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DARRELL HUCKABY: Airline travel is great — except when it isn't

It is 792 miles from Houston, Texas, to Atlanta, give or take a tumbleweed here and a kudzu vine there. I left Houston on an airplane at 5:38 Tuesday night and one hour and 48 minutes later we had landed on the runway at Hartsfield International Airport. One hour and 48 minutes to go almost 800 miles. Time ain’t the only thing that flies. Those big commercial jets do, too. It’s a heck of a system — when it works well. Now hear the rest of the story.

My house is 26 miles from that same airport. Less than that as the crow flies, but I am not a crow so I have to take a more winding path. The one I took Tuesday night resembled those Family Circus cartoons when Billy comes “straight home” from school. Try to wrap your mind around this with me. My plane touched down at 8:16 Tuesday, Atlanta time. I walked in my back door at 11:47. It took me less than two hours to fly 800 miles from Houston to Atlanta and two-and-a-half hours to get less than 30 miles, to my house. There wasn’t any traffic, either. The primary problem seemed to be that they had apparently staffed all of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport with individuals who, on this particular night, would have had trouble pouring root beer out of a cowboy boot with the directions printed on the heal. Yeah, I know the expression isn’t really root beer. I’m trying to clean it up. This is a family newspaper.

Now understand this. Our flight crew was terrific. Any time you wind up with the same number of takeoffs and landings, the flight crew is terrific, but the folks taking care of me on my flight from Houston to Atlanta were especially good. All the problems began when the plane touched down. First they sent us to gate C-10 to disembark. I am not sure who “they” are, but that’s how the pilot referred to “them” as he tried to keep us informed, over the intercom, as to why several people on board were in danger of missing their connection. So we taxied over to C-10, but guess what, y’all. There was already an airplane at C-10 and they can’t fit but one of those bad boys at a single gate at one time, so we had to taxi all the way around the terminal to gate C-7, which is just across the hall from the inside but a long way around if you are taking a plane. They must have forgotten to tell the folks at C-7 that we were coming because it took them a long, long while to get those three guys with the orange flashlights to show up and guide the aircraft to the gate. I mean a long time.

Then they seemed to have forgotten to run the jet way out to the gate so the nice flight attendant — she was from near Elizabethton, Tenn., by the way — I liked her — was allowed to open the door.

Finally I was free and rushed to the baggage claim to get my suitcase and go home. I didn’t need to rush. I stood at the carousel for a solid hour waiting for my bag to come around on the belt. I watched everybody else pick up his or her suitcase, but mine never showed up. The only thing left on the belt was a toothbrush that had fallen out of somebody else’s bag, and a red polka-dotted train case that probably belonged in Poughkeepsie.

Next I had to stand in line with all the other clowns who had been stupid enough to check a bag, in order to fill out a form describing the suitcase I’d paid $25 to have the airline lose for me.

My adventure wasn’t over. I walked out to the shuttle stop and got on the van to go get my car at the Park N Ride. The driver of the shuttle took a wrong turn and the next thing I knew we were on I-85 headed to Montgomery. It took 20 minutes for the dude to find his way back to the parking lot where I had left my car.

When I finally walked in the door at 11:45 Tuesday night the phone was ringing. The airline had found my suitcase and wanted me to drive back to the airport and pick it up.

I gave them a piece of my mind, but it’s a piece I can’t share in print. The next time I have to go to Houston I think I’ll do what Davy Crockett did and ride a horse. It might be quicker and I have yet to lose a saddlebag.