Delta Abandoned Me

This is the final chapter I did not want to write. I intended our journey to end without warrant for recording. I thought my post on persecution would be the finale. Yet there is one more nightmarish chapter. This is the story your hear from others but place in your “I hope that never happens to me” file. There is now one less entry in my file.

If you have ever flown Delta it will not take you long to concede a great deal of inconvenience. You will hurry up to get on a plane that barely gives enough room for a 5’5” person to extend a toe. You will sit on the runway. You will be rushed to make your next connection. You will visit Atlanta. You will pay money to do these things. Boring you with all of those details does not make for a story, but you should keep the mounting pressures of them in mind.

Our return trip started with a casual breakfast in Oradea. Goodbye brown eggs. The time for our last meal would mean all of us woke up at what would have been 11 p.m. Thursday here in Birmingham. This will become a significant detail. Breakfast was followed by our final ride in a Romanian Rocket, the Opel. Goodbye Cornelush. If you ever come to the states I will enter you at Indy. The three hour 200 km car ride is now in the books. Flight 1 has been accomplished/survived. Flight 2 is a 9.5 hour, 5,000 mile jaunt over the pond. It was a long, monotonous flight full of Hungarian kids. Hungarian children are sprinters even on an airplane. We arrive in New York at 5:00 p.m., in good time for our 6:50 flight to Atlanta. Here we go . . .

At 5:50 we remain on the tarmac. Why? Because the plane at our gate had a terrorist on board. Due to a problem with a piece of baggage we had landed, but we were trapped aboard the bird. The Hungarian children are safely buckled, but in desperate need to sprint. Every moment that ticks by makes the journey through baggage claim, passport check, customs, baggage recheck, and the dash to the farthest gate at JFK seem more strenuous, and it was. Given the fact that we lost a piece of our luggage (sorry Bro. Johnny, you can re-purchase your suitcase in Scottsboro next weekend) only served to increase tensions. While in customs you do as you are told. This totally separated our team. The Branams were the last. We were alone. Our flight leaves at 6:50, at 6:45 the Branams are still at baggage claim. Shannon and I had resolved the rest of the team was gone, we had missed our flight. Given the fact that every Delta jet goes to ATL we were not worried. The girls on the other hand were convinced we had just become New Yorkers. We were doomed to spend the rest of our life living at JFK. There were many tears. Kiley realized a Romanian doll she had bought was in the lost bag. There were more tears. Please do not forget we had just woken them up from dead sleep number one, there would be four awakenings in all, and were dragging them through JFK. It was like dragging very emotional zombies.

Lucky for us, when you travel Delta there will be delays. This delay worked to our benefit, we made our flight. Yet with it being late this meant we would be in trouble in the ATL. Our next flight was to leave at 10:50. We arrived at 9:50. Perfect. Yet, perfect is not the way I would describe our landing. Apparently we landed during the second coming of Hurricane Katrina. Massive gusts of wind at an airport mean you will probably land on your head. We almost did. We came in sideways and hit the ground hard after a gust of wind toyed with us as if the plane were a feather. But we survived; and again we had to wait on the tarmac. The gate was right there, but they would not let us off of the plane that almost killed us in the storm, during the storm. Hmmm. So for a 10:50 flight we finally arrived, post Katrina landing, at our gate at 10:48 p.m. This marks two minutes shy of 24 that we have been trying to get home. Luckily, again, when you fly Delta there will be delays. Sometimes those delays extend from 10:50 to 12:45, and then to 1:10, and then to 1:30 a.m.

We had been awake now 26 hours and we were now 29 minutes from home. We taxied in the wee hours of the morning onto the runway, where we sat from 1:30 until 2:00 a.m. It was our turn to take off. I could see the runway, a simple turn and we were gone. We turned, passed the runway and then the announcement. “Passengers, you may be wondering why we are returning to the gate. . .” Now at this point that was an understatement, but I assumed it would be something uniquely Delta, so here we go. We returned to the gate because, “our first officer is over time and the tower has called us back. Your flight is cancelled.”

So after my daughters have experienced homelessness in the ATL airport, sleeping on a bench, after we have been chased, inspected, lost, delayed, delayed, and delayed we have now become victims of “someone at Delta cannot perform 2nd grade math.” Someone cannot figure out that this pilot has 1 hour to fly, there will be 45 minutes of tarmac, and a 1/2 hour flight to Birmingham. Do the math, there is not much left of an hour after a 45 minute and a 30 minute chunk of it are taken away.

So where does all of this leave a family with two zombie girls? It basically leaves you with the janitorial crew at ATL handling either your trip home or your accommodations on the nearest bench. The best way I can describe it is that we were abandoned. Delta had a perfect way to handle their customers. They created a line for the only 600 people left at the airport and placed one representative behind the counter to handle their situation. Handle their situation means, “We are sorry for your inconvenience, we have no more hotel vouchers, your luggage will arrive at your destination.” The later part of that statement may be slightly misleading. As of this moment we have recovered one of the pieces of luggage we lost, the only problem is that now we are missing two others. According to the Delta rep. one of the pieces is in Fort Walton Beach, FL. The other is nowhere to be found, it does not exist on the computer. She said when that happens it usually means it is still in Atlanta.

AHA! Now we know the trick. Send people and luggage to Atlanta and they vanish. Magically people no longer become a customer service issue, ethics, humanity, any sort of compassion vanishes. Cancel flights in Atlanta and vanish the staff that should be there to handle the ensuing chaos. Atlanta is the new Bermuda Triangle. It is Area 51 for luggage. I understand that Delta pilots must obey the law, namely the FAA, but to leave people with no options is horrible customer service.

At 3:00 a.m. we found a van; a miracle in itself. At 6:30 a.m. we arrived safely home. According to Delta the eleven of us who went to Romania should still be sitting in the ATL awaiting our Sunday afternoon flight. I will not even mention, or maybe I will, that once we catch our Sunday afternoon, 29 minute flight after waiting two days for it, only 9 members of our group will have seats; the other two will just have to wait for another flight. Our journey home began at 11:00 p.m. on Thursday and ended at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, just shy of 36 hours. Because of the distance travelled we saw only one nightfall. The other rotation of the planet that was experienced by the rest of the world, we missed.

As tired as we were the ride home in a common van gave us the chance to talk about the trip. God has done something grand in all of us. He wanted us to talk about it, to share our story. I would have liked to share my story, say, around 11 instead of 4, either way it is still the same story. God is good and His gospel is amazing. The nations praise His name.


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