The vagaries of luck

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” ― Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men

“I’m a greater believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it” ― Thomas Jefferson

“The sun doesn’t shine up the same dog’s a– every day.” ― Old Southern aphorism, to which the common retort in the South is “Amen, brother!”

Luck, chance, Providence. Whatever, luck was with me most of last week when I flew Delta RDU to Milwaukee and back.  Things didn’t look good at first, but improved dramatically as my itinerary unfolded, culminating in the last leg kissing the tarmac at Raleigh before Delta’s big systems crash Sunday night. Looking back, all three quotes above were proven correct.  Luck was with me, and I am sure glad I don’t have to fly on Delta this week.

My journey began midweek with a 5:00 AM flight to Atlanta, requiring a strident and unwelcome 3:15 AM alarm.  I’d been working until almost midnight, so I was cranky as I drove to RDU and navigated the airport’s new highfalutin tiered parking—tiered pricing, that is, depending on the “convenience” of the area in the garage.  I was sorry to see Raleigh’s airport, once focused on its users, put on airs to justify raising daily parking prices again. Thinking about it, the bile rose in my throat as I found a spot and locked the vehicle.

RDU’s TSA Pre line at 3:55 AM was a breeze.  These days so many people are Pre members that the queue gets long during the day, and sometimes I duck under the rope to the regular line if it’s significantly shorter.  Last week, though, I was through security in less than five minutes.

The SkyClub at Raleigh opens at 4:15 AM, but with a five o’clock flight, what’s the point?  I skipped it and went right to the gate.

There, Lady Luck smiled on me the first time with a First Class upgrade.  Since my flying fell off a few years ago, I now have to depend on my Lifetime Platinum status for sharp end access on Delta. Even after logging over five million Delta SkyMiles, upgrades have become rare. Tired and sleepy, I particularly savored this one, and I relaxed.

After boarding and ordering a Bloody Mary as a soporific, I mused foolishly on how big the MD-88 seemed compared to the ever-present CRJs used on many flights these days.

And I am ashamed to admit that I became pettily irritated that no limes had been catered for my Bloody Mary.  The First Class FA told me “Delta doesn’t provide limes at ‘out stations’ like RDU” despite my insistence that Delta has provided limes at RDU since 1960. He claimed they never did and didn’t believe me.  Maybe it was his calling Raleigh/Durham an “out station” as if my home airport was an uneven mud field in Papua New Guinea that got under my skin.

Sipping my Bloody Mary and stupidly pouting that it was naked without a proper lime, I pondered another triviality; that is, how much I dislike the common practice now of most airlines, including Delta, of closing every window shade at gates “to save energy” (translation: saves the airline money from not having to cool the plane at gates).  Most passengers do not open the shades, and most FAs do not enforce the FAA rule that window shades must be open for takeoff and landing.  Thus more and more flights are made blind with most shades down. I have always enjoyed looking out the windows as we fly.  Even after all these years flying amazes me.  Why, I wondered, have people become so jaded?

I shouldn’t have dropped my guard so early.  Business flyers stay fully armored with shields up until deplaning at destination because, of course, with the airlines, anything can and does happen. I could see from my perch in seat 1C right into the cockpit.  Well before the boarding process was completed, I knew we had a problem. Maintenance guys were scurrying in and out, conferring in not-so-hushed tones with the captain.  He and the first officer soon announced some unknown electrical malfunction was going to delay us, but he didn’t yet know for how long.

Bad luck had followed good luck, and the vodka began to burn in my throat as I cataloged my options if I missed my connection in ATL.  A quick check on Kayak, FlightAware, FlightStats, and wasn’t promising.  Flights throughout the day to Milwaukee were full.  My silly, petty thoughts of a few minutes before were replaced with a mental menu of decisions to pursue to get me where I needed to be. I began to make calls to Delta’s Elite line and to punch the tiny virtual keyboard on my Samsung with my fat fingers.

So, I thought, as I worked the possibilities to beat the system, I got up at 3:17 AM for this stress?  Sitting in First Class on a flight that doesn’t make its connection is only marginally better than hunched down in the center seat of the last row of economy by the lav.

We pushed back from the gate an hour late, and by then, following Thomas Jefferson’s advice that one’s luck improves with hard work, I had backup itineraries in place if I missed my connection.  However, my luck turned again: I made my flight in Atlanta, if barely. I high-tailed it to the connecting gate, miraculously on the same B concourse, and there found another happy surprise: a second First Class upgrade.  My luck had improved once more.

Delta’s B Concourse in Atlanta

The connecting flight arrived Milwaukee on time, and the return flights MKE to Raleigh connected through Detroit with some touch-and-go issues, but no trip-shredding delays. Delta’s big systems crash, which soon after shut down the entire airline’s operations worldwide, gave Cormac McCarthy’s quote new resonance for me: “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” If I had been forced by the first delay to travel the following day instead, and to return a day later, I might have been among the hordes of Delta passengers stranded.

Regarding that disaster, from which the airline has yet (as of this writing) to fully recover, here’s a video Delta posted on its website of CEO Ed Bastian.  This was a calamitous disruption, yet Mr. Bastian’s statement struck me as ambivalent more than as conciliatory, certainly not the customer-focused message it might have been:

Hope your luck holds!

3 thoughts on “The vagaries of luck

  1. Will –

    As a long time flyer out of RDU (I remember when the gas station was located across from Terminal A), I too would have resented the flight attendant’s comments denigrating our home town airport.

    Like yourself, I’ve travelled 3+ million miles – almost all domestically – and RDU compares very favorably with every airport in the US. Our taxi times are short (cf with DFW, ATL, DCA, LGA or ORD), our security lines are better than most (this is not, however, an endorsement of the security system), parking is convenient (and until recently, cheap), and our direct routes – including international – are increasing in number.

    PLUS, unless I’m travelling during the peak of rush hour, I can make it from Clayton to RDU in 45 mins or less. Having been temporarily assigned to other cities (White Plains, NY; Salem, OR, McAllen, TX, Los Angeles, and others, a reliably consistent 45 minute ride isn’t too bad).

    If you see that Delta flight attendant again, please tell him/her to kiss my fanny.

    I thoroughly enjoy your articles and pictures (especially of the Connies back in the early sixties). I look forward to the opportunity to buying you a drink at the airport!


  2. I flew Delta last week from IAD to MSP (not to be confused with my trip earlier in the summer flying from IAD to MXP), and came back on Sunday 10 hours before the meltdown. Two CRJ900s. Carryon bag fit in the overhead. Checked bag wasn’t lost. I consider myself blessed.

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