On Sunday I was in a plane at the gate waiting to take off from South Bend, Ind., (where I had attended a Notre Dame graduation) to fly to Atlanta where I would be attending a city magazine convention. Then came the pilot's announcement: "I have some bad news,” he said. Now no one likes bad news at any time, especially from a pilot about to take off.
We were told we would have to gather our luggage and head back to the waiting area. The reason: President Barack Obama was in Atlanta so the airport was temporarily closed. Oh, and there were thunderstorms, too. Thus was my first glimpse at what was a harrowing day for air travelers. My flight would leave an hour later, but the flight for someone else I knew was canceled and she was told she would have to wait until the next evening. (Ultimately she got a ride to Chicago the next morning from where she took a flight from Midway to Atlanta.) Here at the conference there were many stories of flight delays. The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the nation and any blip in the schedule can have global travel implications. A delayed European flight could cause missed connections on the other side.
I am not blaming Obama. (Remember the time when the New Orleans airport remained closed while Bill Clinton got a haircut inside Air Force One? Clinton, who was new to the presidency at the time, later apologized and said he didn't know what type of disruption he created.) What I experienced made me realize just how severe the disruption can be. It not only affects the discomfort of the little guy crammed into the economy section, but also impacts the world's commerce, which depends on reliable flight service.
So I wonder if the presidential visit procedures could be reexamined. Maybe it is not necessary to close airports for so long when Air Force One is in town, or maybe the president should land at military bases when possible. They are probably more secure anyway.
By now, the president's quick visit to Atlanta to make a graduation speech is old news. Meanwhile there is some American tourist in Europe trying to catch up with the tour that his late arrival caused him to miss. He might not ever know whose fault it was. He might be surprised to find out.