Thursday, 21 July 2016, Lyon to Atlanta

Written 24 July 2016

The printout of our flight schedule supplied by our travel agent said clearly, "Check in three hours before your return flight." The flight was at 10:05 a.m., so we dutifully set our alarms for 5:30 a.m. to catch a 6:15 a.m. taxi to the airport. (For ocne, the desk clerk had not looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him to book the taxi the night before. He entered it carefully into a book they kept for the purpose, and whoever was on night duty called the taxi well in advance.)

Overkill, as it turned out. We had time to check in, go through security (even without TSA Precheck), eat a leisurely breakfast at Brioche Dorée (the only food available inside security), and still had an hour and a half to kill.

buttons butterflies Lyon's airport, named for favorite son Antoine de St. Exupéry, is working hard at improving the customer experience (though it doesn't seem to have occurred to them that putting all the food outside security is rather inconvenient). At each gate was one of these little opinion registers, with three buttons and the question "Satisfied with your Terminal 2 experience today?" to which you reply by pressing green (yes), yellow (meh), or red (no). In the last couple of days, we've come across boxes like this in restrooms (both at freeway gas stations and here in the airport). Good idea, so long as the responses actually go somewhere, as opposed to just being dummy buttons designed to make the customer feel involved.

To give those waiting something to look at, several life-size, fabric-upholstered artificial people were suspended from the ceiling. This one is surrounded by butterflies. The two below are playing with airplanes and an equally artificial macaw.

planes macaw The flight ran just a little late, but we still had time in Amsterdam for passport control and check in. The gate system there was strange. The big electronic board said gate D1, but the check-in agent said gate D7. We came to gate D1 first, and it turned out to be a sort of master gate governing gates D2–D7. We had to show our passports first at check in, then at gate D1, then twice at gate D7, and again when we boarded!

The trans-Atlantic leg wasn't bad at all. Better leg room than usual. I watched Dr.Strangelove (which I had never actually seen before; good movie!), Burnt (pretty good; about a chef), Inception (great special effects, as promised at the museum in Lyon), and three episodes of the first season of Veep (which I had also never seen). Dinner for me was so-so Thai chicken; I think David had the tortellini.

We actually got to Atlanta early, despite having to dodge thunderstorms, and pretty much breezed through passport control (with Global Access; best thing since TSA Precheck). The only holdup was that my bag was very late coming off the belt and was pretty wet when it finally showed up. It must have sat on the tarmac for a while in the rain.

We already had quite a long layover, so we killed some time, did some window shopping, had a nice dinner at One Flew South (kamikaze roll and duck sandwich for me, "dirty south" for David, both pictured in previous travel diaries). But then chaos descended. Just about every flight in the airport was delayed, the Delta help desks were mobbed, and the airport was crammed with people who couldn't go anywhere. Our 9:30 p.m. flight was delayed first an hour, then two, then three, while going through several gate changes. Finally, at 1:30 a.m., it was cancelled, at which point we had been up for more than 24 hours. At least they explained why—our flight had been promised a pilot, but that pilot was having trouble getting to Atlanta (the same thing was happening all over the airport, on multiple flights). In the end, the pilot "timed out"—the length of time a pilot can work per day is limited, and he reached the point where he wouldn't be able to fly us to Tallahassee before he ran out of work time. And he still hadn't reached Atlanta anyway. They did manage to reschedule us on an 8:48 a.m. flight on Friday.

Because all the delays were weather-related, Delta wasn't paying for hotel rooms or meals, but they did wheel out big carts loaded with soft drinks and snacks, which they handed out to all comers. We stood in line at the help center, hoping they could at least help us find a motel even if we had to pay for it, but by the time we got to the front (in fact, long before we got to the front), Delta had already filled every hotel and motel for miles around. So instead, they issued us each an amenity kit (a good one: toothbrush and toothpaste, folding hair brush/comb, deodorant, razor, tube of shaving cream, lip balm, several kinds of lotion) and a blanket and invited us to select a section of floor.

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