Thursday, September 23, 2010

Time Travel

Note to self: When travelling by air across several time zones, never rely on your watch, cell phone, or other personal timekeeping devices to get you to your flight on time. Look for airport clocks and use them as your time keeper. That way you won’t miss your connecting flight like I did. In fact, for an entirely different reason I almost missed my rescheduled flight as well – but more of that later.

I had landed in Atlanta, Georgia en route for New York City from Tucson, Arizona. Checking my iPhone, I noted I had plenty of time before my connecting flight. Unfortunately, I had put the phone into Airplane Mode, which effectively disables it during aircraft travel. This was probably the reason the phone did not automatically adjust for the time change between Tucson and Atlanta.

So there I was, happily munching on a ham and cheese sandwich while waiting for my flight when I happened to notice an airport clock indicating the real time in Atlanta, and I immediately began to get very concerned. My plane was due to depart at 3.05PM, and the clock was showing 3.15PM! In a panic, I raced to the check-in counter, only to find Delta Airlines staff had already left and were finalizing details before my flight (which was still sitting on the tarmac at the end of the access ramp) departed for New York.

I tried unsuccessfully to get someone to help, but to no avail.

Almost fifteen minutes later – with the plane still docked to the access ramp – a staff member finally emerged from behind a security door and approached the counter. But it was too late. The flight had been secured and readied for take off, and I had officially missed my flight.

I felt like an idiot, and no-one was to blame but myself, but you can be sure that in future I will be using airport clocks to make sure I catch my flights on time. Thankfully, I was able to get another flight to New York which was due to depart two hours later than my missed flight.
However, the story does not end there.

My new boarding pass indicated that this flight was due to depart from Gate 30 in Terminal A, one of several massive terminals that make up Atlanta International Airport.

With plenty of time to sit and eat my unfinished ham and cheese sandwiches*, I waited near the check-in counter for my flight.

Maybe I was overtired from having risen at 5.00AM to catch my plane out of Tucson. Or maybe I was simply just not paying attention. Whatever the problem was, it did not register that the staff at the Delta check-in counter where regularly announcing flight details for St Paul, Minnesota! I mean I heard the announcements, but my addled brain simply did not raise a red flag and warn me about them.

At 5.00PM, ten minutes after boarding was due to start for my flight to New York City, I heard the check-in staff announce that the flight to St Paul, Minnesota was “…now boarding”.

Finally, my brain kicked into gear and I thought; “What? St Paul, Minnesota?”

In a rising panic, I found a staff member, and asked her what was going on.

She blithely answered that my flight to New York had been rescheduled to Gate 4!

Gate 4 was right down the other end of the Terminal A passageway. In a mad rush I grabbed my backpack and pushed my way through the crush of people heading to one of the hundreds of flights that depart from Atlanta every day.


Reaching Gate 4 did not give me any comfort at all. The electronic sign board showed this plane was departing for Cairo, Egypt!

Now folks, I am normally a very cool, calm and collected sort of guy, but this was too much. I have heard that Egypt is a great place to visit, but right then and there, I wanted to go to New York City.

To cut a long story short, the plane was going to Cairo – but it was passing through New York’s, JFK airport on the way. So with literally, 15 minutes to spare, I managed to catch my rescheduled flight, and settled into my window seat for a much needed rest and stress free flight to the Big Apple.

Of course, there was one more complicating factor to deal with. As I was departing Atlanta, my suitcase was reaching New York City. Yes, folks, I may have missed my earlier flight, but my luggage didn’t! Thankfully, the ‘system’ for dealing with lost or uncollected luggage worked exactly like it was meant to, and after a bit of running around between JFK’s Terminal 4 and Terminal 2, I was reunited with my belongings.

So there are two lessons to be learned here: keep one eye on airport clocks, and the other eye firmly fixed on airport departure boards – just in case your flight is moved from one departure gate to another.
* Mary, thanks for those ham and cheese sandwiches. Apart from some small inflight snacks, those sandwiches were all I had time to eat throughout a long travel-weary day.

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