Blown Away – Acting Suspiciously At Atlanta

And then it was more than a bit bumpy as the plane shuddered into the cross winds but as soon as we were aloft the pilot almost immediately turned the aircraft into the wind, we bounced against the clouds for a couple of minutes but then … it was an ordinary flight.  About to and a half hours flying over Cuba and the Gulf of Mexico before coming down to land at the hubbub of Atlanta’s enormous airport.  I always like coming into the big American airports where you can glance around and see another plane landing and maybe a couple taking off all at different angles.  But Atlanta is a nightmare to get around ; it does not matter which terminal block you come into you are all funnelled down to one huge immigration centre.  I had a couple of hours before the overnight to London, but still wanted to get through all the airport hassle, and wanted to ensure when I got to the BA check in desk that I was actually booked on this flight back home that night.  That was OK but this strange trip (four days in Cayman islands in total) had one final fling at me.  Because I was a late booking  I was seen as a problem for the Department of Homeland Security.  Apparently I was profiled along with terrorists who make late arrangements to try and hide their paper (or these days e-paper) trail.  A sticker was put on my boarding pass which in theory meant I was to be taken aside at the airport security gates for a fuller search.  But the queues of travellers at the security check were long and the officials wanted to process us quickly, so despite me flashing the boarding pass with the special sticker at them they waived me through.  I went and sat down at the gate way down the end of the terminal; already a crowd had formed and boarding was due to start in a few moments.  But I was then called to the desk; apparently Homeland Security had picked up that I had not been properly checked.  I asked if I needed to go all the way back to the gate (a long way in Atlanta), but they said no; a couple of staff were coming down and I would be taken to a “quiet area” to be discreetly searched.

Imagine the reaction of the other passengers when they saw me being escorted to one side of the gate by two enormous guys in full dark blue body armour; their guns slung round their waists.  The quiet area turned out to be at the top of the ramp to the plane.  Yes it was quiet when we arrived but as they brusquely (but not unkindly) dealt with me, boarding started and a steady trail of passengers filed by me and saw my hands against the wall being frisked, my shoes off, then hands on head, pockets emptied, one leg up, then the other.

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Out of danger?  We land at Atlanta

Of course nothing was found and after all the curt statements by the staff while they frisked one of the guys said “Have a nice flight, sir” and I was allowed to join the queue and board.  I did get a few nervous looks from the people seated around me that night as we headed north over the eastern seaboard and back over the Atlantic to London.

Blown Away – One sensible route

There were one or two others, already booked out on the handful of flights left to leave that morning.  As I was heading back I wanted to speak to reception.  They were still being quite forceful about getting rid of me – they did not want the responsibility of looking after me. The desk to assist with flight changes was still functioning and I talked to this guy for a while.  I would have been happy to go as long as I could carry on immediately.  Trouble was the BA option from Cayman would not leave at the earliest for four more days anyway.  If I took any of the other planes leaving, I could still end up being stranded in the wrong place for days on end waiting for a seat back to the UK.  To add to the complication,  I was due back on another job in Mauritius in less than a week’s time.

In the end there was a chance – Delta were flying out in the next couple of hours with a route that  would get me to Atlanta with a couple of hours to make the connection to the BA flight.  But he could only help me to book the Delta flight.  I had to go online and look at changing the BA flight.  If there was a problem on either leg, I would end up with an expensive mistake.  As it was I had to shell out over 400 pounds to get on the Delta flight, on top of what had already been quite an expensive flight to Cayman.  But it would get me home.  The deal was done; but I had to get to the airport immediately as they were already checking people in.  I asked the hotel to prepare my bill then ran to my room, piled my belongings in the case and rushed back.  While I was paying off the bill, someone was grabbing me a taxi, and then I was away.