Adventures with AirTran and spending way too much time in airports

Drew and I attended his grandfather’s funeral in Indiana this past weekend, and it was a hectic weekend indeed.

A few days in advance, I booked flights for us on Airtran. Despite the short notice, I got us tickets for around $250 each (hooray for “web only” specials!). Our flight left at 11:00 am from DEN, so we left home a little after 8 in anticipation of traffic, the long trudge in from the cheapo “long-term” parking lot, and long security lines. Rush hour was quite mild, the lot we wanted was closed (thus costing us $10 per day rather then the much preferable $6 per day), and not as many people as you’d think travel on Friday morning it seems, so we had time to kill. A session of intermittent wandering and an unnecessary Burger King trip later, and we’re on the flight to Atlanta airport, where we’ll wait for a little under two hours for our next flight. And of course, it’s cancelled. Engine problems.

This is Atlanta airport, which is, to put it simply, ginormous. Meaning, there are lots of flights that go through there. Meaning, we were presented with a few options. We could fly out a few hours later to Indianapolis (and get compensated with free one way tickets for each of us, plus meal vouchers), or we could wait until that next morning to fly out (and get compensated with free round trip tickets, a free stay at a hotel, plus meal vouchers). The latter would have been fabulous, but we did have a funeral to attend the next morning, so later that day it was. The man who helped us with the new tickets and such was very helpful and definitely made up for the inconvenience of being stuck at ATL for the next several hours.

So we roamed. 6 concourses, and we checked each one for the elusive large food court that I vaguely remembered from being in that airport many years ago. Turned up in Concourse E. Incidentally, airport food is weird, pricewise. We noted that a McDonalds double cheeseburger cost $3.99 there, far above the standard $1.20 or so at a non-airport restaurant. However, at Qdoba, the prices were barely more expensive then usual (they may have even been the same price, for that matter). The lesson here: If you’re stuck at an airport, your wallet wants you to avoid Mickey Ds. Anyhow, using our fabulous meal vouchers, Drew got a Qdoba burrito + brownie, and I got a turkey wrap + hummus + brownie at a nearby sandwich shop. My wrap was rather tasteless, but I had that rather convenient hummus to smear it in, so all worked out well.

Did you know that the Atlanta Airport hides an art gallery? To get to the different concourses, you can take a tram or you can walk. In the area near Concourses T and A was a bunch of Zimbabwean art, including large sculpture. Pretty cool! In a few of the other walkways were large pictures of various nebula and other images from space. Also, it’s really awesome to be much closer to sea level then you usually are, we walked all over that airport and never ran out of breath once!

Anyhow, we caught the flight, where we had been very nicely bumped to business class. We were served drinks three times during our 1.5 hour flight, and we got alcoholic drinks each time, just because we could. They were served with the alcohol in tiny bottles, along with the juice in a cup with ice, and I wasn’t feeling inclined to drink much, so I saved a few of the bottles as souvenirs. Well, the sort of souvenir that one drinks later, at least. They’re still sitting in my bathroom, for some bizarre reason.

While at ATL, we also briefly ran into Drew’s cousin Leah and her daughter, who had flown in from CA and were headed to Indianapolis as well. Conveniently, our flights were to arrive at the same time (around 11:30 pm), so we didn’t end up inconveniencing anyone into having to make an extra drive to the airport (an hour away from our destination) to pick just us up. Also, It’s really interesting how airports are islands that are rather separate from the location they exist in. I think hub airports like Atlanta have a strong case of this – so many people from everywhere, using that location to get to somewhere else.

Anyhow, the weekend was rather sleepless. Funeral Saturday morning, and flight to catch on Sunday morning. We managed to get beds each night (thus making redundant the sleeping bag I’d brought with in anticipation of being on someone’s hotel floor), but had a really hard time sleeping. I started a new job Monday, but I wasn’t too worried about lacking sleep as we’d get back in Denver around 1:30 am due to the time zone jump, and I could nap as needed. But no, it was not to be.

We dutifully get to the Indianapolis airport on Sunday entirely too early, and waste time sitting around and looking unconscious. (Incidentally, IND is one of the prettier airports out there – lots of giant windows and a really neat glowing light display on your journey to the parking lot). Anyhow, we meander up to our gate and wait for the flight. I’m kind of excited about this flight – it’s on a smaller plane with only two seats on either side of the aisle, and it’s to Milwaukee, which is an airport I don’t think I’ve been in before. Anyhow, it gets delayed. And then, of course, it gets cancelled. And then it is handled in a very unfortunate manner.

I might have expected too much – IND is much smaller then ATL, with fewer options for reseating displaced passengers. It’s a Sunday, so there are fewer options there as well. And, we had the misfortune of already being bedraggled from a weekend of little sleep. Nonetheless, they seemed lacking in how to properly deal with this situation.

Someone tells us over the microphone that they are figuring out places on other flights to place us, and we’ll be dealt with soon. Soon turns into an hour, and some other group of people leave for some other destination at our gate. A line forms at the gate, which we’re not too keen to stand in as a.) the aforementioned tiredness and b.) we were never told to get lined up in the first place. Eventually, an Airtran employee works his way down the line, figuring out where people our going. All of the later flights to Denver are, quite unfortunately for us, booked. So, along with everyone else, we’re told to sit down while they work out solutions. A little while later, another employee calls up everyone going to Des Moines. So we sit as they work through that pile of people, waiting for Denver to be called. And we sit. Then, awhile later, I overhear one of the employees speaking to a few people near us about arrangements to Denver. Apparently they decided to scrap the “letting people know what was going on” method, and just talk to people in the order they shoved themselves in front of employees. My phone rang, and it was someone from Airtran calling about a flight arrangement. We could get to Denver today, which was good. However, we’d be waiting at IND for the next 6 hours to catch a flight…back to our favorite place ever, the Atlanta airport. Then on to Denver, to arrive there at the ever-refreshing hour of 11:30 pm!

We’re told over the phone to go to the ticket counter to get our tickets. The woman at the counter is confused when we mention our tickets, but eventually finds them, and hands them over, roughly brushing us aside. We had to wait until everyone else had cleared out before we could get back up there to ask about compensation for this.

The IND experience was far more disorganized then the ATL experience. However, at IND, we got free round-trip tickets, meaning we more or less profited from that weekend of flying, coming out of it with 1.5 round trip tickets for each of us. The wait at IND was long and tedious, though. No place much to wander at all in that tiny airport, and no energy to wander anyhow. The airport seats are not such that one could lie down on them, so sleep wasn’t too hot either. We did run into Drew’s grandmother Lung there, one the way back from the funeral as well, so we sat with her for a bit. No first class for our flights back, and we got in entirely later then I’d wanted, considering I had to be at work at 8 the next day.

Anyhow, this is my (entirely too long) writeup about our weekend adventures with Airtran.

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