Dr. Brett Younger: Up in the Air

I now know all about flying between Atlanta and Wilmington, North Carolina, thanks to the gracious people at First Baptist Church, where I am serving as the interim preacher.  This column is just a small percentage of what I know.

Soaring 30,000 feet above your problems makes your problems seem small.  This dreamy feeling lasts about five minutes.

From my house to Parking Lot A it is exactly 33 miles unless you forget that the sign directing you to parking says "Rental Car."  Put your parking ticket over the driver's side visor carefully.  If your ticket somehow makes its way under the seat it may take a while to find it.  Write precisely where your car is parked on the back of the Park 'n' Ride ticket.  "Between two trucks" may not be helpful two days later.

You are not expected to tip the shuttle driver unless he or she carries your bags.  This is why you keep your bags close to you.  Do not say, "I was pretty cute that day," as the security officer checks your photo I.D.  These people are not easily amused.  On the flight from Atlanta leave yourself thirty minutes for security and the train to your concourse.  On the flight from Wilmington you can get to the airport five minutes before your flight.

Do not go to the security line on the far right in Atlanta.  If they don't have enough people to fill the "suspicious looking characters" line, you may end up with your hands over your head in an X-ray booth that was featured in several episodes of Star Trek.  SkyMiles Club members (I'm only 75,000 miles or 150 trips to Wilmington from Platinum status) know that the TSA doesn't really care if you keep your belt on, but your shoes are still a big deal.  Efficient travelers roll our eyes at people who don't know how much three ounces is.

The attendant at Gate D40 is the best:  "I've got three hundred Delta dollars for someone who loves their mother.  You can be slightly inconvenienced today and visit your mother for free at Thanksgiving.  What kind of ungrateful child wouldn't do that?"

"We're boarding zones one and two" is an invitation for passengers in zone three.  Most travelers believe that any bag that will go into the overhead if you push hard enough.  Go for the aisle seats.  Seat assignments are more suggestions than assignments-especially if there's a baby on board. (Most babies prefer traveling on Saturdays.)  In much the same way, flight times are guidelines rather than genuine commitments on the part of the airlines.

The plane to Wilmington is not a 747 or even in the 700 Club.  Sometimes we see geese pass.  Passengers can be impatient.  Twenty minutes on the tarmac is like two hours anywhere else.  Frequent flyers are efficient people, but we know we'll get there when we get there and with free peanuts-which cannot be opened in a dignified way.

Like most travelers I no longer expect to be surprised.  But on a recent trip back to Atlanta a tiny Hispanic woman hesitantly got on the train to the main terminal.  She seemed confused, but I worried that a SkyMiles member asking, "Do you know where you're going?" would seem condescending.  She was trying to read the rapidly scrolling directions (which I think are in French half of the time).  Finally she asked, "Is this to pick up suitcases?"

She was not speaking in her first language-which puts her at least one language ahead of me.

I explained, "You want the fifth stop-after C, B, A, and T.  You want baggage claim.  That's the last stop.  I'll be getting off there.  I'll show you."

When we got to T, she nervously asked, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, we'll get off at the next stop and go to the escalator on the right.  When we get to the top we'll take a left to baggage claim.  Was this your first flight?"

She nodded, "Yes."

When we got to the top of the escalator she didn't need my help any more.  Two girls about six and eight screamed as they waved their "Welcome Home, Mom!" poster.  Dad beamed.  Mom cried.  The four of them danced and hugged.  They were joyful, delighted, and ecstatic.  I wasn't the only one who stopped to watch.  Several travelers who had spent most of the day looking at their watches finally thought about something genuinely important.  Efficiency isn't much of a goal.


[Taken with permission from the author's blog, Peculiar Preacher. Originally posted Oct. 1, 2011]