So I had one of those days in the air on Tuesday … both of my Delta flights were delayed due to “low ceiling”.
It was a simple plan … fly from Atlanta at 9:40am, get to Houston about 11:00am, have time for a nice lunch, meet the customer at 1:00pm, leave customer site before 5:00pm to avoid nasty Houston traffic, eat dinner at airport, fly out at 7:40pm, arrive in Atlanta at 11:35pm, drive home. No problem.
So let’s see where reality strayed from the agenda …
The flight left Atlanta 30 minutes late. We had to wait on a flight attendant to show up from another flight, which was running late. Now if one of the 130+ paying customers for this flight arrive late, Delta has no issue leaving us tied to terra firma. If I knew my workplace would pick up and leave five minutes after I was supposed to clock in I’d be damn sure to show up on time.
Anyway, I got flagged for the “random” security screening at the gate. Apparently white males in polo shirts with 210,000 frequent flyer miles are a threat to our democratic republic and must be kept under close watch. This must also apply to the European family of four in front of me, who were being examined at a comfortable pace by the two gate agents.
Once we arrived in Houston, Imran and I hopped the bus to the Avis center. Imran is the sales rep for this account, and was an Avis employee in a past life. This comes in handy when we travel, because he always manages to get a complimentary full-size upgrade. Our Chevy Malibu took us towards the customer’s office.
I hadn’t been to Houston in a long time, so I forgot about a few geography issues. The first issue is that none of the technology companies are actually in Houston. They reside on a network of service roads running parallel to the great beltway connecting Houston and it’s intercontintental airport. So when we got to the customer site there was nothing savory for lunch. Imran’s religious dietary restrictions were met by Subway’s Tuna Salad Sandwich (ah, glamorous life on the road).
The meeting was quite good, except when the head honcho got called away ten minutes into the presentation (family emergency). So the one guy who hasn’t been convinced to use our product missed the show. It’s not a major setback, just a small hurdle.
Getting back to Atlanta from Houston was even more entertainig than our morning escapade. We did manage to get standby on the 5:50pm flight, operating on the theory that this would get us home before 10:00pm. But the dreaded “low ceiling” was waiting for us, lurking like a sci-fi convention fan waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting William Shatner as he exits the men’s room. Our flight takeoff time was delayed until 6:35pm due to air traffic delays in Atlanta. We didn;t actually take off until 7:05pm.
“Low Ceiling” is air-traffic lingo for “farking low cloud layer that makes it hard to see”. The “low ceiling” is pesky because it prevents pilots from visually lining up on the runway, and has a nasty habit of prevent planes from seeing oncoming objects like … well, other planes. So all approaches are done by radar and they have to space the planes way out for safety reasons. This causes long holding patterns, which delay the arrival and departure of flights.
By the way, I’m not a pilot. I know all of this information because the pilot had plenty of time to explain thiese concepts over the Boeing 737-800 intercom system. Even though my flight to Atlanta was 90 minutes long, we didn’t touch down till 11:15pm. We circled Hartsfield for at least an hour. I was a bit dizzy from the circular pattern we left in the sky.
Lucky for me I live in Atlanta. A lot of people missed connecting flights due the dreaded “low ceiling”. Those evil clouds are really out to get us. First they make foggy roads, then they drop rain on my car right after it’s washed, not they’re lurking over airports hoping to make large smoking yard art out of unsuspecting Boeing aircraft. Stupid water vapor …
The crowning moment of the evening had to be the malfunctioning train. The Atlanta airport features an automated tram, designed to ferry would-be airline passengers between terminals. This train greets riders with pre-recorded messages. Due to my frequent appearances at said airport, I have the train speech memorized:
Careful, doors are closing and will not reopen. Please wait for the next train.
I know the timing of the voice, and would probably be the top casting choice for the train in a made-for-TV movie about the Atlanta airport. So I was probably the first person on the train to notice that the voice was a bit different than normal. The pitch was way down, like a tape player with weak batteries. The train rambled to the T-gates, opened its doors, and stopped. The doors were not closing, and if they did they stood a good chance of not reopening.
Imran and I waited a few minutes, then decided to take our chances as pedestrians. We escaped the muted train, heading for the escalators with the small crowd of folks who know a broken train when they don’t hear one. As Imran and I arrived in the luggage claim area, we eyed the dozens of people waiting for their friends, reletives and business associates.
“Get comfortable,” I yelled to the crowd, “they’re going to be a while.”