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Traveling light
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Round-trip, the drive was 32 hours, with an estimated 64 stops. The flight was a promised nine hours, with just two stops.

The choice was easy. Its application, not as much.

Seeing family in northwest Arkansas is always a joy for my clan of five. Getting there is another story - which I'll promptly tell.

Actually, on this occasion, there was little to tell about getting there. The flight from Jacksonville to Atlanta, then to Fort Smith, Arkansas, was rather uneventful. All flights were on time, I didn't have to strip to my drawers at the security gate and none of our children vomited on any unsuspecting passengers. It went perfectly - which should have been a clue that the return trip home would be especially problematic.

Our flight out of Fort Smith's airport was scheduled for 11:05 a.m. central time. Shortly after arriving at the airport, we found out our flight was being delayed. This would cause us to miss our Atlanta connecting flight to Jacksonville.

The Delta people were very helpful and courteous but could not get us another flight to Atlanta. Instead, they offered us a 5 p.m. flight on another airline to Dallas/Ft. Worth, where we could connect to an 8 p.m. flight to Jacksonville. It was our only option, so we decided to wait.

And that we did, until our flight to Dallas/Ft. Worth left - at 8 p.m., which caused us to miss the connecting flight. We were told the next flight to Jacksonville was at 6:10 a.m. the next day, and that the airline would put us in a hotel near the airport for the night.

After arriving at our hotel room, in addition to utilizing every lock, I also placed a chair and most of our luggage against the door. The bloodstain on the hallway carpet made me rather nervous.

Our sleepy entourage arrived at the airport the following morning at 4:45 a.m. - actually shy of the time recommended to be there by the airline. Why they make such a recommendation is puzzling, since no one from the airline was there to check in our bags. They sidled in around 5:30 a.m. while hundreds of us waited in line. Luckily, our flight was delayed by 30 minutes, which I should have expected.

Living in an airport for the better part of a day led to some realizations. They follow.

• Kids can have fun anywhere. Wherever they were during our frustrating journey, that was the place to be. Their glasses were always half-full with good cheer. The same couldn't be said of me.

• While airport security is very thorough with tall people, they apparently don't look down much.

• Coffee shop employees are generally a snobbish, contemptuous lot.

When you're stuck in an airport for hours supervising three active children, caffeine is essential. An attitude is not when I innocently ask a dumb question, like "what exactly is a frappuccino?" (It's like a coffee slushee - I recommend it.) Until being a coffee shop cashier requires a doctorate from Harvard or a mini-mall tech school, put a lid on the eye-rolling arrogance - and the nose ring and blue hair while you're at it.

• The Fort Smith airport has the nicest bathrooms I've ever seen.

If you are ever in need of a clean bathroom, I recommend stopping by and checking them out.

Home a day later than planned, my wife offered, "You know, it may have been easier just to drive."

I begged to differ.

"Driving would have taken us 16 hours one way, and 32 stops. Flying home was 16 hours, sure, but only 11 stops."

I'm trying that half-full glass thing. It looked like fun.

Len Robbins is an award-winning columnist whose weekly column appears in 21 newspapers in Georgia.