Sunday, June 24, 2018

My friends, we have just been treated to the best customer-service experience in the history of ever.

As I noted in yesterday’s blog post, we had a sick team member on arrival in Doha. I asked the cabin crew for a wheelchair for her and directions to the airport medical clinic. We’re met at the jetway by a staff member in a green jacket and a cart, which takes us to an elevator that only Special People get to use, which gets us around the crowds and within a few yards of the clinic. The Green Jacket has a seat outside and waits for us while we’re in the clinic for an hour.

The nurse meets us immediately, asks for our boarding passes, and then takes Queasy’s vitals and symptoms. Just 5 minutes later the doctor arrives, reviews the situation, does a bit of examining, and diagnoses. Prescribes a couple of IV drips, which take about half an hour. The staff gets me a portable desk and outlet so I can post the blog. After the IV is finished, the doctor brings, not a prescription, but the actual drugs.

And it’s all without charge, provided as a service by the airport. At 1 o’clock in the morning.

Green Jacket takes us back upstairs, escorts us through security, bypassing the line, and delivers us to the departure concourses, where we connect with the rest of the team.

Wow. No wonder this was voted among the best airports in the world this year. Highly recommended.

When we find the crew, they’ve found Starbucks and are wildly happy and wide awake. It occurs to me that this is probably a good thing; it’s 6 pm back home, and our 8 am flight leaves at 1 am back home. Maybe staying up all night and sleeping on the plane is the quickest way to get back to EDT.

So we settle into a seating area, with electrical plugs, free wifi, and a Starbucks. And Queasy feels good enough to eat a sandwich. Slowly. As I write, it’s 2.30 am, and everybody’s awake and reasonably happy.

We doze and lounge, and amuse ourselves by walking randomly about, until 7.30, time to go to the gate for our 8.30 flight. The line is long enough to be mildly irritating, and security seems to be especially aggressive; a lot of us get the pat-down, and they even make me take my tablet out of its case so they can swab it for exotic chemicals of the sort that might be used to build stuff that goes “Boom.” I note as well that they ask Queasy some pointed questions; they’re aware that she’s been to the clinic, and they want to know if she’s well enough to travel. I’m grateful that they decide she is.

And then we board for the last whole-team flight, and the big one: over 15 hours. We take up 8 of the 9 seats in row 20, with Gabby 1 row forward at the right window, and Liv several rows back, in the first row of that section of coach. I’m next to Jana, and for the second time this trip she offers to trade her aisle seat for my middle seat, so I’ll be able to get up and walk around at will. May God richly bless that young lady. Queasy is one of the 3 on the right, and after takeoff the other 2 ask the flight attendant to move them so she can have the whole row and lie down for the flight.

As are most long flights for me, the whole thing is a blur of sitting, restless leg syndrome, getting up, walking the aisles, stretching in the back, and generally being miserable. Notice that word “sleeping” doesn’t appear there. I have discovered that watching a movie—assuming it’s an interesting one—will sometimes distract me enough to allow me to sit still for a couple of hours. I watch 3, and for 2 of them, as is my usual practice, I doze off right through the climactic scene and end up not understanding what happened.

It’s daylight for the entire flight, which lands in Atlanta at 4 pm, an hour ahead of schedule. Immigration is a mess, as it often is, with staff appearing not to agree on where to direct the lines, so it takes about an hour. After that it’s just a minute or two to grab the luggage—it’s all here and undamaged, as it has been throughout the entire trip—and walk to the “Welcome to Atlanta!” sign where the 2 groups will officially go their separate ways, “continuing flights” and “ground transportation.” The agent there happily takes photos of us, one last time.

I say “officially” because while the sign points the “continuing flights” people to the left, they actually need to go out to the sidewalk with us to catch the shuttle to the domestic terminal. I get a text from our driver, Dave Versnick, that he’s at the curb, so we all walk out together into the hot Atlanta sunlight, the warmest we’ve been in days. I leave the 6 Continuers there at the curb, waiting for the shuttle—last time I count them. Queasy is the last one to fly out, at 9, but fortunately 3 of the others are flying after 8, so some of them will be able to stay with her until boarding time.

I count our last 3—Jana, Annalee, Jess—into the van. Our suitcases don’t seem to take up much room anymore. Our last major team policy discussion is a simple one: do we want to stop and get a meal sometime in the next 3 hours? And if so, where?

We had lunch on the plane, but nothing just before landing, so the crew agrees that we’ll need some supper. Where? Panera Bread is the first choice, with Zaxby’s as a backup. Sooner or later? I warn them that if they opt for later, I’ll have to wake them from a sound sleep to eat. They opt for sooner.

We find a Panera in Norcross just a few minutes past Spaghetti Junction, but when we pull up to it, we’re confused. It’s a bank.

Yeah. That doesn’t make any sense. We drive around the building and find a side entrance to Panera. Odd location. Order sandwiches and get a booth; I get a Greek salad and note that Jess does too. Salads are a prize, given how easy they are to get here, and how few worries they typically come with.

Then back to the highway. There are 3 team members, and 3 bench seats, so I suppose you can write the rest of the story. All 3 heads disappear within minutes, and the ride is quiet. I’m afraid I’m not much conversation for Dave either.

In north Georgia we join stopped traffic for about 6 miles for a lane closure, which slows us down by nearly an hour. I wake up as we’re entering Greenville, and everyone else comes to as we approach campus.

Back to our starting point, behind Nell Sunday, around 9.45, where 3 vehicles await us. I count the crew off the van—1, 2, 3—done counting. Joyful if subdued reunions, and I opt not for a final picture since it’s after dark.

Dave drops me off at my house on his way to drop off the van. It occurs to me that I might actually be the first one to arrive home, depending on how early the first flight out of Atlanta was. These 3 all have a ways to go yet.

Porch light. Hug wife. Take shower—hot, with high water pressure. Oooooohhhhh yeah.

Write the last blog post.

Done.

With thanks to the many who made this possible, with financial and prayer support and little acts of kindness along the way, and most especially to God, whose will and grace, mercy, and peace drive all things, we carefully deposit this life-changing experience in our memories, for regular recall and examination.

Soli deo gloria.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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