Trial by Delta
Trial by Delta
The day began benignly. The Orlando sun shone brightly. The twins took one last nostalgic turn on Tomorrowland's Space Mountain. The bill rendered for five days of fun and frolic at Disney World showed a $211.84 credit. A final dip in the Coronado Springs pool refreshed my tired legs. God was in heaven and all was right with the world.
Then the clouds gathered, two kinds. One, the meteorological kind, sent a shivering blast of tornado laden air from Canada into the heartland, reaching Atlanta. The other clouds settled in on our psychic horizon. The two kinds of clouds are linked... as you will see if you read further.
I should have guessed that there was a snake in Eden when the van we hired (and paid for ahead of time to take us back to the Orlando airport) didn't show up at the appointed hour. $60 later a taxi delivered us to the departure counter of Delta Airlines. The electronic tickets spewed out of the kiosk printer. We took our place in line for the security check. As usual I couldn't pass the metal detector without setting off the alarm. Standing spread-eagled with my arms stretched out to the sides the officer scanned me with his wand and acknowledged that, yes, I did have titanium in my hinges. At least they didn't ask me to drop my drawers as they did at the airport in Kirkenes, Norway.
We set out for the gate specified on our ticket. The five of us schlepped ten carry-ons, against the advice of Barbara and the counter attendant who thought they should be checked. It was 4:15 PM, well in advance of the boarding time for a flight scheduled for 5:14. The electronic information board hiccupped and indicated that, no, we wouldn't be flying out at 5:14. It would be 6:30 on AeroMexico... to Atlanta. The rest of the family grabbed a bite to eat, but I decided to forego supper in anticipation of the coke and peanuts the flight attendants would distribute when we were aloft. The board hiccupped again and the departure time changed to 7:30. When I worried at the Delta customer service about missing our connection in Atlanta, she said not to worry, that the flight to Hartford would also be delayed.
The clouds over Atlanta were heavy with rain. Tornadoes threatened. Baseball sized hale stones were rumored. No planes could land or take off from Jackson Airport.
I was beginning to think of myself as a modern-day Joe Blfitz, cartoonist Al Capp's creation in the Li'l Abner strip, the fellow who walks around with a rain cloud over his head. What I didn't know at the time was that Hurricane Havoc (I made up the name!) would be a more appropriate moniker.
Ten pieces of luggage in hands, we arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and asked the Delta representative what gate we should schlepp to. "T1," she answered authoritatively. Now, those of you who haven't had the pleasure of traversing Hotlanta's international airport may not know that it is huge. I mean huge huge. Gate T1 was almost as far away from our landing berth as it could be. So we schlepped some more, a lot more. The area around the gate was suspiciously empty of travelers. No wonder, our flight to Hartford had, as the ticket hinted in small print might be the case, been subject to change, back near the gate of our arrival. Again we schlepped.
As we arrived finally at the gate of our embarkation, people were milling and fuming around the customer service desk. I asked the fellow at the counter if our party of five would be ticketed for the 10:30 PM flight to Bradley. He mumbled that we were on the stand-by list. Anger rising, I wanted to know how far down on the priority list we were and what were our chances of flying out that night. Sheepishly he replied, "Not very likely." I put to him the rhetorical question, "Do you think I will ever fly Delta again?" I didn't wait for a reply. I hurried to Delta's disaster management team across the hall. A direct hookup with someone somewhere who seemed to know something about flight schedules brought forth the news I thought at first was a joke: "The next available flight to Hartford is on Monday." I now comprehended Franz Kafka. It being Friday before that Monday, I offered the lady a few choice thoughts about her suggestion. I had the good sense, however, not to do what I really wanted to do, tell her to go to the other place and then hang up on her. She suggested alternative destinations. I said no to Cincinnati. Newark the following morning at 9 AM was available. I took a deep breath and said, "Then book us."
Within minutes the fellow at the main counter was calling my name. He had five tickets for us for Newark. I accepted them as ungraciously as I could, claimed two vouchers for a nearby Day's Inn motel, and schlepped once more, to ground transportation, just a few miles away. Robert twin said it all, "This has been the worst day of my life."
How could anything get worse? Ah, just wait and read.
The shuttle van dropped us off at the motel around 11 PM. The desk clerk was sniffling with a cold. She also seemed to be suffering from lethargy. It took almost three-quarters of an hour for her to register us and the seven guests ahead of us. My feelings of self-pity were mitigated by the reports of two others waiting in line. A fellow on his way to San Francisco had been rerouted to Atlanta from God only knows where. He was a seasoned traveler and provided Betsy with the advice never to assume that those serving you are doing it to the best of their ability. In other words, it pays to complain. A young woman behind us in line had flown to Atlanta from Maine in anticipation of beginning a new life in the South with a boyfriend. But the boyfriend who was supposed to meet her never showed up. She cried for four hours and then contacted grandma for the price of a flight home.
We went to bed at midnight. I slept soundly. Until 5 AM, when the thought wouldn't leave me, that our tickets said "Seat Request" and that might mean we would be on standby for the Newark flight. Somehow I managed not to alarm the twins with that thought. We returned to the airport in plenty of time for the security check. The tickets were valid. We schlepped some more. At the top of the line preparatory to the screening, the Delta attendant read what she deemed a discrepancy between Betsy's name on the ticket and her name on her driver's license. She announced that Betsy could not pass and would have to be turned over to a federal screener. Betsy's eyes welled with tears. But Barbara let it all out, crying, screaming, and complaining from fifteen hours of frustration... and not a little calculation that the bigger the scene the quicker the resolution. A government agent appeared forthwith as the Delta agent squirmed and frowned. Within five minutes the issue was resolved and we returned (through the first class line!) to the security screening where I was once more subject to the indignity of being quarantined, wanded, and fully patted down.
We boarded the plane and were seated one row from the back, right next to the rear thrusting engines. I got my coke and peanuts. We arrived at Newark at 11:15, rented a Mercury Crown Victoria, got lost in New Jersey despite having Magellan guidance assistance, dined on Nathan's hot dogs and Sbarro's pizza along the Garden State Parkway, picked up the dog at Barbara's sister's home, drove to Bradley Airport, dropped off the rental car, and returned home.
The following morning I stepped on the bathroom scale. I had lost six pounds since flying off to Disney World on April 18th. It probably was the consequence of a lot of walking and really bad food. But a pound or three of it might have been angst. Two thirteen year old boys will have a memory of that day to take with them the rest of their lives. I can also hope they might take with them into their maturity a conviction that adversity usually yields to persistence and a sense of humor.
It also helps to have a valid credit card.