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All Stressed Up With Somewhere to Go, but Airport Is No Holiday

Times Staff Writer

Lindbergh Field, Friday afternoon, 2 o’clock.

Zip into the East Terminal parking lot. Traffic backed up 75 yards, as if Springsteen--instead of Santa Claus--were coming to town. Finally, the car that for five harried minutes has lingered for a space--to the rabid consternation of a dozen angry drivers--pulls in.

Having found a space, the driver of that car looks happy, positively sublime.

As the other cars pass, peeling tires on the pavement in protest, one cherubic motorist pokes his head out the window to offer this version of Christmas cheer:

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“Why didn’t you (bleeping) move it, you (bleeping) (bleep)!”

Few Kept Their Cool

Such was the day before Christmas Eve at Lindbergh Field, where airport personnel estimated that almost 40,000 people departed, all feeling varying degrees of holiday stress.

Only a missionary could have remained cool and calm about the tension that this Friday bred.

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Well, Robert and Nancy Diamond are missionaries. They waited for no fewer than half a dozen big boxes, which, just as they had done, had jetted from Costa Rica to Denver to Kansas to San Diego. After leaving San Diego, the Diamonds will return, boxes in tow, to Costa Rica.

Carefully, they piled the cargo on an airport dolly. As Robert lifted the last one off the floor, a security guard came over to tell him he wasn’t permitted to use the dolly.

“It belongs to the airport,” the guard explained, with the Christmas tact of Ebenezer Scrooge.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Robert said with a smile and a shrug.

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The Diamonds said that, despite the hassle with luggage, San Diego’s is a much more genteel airport than either Denver’s or Miami’s.

“Miami is terrible ,” Robert said. “Always terrible. You’re lucky your airport isn’t anything like theirs.”

Waiting for Luggage

Barbara Appel was waiting for luggage with her three children, ages 17, 14 and 9. They had flown back from Colorado, where they had journeyed for a respite of skiing. The Appels, like many of Friday’s travelers, groused more about luggage than any other aspect of flying.

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Michael and Jayne Gentile walked into Friday’s chaos with a dozen helium-filled balloons and a video camera that seemed to say, “Look at us, the red light is on, this is cinema verite !”

They were meeting their children, who were back from a visit to relatives in Salt Lake City.

“I video’d ‘em takin’ off and comin’ back,” Michael said proudly. “Didn’t want to miss a moment of it. You know, it’s not as bad as I expected out here today. Parking was terrible, but it always is. We were here last night, and it was worse. It was really a zoo then.”

Penny Williamson’s first impression of San Diego was one of relief saddled with exhaustion. She had just flown in from Baltimore--via Denver. She had been up since 2:30 a.m. San Diego time.

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“I teach physicians how to do their jobs better in the doctor-patient relationship,” she said. “I travel a lot, and a lot of people connected with airlines just don’t do their jobs well. But I didn’t find that today. Maybe the holiday makes people more relaxed, more cheerful. Whatever, it’s kind of nice.”

Novices the Nadir

John C. Ruth, who lives near St. Louis, finds the nadir of holiday travel having to deal with people who fly maybe three times a year, whereas, as a businessman, he flies as often as three times a month.

“The planes are more crowded,” he said. “You get all these people who aren’t used to traveling. They get panicky and worried. That’s why I go with airlines who let you get your boarding passes in advance, so you don’t have to wait in line. That’s a real plus.”

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In the West Terminal, a glut of passengers waited to take off on an American Airlines flight bound for Dallas-Ft. Worth. A man carrying a baby walked back to his wife, looking sadly dejected.

“We all have seats, but none together,” he said.

“Oh, no ,” his wife said.

Several minutes of hectic scrambling, and the problem was fixed. The man and his wife and 14-month-old son boarded the plane, waving goodby to the grandfather who saw them off.

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A Wry Smile

Grandfather Leroy Smith looked out the window until the plane taxied away from the gate. Then he watched it veer toward the runway. Smith’s wife died three years ago, and this year his son and daughter-in-law are taking his only grandchild to spend Christmas with her family.

Smith looked sad.

“Hey, I’ll see ‘em in three weeks,” he said with a wry smile. “That ain’t too long to wait now, is it?”

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Airports seem to carry their own kind of craziness, regardless of the day or time. Everybody seems to be reading either USA Today or a novel by Danielle Steel. And just about everybody has a tale of woe. As one man said Friday, if you escape a trip without at least one, you’ve had “one great trip.”

Tim Payne wasn’t so lucky.

He and his girlfriend got to the airport at 1:30 p.m. The flight was delayed from 2:20 until 3:15. So, they went for a walk, had a bite to eat, and, when they showed up around 3:10, their seats had disappeared--given away to strangers! Even though the plane was still whirring at the gate, the attendants would not relent.

Those seats were gone .

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“It depends on the airline,” supervisor Mike Shamblin said in a crisp, corporate tone. “But generally, it’s a good idea to show up 20 minutes ahead of time.”

Tim Payne noted one consolation.

“Well, at least our luggage made it to West Palm Beach (Fla.),” he said as he and his girlfriend ambled off to try to find out how they could make it there, too.

At least the luggage was a lot less stressed.

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