Trip Report, Part 1

I got back home from visiting Bill late on Friday night. Because there are no nonstop flights between the Bay Area and the Florida panhandle, I had to have a layover along the way.

I flew on Delta Airlines for the first time. They have an interesting boarding process. They board first class passengers first, of course. But with cattle class, AKA coach (or what the airlines euphemistically refer to as "the main cabin"), they don't use the typical process of boarding from back to front. Instead, they assign passengers into "zones", numbered 1 through 6 or 9 depending on the size of the airplane. I assume that the zone you're given depends on how early or late you check in for the flight.

Anyway, as far as I could tell each zone had seats scattered throughout the airplane. It seems random, but I'm guessing there's a method to the madness, because the boarding process is fairly quick once you get through the crush of passengers backing up at the gate. All passengers get to board in a fairly orderly fashion, especially compared to the typical chaos one sees on United Airlines flights (back to front boarding) or Southwest Airlines (free-for-all, no assigned seating).

Inside the plane, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the overhead bins were quite large. They were big enough to hold all but the largest rollaboard suitcases. Because of this - or perhaps because the airlines have gotten strict about limiting the number of carryons allowed each passenger - there was no competition for luggage space. Even though it was a full flight. Coolness.

It goes without saying that they did not serve food in flight. Beverage service only (plus a bag of peanuts) in coach. No big deal. It was a redeye anyway and all I wanted to do was sleep. I got a middle seat, which pissed me off, but I invoked the unofficial armrest rule (i.e. the person who has the middle seat gets both middle armrests) so I was fairly comfortable. Unfortunately I couldn't get any sleep because there was a screaming baby two rows behind me.

I swear, I really, really, REALLY hate noisy babies on airplanes! And this baby was something else! Screaming and crying at the top of its lungs the entire flight! All 2,000 miles from San Jose to Atlanta! The icing on the cake? The friggin' mother was out cold, fast asleep, while her noisemachine made the entire plane miserable. Argh! I was so happy when we finally landed.

But then, we couldn't deplane. Apparently the jetway was malfunctioning and would not line up properly with the airplane's door! It kept stopping two feet below the plane's floor level. It took Delta's ground personnel over 15 minutes to get the damned thing working.

I was curious about Atlanta Hartsfield, because it is one of the two busiest airports in North America (Chicago O'Hare is the other), and I was looking forward to seeing it for the first time. Well, boo. ATL has got to be the most depressing major airport I have ever seen.

It's not crumbling or decaying. It's not gaudy. It's not tacky. It's just ugly. Ultra-long concourses in drab colors, with a vague atmosphere of neglect. Lit by just-a-bit-too-dim ugly fluorescent lighting, everything is an ugly shade of beige or brown. Kind of like a depressing spinster aunt's house that hasn't been remodeled since the last ice age. Nothing interesting to see. Just gate after boring gate, punctuated by boring food courts that have nothing but chain restaurants and stupid-looking bars. And amidst all this, billions of people staring blankly into space or rushing from one gate to the next. There's no there there. THIS is the famous Atlanta Hartsfield? Ugh. Vomit.

On the upside, the people mover trains came every 60 seconds, so getting from one concourse to the next was no problem.

On the way back to San Jose, my gate was in Concourse E, which was nicer than Concourses A, B, and C. I think it's because Concourse E was where gates for international flights were. The shops were more interesting, the food court was bigger, and the lighting infinitely better.

Knowing that there wouldn't be any food served in flight, I decided to go to the food court before boarding. I surveyed the choices - Panda Express pseudo-chinese, Arby's, McDonald's, something else, something else, and a pizza joint called Villa something - and decided to go to Villa. I got a large Coke and a slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza.

Lemme tell ya, that was the most disgusting pizza I've ever had in my life. EVER. The crust was dry, with the consistency of a moist piece of dishwashing foam. The cheese was completely rubbery and totally devoid of any flavor other than saltiness. The tomato sauce tasted like spoiled ketchup. And the pepperoni and sausage tasted like colored soy pseudo-meat soaked in salt and liquid smoke. It was so bad that it made me wish I had a cheeseburger from McDonald's instead. Yep, THAT bad. Anybody who knows me will know that I hate McDonald's cheeseburgers with a passion. I threw the pizza away after three bites and promptly texted Bill to complain. LOL.

Back in San Jose, we deplaned quickly. Probably because Terminal C out here uses stairs instead of jetways for most gates. Unfortunately the Mickey Mouse Delta crew took a full 30 minutes to start spitting the luggage out to the carousels. Ugh. And people wonder why the legacy airlines are in big trouble here. Let's see...

* Food service is either nonexistent or horrible
* Service in general sucks
* The planes are old and dirty
* They insist on keeping their byzantine, incomprehensible pricing models
* Even in the premium cabins the service and amenities are a joke
* Everyone is forced to transit through ugly airport hubs

Ugh. Ok, enough ranting. Tune in for Part 2...