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Ready When You Are?

Getting to Iceland last month (August 2007) was no problem. My early-morning Delta flight from Florence to Atlanta arrived on time. After a subway ride to the terminal, a ride up the escalator and a long walk to the gate, I had an hour to eat a croissant with a cup of coffee. My flight from Atlanta to Boston was uneventful.

Lugging my non-wheeled carry-on bag down another long terminal in Boston, I spotted a luggage shop. In thirty seconds I made a wise decision and bought a wheeled carry-on bag. With apologies to the clerk, I plopped both bags down on his counter and proceeded to stuff my old bag into the bottom of the new one, topping it with other belongings. I strolled over to Fuddrucker's for a burger and coke.

Next I went looking for the right terminal for my next flight, which turned out to be several miles away - "You need bus number eleven," said the helpful airport guy. There was no bus eleven in sight. "Bus eighty-eight will get you there," I was told by another helpful guy, and he was right, finally arriving at the multi-story international terminal building after a series of stops and starts along the way.

My achy legs and I took the elevator, then followed the signs down a mostly empty hallway. After a right-angle turn, I spied a coffee shop conveniently located outside the Iceland Air terminal. Dessert! Cheese danish, coffee and murder mystery in hand, I settled down to figure out who-done-it until time to check in at Iceland Air. Another x-ray screening - I was grateful I had the good sense to wear loafers. Then Passport Control. "I don't bite," I heard the clerk tell a nervous looking girl in the next line.

I must have been the only non-Icelander on board. The lady in the window seat stuck on a pair of earphones, read an Icelandic newspaper and never spoke to me the next five hours. The tall and lovely Icelandic flight attendants did speak English, but their words to me were few. "Drink?" "Coffee?" I inquired. "Coffee after the meal." That was my last conversation until we landed.

Dinner was Swedish meatballs on a bed of rice and veggies, a salad, dinner roll, and the largest chocolate-chip brownie I'd ever seen. But the meatballs weren't done and the nearly raw rice was crunchy. I made do with the dinner roll, adding a pack of peanuts left over from the morning. Coffee was indeed served after dinner, fresh and hot. That and the brownie almost made up for everything else. I watched Mission Impossible, listened to jazz and read my book.

We arrived in Iceland at 11:30 PM. Pulling my new bag with its handy wheels, I maneuvered down the escalator, shucked off my shoes for the x-ray, lined up for Passport Control, and found the baggage carousel. Oh, oh. Navy blue suitcases abounded. Mine had no identifying marks, no scuffs, no stickers, no tiny gnomes or fake fur. I saw some strange stuff stuck onto suitcases and duffel bags, and now I know why. So you can spots yours! I watched the declining numbers go round and round and finally figured out which of the few left was mine. Now I could hunt for my driver. Waving a Logos II flag, he was easy to find. It had been a long, thirteen-hour trip from Florence to Reykjavik.

When it was time to return home I expected an uneventful reverse trip. Silly me. At JFK we had to re-claim and re-check our luggage. That's when I learned Iceland Air had checked my bags to Atlanta but not on to Florence. Not to worry, they said at Delta, we'll fix it. I worried anyway.

I had several hours to wait so I sought a sit-down restaurant. I watched the news on an overhead TV while munching my sandwich, then browsed in the terminal shops as I headed to the gate. Settling down again with my book, I noticed that problem after problem kept cropping up for Delta travelers. A flight was delayed, delayed again, then canceled - engine trouble. I'd cancel too. For another flight the terminal was changed at the last minute. "Go down the escalator and take the train, you have fifteen minutes, you'll make it." Yeah, right.

We departed New York one and a half hours late. The pilot claimed it was because we had "too much luggage, folks." A seatmate and I knew different - we had watched while they loaded some other plane's suitcases on our plane, then took them back off and went to find our stuff. We wondered if our bags were now en route to LA or Chicago. Many of us missed our connections in Atlanta. To my dismay I learned the next flight to Florence wasn't until the next day, I'd have to stay overnight. After all that, only one bag arrived home with me, the other one was five days late.

Well, slogans to the contrary, I know several plane-loads of people who will agree with me: Delta's NOT ready when you are.

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