The idea was a simple one – go to Paris on vacation. We’d burn some air miles, rent an apartment on AirBNB and live like Parisians for a week. You know - eating baguettes, drinking wine, avoiding work.
The execution of said plan was more difficult. Our oldest son Pierce was already in London, having accepted a job there. My wife, Grainne, middle son Garrett and I were booked on a Delta flight out of Atlanta to use those air miles. And the youngest son, Finn, was also flying from Atlanta but on United (with a connecting flight in DC) because it was $500 cheaper.
Here’s the deal. We had to check in at separate terminals. Finn needed to be at his gate at the domestic terminal by 2 p.m. The rest of us needed to be at our gate in the international terminal by 2:30 p.m.
I have a friend who has a wonderful philosophy about travel: “You either have a good time or a good story.” Well let’s just say that I’ve heard plenty of good stories about TSA security but never any about good times…
12:30 p.m. – Atlanta traffic defeated! We arrive at airport parking lot on time. With the “Mission Impossible” theme tune playing in my head, we split up. Grainne and Garrett take a shuttle bus to the international terminal. Finn and I head to the domestic terminal. All I have to do is get him checked in, drop him at his gate, hop on the “plane train” and meet up with Grainne and Garrett at the international terminal. Simple, right? Did I mention the TSA and airline industry?
1:00 p.m. - Finn and I arrive at Atlanta’s sprawling airport already worrying about reports of long security lines. Finn, the most loquacious of all of our children, was almost silent and visibly nervous about making his flight on time. Even though he’s 18 and super-bright, he had never traveled to Europe by himself. Finn’s not TSA pre-check, so we get in the line. It’s long, but at least it’s moving at a nice pace.
1:20 p.m. – Phone buzzes. Text from wife reads: “Don’t meet us at the gate. Need you to come to Delta check-in desk because they want to charge us for checking luggage.” The hair stands up on the back of my neck. This doesn’t feel good. But I’m not too worried because 1) I have some status on Delta and 2) Grainne, Garrett and I are all TSA pre-check. Bags? Who’s worried about bags? We should have bags of time.
1:30 p.m. – Made it through security. Dropped Finn off in time to get food before his flight. I hop on the plane-train for Atlanta’s international F-terminal.
1:45 p.m. – Arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson International Terminal. At the risk of losing my man-card, I actually ask two security guards for help on leaving the secure area. One of them looks at me hard and says “Are you sure you want to do that? You’ll have to go through security again.” “It’s no problem,” I say with the cocky self-assured manner of a seasoned traveler. “I’m TSA pre-check!” As I’m walking away, I ignore the two security guards giving each other a knowing look.
1:50 p.m. – Exit secure area, arrive at Delta check-in. Delta agent cheerfully greets me, checks my two suitcases for no extra charge and sends us on our way to TSA security screening. We follow the signs for TSA pre-check where a female airport employee smiles broadly and delivers a terrifying message with sweet Southern accent: “Hey y’all! We’re not running TSA pre-check today, so would y’all mind gettin’ in the regular line over there?” Now I was born and raised in the South. I know this trick because the “regular” line looks like it might reach downtown Atlanta. But there’s no choice, so we get in line. We find ourselves in this terrible time warp where the clock seems to move at twice it usual pace while the pace of security line slows to a grind. Tensions rise. Nobody has had lunch. Little beads of sweat form on my upper lip. 10 minutes pass. 20 minutes. We’re getting closer and closer to 2:30 and not much closer to that X-Ray machine.
2:15 p.m. - We’re finally through! We make a beeline for the Delta information desk to double-check our gate. The ever-polite Delta agent smiles at us: “You’re at Gate E-16 in the old terminal.”
“You mean, the building that I just came from an hour ago,” I say flatly.
“What do you mean,” she asks?
“No time to explain,” I yell over my shoulder as we run through the airport like the McCallister family headed to Paris for Christmas without Kevin. (That’s a Home Alone reference, just in case you’re wondering.)
OK, OK. I’m already at 800 words, so I’ll cut to the chase. We made it to Paris. Finn had some delays, but no big deal. Pierce arrived later in the evening on the train from London. We even met up with one of Pierce’s college friends for dinner and a walk around this beautiful city which never looks better than it does at night.
We ate baguettes. We drank wine. We avoided work. And we embraced the beginning of our vacation.