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John flashes a Cheshire Cat grin. He stands up, looking proud. She walks toward him, beaming. Having missed her connection to Omaha, Nebraska, Joanne Ford lets go of what she can't control and sinks into a spa chair. The business traveler, who works in health care IT, is on the road every week. This day started at a. But like the nearby businessman whose face is planted in a massage chair, she's learned to make the best of her often-extended layovers.

Getting manicures and pedicures at XpresSpa is part of the drill. It's not like she has time to pamper herself, after all, when she's home in Honey Creek, Iowa. Why not do it in the airport? Colin Lam, who's filing Ford's nails, has worked at this shop on Concourse A for more than a year and a half. He says he often plays psychiatrist, talking to customers about all sorts of issues — job woes, relationship snafus, you name it.

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Lighter banter, especially given the people-watching the airport offers, often turns to fashion critiques. Another traveler, getting his feet rubbed one seat over, leans back and smiles. A woman fully reclined in a chair around the corner, getting her temples massaged, appears to be in a blissed-out slumber.

Planted in the arrivals lobby, a banner and loved ones await Holly Houston, For a year and a half she's been in Brisbane, Australia, on a Christian mission with Operation Mobilization. Her mother's camera phone is poised, ready to capture the daughter she's missed as she comes up and off the escalator to see them. Next to her parents are friends from childhood, high school, church and college. All of them crane their necks and hold their breath, scanning the faces of travelers as they stream in. Finally, they release a collective squeal as she runs into their arms.

Kunyu Harun Henu is slumped over in a blue padded seat, 8, miles from home. He started flying 25 hours ago — and still has another day to go. The journey might unsettle any traveler. But for Henu, a year-old pastor from Kiserian, Kenya, the problem is nerves. This is his first time flying. The plane's trembling during takeoff is what first got him. The man sitting next to him sensed his fear. This is normal, he told Henu. Planes rattle during takeoff, and sometimes they hit turbulence in the air. His plan was to fly from Nairobi to London, then Atlanta, then St.

Louis before finally heading to Missouri State University to start his master's degree in religious studies. The whole trip was supposed to take about a day. But after a nine-hour layover in London, a problem with a passenger forced a two-hour delay on the tarmac. And that delay caused Henu to miss his connecting flight in Atlanta to St. That's why he finds himself almost alone in the middle of the night in Atlanta's massive new International Terminal. He can't fly to Missouri for another eight hours. That's human nature. When there's a problem, they want someone to blame.

But things happen. Granted, Henu is exhausted and barely able to lift his eyelids. But he refuses to sleep. Who knows what could happen to his belongings — one big suitcase full of clothes and a smaller suitcase packed with books? There are many ways to drive a person to drink at the airport — at any hour of the day. But under Georgia law, the person can only buy that drink after 9 a. Monday through Saturday, and after noon on Sundays. Another man has already bellied up to the bar for a Bloody Mary. Sisters from Bogota, Colombia, wait for their connecting flight to visit family in Canada after spending three hours in customs.

Chad Spicer is the kind of guy who thinks nothing of wearing cowboy boots, a hefty belt buckle and silver jewelry through airport security. But I usually need four to five trays to get everything through," he says, laughing. An artist and graphic designer, Spicer splits his time between New Orleans and a farm just over the state line in Mississippi, where several other artists live and work on their own projects. His belt buckle bears a javelina in relief, recalling his childhood pastime of boar hunting.

An ex-girlfriend made him the silver ring with a druse meteorite stone. He lost it once at New York's LaGuardia airport, but someone turned it in. When he called to inquire about it, the person on the phone said he knew "someone was going to want it back," and sent it to him free of charge. His older brother made the brown and white bracelet from carved wood and bird bones. They're close, and now that his brother's children have left for college he has more time to spend with Spicer, which is what brings him to Atlanta today. He's connecting through Hartsfield-Jackson from New Orleans on his way to Minneapolis, where his brother lives.

They've got a big hunting and fishing trip planned in northern Minnesota up toward Canada.

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They'll use every scrap of whatever they kill, just the way they did growing up in rural Louisiana. It's that time of the day when it's relatively slow at the MAC cosmetics store in the new International Terminal, allowing employees a chance to try out new products and hone their skills. Today, they're practicing layering effects with new eye shadow colors.

Most of the time, people wander in to kill time without anything particular in mind, says the store manager, who declines to give her name, citing company policy. Other times, people pick up items they forgot. Tim Ferrill, 33, gingerly navigates his way through the crowded gate at A He's on crutches, his right leg in a brace. The torn ACL — courtesy of a soccer game played with his five brothers in Birmingham, Alabama, where his family was just visiting — makes this day's journey more complicated, especially for his year-old wife, Jodi. They're awaiting their second flight of the day, this one to Denver, and they are far from alone.

In the area along the wall that the family's claimed, Jodi's doling out single French fries to their five young children, with the fluidity and calm instincts of a mother bird. All under age 8, the two youngest sit in the bulky stroller, the one she loads up with all the stuff Tim can't carry. Small backpacks are scattered about, the responsibility of the older three kids, who are accustomed to pitching in.

With such a large brood, the Ferrills have a system. They face challenges one at a time, pack light and "pray a lot," says Jodi. They've been on the road for nearly three weeks now. Once they arrive in Denver, they'll stay with friends for two days before road-tripping back home to Southern California. Denise Sardinha wasn't supposed to be here, sitting all alone in front of gate F10 in the middle of the night. She should be asleep in her San Francisco home, getting ready to send her 7-year-old son, David, to his first day of school in the morning.

Instead, she is 2, miles away, waiting to pick up her boy after a booking mishap sent her scrambling across the country. So she had to take two days off work from her housecleaning business and jump on a four-hour flight to Atlanta to meet her son and accompany him to San Francisco.

David, meanwhile, had to miss his previously scheduled flight and wait another day. He starts school tomorrow," Sardinha says. She's been sitting at the Atlanta airport for five hours, with another three hours to go until she sees her son. Before this trip, the longest she'd gone without being with him is two days.

Now, it's been two months. And behind the weary look on her face is the excitement of a mother who can't wait to embrace her little boy. The middle-aged man wears a Columbia T-shirt, a shoutout to the university in New York. He looks at his son, who's heading off to college.

The tall young man with the full head of curly hair wears a preppy collared shirt — decidedly not like his dad's. He looks at his father, a little unsure of what will come next. The father leans in and gives his son an awkward bro-hug. The young man turns bright red. Extended family stands around watching while his mother stands off to the side.

He tries not to look back. Four grandsons await the arrival of Gayle and JB Franklin. A fifth grandbaby — a girl — is on the way. The Franklins' son and daughter-in-law and their kids, all under 7, live in London. In a few hours, the couple from Lilburn, Georgia, and their "six big honking suitcases," filled mostly with clothes for the children, will start their trip across the pond. Gayle and JB, who are in their late 50s, will visit with family in London, then fly to Italy, then head back to London before coming home.


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They figured three weeks straight would be too long to stay with their son's family. She smiles broadly, thinking about their arrival and "all those little noses pressed against the third-floor window. Travel often brings people together in ways they wish they hadn't experienced.

But at least Chiara James now knows that airline employees can be helpful. She had to miss her flight to find out. The single mother from Atlanta is traveling with her 7-month-old daughter and elderly mother. A necessary diaper change for the little one meant they arrived at gate D1A for an AirTran flight to Detroit moments after the door closed. And that door, despite her pleas, stayed closed. The gate agent whose job is to watch the plane push back from the jetway learned her story after he returned to the terminal.

What he heard frustrated him. He rebooked James and her family on the next flight to Detroit at p. Then, he escorted the family to Concourse C and joined James in the smoking lounge while her mother and daughter waited outside. The New Yorker missed his connection to Indianapolis. With hours to kill, this spot in Concourse D seems as good as any. Earlier, it served as a makeshift office for a few hours, but he went off the clock. That's when the boyfriend-girlfriend team of Zach Sperry and Kelsey Smith walked in.

They came to grab a quick bite and a drink before heading off to Florida, but then Brad happened. I've been taking attendance since I've been here so long. As passengers pour off the escalators into the arrivals lobby during a busy night-time rush, Nar Lungali leans on an empty luggage cart, picks up his phone and starts dialing. The case aide waiting with him from the International Rescue Committee just told him his older sister's flight from Chicago was canceled.

The hot meal waiting for her in nearby Clarkston, known to some as the Ellis Island of Georgia because of the large number of refugees who land there, will have to wait. Fried chicken and rice. It was only two days ago that she called from Kathmandu and told him she was moving from Nepal to America with her husband and two sons. He's excited, too. He hasn't seen her in more than two years.

He can't wait to talk to her about how old friends left behind in the Beldangi 2 camp in eastern Nepal are doing. Tens of thousands of Bhutanese refugees live in Nepalese camps. But nearly 80, have left in the past six years as part of a resettlement push to move them into better living conditions. Now — finally — his sister is among them.

The "Step Back from the Baggage Claim" Movement

And he'll come back to the airport tomorrow to welcome her. Standing here, watching passengers stream by, he remembers the day he first came to Atlanta more than two years ago on a flight from New York after leaving Nepal. The memory of the airport is still fresh in his mind.

He smiles, thinking of the way his life began to change that day, the way his sister's life will change now, too. For him, the difference between life in the United States and Nepal is clear. They're the invisible part of the airport, rarely seen but making it tick: They clear planes for takeoff, track storms, handle baggage, fuel aircraft and make sure that package you ordered online gets to your doorstep on time. Once you meet them, you'll never look at an airport the same way again.

Mike Ryan chomps on a stick of gum and clicks his pen as he keeps an eye on the Airbus A heading for Atlanta. It's Delta Flight arriving from Flint, Michigan. Ryan can't see the jet. It's just a blip on his screen in a dark, curved, windowless room 30 miles from the airport. They sit at radar consoles, their faces bathed in an eerie green glow. Controllers here handle planes that are 4 to 40 miles from the airport.

They're part of an intricate network that keeps air traffic moving — and part of the huge behind-the-scenes effort that keeps Atlanta's airport humming. From controllers and ground crews to baggage handlers and a cargo "cowboy," not a single jet could get off the runway without their help. If the nearby Atlanta FAA Center, which handles the entire region, is the highway of the sky, then TRACON is the offramp, guiding traffic to the parking garage — the traffic control tower at the airport.

At least that's how the controllers here describe it. Today, Ryan is the "feeder," slowing planes down, lowering their altitude and handing them off to another controller, known as the "final" — who hands them off to the airport tower. A self-described aviation junkie, Ryan saw a newspaper ad years ago about qualifying for air traffic control training. He took the civil service exam, which led to a year career path from the Bay Area to Southern California to Cleveland and, five years ago, Atlanta.

Two seconds later, he calls another A, this one flying in from Little Rock, Arkansas: "Delta , descend and maintain one-two-thousand. In no time, Ryan goes back to Delta , to tell the pilot to use another frequency to reach the "final," who's sitting at a radar screen next to Ryan's.

The "final" will guide the plane to within 4 miles of the runway before handing it off to the airport tower. Brian Wilante scans the room, then the horizon. A gentle wind is blowing from the northwest. Every few seconds a low rumble rises from below as an airliner throttles into the sky. Wilante is nearly feet above the runway in "The Cab" — the top of the tallest air traffic control tower in North America.

It offers a one-of-a-kind, degree view of taxiways and runways laid out in sprawling ribbons. An 8-by paper tacked to a console reads "Today's forecast," followed by a big yellow smiley face. It feels to Wilante like this day will be on the light side, but it's hazy. He can barely make out the white roof of the Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons, 10 miles away. As a kid, Wilante cherished his Matchbox airport set and die-cast toy planes. Now, the veteran air traffic controller is surrounded by the beeping and humming tools of the profession.

He's one of more than a dozen men and women controlling the planes — and passengers' safety — each shift. They're the chief guardians of all airspace within 4 miles of the airport, up to 4, feet off the ground. No shift here goes as planned. Every day includes five or six emergencies — from minor mechanical problems to in-flight heart attacks to infant births. Controllers here can quickly "make a hole" in the landing order, pushing a flight to the front while coordinating with paramedics on the runway or at the gate.

At the center of it is supervisor Murray Storm, sporting a headset above his graying mustache as he hands out job assignments. Stepping toward a console, Wilante puts on a headset and begins a carefully controlled procedure before taking over the runway. Wilante gets a briefing about which planes are about to depart, where they're going and what commands the pilots have already gotten. After the handoff, the previous controller watches Wilante for two minutes to make sure he understands everything.

Many of the pilots Wilante handles fly in and out of Atlanta frequently. They know his thick New York accent, if not his face.

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Wilante radios his pilots on the airfield below — setting up for departure, guiding them on the runway and green-lighting each for takeoff. Wilante times the departures so the planes have a safe distance separating them after takeoff: 3 miles for most airliners, 5 for the larger ones. Megan pulls into the FedEx facility amid the howl of aircraft engines and the tart smell of jet fuel. Every plane in the company's fleet is named after an employee's child. It's a competitive process — every time FedEx gets a new plane, employees can submit their children's names.

The winner is chosen by raffle. Megan may be distinctively named, but in other respects she's an average member of FedEx's strong fleet. And the system of unloading the plane is a well-practiced procedure. Even before the engines wind down, a giant lift makes its way up 30 feet to the airplane's cargo door.

One by one, giant containers — "cans" — are rolled from the plane onto the lift, lowered to the ground and placed on a flatbed dolly pulled by a "tug. From there the cans are rolled into FedEx's ,square-foot facility, their freight unloaded onto conveyor belts. The floor is speckled with wheels and convex "dots" — ball bearings in the floor — making it easier to push around the cans, which can weigh 5, pounds. From just looking, you'd never know the variety of items on board. It's box after package after cardboard crate, each with an identifying label, heading to destinations all over Georgia.

About 20 employees sort packages, load them into another set of containers and move those onto wheel trucks — some headed just to the other side of the airport, others more than miles away. From there, the containers are broken down again, their packages put on the familiar FedEx vans and sent out to offices, homes and businesses. His name is Alfonzo Ward Jr. The name comes from his bowlegged stance.

Every time a loaded truck pulls out of the FedEx facility, Cowboy hops in a cab and puts an empty trailer in its place. If backing a trailer into a spot sounds hard, try doing it at a sharp angle in the rain. Cowboy has little forward space to work with, and so far this year Atlanta has gotten more than 50 inches of rain, well above average. One key time is a. That's when all the freight has to be processed and the sorting lines shut down.

A lot, says Kerry Mason, senior manager of ramp operations. After all, overnight packages are promised to arrive by a. At , the facility gets quiet. The hum of the conveyor belts has stopped. The chock-chock sound of cans rolling from place to place is diminished. Many employees have left. Of the four flights that landed this morning, only Megan is heading right back out: She's being loaded with cans full of mail. Yes, the U. Postal Service subcontracts to FedEx. She takes off for Memphis at The rest of the planes will sit on the tarmac until nightfall.

That's when trucks will arrive from all over Atlanta full of tomorrow's packages — which will be sorted, loaded onto planes and sent into the air, ready for the whole process to begin again. It's not even in the morning and already the sweat is beading up on Scott Lotti's shaved head. Lotti, 40, is a ramp agent for Southwest Airlines, hoisting bags onto a conveyor belt that sends them into the belly of a plane headed for Austin, Texas. Another ramp man in kneepads scrambles inside to stack and secure them. Once a plane pulls up to a gate, Southwest's ramp agents have about 30 minutes to unload and reload it before the plane heads off again — forcing them to work with brisk precision.

The best parts of the day are being outdoors and enjoying the easy camaraderie with crew members. The worst parts are the sudden, unexpected dangers. Lotti says one co-worker was killed when he drove a cart into a plane's propeller. Another was struck down by lightning. Then there are the superheavy bags, the obese, leaden kind that one man can barely lift without help. Lotti has seen bags tipping the scales at more than pounds — twice the weight most airlines will tolerate before punishing passengers with extra fees.

Southwest ramp agents must be able to lift 70 pounds. During the hiring process, they're asked to lift a heavy bag; if they can't, they don't get the job. Lotti, not pictured, is a burly man and played football in high school, but like a lot of ramp agents he wears a back brace at work. He strained a disc in his back earlier this year. Other ramp agents have injured wrists, shoulders, knees. Ramp agents are acutely aware that they work under the watchful gaze of passengers peering out from windows or gates. Michael J. Maier winds his way beneath the Boeing As the co-pilot on Delta flight to Los Angeles, it's up to him to do an extra preflight safety check — in addition to the one done by a mechanic — to make sure everything is up to snuff.

The captain is in the plane already, programming the flight computers and briefing the crew. Maier, the first officer, will soon join him. He looks at the engines to confirm that there are no oil leaks or nicks on the blades. He stands before the nose-gear well and examines the landing gear. The tires look good. The hydraulic lines are leak-free. The lights are in working order. Maier began his career as an Air Force pilot in After leaving active duty, he joined the Reserve before retiring from the Air Force.

He's been flying for Delta since and has been piloting the Boeing for the last seven years. On his tie is a small commemorative pin, issued by the Air Line Pilots Association. It says, "In Memory God Bless America. Sirprena Spearman is at the wheel of a tug. She only learned to drive it a week ago — now she's getting ready to push a plane back from the gate for the first time.

Spearman is a ramp worker for Southwest. She started "running bags" for AirTran in , but with the Southwest merger, all ramp workers are now required to handle every job. The pilots know she's a trainee and are patient as she rolls them back, a trainer at her side. It takes her a few minutes longer than an experienced driver, but she gets the Boeing onto the taxiway by a. Soon it will be in the air bound for Seattle. A thousand arrivals and departures.

To say Delta's cargo facility stays busy is an understatement. Nothing stays in place for long; 60 forklifts are always in motion, sorting pallets by destination: Buenos Aires, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Paris. Sometimes, though, a shipment doesn't make it. That's where Shantay Small comes in. Her job is to figure out what went wrong — and where. It requires a lot of detail work. She prefers the freight side of things, she says: It's a little more flexible, a little less demanding, and not as, ah, contentious.

It's a warm, sunny afternoon in Atlanta, but there's a problem on Fred Brennan's screens: A blob of showers is affecting airports in Boston, New York, Washington and other cities across the Northeast.

See a Problem?

Even though the rain is dissipating, "we're still trying to recover from it. The two contribute regularly to Delta's five-day weather outlook, released every morning. Updates come every six hours and include red flags for flight paths around the world. Their forecasts are highly detailed, predicting exactly when and where storms will occur, down to the hour. Just a few feet away, dispatchers use the forecasts to tweak flight schedules, fuel orders and routes to avoid the upcoming weather. Delta says it's the only U. Like a virus, flight delays due to the Northeastern blob spread across airports, including Atlanta.

Passengers miss their connections, and when the weather clears, the resulting traffic surge in the Northeast will create extra work at their destinations later. In two days, if all goes well, his team will hit another milestone — 30, safe workdays — which will call for a party. The Atlanta air division manager shakes his head. For now, there's work to be done. His starting call is the cue: Dozens of workers in yellow vests begin to zip between planes.

Semis arrive. Armored vehicles pull up to the jets with "high-value cargo," better known as cash. It's a small operation compared to the hub in Kentucky, but the pressure is real. Sometimes they carry something special, like live whales or terra-cotta figures; most nights it's mail, flowers, floor samples, lobsters — whatever comes in from Atlanta's workday and has to be somewhere fast.

Packages are tagged, secured, weighed and collected in massive containers designed for the s, A and monster MD that UPS is flying tonight. It takes this team 45 minutes to load an A scheduled to depart at p. But with less than an hour to go, some packages aren't on site yet. Some of the containers are being hoisted onto the empty jet. One by one, they're locked into place. A crew pushes it over the jet's rolling-ball floor, and for the first time, the yellow vests glowing on the dark ramp halt.

Glitches are real, says night manager Mark Ballman, but there's always a backup plan. In this case, the bottom of the container popped out just enough that it couldn't be locked into place. If it's not secure, it won't fly. The crew could've swapped containers or tried to fix this one, but they might've missed their flight time. He had to make the call, and he decided this container could catch a later flight. So at , the captain's paperwork is validated, and the door is shut.

The plane pushes back at , four minutes early. One down, three to go. At , the second flight pushes back, and a little brown truck from somewhere in Atlanta whips into the facility. This is one of the few hours when the sweltering tunnel is relatively quiet. Usually it's a nonstop blur. As many as 11 trains — each consisting of four ton cars — shuttle about , passengers a day from terminals to concourses to baggage claim and back in a matter of minutes.

That's when workers scour 4 miles of track for loose fixtures, faulty doors or the occasional cell phones, Barbie dolls or car keys dropped between platforms and trains. Meanwhile, another worker shoves wooden objects between train doors — first a square stick, then a cylindrical rod. He's testing various objects to make sure the proper sensors react in case anything — say, an arm — gets stuck in a door.

Pity the traveler who tries to walk from ticketing to Concourse F. The journey can take more than 30 minutes. The Plane Train isn't just a passenger convenience. It means the airlines get their flights out on time, too. Troops heading to and from battle made the airport a military crossroads. Now, it's more a spot where recruits meet before going to basic training. Their mission is the same, though: Keep America safe for citizens, immigrants and refugees — like those arriving here daily.

She bounds toward him with her daughter and stops herself from blurting out his nickname, Boo Boo. Before that, the family had never been apart for more than three days. Now her year-old son is U. Army Pvt. Julien Keith, a trained helicopter repairman. He stands tall, straight and solemn as they snap photos in baggage claim. It's the first time he's worn his uniform in public.

His year-old sister, Aisia, puts her arm around him. She's wearing a bright pink T-shirt that says "Proud Sister. Aisia hears her mom's voice crack and teases her for getting emotional: "I knew you were going to cry. The airport has seen tens of thousands of young men like him. This is a place of peace shaped by a time of war. It's where recruits with noble ideals begin their journeys, newly minted warriors head for first deployments, battle-hardened soldiers search for solace, and refugees seek safety as they start a new life — the sounds of conflict echoing in their minds.

Tina Moore served in the military, too, and she's proud her son is carrying on the family tradition. She worries about him getting hurt, but she's pushing that out of her mind. For now she's focused on the fun they'll have for the next two weeks — the barbecues and family visits — before Julien reports to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and begins his new mission: serving his country.

A corkboard full of military patches and souvenirs is mounted to the wall of a Starbucks near a security checkpoint. Employees say troops who come through the airport offer the patches as a way of saying thanks, since the coffee shop won't let them pay. Mahdey Shaheen was so excited last night he couldn't sleep. He went to bed at 2 a. Now he sits near a snack bar in the airport's USO lounge with a group of fellow recruits.

They met on a flight from Columbus, Ohio. In just a few minutes, they're scheduled to meet a sergeant and get ready for a bus ride to Fort Benning, near Columbus, Georgia, where they'll begin basic training. The year-old Ohio State University student is drawn to the camaraderie of the military and hopes it will help him pay for college.

His parents were against him joining up, and for a while he listened. But this year he decided to go for it. He leads a group to the clock tower in the airport's atrium, where they've been told to meet. In polo shirts, jeans and neon sneakers, they look like a group of young guys heading down a school hallway. Only the camouflage backpacks hint at what lies ahead. This Iraqi refugee family just arrived in Atlanta to begin a new life with the help of people like Sabbagh, a case aide with the International Rescue Committee.

Just 30 minutes ago, Sabbagh was rushing across the arrivals lobby to greet them. Omar was crying. One of her daughters was clutching a teddy bear. When Sabbagh told her they're in Atlanta, Omar burst into tears again — this time because she was so relieved to hear someone speaking her language. Sabbagh tells her she's come to take them to their new home.

The three have been traveling for more than a day. First on a hour flight from Istanbul to JFK. Then an overnight stay in a New York hotel. Then a two-hour flight to Atlanta after missing their connection at LaGuardia, where they couldn't find the security checkpoint. They got lost again in Atlanta after getting off the plane, taking nearly 45 minutes to make it to the arrivals lobby.

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Now, as they pile their six stuffed duffel bags onto a cart, global news blares from nearby TVs. The headlines are grim: World leaders are preparing for a possible military strike against Syria. Tension is bubbling over in Baghdad after a string of bombings killed 50 people. The broadcasts are in English, a language Omar barely understands. But the stories are all too familiar.

Her husband was killed in war-torn Baghdad nearly a decade ago, when her daughters were just toddlers. For eight years afterward, they tried to make Damascus their home. But violence from Syria's growing unrest forced them to flee. Seeing the two girls — skinny, shy and quick to smile — makes Sabbagh think back to when she immigrated to the United States from Israel with her own family decades ago. She was 16 at the time. Her brother was 2. We never dreamed of that. Omar smiles as she talks about how her daughters will go to school and study here, and how she wants to study, too, and learn English.

There are many good things about America, Omar says as she watches them. But the best thing, she says, is that they've arrived. IRC is the state's largest resettlement office. Now he's decked out in TSA blue, a small gold badge on his pocket a reminder of his military unit. Minutes ago, Rader helped a wounded veteran through security screening. The TSA offers expedited screening to severely injured members of the military. It's an easy way for me to give back. On days like today, Rader remembers he was lucky. Rader is proud of the years he spent in military service from to Now, Rader says, he's serving in another way — doing whatever he can to help veterans and others with disabilities.

Gay still remembers the fear in his mother's voice on September 11, He was just 21 when she woke him up to tell him a plane had crashed into the twin towers. The moment changed him. Inspired to act, he joined the Transportation Security Administration. Now 33, he screens passengers and baggage, weighing security threats and watching human dramas that unfold at the airport every day. But even here at Hartsfield-Jackson, thousands of miles from any battlefield, the realities of war are painfully clear. Gay says he'll always remember the day he watched an inconsolable 5-year-old and her father, who was returning to fight in Afghanistan.

The gangly year-old towers over the rest of the military recruits waiting around the airport. He's wearing a red and white polo and green khakis with the hems let out.


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  • In one hand he holds a packet of Twix bars. In the other, a manila envelope with the paperwork that summoned him to this spot. He's known since May that this was the day he'd head to Fort Benning for basic training. And for longer than that, he's known he wanted to join the military.

    He's tired of seeing people do bad things and get away with it. But today, he's worried.

    Lost, delayed or damaged baggage

    He's been trying to chat with people in the USO lounge and keep from getting too nervous. He's not sure if he's ready for the physical grind. This is where they can get sandwiches, snacks and a chance to relax before their bus ride to basic training. A former teacher, Austin has been helping soldiers for 45 years — ever since she noticed a USO billboard, applied for a job and got assigned to Biloxi, Mississippi, at the height of the Vietnam War.

    She spent the last decade dealing with massive groups of soldiers as wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a bittersweet day for Austin — glad to see the wars coming to an end, but sad not to be able to serve so many men and women who sacrificed so much for their country. A few dozen young men flip through magazines and kick back in living room loungers once occupied by combat soldiers. Austin will see many of them again after basic training, when they fly through Atlanta to their assigned duty stations.

    This year, the airport's USO center served , troops through September. Down the hall from the USO office, the airport's chaplain and a volunteer squad of good Samaritans keep watch. They roam the airport, seeking out people in need. During the height of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, Chaplain Chester Cook says he regularly spoke with soldiers suffering from combat stress. Once, Cook says he talked down a soldier who was about to jump from the third floor into the lobby below. Kathy Rickheim stares at a photo of her son, Logan, a year-old U.

    Marine sniper in Afghanistan. Rickheim flew in from her home in Michigan and is waiting for a connecting flight to North Carolina, where she'll visit Logan's wife, Laura, She misses her son, who is based at Camp Lejeune, and is excited to spend some girl time with her daughter-in-law. This afternoon, Customs and Border Protection officers are standing at the end of a jetway, waiting for an Air Canada plane to pull up to the gate. On board the flight from Toronto is a suspected military deserter. The officers are armed with batons, guns — and his picture.

    As the plane empties of passengers, it doesn't take long for the officers to spot their man. They put his hands behind his back, place him in handcuffs and escort him off the jetway. He talks quietly to the officers as they enter the International Terminal and head to an interview room. There's no fighting, no fuss — just quiet resignation as officers explain what's happened and prepare to hand the man over to other officials. Arrests at the airport usually play out this calmly, the supervisor who headed up today's operation says.

    Yes, there will be yelling, Sgt. He knows; he's been a drill sergeant. Now he's showing a softer side, giving anxious recruits a pep talk as they wait for the bus that will take them to basic training. Every single one of you came here for a reason. Pruitt tries to reassure him: "Once you get to basic training, just stay focused on your goal, OK? A few of them stand together. Ostler, of Billings, Montana, and Noble, of Cynthiana, Kentucky, both come from military families and have an idea of what's in store.

    For Puente, whose parents emigrated from Mexico and live in Yuma, Arizona, this is all new. His family was shocked when he told them he wanted to join the Army. McDaniel has herded hundreds of recruits through the airport on their way to Fort Benning or Fort Jackson. In a matter of hours, high school and life at home will become a distant past. They will be issued uniforms, haircuts and bunks. Then they'll begin a brutal regime of Army training. Fish in a suitcase, a cow's head and a giraffe bone — oh, and don't forget the guns, bugs and drugs.

    Officers and dogs sift and sniff travelers' bags for contraband and explosives — while out on the airfield the search is on for other things that shouldn't be there. Back from a two-week trip visiting family in Nigeria, the Houston man has a connecting flight to make at But he has drawn the attention of Customs and Border Protection officers and finds himself in an examination station in the agency's "hard secondary" inspection area at the International Terminal. It's all stainless steel and business, one of many places — some hidden, some in plain sight — where customs officers, Transportation Security Administration officers and airport employees spend their days searching for what's out of place, what doesn't seem right, what smells — sometimes literally.

    A smartly dressed customs officer who only gives his last name — Gaud — asks Etuk to unlock his bags, two large red ones and a smaller purple bag. He pulls out a bottle and pops the lid. Gaud slips the bottle back into the bag, zips it closed and reaches for another piece of luggage. Nothing you can't get in the States, he says. Maybe it's better. Maybe it's cheaper. He's not clear. Etuk has been here nearly half an hour. Gaud is satisfied with Etuk's explanation for the thousands of dollars of cash in his pocket. The officer is still searching the bags. I told this guy I had to catch a connecting flight.

    This guy tells me I can miss my flight. They're rude. They should have more people working. Gaud is not to be rushed. He clears Etuk at a. Source: Customs and Border Protection. CNN documented the airport on August 28, At the world's busiest airport, people whose jobs involve searching, sniffing and seizing are at work every hour of the day. Some sift baggage for contraband; others use dogs to find explosives. And out on the airfield, folks like Geoffrey Gaskin check for burned-out lights, dangerous debris and too much rubber on the runway. It's midnight.

    Gaskin talks into his two-way radio: "Tower, this is Airport Whiskey Please step the runway lights to step four. Huge "X" signs lit by bright white lights flash on at each end of the runway, a warning to pilots that it is closed. And Gaskin, a senior airside operations supervisor, begins his slow drive down 9, feet — nearly two miles.

    He inspects the center line of lights first, then makes another loop to eyeball the lights on the edges of the runway. Every light out here means something, he says. Two-thirds of the way down the runway, the lights change from white to red and white — a signal to pilots that they're about to run out of landing space. With 2, feet remaining, the lights change again, to cautionary amber.

    Across the airfield, a total of 17, lights ensure safe takeoffs and landings. Gaskin and his colleagues consider this the big leagues; after all, these runways are the premier field in the aviation game. Tonight his inspection reveals just two lights out, which he notes on his clipboard.

    The agency requires U. Since the air traffic only slows down but never really stops in Atlanta, lights are inspected just after midnight and a search for junk on the runway Foreign Object Debris or FOD, as it's called at the airport is done at first light. In between, Michael Giambrone arrives at Runway 8L in a yellow Saab hatchback transformed into a rubber friction-testing machine. With airplanes landing at speeds about mph and then braking, the arrival runways collect a good amount of rubber. And too much rubber can keep aircraft wheels from properly gripping the pavement.

    The friction test must be done every other week, but removal is required only when two foot sections drop below the required friction levels. That's about every four to six months. Chemical treatments and broom-equipped trucks used for snow removal get the job done. The sky is still dark as Delta Flight taxis toward gate F8. This Boeing , the second-largest plane in Delta's fleet, has just arrived from Johannesburg, completing the longest nonstop flight in the airline's global network.

    Large cans filled with priority bags are the first to come off, followed by the rest of the baggage and cargo. At the back of the plane, items checked at the last minute — bags and strollers, mostly — ride down a conveyor belt with pets that traveled as cargo. Dazed-looking dogs stare from behind carrier crate bars. It's hunting season in South Africa, and judging by the number of high-powered rifles moving down the conveyor belt, quite a few passengers aboard this flight were on the prowl. Timothy Square is one of the men unloading the weapons, and he explains that they will be driven to customs and, for security purposes, put in the "glass room" off the international baggage claim lobby.

    Serial numbers will be checked to ensure they match passengers' customs declarations. Then hunters will be called inside to claim their guns. They look into the glass room like deers themselves. Customs officers check the serial numbers of weapons that arrived on a flight from Johannesburg.

    About 40 to 60 weapons are cleared by customs at Hartsfield-Jackson on a typical day. A customs officer pulls a pair of white metal bottles from a Texas woman's luggage. One look at the label tells him this could get interesting. A naked man is pictured embracing an equally naked woman, her breasts conveniently obscured by his cupped hands. It's a Colombian aphrodisiac, but customs officers suspect it might contain something even more stimulating — narcotics. Traveling back from a trip to Colombia on a ticket purchased recently with cash, the woman has drawn the officers' attention as a possible drug smuggler.

    She's relatively small, they note, but rather busty. They wonder if she's hiding drugs in her bra. The officer, who asks not to be identified, places a few ampules of the aphrodisiac in a plastic pouch, then crushes them. The substance comes back clean. It's nothing more than the sex aid the label claims, but officers still aren't satisfied.

    A female customs officer is summoned to take the passenger to a private area for a more thorough search. She's a German shepherd, after all. The dog zeroes in on a pallet of boxes, circling it again and again. Then she homes in, planting her rump on the floor, announcing she's found the bomb test device. Just a few minutes earlier, another dog, Sandor, was bounding away with his own Kong toy — a reward from Officer Davarone Jackson — after the Belgian Malinois found the test material. Normally it's the job of professionally trained airport operations teams to inspect the airfield every day for foreign objects.

    But once a year other employees are invited to grab a pair of gloves and a trash bag and walk one of the airport's five runways. Flashlights left in wheel wells. Bolts that come off carts. An aircraft ran over a fox on a runway once. The red-tailed hawks come in search of rabbits.

    He points to a red tube near the runway. It's a bird cannon that can be set to blare at intervals to scare the birds off. Birds and aircraft engines aren't a good combination. A suspicious jar is found in a black suitcase bound for Miami and beyond. Could it be an explosive? If you've ever opened your bag after a trip and found a note from the TSA saying it's been searched, the search happened in a room like this one in the basement of the North Terminal.

    With bright fluorescent lighting, stainless steel examination tables and workers wearing latex gloves, this TSA baggage-screening room has the feel of a laboratory. You must have a philosophy for how you and your team will approach the change. What was here to stay yesterday is already gone today.

    In times of constant change, leaders must have a mindset that visions for the future, but embraces agile thinking in their plans. They preserve the core and stimulate progress at the same time. The best leaders, teams and organizations teach their people to utilize the 6 A process for leading change in order to effectively navigate their way through times of change. This session gives a thought-provoking look at the change we all are experiencing and equips you with a framework to move forward.

    This Jason Barger keynote is all about what gets our focus on a day to day and moment to moment basis. Inspired by his globally celebrated book "ReMember," this keynote is thought-provoking and illuminating on what we give our focus to each day. Studies reveal that the modern worker today shifts their focus and attention between times in an average day.

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    Are you busy or effective? Perhaps you need to be reminded that where you look is where you go! If you think we live in a transactional world, you're wrong. Welcome to the experience economy. Our lives and daily existence is created by a string of experiences that we participate in. Is the experience you are creating for others EPIC? The idea is not just to attract a customer, but to delight a loyal follower and co-creator in your experience. The best brands in the world delight their customers from the moment they step foot on their property and woo them with delight through the five senses and authentic engagement.

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    One of the biggest challenges all leaders, teams, and organizations face is being able to see their work with new eyes. In reality, when we cling too tightly to the status quo, we squelch new ideas, possibilities, and solutions. Seeing with new eyes is a practice that infuses participants with creativity and empowers them to dwell in possibility. This interactive keynote challenges people to think differently and discover how new ways of thinking can propel their work forward.

    Thinking creatively is a skill meant to be practiced. This experience will not only deliver laughs and memorable stories, but tangible resources for every leader to take with them on their creative journey. This Jason Barger keynote is highly engaging and is based on the globally celebrated book "Step Back from the Baggage Claim" and the power of the individual to positively impact their environment even in the midst of rapid change. Every individual, team, and organization needs to Step Back from the Baggage Claim once in awhile to revisit where they're traveling and why.

    In the fast-paced global world we live in today, it is easy to find ourselves rushing from task to task, project to project, and meeting to meeting. In our haste to identify what we're trying to accomplish, we often lose sight of our mission and vision, and disrupt our organizational culture along the way. Stepping Back from the Baggage Claim is about gaining new perspective as individual leaders and powerful teams.