The joys of a short ATL connection in thunderstorm season


The skies over Atlanta were angry this particular evening
The skies over Atlanta were angry this particular evening

Sometimes poor travel planning decisions are made. Like a 50 minute connection to a long-haul departure. In Atlanta. In peak summer thunderstorm season. It was not a good itinerary at all, but sometimes you have to play the hand you’re dealt. Needless to say, I did not fly as booked.

Thanks to Delta Gold Medallion status I assumed I’d be able to SDC the flight into Atlanta to something earlier. But the ticket was issued by KLM (the carrier paid for my travel expenses to visit HQ for some meetings) which breaks many of the “normal” features Delta Air Lines offers to its passengers. Still, I was determined to not miss the trip. With three earlier flights to Atlanta and an additional one to Amsterdam later in the evening I was pretty sure I’d make it. The real question was when and how.

Rebooked eventually on the earlier flight to Atlanta, but not without some effort
Rebooked eventually on the earlier flight to Atlanta, but not without some effort


Fix Number 1

I asked at the check-in counter about changing to the earlier flight. Similar to the phone call the evening prior I was told that they could not confirm me on a new itinerary. But Delta was willing to let me fly standby. And even though the next flight was scheduled to depart in 12 minutes it had taken a small delay so I took my chances and headed to the gate. Sure, seat 30B is worse than the 4D I was originally assigned. But a middle seat in coach that makes the connection is far better than a first class window that doesn’t.

This is not what you want to see when flying in to Atlanta from the south
This is not what you want to see when flying in to Atlanta from the south

The early flight took a 90 minute delay thanks to the storms near Atlanta but that still left plenty of time for my connection. I walked the tunnels under ATL and eventually made my way to the SkyClub in terminal E for a snack and cocktail prior to departure. Looking out the window I quickly became certain that there was no chance my onward flight would be on time. The skies were angry and lightning soon closed the ramp. Again.

Thanks, TripIt, but this time I'm way ahead of you
Thanks, TripIt, but this time I’m way ahead of you

The inbound aircraft for my flight diverted. It arrived eventually and soon moved to Terminal F so I followed it there, hoping for a departure only slightly delayed. I also checked in on my original flight to Atlanta that should’ve been in the air by now. It was not. Its delay was such that I definitely would’ve missed the original booking and even would miss the rescheduled departure. At least it might still catch the later KLM flight to Amsterdam.



Arriving at the Terminal F gate I was met by a large crowd and no indication that boarding would be starting any time soon. After a brief wait I learned that we were awaiting a cleaning crew for the plane because it was flooded. It seems that during one of the bands of thunderstorms the catering team left a rear door open and the rains came into the cabin heavily. The floor was soaked and it was unclear how long it would take to dry it out or even if the plane would be dispatched that night. This was also around the time that the gate for the KLM flight across the concourse opened up so I wandered across to chat with that agent.

Boarding pass reissued and I was ready to go to Amsterdam. Very delayed, but I made the flight
Boarding pass reissued and I was ready to go to Amsterdam. Very delayed, but I made the flight

Fix Number 2

Thanks to it being a KLM-issued ticket and a JV partner and the rolling delays and – I like to think – my charm the KLM agent was more than happy to rebook me on to that later flight. Yes, it was currently set to depart even later than the original Delta flight, but it was far more likely to depart at the posted time rather than continuing the rolling delays. That also meant I could go have dinner in the terminal without worrying that the delay would evaporate and I’d be left behind. That quickly became compelling for me.

On board the KLM flight to Amsterdam!
On board the KLM flight to Amsterdam!

Ultimately I made it to Amsterdam in time to meet up with my group and the KLM flight was just fine. My original segment from Jacksonville to Atlanta ended up sufficiently delayed that it missed the KLM connection and everything else that night. Had I not made the earlier change I would’ve missed the meetings completely. And the Delta flight did eventually get to Amsterdam, too, but the uncertainty of that timing made it far less desirable than switching to the more certain operation once the opportunity arose.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t book short connections in the afternoon during thunderstorm season, in Atlanta or really anywhere else.
  2. If your schedule is flexible enough always push to get closer to the next destination earlier where possible. Being in a hub gives way more flexibility for rebooking than being at an outstation.
  3. Elite status helped, but not as much as you’d hope for. Even a non-elite who is well informed and well prepared with options stands a decent chance of getting the help they need.
  4. When delays start rolling look for something more certain, even if it is later.
  5. Don’t freak out and don’t yell at anyone. Smile and ask nicely. It really does work wonders.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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