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Travel's a curse; air travel's worse

You might want to get the kids out of the room. This could get ugly.

I just returned, finally, from the most frustrating, most tiring, most messed up air travel trip I've ever endured (barely) in more than 30 years of enduring air travel.

It started on a harsh note, rousting myself out of bed on my 59th birthday following five hours of sleep as Pat and I had returned from vacation after midnight earlier in the day.

I was due out of DFW at 10:45 a.m. with a connection in Atlanta at 3:00 p.m. for a short hop to Panama City, Florida, where I would present the Southwest Farm Press Peanut Profitability Award to Otis Johnson, a superb farmer from Seminole.

A thunderstorm hit Atlanta about take-off time. Atlanta shut down. We idled on the runway in Dallas.

I sat beside a young couple on their way to the Bahamas.

“Please tell me this is not your honeymoon,” I said to the pretty young girl. It was. I began to feel a little less sorry for myself; they just cuddled in the corner. Young love.

We went back to the gate and sat for a while. I napped, put a crick in my neck, read, napped some more, put a crick in the other side of my neck and began to feel numbness in my behind.

The frequent reports that we would lift off in one hour proved vile falsehoods, so after three hours they let us off the plane. Delta presented us with meal vouchers for delicious airport food. (“Airport food” is an oxymoron.)

We finally took off and landed in Atlanta about six hours late, but I assumed that since every flight in Eastern North America had been delayed the Panama City jog would just take off six hours late. Nope. Cancelled. Not going.

I politely (believe that if you will) asked the flight attendant at the gate how to reconnect and she pointed me to Delta's customer service (?) counter to get more information.

I got in line where I could no longer see the customer service center. I dialed Delta on my cell phone — waited on hold for 25 minutes before I gave up. Stood in line for two hours and dialed Delta's Frequent Flyer number — held for 25 minutes before a live person told me I was already confirmed on a flight out the next morning — information I could have obtained without standing in line for three hours.

I booked a hotel room 15 miles from the airport, the closest available and that at $200 a night. I went to the taxi stand for what I knew would be an expensive ride to the expensive hotel and found — a long line waiting for taxis — a 45-minute line. But 60 minutes and $40 later I was in a hotel room, in the same fragrant clothes I'd left home in almost a day ago.

I slept for four hours, pried myself out of bed at 6 a.m., took another $40 cab ride to the airport and got in another line to get a boarding pass. (I was constantly in fear that I would get to the end of one of those lines to find I was waiting to sign up for a new credit card and a free T-shirt.)

I got the boarding pass. (The agent recognized from my driver's license that the previous day was my birthday and presented me with another food voucher in honor of the occasion. Yum.) I stood in a long line to clear security.

I got to Panama City a day late, wearing those well-traveled clothes, checked in, took a shower and changed. Never felt so fresh in my life.

For the return trip Wednesday I got to the Panama City airport early. While waiting to board, the Delta folks alerted us that the flight from Atlanta would be delayed and our departure changed from 11:55 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., still plenty of time to connect with my 3 p.m. flight to Dallas, I thought, even with the time change from CDT to EDT. Probably would have, too, if the plane had left at 12:30.

We landed in Atlanta at 2:45 p.m. at one end of Concourse D, well away from the corridor leading to Concourse B, where the connection would have taken place had we gotten there in time.

Being competitive by nature I decided to forego my usual commitment never to run through airports and hit a temperate jog, and, assuming that no plane ever left Atlanta on time, I figured I'd make the connection, a belief I held until I hit the fourth escalator step and felt a muscle in my left calf snap like an old rubber band. I stumbled hopefully on, in vain it turned out, as, for the first time in recorded history a plane left Atlanta when it was supposed to.

I was directed by the pleasant lady at the gate to go to Delta's customer service center.

Are the kids out of the room?

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