The Smoking Lounge

My departure gate in the Atlanta airport today is located right next to the B concourse “Smoking Lounge.”  I realized it when I walked past just as someone exited the room and I caught an unmistakable whiff of cigarette smoke.

It’s not much of a “lounge, ” really — just a spartan room where smokers can gather cheek by jowl and puff away like mad.  It seemed like everybody in that room was trying to inhale as much smoke as they could, as fast as they could, and when they walked out they reeked of smoke.  It reminded me of the “teacher’s lounge” in high school, where any teacher walking out would trail a cloud of smoke. 

It’s kind of weird to see a Smokers Lounge in an American airport in our modern, anti-smoking world.

In The Atlanta Airport Swamp 

Walking from Concourse B to Concourse A at the Atlanta airport takes you through this walkway, which features leaf-like objects overhead, subdued lighting, and the sounds of a swamp.  At least, I think it’s supposed to be a swamp, complete with croaking frogs, buzzing insects, and chirping birds.  It’s a nice change of pace between bright, bustling concourses.

Just another reason to walk the big airports, rather than jamming onto generic underground trams with a hundred of your closest friends.

Long Lines At Big Airports

When I arrived at Atlanta Hartsfield airport on my return home Thursday night, it was jammed.  No surprise there — it’s one of the busiest airports in the world.

It’s also the first airport I’ve been through that has the TSA pre-check passengers using an entirely different checkpoint area than other travelers.  Usually, we’re in the same area, with a direct pre-check lane and a winding “standard passengers” lane.  In Atlanta, though, the pre-checkers turn right and the standard passengers turn left.

013014 snow BG21Having to check-in in Atlanta also demonstrated the great convenience value of pre-check status.  At less busy airports like Columbus, the regular line usually isn’t too bad, and pre-check status might save you five minutes of waiting time, tops.  In busy airports like Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Denver, on the other hand, the difference in wait time between pre-check and standard can be enormous.  I was traveling with a co-worker on my Atlanta trip, who said he had to wait in a line to even get into the standard passenger line at the TSA check-point.  It look him an hour longer to pass through standard check-in than it took me to go through the pre-check line.  That obviously sucks from a stress and frustration standpoint, but even worse, when you’re in a huge airport, an hour can be the difference between making your flight and missing it.

And guess what?  Even the TSA is acknowledging that lines are long, and are likely to get worse as spring and summer arrive and more people are traveling.  The TSA says it’s due to budget cuts and efforts to improve the thoroughness of screenings; the news media has reported that the process has been slowed down because tests have shown failures to identify weapons making it through check points.  In any case, it made me glad, once again, that I spent the time, and the $85, to get pre-check status.  On the busy days in the big American airports, it’s worth every penny.

The Windows Of Terminal F

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In Terminal F at the Atlanta airport, the windows run floor to ceiling. When one of the big trams-Atlantic planes is at the gate, looming right up against the window, it dominates the scene. The docked plane then becomes the center of a beehive of activity, which itself is a riveting sight.

You don’t truly appreciate the massiveness of modern jet aircraft until you see them up close. It’s great that the designers of Terminal F gave us that view.

When Teachers Cheat

From Atlanta comes a deeply disturbing story about a massive cheating scandal to achieve higher scores on standardized tests.  In this instance, however, the cheaters weren’t students — they were teachers, principals, and administrators.

In Georgia, as in many other states, student and teacher performance is measured by scores on a standardized test.  In this instance, the test is called the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.  In recent years, Atlanta schools reported increases in scores on the test, winning accolades for the Atlanta school district and its superintendent, who was named “U.S. Superintendent of the Year” in 2009.  Now investigators have unearthed evidence of a massive conspiracy in which teachers, principals, and administrators not only changed answers to achieve better scores, but also worked actively to cover up the cheating.  The report by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation names 178 teachers and administrators who participated — 82 of whom have confessed to their misdeeds — in a scandal that took place at 44 different schools.

According to the Christian Science Monitor article linked above, reports of teacher cheating have been increasingly commonplace across America.  Atlanta’s scholastic scandal is just the largest example of a growing problem.  Educational advocates say the reports show that standardized testing is not a panacea, because tying school district funding and individual teacher compensation to higher scores just provides an incentive to cheat.  So, they recommend that school districts implement much more involved auditing of the completed standardized tests.

The Atlanta scandal is a black eye for the many dedicated and selfless teachers in America, and it raises a very basic, troubling question for public school parents across the country:  What kind of people are teaching my kids?