crew were smiling and friendly and very apologetic throughout the whole of my delayed flight — I can’t blame them.

  5. Smoove D (unregistered) on August 26th, 2006 @ 2:40 pm

    If we can put a man on the moon, we can damn well get planes to their destinations on time. Flying is worse than MARTA. Personally, I prefer to drive, because it’s [1] faster, [2] more comfortable, and [3] I don’t have to put up with jack-asses.

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