December 28, 2021

Dateline: Hattiesburg, Mississippi

It has been a very strange 36 hours, feeling something akin to some of my work shifts during residency – accomplished long before the rules on resident work hours went into effect. I got up yesterday morning in Seattle, had breakfast with my father, and then took the light rail in to SeaTac airport. I had heard about cancellations and delays but I figured I would be fairly safe from them as I was flying a Delta flight to Atlanta and, as that is where most of their crews are based, they would likely prioritize ATL bound flights. I added an extra hour to the usual two hours prior to flight time I allow for clearing security and possible other unforeseen issues. The light rail, which stops four blocks from my father’s place, is a direct shot into the airport and takes roughly an hour so I got a 10 am train so as to arrive at the airport at 11 am for my 2 pm flight.

On arrival, the Departure hall was a zoo. Lines snaking everywhere with little rhyme or reason and obviously far too few ticketing agents and baggage handlers for the volume of passengers travelling. Omicron case quarantines combined with the snow and ice in the area had led to a perfect storm. I did finally locate the correct line, checked my bag, cleared security and settled down to kill 90 minutes or so at the gate. About 1 pm, the ‘flight delayed’ notifications began to come in. We got 7 of them between 1 and 5:30 when the flight finally boarded. Then we sat at the gate for nearly two hours as they searched for a new copilot. The constant delays had led to the assigned copilot timing out from having too many on duty hours. They did find one, but he was in the air when located so it took a while for his previous flight to land, for him to make his way to our plane, and then to do all the necessary checks. We did finally take to the skies around 7:30 or so, five and a half hours late, arriving at ATL at 2:30 AM. I have no idea how long I was wedged in my Comfort + (Ha!) seat but it was long enough to watch Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall back to back. There were no flights to Birmingham at that ridiculous hour so I rebooked for the first available flight in the morning at 8:30. Five and a half hours was not enough time to leave the airport, get to a hotel, get some sleep, and get back, so the floor of the D terminal it was for some restless sleep. It’s not my first time sleeping on an airport floor and I doubt it will be my last. Fortunately, it only seems to happen about once a decade or so, so I can live with it.

The morning flight to Birmingham was without incident, the bag made the transfer, and I arrived in Birmingham at breakfast time, somewhat bleary eyed and disheveled but in one piece. First stop was Bogue’s diner for a large greasy breakfast as I had not had a meal in 24 hours, domestic air travel no longer believing in feeding the passengers, even when they’re trapped on the plane for three or four extra hours. One thing I will say, despite all the issues involved, I did not see one single instance of bad behavior or abuse of an airline employee by a frazzled passenger.

I got home, took a nap, did a few domestic chores, repacked the luggage, and around 5 pm headed off for part 2 of my winter vacation. I had booked the time off for London so, if it wasn’t happening, I was still going to do something so my friend David and I who were going to be roommates in London are instead going to be roommates in New Orleans. Chosen because the weather report suggests unseasonably warm weather this week meaning we can eat and drink out of doors and there are lots of interesting things to do which don’t require hanging out in a crowd on Bourbon street and because he has never been.

The rapid rise in omicron in the US (here’s looking at you Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster) and the extreme transmissibility of the virus suggests two alternatives. One, complete isolation until the wave is passed (not possible for me given my job and obligations) or two, live life while vaccinated, boosted, and not being stupid and that’s the course I have chosen. I may get the virus in all of this wandering through airports and such but I’ve been pretty good at avoiding it so far. I wash and sanitize my hands, wear my mask indoors, and took every vaccination as soon as it became available and I’m trusting in that.

As I’m still slightly bleary eyed, I decided the wisest course was to not do the whole BHM to NOLA drive in one fell swoop which is why I’m passing the evening in one of Hattiesburg’s finer interstate exit hotels. I’ll pick up David tomorrow at the NOLA airport (he’s flying in from NYC) and then we’ll have some fun. I am looking forward to a hurricane or two on the patio at Pat O’Brien’s. I am, of course, watching the Covid numbers with some alarm (nationally, they are climbing back to where they were a year ago prior to the vaccine being widely available) but I’m thinking absolute case numbers may be the wrong metric. A significant number of infections in the vaccinated are minor. I think we need to concentrate on the number of serious illness cases and how and where they cluster and make decisions based on that data. They’re not the easiest numbers to find so I’m hoping one of the epidemiology blogs I read will give me some hard numbers that I can chase down and determine what they mean for practical purposes.

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