Airline Employees in Atlanta
At Heartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport the employees say, “Copy that," into their radios. The inbound from Chicago is 17 minutes later, the lady at C-6— C as in Charlie— needs a wheelchair, and the man too busy to look up from his Blackberry needs a gate check. Copy that.
They never ask, “Can you repeat that?" even if, while pretending to listen to a customer frantically explain that she must be in Miami today, the employees don't hear a single garbled request from the radios clipped to their pleated, poly-blend pants.
They never say, “Roger that," or “Sure thing."
The seasoned employees lumber through the terminal, human-sized rhinos with black New Balance sneakers on their feet, the ting-ting of gate keys at their hips. They never quicken their stride toward the service desk when they see a customer waiting. Words like “Irop, Pax, and PNR" drop from their jaws, the language of the terminal. They are native speakers.
The new employees fumble with their radios like a new father handling an infant. Don't drop it— they're hard to replace. They carefully touch the talk button and murmur their responses tentatively, waiting for another command to seep from the radio.
Behind counters too high for customers to peer over, too low to high behind, the employees stand, shifting from foot to foot. Their hands sway over computer keys and their eyes skip from screen to screen. “Maybe we can move them to the LAX flight," they say under their breath. Customers watch wide-eyed, helpless in this place, as the employees move them around an imaginary game board made up of three-letter airport codes.
As their shifts skitter to a close, the employees take the train from terminal D as in Delta, past C as in Charlie, B as in Bravo and stop listening as the train slides past Alpha and Tango. In terminal T, they walk to an office with a bank of chargers. Here the radios will await their return, dreaming of planes that are never late, poly-blend pants that are not itchy and lips that have never known the words, “Copy that."