The family vacay was great–sun, beach, and an endless supply of buffet food and cerveza in the Dominican Republic. All we needed was a decent flight home Saturday to close the happy loop.
Indeed, New York was downright besieged by nasty weather. Despite the Male Stewardess on Delta assuring me that a little wind in New York wouldn’t slow us down–the CNN on our tiny airplane TV said winds were about 68 mph at JFK–the plane banged a left as soon as we crossed the U.S. coast, and headed for a surprise stop in Atlanta instead of JFK.
Atlanta Hartsfield is legendary for its busy-ness; add untold thousands of pissed off New Yorkers, sunburned and perhaps even still sand in the crotch, rerouted from the likes of the DR, Puerto Rico, Orlando, etc., and it was just mayhem–no one knowing where to go or what to do, people cutting lines to nowhere, a jammed airport suddenly swollen like the banks of the Bronx River. The worst of human nature at its best.
Two little ones in tow, we saw no hope in crashing in the airport, and quickly booked a room at a nearby Hilton for what certainly seemed like a reasonable rate, at least by New York standards. Thank God for the Blackberry.
We checked in around 10:30 p.m. and, after getting Little Miss C and Little G to bed, I huddled over the Blackberry again from our bathroom. Calls to Delta’s main line got the immediate busy signal, but calls to the Sky Miles club (like I’m really a member) actually were met with a human. I got a nice lady named Bobbie who repeatedly attemped to get us on a flight the next day, but as soon as something became available, it was quickly grabbed.
“It’s like…moving pictures,” she said, not quite the apt metaphor but I got the picture.
She eventually got us on two flights: the Missus and Little Miss C on an 8 a.m., and me and Little G on an 8:15er.
It was close to midnight. We’d lost an hour coming from the Dominican, and were about to lose another due to daylight savings. We shut out the night’s misery and slept.
And woke up five hours later to get the kids together and get to the airport.
It was pitch black and cold behind the Hilton in Atlanta. The queue for the freakin’ airport shuttle was 50 deep, despite a pair of short buses making the run.
Our clothes better suited for the Dominican than ATL’s surprising chill, we lost about 10 minutes waiting for an available bus—an amount of time that would bite us on the ass later.
The airport was pretty much the same madhouse as the night before; massive lines for everything. We finally checked luggage and the Missus and Little Miss C bolted for their 8 a.m. flight, us boys a bit behind.
[LUGGAGE UPDATE: It’s noon on Tuesday and our three suitcases are still AWOL.]
[LUGGAGE UPDATE II: It’s 3 p.m. on Wednesday and our three suitcases are still AWOL.]
[LUGGAGE UPDATE III: No luggage as of 10:30 a.m. Thursday.]
Security was downright slammed; the girls breezed through, though, as Little Miss C was in a stroller. They made their plane.
Me and Little G, however, stuck in security, missed it by five minutes.
And so our 12 hour ordeal at Hartsfield began, as we rode the monorail to various stops (A, B, E) and attempted to go standby on various flights (9:50, noon, etc.). The standby boarding passes piled up in my pocket like spent OTB slips.
The system is more crooked than a New York governor. We were #s 17 and 18 for the 9:50 flight, then #63 and 64 for the nooner. If you think you’re prioritized because you’re traveling with a hungry, underslept 4 year old, you’re sorely mistaken.
The standby crowd gradually got to know one another as we schlepped from gate to gate like migrant workers. We got to talking with Tom from Ardsley, a 40-something who was traveling with two senior citizen females, perhaps one of them being his mother, and one of them in a wheelchair.
In between playing dinosaurs with Little G (Little Foot goes to a scary place called Meat-Eater-Ville and has a close call with a hungry T Rex called Sharptooth, played over and over and over with minor variations), we kept calling the Sky Miles hotline on the Blackberry, and were told the earliest possible flight to New York was Tuesday morning—a full 48 hours away.
Little G wondered why we couldn’t just get on that airplane, and the next, and the next, and I had a difficult time explaining the concept of the standby procedure to him.
Eventually the Blackberry died, the recharger buried in my luggage somewhere in the bowels of Hartsfield.
Just as we’d looked into flights to Baltimore, Phila and Washington, Tom From Ardsley had tried Cincy, Detroit, anywhere that would get him and his ladies out of Atlanta and toward New York.
We realized there are two approaches to getting nasty with an airline employee. You can get just simply downright nasty with no real strategy for getting results, as we’d seen the mook dumbass in the Yankee shirt do the night before as he rammed his SmartCart (the only smart part of his operation) past a line of stranded stragglers to show an airline employee he was angry about the disorganization and lack of communication. (In fact I sat across from the aisle from that mook dumbass on the flight to the DR; when the 8:30 a.m. departure hadn’t happened by 8:35, he yelled, “It’s 8:35, c’mon, let’s go-oohhh!!”
The other approach is what Tom From Ardsley did—yell and scream but do it in a way that nudges the employee into producing some sort of gainful result.
After failing to successfully cajole an employee at the Blackberry store near our gate to let us have a courtesy charge, we bought a new charger–35 bucks, if you’re scoring at home. After a brief charge, we got on the horn again, and scored our first break in 24 hours: a flight the next morning.
Suddenly our mood lifted; I began seeing Atlanta in a positive light. Get a hotel room downtown, see the sights with Little G, drink the native Coca Cola, see where Andre 3000 grew up, be up in the air inside of 24 hours. It sounded eminently doable.
Meanwhile, Tom From Ardsley was working a Delta employee pretty hard, and got results: a flight to Newark that afternoon. Tom told me he’d told the man that me and Little G needed to get out that day too, and that we should talk to the Delta guy.
I weighed my options: the flight the next morning was OK by me, but leaving that day would be unthinkably good. I approached him, hoisting Little G up to eye level so the Delta guy could see the sadness and tiredness in the whelp’s mug.
The Delta guy was Michael Hagans, a handsome black man with a gigantic, winning smile. I told him my new pal Tom From Ardsley said he had some magic powers to get people home. Hagans smiled that megasmile and began typing.
He typed for several minutes. On cue, Little G whined about how miserable he was.
“It’s OK, Little G, I know you’re exhausted,” I said, pinching his bottom to maximize the look of despair on his face. “This man is going to do his best to help us get home.”
I may have muttered something about the kid’s emergency medication back in New York, I’m not sure.
Hagans asked if we’d go to Newark. Sure, the gals went to JFK, but they’d probably be home long before use anyway. Absolutely, I told him.
Typing. More typing. More freakin’ typing. Magic fingers coming up with the winning keyboard combination.
“OK,” said Hagans. “You’re all set. Two seats flying to Newark at 5:30 today.”
I shook Hagans’ hand, though I would’ve preferred to kiss him. Little G gave him an emphatic high five. I hugged Little G.
“Keep taking care of your family,” Hagans told me, words I may not forget for a long time.
We were over the moon. We celebrated by riding an escalator to a Heineken-branded restaurant, which was set apart from the rest of the dreaded airport. We got lunch and set about working on Little G’s airplane Lego model we’d bought at the gift shop. Buying it was alternately brilliant and foolish; it would occupy a bored, cranky four year old for hours, but it also required intense concentration to put together, and that was in short supply after the previous 12 hours’ events. Plus, I’m just not that hot at models and other spatial-relations-related exercises.
The food came, a chicken cordon bleu sandwich, a grilled cheese, some chips, Sprites. The house music played some country broad – Shania, Trisha, I dunno – covering, fittingly, Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.” “I’m on my way, I’m on my way,” she twanged. “Home…sweeeeet…home.”
And, five hours and endless dinosaur role playing later, we were. I must’ve stared at my boarding pass a dozen times, making sure it was real, treating it like the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Our seats were in the rear of the plane, but that didn’t stop us from pushing to the front as soon as they started boarding the rich people and using the face of an exhausted four year old to our advantage. They let us on, and we locked into our seats like we’d never give them up—whether or not Delta found the nine people it needed to opt for the $600 voucher and night in Detroit to solve its little overbooking problem.
Soon as the wheels went up, Little G fell asleep. I looked down at him, curled up so tiny in his seat, and it just hit me, my mind a jumble of SmartCarts and droning Delta announcements and Monorail rides and Little G scared by the unnecessarily loud auto-flush toilets. I dropped a tear the size of a whiskey shot on my sleeping son.