14 August 2014

They're There When You Connect In Atlanta

There's an old joke in the South that goes something like this:  When you die, whether you go to Heaven or Hell, you'll connect in Atlanta to get there.

Anyone who's familiar with the joke knows that "Atlanta" refers to the city's airport, more formally known as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Having passed through that airport many times--but never having set foot in the city of Atlanta--I can understand why someone would make such a joke.  Any of the New York area airports--and any air terminal in which I've landed or from which I've departed in Europe--seems compact in comparison.  

Almost a quarter-million passengers pass through Hartsfield-Jackson on a typical day.  If they are making connections, as I have done every time I've been one of those passengers, they may have to walk as much as three kilometers to get from one flight to the next.  Sometimes, say when I have a two-hour layover, I welcome the stroll as a chance to stretch my legs.  But if my first flight is delayed, the shorter layover means a mad sprint--or a ride, with my fingers crossed, on the airport's internal rail system.

More difficult than their length, though, is the circuitousness of those hallways.  It's a bit surprising that an airport, where one expects modernity, hasn't adopted something like a grid system in its thoroughfares.  

But of course, you don't want to hear someone whine about the inconveniences of commuting.  So I'll tell you about the larger significance of everything I've mentioned, and the specific reasons why I'm talking about an airport in my bike blog.

Imagine trying to patrol a city, and to conduct rescues in it, without helicopters, motor vehicles or even horses.  That is the situation the Atlanta Fire and Rescue team faces every day in the airport.  AFR members found that they could not get to emergencies quickly enough on foot.

Now, since you're reading this blog, you may have guessed the solution they found to their dilemma:  Yes, they patrol the airport corridors on mountain bikes much like the ones police officers use in many cities, including New York.

I learned about AFR's airport bike squad only during my trip this week, when I saw two officers on bikes wending their way through throngs of tourists and business people, and a female AFR officer to whom they reported.

None of them wanted to be mentioned by name.  However, they take justifiable pride in their work.  "We attend to all kinds of emergencies," one of them explained.  "There are the things you expect, like trips and falls.  But sometimes there are more serious things, like people who forget or lose their medication."

"Or it's in their bags, on a flight going someone else," one of the others added.

The second officer also mentioned that they are trained in first aid and rescue procedures in case of fires or other emergencies.  He explained that they also receive special training in fitness, nutrition and bicycle handling and maintenance before being sent off to pedal through Hartsfield-Jackson's corridors.

One thing in which they didn't seem to need training, though, is hospitablility:  Even though they didn't want me to mention their names, they were very obliging and friendly.  I guess that goes along with being Southern, in a profession dedicated to helping people--and cyclists.



  1. They also ride bikes in Montreal Trdeau. They lumber around on Segways at DFW

  2. I saw them last month when we had a layover there. Loved seeing a bike working through the throngs. SFO also has Bike Police in the terminal.