Not long ago, I had the privilege of taking two flights on a private jet. Because of the graciousness and generosity of an individual, I found out what it was like not to go through the hassles of TSA search and seizure, seats with no padding, crowds of cranky people, and tired ticket agents. I have to say, while we were flying along at 537 miles per hour at 43,000 feet, I thought of Will Smith in the movie Independence Day—”I’ve got to get me one of these.”
The difference is obvious. I’ve mentioned a few, but there are other things. It’s less stressful. It’s easier to travel. It’s A+ customer service. We even had fresh sandwiches on the private plane when we were boarding, and the rental car pulled right up to the door when we landed. My friend Ken Jenkins was with me on one of these flights. We both looked at each other and grinned, like kids who got everything they wanted for Christmas.
But then there’s normal travel. I do a good deal of traveling, and the private jet is not normal for me. It’s only happened one other time. It’s probably good that it is so rare, or I might get used to it. I know there are pastors who have access to their members’ planes, but I’m not one of them. I normally fly from gate 1, and I’m first for takeoff if DELTA is ready when I am.
I’ve just returned from a travel day (make that two days) that reminded me of Steve Martin and John Candy in “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” I arrived at the Norfolk airport at 10:00am on the day I was to return home. At 6:01pm I boarded my plane to Albany. Good news: I was bumped to first class. Bad news: the guy sitting next to me had breath that would knock a dog off a gut truck.
When I landed in Atlanta, I had 45 minutes to make my connection and get home. I had already missed the earlier connection, and I knew it was the last flight into Albany. So, I ran like a marathon runner, trying to make it to the gate.
Upon my arrival at what I hoped to be my passage home, I discovered the plane was going to be late. A member of Sherwood was also on that flight, so we sat and talked…and talked and talked and talked. Well, you get the point.
We commiserated about how we’d been in that situation before, only to have the flight cancelled at 11:00pm. We talked about renting a car and just driving home. Our problem was there was no crew to fly the plane. While we watched at least a dozen DELTA pilots walk by our gate, we couldn’t get a pilot. In fact, the member and I volunteered to fly the plane if they would just let us get home.
Finally, we boarded the plane and left the gate around 11:20 p.m. At this point, I had been in airports or on a plane, eating airport food, for over 12 hours. I was starting to look like I was feeling. We finally took off and were minutes from Albany, when we were forced to turn around and head back to Atlanta because Albany was fogged in and we couldn’t land.
At that point, my phone battery was about to die. My wife had been sitting at the Albany airport for 35 minutes at midnight with no way of knowing we weren’t going to land. I turned to my friend and said, “I’m at a point where my fruit of the Spirit is about rotten.”
Weary travelers, we made our way from Concourse C to Customer Service, lugging our bags, to see if there was a place we could stay. Good news: they put us up in a nice hotel. We were thinking flea bag, bed bug inn, but we got a good hotel. Bad news: we didn’t make it to the room until 2:00am. Further bad news: the first flight they could get me out on was at 4:30pm.
So, being men “full of faith, wisdom, and the Holy Spirit,” we went to bed and figured we would rent a car and drive home that morning. Wake up call? 5:00am. My friend had a 10:30am meeting in Albany he needed to get to, and I was tired of the clothes I was wearing.
So, we got up—exhausted—put on the same clothes we had on the previous day and got a rental car. Three hours later we were in Albany, which, by the way, was still covered in fog.
So, what lessons did I learn?
1) If man is so smart, how can God make a cloud of fog to hover over the ground, and man can’t figure out how to get a multi-million dollar jet to land in it?
2) If DELTA is ready when you are, why does it seem they are never ready? Where’s the love? I’m a Gold Medallion member, but it doesn’t help much at times when you think it would. Airlines have now exalted procedures over people. We are merely cattle to be loaded into the cattle car and flown from place to place.
3) I finally met some very friendly TSA agents in Norfolk. They smiled, were friendly, and actually told me if I took off the sweater I was wearing I wouldn’t have to go through a pat-down. That pleasant experience of smiling agents who are protecting our security was in stark contrast to what I experience every time I leave Albany. They don’t smile, and they pull me out half the time and pat me down. (Although I’m on TV here and I fly in and out of that airport 20 times a year, they still don’t know me and it’s the same people every day. Someone needs to figure this out. Call Israel, they know how to do this job!)
4) The ticket agent in Norfolk was friendly and kind. She did everything she could to help, unlike so many ticket agents I meet who seem to resent they have a job and have obviously never had a course in customer service.
5) After 24 hours in airports and on planes, I realized I could have flown to Israel, gotten off the plane, had lunch with my friends there, visited a couple of sites in Tel Aviv, and gotten back on the plane and been home in the same amount of time.
6) When I was whining to my wife she said, “Well, you asked God to open up doors of opportunity for you to travel and speak and invest in churches.” Okay, I hate it when she plays the Holy Spirit card on me. She was right.
7) Plane delays are better than plane crashes. I’m home. I’m safe. I’m grateful.
Travel is no fun anymore. That’s a reality. It’s never going to be fun again. Terrorists and people who want to at least inconvenience us, if not ruin our way of life, have made traveling difficult. But, at least we have the freedom to travel.
I got a tweet that helped me put it all in perspective. “Think about how Paul’s travels must have gone.” I like the person who sent that tweet, but (a) that was too convicting, and (b) I didn’t really want anyone to remind me I wasn’t being very spiritual at the moment.
So, I’m headed to the fruit and vegetable stand and getting a basket of fresh fruit of the Spirit today.
(copyright Michael Catt, 2011)
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.