Airports and the Gates of Hell

Well, I’m back. Barely. I was in Dataw, S.C., for a few days this week on business. And I managed to get an unwelcome preview of summer airline travel, coming back to Akron from Atlanta Wednesday night. Scheduled arrival time: 7 p.m. Actual arrive time: 1 a.m. And praise the Lord that the outcome was that favorable. Wonder what the requirements are to establish residency in the state of Georgia? I digress.

Essentially thunderstorms closed the Atlanta airport for several hours late afternoon — and when it reopened the terminal resembled the scene from the movie Animal House where one of the miscreant fraternity members grabs the baton and leads the marching band into the dead-end alley. Big crowd moving constantly with no escape.

And without much help or advice from any responsible adult in charge associated with the airline — in my case Delta, but true as well for the luckless travelers trying to reschedule flights or get information from other airlines. This is a tough situation for the airlines. I recognize that. Still, there is very little timely and accurate communication. And very little help available on the ground and in the terminal to help customers who are frantically trying to figure out what is next. Remember the scene when the last helicopters were lifting off from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam debacle? Well, that’s pretty much the picture in any major airport that has experienced a significant disruption in flight arrivals and departures.

U.S. airlines say on-time performance has improved from last year, with nearly 80 percent of flights arriving on-time. Still, that means 20 percent are late — at best. With weather problems during the summer increasing the odds that you are going to have delay on either or both ends of the trip. And it ain’t a pretty picture.

So what can you do? I was thinking about this as I was making the connecting flight from Savannah to Atlanta — and knowing that I had already missed my scheduled return flight to Akron. Did I have a phone number to call the airline (in this case Delta)? No. Were there any later return flights that night? No clue. If stranded, should I stay in the airport and roam the corridors like the Flying Dutchman? Or head to a hotel? Are there any near the airport in Atlanta (or elsewhere)? Oh mama.

Well, here’s some advice, from an article in Travel & Leisure:

  • Fly early in the day
  • Avoid chronically late and frequently canceled flights (check flightstats.com)
  • Avoid connecting flights
  • Stay informed
  • Speak up

The FAA also provides up-to-the-minute info about delays at various airports.

Well, OK. But then by chance I saw my friend Cindy at a benefit fundraiser last night. Cindy has been in the travel business for years and has helped me with arrangements to trips to Europe and elsewhere. I told her about my adventure trying to get home from Atlanta — and the rugby scrum that took place at each individual gate in the airport as flights were delayed and canceled. She smiled — and said:

“Yeah. We get calls all the time when this happens with people asking us [travel agents] what should they do? Well, not much you can do. Might as well go find a bar and make a new friend. You’ve just passed through the gates of hell.”

Good advice.

And true.

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One response to “Airports and the Gates of Hell

  1. I feel your pain and have to say it’s even a bit worse here. On one hand you have flights so cheap you’d be insane not to travel by plane. The downside is that there are almost never assigned seats, so topped with the cherry of late or canceled flights and former soviet bureaucratic systems still in place (where everyone is taken outside and then gets lined up to literally RUNS to the plane to get an aisle seat) travel can be less than comforting! Oh well. Small price 🙂

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