Anyway, to some degree, it’s my own fault, I had sworn ten years ago that I would never again fly through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, and so far ‘ve kept my promise. But, someone else made the flight arrangements for me on this trip, a wonderful trip where I helped lead a revival out in the Midwest.
But the Atlanta airport, if you ask me is the worst airport in the country. There are always delays, the weather is often bad in Atlanta, and the design of the airport is too spread out. If you Land in the A terminal, and your connecting flight is over in the C-terminal, it is, by foot, almost a mile away. Don’t ask me why Delta scatters its flights over four different terminals, the answer is WAY above our pay grade.
Long story short, I’m spending the night in the airport, and writing this blog on my iPad. Permit a few cultural, business and theological observations based on my experience.
1. Flying is a mini miracle – I never cease to be amazed that I can board a very heavy metal aircraft, somehow become airborne, and sit in a chair, in a pressurized cabin at 30,000 feet, going 400 miles an hour. And get this happens, over 30,000 times a day just in the United States. And, frustrated though I am, I am surprised that I don’t miss more flights, and that there are not more mishaps.
But a few negative observations as well.
2. Policy over people – The Delta flight from Oklahoma City was delayed through no fault of mine, or my fellow trwvellers. For whatever reason, the flight arrived from somewhere else late, and so we took off half an hour late. That put a flight full of people, into a connecting airport, a hub, which Atlanta is, to our destination a good bit late. That there were also many flight delays, because it was raining in Atlanta (ithink it is always raining in Atlanta, it is o ne of the reason I swore off ever flying though this airport again). Despite the many late arrivals, (the board was lit up with DELAYED next to arrival times), that did not stop them from having their connecting flights take off strictly on time.
Over ten of us on the flight to Washington were left standing outside the gate, the door closed. Could no open the door for us? afterall the plane was still sitting at the gate. “Sorry, absolutely not” came the answer, “There is a policy, that when the doors are closed, they cannot be reopened.” Sure they can, it happens all the time. Surely the flight officer could open the door again, after all there are ten of us standing outside. We were late, but not that late and not by our own fault, and the plane is right there still connected to the ramp. “No” came the answer, “There is a policy that once the doors are closed, they cannot be reopened.” (It seemed eerily like judgement day, except that the agnet wasn’t Go d and We had not committed a sin. “But there are ten of us out here, could not exception be made?”
No, policy, is policy. Now the he gate agents apparently thought that “policy” was an answer.
Surely there is a place for policy. Other things being equal, everyone wants like to take off on time, but we were not asking for the flight to return from the runway, to pick us up, only that the ramp door be reopened for a flight that was a destination flight, late on a Sunday evening. Sorry….policy.
A second policy was invoked and we were informed that Delta has a policy that its planes take off on time. Now, that’s a pretty good policy (but never mind that our Delta flights had NOT taken off on time), but we sought to remind the agent, the flight had not get departed, it was still at the gate. Sorry, it is just a policy, no exceptions.
Ok, you get the point. Somewhere along the line, policy seems to matter more than ten people standing outside the gate, in front of a plane that has not yet departed. Policy has it’s place but so do people.
Theologically, Jesus too often had problems with pharisaical attitudes, that placed policies over people. Jesus said, “woe to you lawyers, also You burden people with loads that are hard to carry. But you won’t lift a finger to carry any of these loads (Lk 11:46). And again, “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Lk 11:52).
Please understand, dear reader, I am not an antinomian. I am a member of, and working in a Church which has policies and rules, and they are helpful and necessary. But people are important too and there are times when rules and policies are being invoked in silly and inflexible ways. Someone will say, “the security is important, and once the gate is closed, it must they closed.” Yes, but remember, we were already in the secured perimeter, inside the security of the airport.
3. Shift the blame – Confronted by several passengers who were now quite angry, the gate agents declared, “It is not our fault.” They went on to blame companies like Orbitz that book connecting flights with close departure times. They also, put the blame on us, by saying, “You should know better, never book a flight without a least an hour between connections.
Okay, so I get it, it’s not their fault, it’s Orbitz, and is also my fault. Never mind, that it is Delta Airlines, that is making the actual decision not to open the gate for a plane is sitting there. It is is the agent who has the real power, but they say they’re not responsible, it’s about policy, it’s about my fault, it’s about the booking agent, it’s everybody else’s fault. Meanwhile, the one with the actual power to change things, simply refuses to do so.
And this is a real tendency in our culture to shift the blame. I’ll take m share of the blame. I was mistaken not to speak up and say no to Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport, probably the worst airport in the country. I knew better. But I am not going to take the blame for being minutes late to gate with a perfectly good plane with empty seats seating there, with a locked door that is unreasonably kept locked. I am not responsible for foolishness.
On the other hand, were the seats empty? And that leads to my final point.
4. I was not born yesterday – in the end, I know what really happened. Delta, like all airlines, especially on a Sunday night, overbooks. They sell seats which they don’t actually have. Frankly, it is unethical to tell people, who put down real money, that they have a real seat, when, in fact, they may not. . Frankly, Delta is hoping for poor slobs like me, and the other nine people, whose flight gets delayed.
The real reason they couldn’t open that door again, was that my seat was happily occupied by a standby, and overbooked passengers. It really had nothing to do with policies regarding security et cetera. It had to do with the fact that our seats were gone. Never mind that we paid for them. Never mind that Delta knew full well that one of the connecting flights was a few minutes late but had arrived and passengers were making their way. Truth be told, Delta had both oversold, and eagerly handed out our seats to standby passengers. And, despite their claims to be sorry for the inconvenience, they actually wept all the way to the bank.
It is one thing to give tickets to standby folks. But to overbook flights is unethical because in effect it bases a contractual agreement on a lie, that your good money and mine doesn’t really mean you have a seat. For the ten of us, it was our turn to be the poor slobs, the suckers of what was most likely rooted in an unethical business practice, overbooking.
I am not all that angry, just sober and once again aware that life in this world ain’t all its cut out to be. That’s alright. God is preparing a place that isn’t overbooked. And if I can patiently endure a little of this, and they are light blows compared to what some suffer in this world, all will be well in the next.
And just to poke fun at some of my complaining, heres a good video that describe airline complainers.