We arrived at the airport in Atlanta very early to beat the morning traffic. I’d much rather relax at the airport, even if it’s for 2-3 hours, than sit in rush hour traffic and worry about making our flight on time. And, being so close to Christmas I fully expected a huge amount of people flying today as well. We parked off-site to save some money and rode the shuttle bus in to the terminal. As we made our way into the terminal our bags were already starting to feel a little heavier. We each had a large rolling duffel packed to the limit (just shy of 50 lbs. each). And we each had slightly smaller duffel bags which were also stuffed to the breaking point but fortunately much less than 50 lbs. For carry-on luggage I had my Tamrac Expedition backpack for all my camera stuff and a messenger bag my dear wife made for me. She carried the ubiquitous black rolling carry-on bag as well as a matching messenger bag (with a little more girly flair of course!). Overall we were each loaded down with nearly our own body weight in luggage! As I write this in hindsight now I know that I will never, ever pack so much stuff again.
As we entered the terminal (sometime between 6-7AM, I can’t remember now) there was already long lines of travelers queuing up at the various check-in lines and baggage drop off line. Since we had used online check-in we headed straight for the nearest baggage drop-off only to be told to go to another area all the way at the end. The long line moved fairly quickly and in about 20 minutes we were finally free of our heavy bags, for now at least. We made our way through security, which was quick and painless as it often seems to be at Atlanta, and took the underground train out to the international terminal. The international terminal at Atlanta has, in my opinion, the best selection of food anywhere in the airport. But with all those choices we always seem to end up at McDonald's! Today was no different, and it seemed to be the popular choice as there were several long lines of people waiting for their greasy breakfast too. We sat in the food court and enjoyed our high-calorie high-fat breakfast while sipping on piping-hot coffee (McDonald’s coffee is one of our favorites). After we finished our breakfast I decided to make a quick visit to our gate to make sure we had an aircraft sitting there. It was, so now I could really relax. At the same time I looked out the large windows and noticed it was getting close to sunrise and our gate was facing directly east. With the sun rising further to the south this time of year I could see it would come up right under incoming flights. Sounds like a prime photo opportunity! I rushed back to the food court to get my wife and my gear and headed back to the gate. I snapped off several photos of the rising deep-orange sun while trying to get the timing right with the incoming flights. I had to keep the lens hood against the glass to avoid reflections. I got a few decent shots before the sun starting getting too bright.
At this point we still had a couple of hours to kill and fortunately we each had one-day Delta Skyclub passes courtesy of our bank, Suntrust. We had previously signed up for their Skymiles debit card and were each given a one-day pass as a thank you. There are two Skyclubs in Terminal E, one small club open in the morning and a much larger club than opens later in the day. We headed over to the smaller club and first verified that we could use our passes on our connection in Narita, Japan. They said we could and we proceeded to spend the next 90 minutes or so enjoying free wireless internet and free drinks & snacks. I wish we could always enjoy this privilege but I doubt we will ever get the opportunity on future trips. The time went rather quickly and before we knew it, it was time to begin boarding. Boarding a flight is always a fun social observation for me. You always have the people with status at Delta standing right up front long before the flight begins boarding (called “gate lice” on a certain discussion board). They are easily spotted usually wearing a sport-jacket, holding their roller bag with their proud Delta tags attached while talking loudly in their cell phone. The rest of us common folk queue up in the area near the gate, all taking small steps forward as they progress through the boarding sequence. Usually by the time they call our zone I have already quietly & stealthily made my up towards the front. Overhead bin space never seems like enough so it always helps to get to the seats as soon as possible. We took our seats on the 777 and prepared ourselves for the long journey to Japan.