If you live anywhere in the South, you’ve likely heard the old joke that says “whenever someone dies, they don’t go to heaven (or that other place), without connecting in Atlanta!”
Having spent 14 years living in various southern cities and connected through Atlanta more times than I care to remember, there’s no doubt the scene at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL) the other weekend is one that won’t soon be forgotten.
Recently, I needed to take a number of flights for family reasons, and in the current coronavirus climate, I wasn’t sure what to expect. My adventure took me through one Delta mega-hub (Atlanta ATL) to another (Minneapolis MSP), where typically the flights would be full. However, this time they were only about 25 percent occupied. The ATL to MSP flight, usually an A321 or 757, had been replaced by a smaller 737-800.
Atlanta currently has multiple concourses closed with fully sheetrocked walls and security doors to allow only airport and airline staff to enter. The “C” and “E” terminals were just empty shells. TV screens packed with flight info now had just a couple active monitors.
The food court in the E terminal had just one restaurant open: McDonald’s. They were so happy to see anyone that they gave me 10% off my McDouble — that 20 cents will go far someday, I just know it! You know it’s bad when even airport concessions start discounting prices.
The eerie scene continued in Minneapolis, where they’ve also closed concourses and many amenities. The entire court which boasts shops and eating places was closed during my 7:30 a.m. Sunday departure. Not one person in the whole area, something I’ve never witnessed flying in or out of the city I grew up in.
Having grown up in an airline hub city and worked for Boeing and the Seattle-International Airport in the past, I have a love for aviation, like I am guessing you as well (or why else would you be on this website?). Seeing this change was painful.
Chances are air travel will never be the same, even after the coronavirus becomes a thing of the past. Free adult beverages in first and economy comfort classes, heated meals and airport lounges, that boasted buffets are a thing of a thing of the past… at least for the time being. Airlines can’t keep flying planes at a loss, so that dreaded middle seat has already started to come back, with passengers not so happy.
After seeing the ghost towns of ATL and MSP, perhaps all the complaining we did about packed airports and planes was unwarranted. We were all spoiled by a system that provides the quickest and safest mode of transportation to connect our world.
Thank you to all the airline and airport personnel who are still on the job, doing their part to keep the world moving – even if it feels like we’re all stuck in place. I am hopeful for a day when things return to how they used to be — even if that might be a while.