After the difficulties I experienced while flying to Atlanta on Monday, I settled into the conference I was attending at Georgia Tech. The only thought I gave to my eventual flight home was that the weather looked good and that there should be no problems getting home. It was true that another storm had come through on Wednesday, and wind buffeted Atlanta on Thursday, but I did not see how this would affect me, as the forecast for Friday was for clear skies with some wind. As the conference concluded on Friday, my focus faltered as I kept tabs on my upcoming flights home. My itinerary home began with my scheduled departure from Atlanta around 6 PM, arriving in Detroit two hours later. After a two-hour layover, I would board the flight for home, where my wife and mother would be waiting at the airport to pick me up.
For those who do not know, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the busiest airport on Earth, and as such, it is notorious for delays. A major hub for Delta Airlines, it is where in 1955 they pioneered the hub-and-spoke system, which is now standard throughout the airline industry. One major drawback of the hub-and-spoke system is the existence of a single point of failure. If there is a disruption of service at a hub, it cascades through the spokes and affects service throughout rest of the network. These disruptions can resonate through the network from hours to days before they are rectified.
By the time the conference concluded at 4:00 PM on Friday, my flight had already been delayed an hour and a half. With my layover reduced to half an hour, I anticipated another sprint through the terminal to make my connection. My friend and I left the conference in his rental car and made our way to the airport. We were taking separate flights to Detroit, but we would meet there and board our connection for home. We returned the rental, checked in, made it through security, and verified our gates, which were across the passageway from each other in Terminal B.
Wading through the sea of humanity, we made our way to the Blue Moon Brewhouse for a quick drink before returning to our gates. While standing around waiting to board, I had a nagging feeling that my flight would be delayed again, especially when there was no sign of the flight crew, and I realized that I needed a Plan B if I wanted to get home. Sure enough, the gate agent came over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this flight is being delayed as the crew is still making their way from Boston. Our new departure time is 10:45 PM.” It was obvious that there was no way to make my connection in Detroit.
Plan B was to fly to an airport close enough to home so that my wife and mother would be able to pick me up. Flights to Ithaca, Elmira, and Syracuse all had connections in Detroit, but there was a direct flight to Scranton leaving in a couple of hours. I found my friend as he was about to board his flight to Detroit and told him my plan. He wished me luck and I made my way to Terminal C in the hope that my plan would succeed. Upon reaching the gate, I was told that to obtain a ticket to Scranton, I had to cancel my ticket to Detroit. I agreed, and not only did I get a seat, but I was upgraded to Comfort Plus!
After calling my wife to arrange my ride home, I grabbed a quick dinner at Baja Fresh and settled down to wait at the gate. Our departure was pushed back another two hours, but by 9:30 the flight attendants had arrived and we were able to board the plane. The pilots boarded half an hour later, and greeted us from the flight deck, “We just flew in from Greenville, South Carolina, and boy are our arms tired!” We were airborne by 10:30, and my spirits were buoyed by the cheesy humor of the flight crew and the fact that I was flying closer to home. We landed in Scranton two hours later, where my wife and mom were waiting in front of the terminal for the drive home.
In the chaos of my journey, my luggage was not transferred to my plane for Scranton, and the next morning Delta’s website showed that my bag was still in Atlanta, so I drove up to the airport to verify this information. The ticket agent made some inquiries, and found that my bag had made it to Detroit, but recommended that I fill out a bag claim anyway. Later that night, I received an alert on my phone from Delta that my suitcase had been loaded on the next flight home. However, this flight was delayed until the following morning, when I returned to the airport to retrieve my bag from the carousel.
Even with all the difficulty I had getting to and from Atlanta, I realize that I was one of the lucky ones. My friend did make it to Detroit, but he missed his connection and after spending the night in a hotel, he made it home Saturday morning. Others I encountered in Atlanta had been waiting for days for a flight, many of them spending the night at the terminal. Valiant efforts to get on the standby list were often met with failure, either by the plane being full or the flight being further delayed or cancelled. Delta employees, from the customer service people trying to help aggravated passengers, to flight crews jumping from plane to plane to get as many passengers to their destinations as possible, went above and beyond the call of duty that week. This was by far the worst experience I have had in dealing with delayed flights, but I was more than satisfied by the efforts of those who tried to help me and others. I sincerely hope that all those affected by the delays caused by the storms in Atlanta made it home without too much trouble.
© 2017 by Benjamin Goodrich