Oh, Atlanta

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My long seven day trip abroad to Europe is coming to a close. After visiting London, Bern, and Stuttgart, I’m now in the Atlanta International airport waiting for my connecting flight home. While it appears to be about 75F and sunny outside, my wife told me that’s it’s been chilly, windy, rainy, and snowy in upstate New York today. With luck, it will all blow itself away by the time my plane lands after 7PM.

I very rarely fly through Atlanta because unless I’m flying somewhere south, it really is out of the way for most of my travel. Even today, my plane from Germany went quite a bit past my home latitude to get here, but I have limited options when returning from Stuttgart. By taking this flight, I didn’t have to connect in Europe, which meant I could get home in two hops instead of three. To me, that reduce the chances for error, missed connections, and even more time on the road.

I was booked in coach on this last flight, which I’m fine with cost-wise. My 6′ 4″ frame, which tends to think in terms of comfort rather than economics, was having second thoughts. Therefore my plan this morning was to get to the Stuttgart airport early and see if I could upgrade to First Class using frequent flier miles. I was flying on Delta and I rarely use those miles for trips, so I thought I might as well use some of them up.

The taxi picked me up at the hotel a bit early, at 6:53AM, and we got to the airport in about 20 minutes. Now, my flight was at 11, but I really don’t mind skipping the lines and the stress. The check-in area for Delta was not open yet but there was a woman working the Delta ticket purchase counter. She was very helpful but told me that I couldn’t do the upgrade on the day of travel. Since I was not checking bags, she could however give me my boarding pass. She stared at her screen, typed a few things, went over to a colleague and spoke a few words of German. Then she came back, typed a bit more, and announced “it took it, I got you the upgrade.”

The flight was scheduled for nine and one-half hours, so I was very happy to get that improvement. It wasn’t so much the better food, but it was the chance to sleep to which I was really looking forward. I was exhausted, to put it bluntly. This week involved long hours and a lot of travel. Throw in some jet lag, and there was only so much adrenaline could do for me by today.

So I got a better seat, I got to sleep, and my plane even arrived an hour early. The passport control area was a mob scene, especially for those without US passports. When I got to the US citizen line there was perhaps twenty or thirty people ahead of me. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of people waiting in the visitor line. Those toward the back without four hour connection times were going to miss their flights.

I am at gate C36 with 45 minutes to go before my flight. The plane arrived a few minutes ago, so all seems ok do far. Here’s crossing my fingers that the final segment of this trip goes as well as it had done this last week.

A final note: I think Delta has really done a nice job becoming a very helpful, accomodating, and attractive airline to fly, especially for international trips. Kudos, and some other airlines could really use to start emulating them.

One Comment

  1. No name, no immigration blacklisting

    Bob, the US is notorious for customs and immigration delays. I travel to the US a lot for business and after a few nightmare experiences I simply don’t schedule an onward flight until the next day.

    Everyone has a travel horror story. In Australia a large number of those involve US immigration and customs. Experienced travellers will book flights to particular airports simply because their immigrations and customs isn’t as bad as the norm (eg, SFO in preference to LAX, even with the additional flying time you end up ahead).

    There is higher friction than normal with US travel in any case. Excessive carry-on baggage means planes take much longer to load, security is still using temporary poorly-designed facilities years after 9/11, and Americans just don’t understand queuing (after waiting in line for 15 minutes they still won’t have shoes off, laptops out, travel documents in hand even if that’s what they’ve seen everyone before them be asked to do). Travel seems to bring out the worst in US officialdom — both government and airline.

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