Always Late at Hartsfield-Jackson

by Just Juan

“Optimism is believing this flight will leave on time, but reality is in the corner laughing at me like ‘dude, you know damn well you ain’t never ever ever ever leaving out of the ATL airport on time’.” – AnJuan Thomas

I wrote that on Facebook a little over 3 years ago…back on November 14, 2016. I was at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport waiting for a flight back to Baltimore. That flight ended up being 57 minutes late. Today, I made the trip from my home in Montgomery County, Maryland to Fort McClelland, Alabama to attend the dedication ceremony of an assembly hall being named after a former colleague at USACE who passed away. I decided to take a Southwest flight from Baltimore to Atlanta and then just drive over to the Anniston, Alabama area. That part went clean. What didn’t go clean was the return. For the return, I was to take a Spirit flight—my first one ever and at a cost of only $14—at 7pm as the Southwest flights would’ve got me back too late. A funny thing happened: I got a notification from Spirit at 5:34am telling me that my flight was 3 hours late. I kid you not. I really got a notice that the flight was 3 hours late a whole 13 ½ hours before the flight. What the hell kind of s*** is that? How do you know you’ll be that late that far out? I avoided a crisis by virtue of the ceremony at Fort McClelland finishing earlier than expected and able to get on a late afternoon Delta flight. Still, when I tell you that the Atlanta airport is a cesspool, I mean it. The explanation that I got from Spirit is that whoever controls gate assignments bumped Spirit Flight 556 off their scheduled time slot to accommodate another flight and didn’t find another gate for them, so it caused a delay.

This is actually par for the course when I’ve dealt with Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. To date, I’ve taken 36 flights out of that airport, and I’ve only departed on time once—the May 18, 2018 flight to Baltimore—for an atrocious 2.7% on-time departure rate. It is, by far, the lowest of any airport I’ve ever taken at least 3 flights out of. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the airport’s IATA code ATL stands for Always Taking-Off Late. In my flight history out of that airport, my average delay is 37 minutes, 28 seconds. The expectation of delays at ATL is so woven into my experience that I don’t even adhere to Juan Travel Rule 6A, which calls for me to arrive at airports 2 hours before scheduled domestic flights. I make my way to the airport, usually about 50 minutes ahead of time, only to find out 20 minutes later that the flight is delayed. It always happens 30 minutes before takeoff…after I’ve already gotten past TSA.

I’m not sure what the cause of the chronic delays is, but my best guess would be the culture of the airport. I have a friend who works facility management there, and I’ve only known him to be a consummate professional, but the Atlanta airport is home to employees that have the worst work ethic in the history of mankind. They are often rude, rambunctious, uncaring, and they operate on a timeline that is several standard deviations below even CP time. A case in point would be the May 14, 2018 flight I took to Atlanta from Baltimore. The flight was delayed 2 hours because of an intense thunderstorm in the Washington, DC area that cut off all landings and takeoffs in the area. I ended up landing in Atlanta at 1:05am on May 15th, just 5 minutes after the Plane Train closed. So I had to walk from Terminal D to baggage claim. After a 40-minute walk, one would think that their bag would be waiting on a still baggage claim conveyor belt. Nope, not at ATL. At 1:45am, after having walked past C, B, A, and T terminals to make it to baggage claim in the Domestic Terminal, I still had to wait 17 more minutes for my bag…a whole 57 minutes after the plane landed. There was also the time that an airport worker didn’t know how to weigh the plane and caused a delay on the flight to Toronto. Actually, now that I think about it, that actually happened twice.

It just never stops with that airport. I’m damn sick and tired of watching minutes of my life wasted by the incompetence of the ATL airport. That last sentence should be read in Vince McMahon’s voice like that time he tired of Stone Cold Steve Austin as the WWF Champion.

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