Seriously, unless you're timing your trip to the minute and don't have time to spare when reaching your destination, take the freebie. Checking your bag means not having to fumble with it on the plane and not having to worry about some jerk smashing it with a super-rigid wrecking-ball carry-on to make room. Say what you will about airport baggage handlers, but they've at least done this a time or two.
I graciously accepted Alaska's offer to stow my bag below and, in doing so, had the Alaska rep at the counter notice that I was in a middle seat and offer to move me to a window or aisle seat. By taking that particular little perk, I somehow managed to put an empty seat between myself and the next passenger over -- a fellow from Salem, Ore., who was studying aquaculture farming and visiting his brother in Astoria, Queens. His brother is in culinary school and the two plan on one day opening a hatchery-to-table restaurant on the Oregon Coast -- a bit of knowledge he seemed far more eager to share with a seat's worth of real estate between us.
With at least a dozen other seats empty in our compartment and about five people upgraded to emergency row seats to allow a family of five to sit together, it did wonders for the general mood of the folks in coach. That combination of reduced numbers, pleasant passengers and checked bags also made for an unusually efficient exiting process, with first-class practically sprinting out of the plane and coach avoiding the rugby scrum of self-importance that usually bottlenecks the entire process for everyone.
This is where the feel-good part of this story should end. This is when I should enter the world's busiest airport, get steamrolled by a wall of passengers dashing toward a connecting flight to Chicago's O'Hare and vow never to return to the godforsaken hellscape again. Maybe it's those subterranean expectations that helped take the edge off, but the hike down to the train from my gate to baggage claim, the dearth of people on said train at 5:30 p.m. or so and the lack of obstructions between me and my wife when I met her at Delta and Alaska's cavern of baggage carousels indicated that we'd hit the place at just the right time.Meanwhile, the lengthy route from the gate to the luggage drop gave my bag plenty of time to catch up and appear on the belt just as I arrived. Even when we made our way to the MARTA platform to catch our train to the hotel, we didn't get a whole lot of company for the ride and had our pick of seats.
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