In hand: 12 boarding passes. The assignment: Fly AirTran's busiest plane from the busiest concourse out of the world's busiest airport. One plane, six flights, four pilots, six flight attendants, 555 passengers, 1,864 nautical miles — and two reporters.
As dawn breaks in Atlanta, an immigrant from Chile is arriving at the airport with her daughter to go see family in Memphis, Tennessee. A man in Minnesota is on his way for a vacation with a boyhood friend. A woman is headed to Florida to catch a flight for her sister's funeral in New Jersey. A young family prepares to spend the weekend at the National Sweetcorn Festival in Illinois.
All of them will be transported on the same plane this day. They don't know each other, and their paths won't cross. But collectively, they tell the story of a global society on the move — and connections made in the sky.
To get the full experience, go to CNN.com/ATL24. Here's a taste of what we found on board:
Her first flight of the day
Hi. Glad to have you aboard. Hola. Guten tag. Good morning.
Flight attendant Chasiti Anderson has five greetings for passengers, and this morning she's working them as people board AirTran Flight 10 to Memphis at Atlanta's gate C12.
Her broad, engaging smile provides an air of comfort. The job has allowed her to see the world, and the flexible schedule lets her be active in charities to help at-risk youth. "I love everything about flying," she says.
This is the first of three flights for Anderson and her crewmates today on board N982AT, a Boeing 717-200 with 117 seats.
Among her passengers is Roc Howard, 51, seated in 29F.
Born in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, Howard is the 10th of 14 children. He picked cotton as a boy in the Mississippi Delta, worked in finance at the White House and now works in finance at the Department of Homeland Security.
The day of this flight is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, and that's not lost on him. "I've been lucky in that I've seen both worlds," Howard says. "Working at Homeland Security and the White House, it's a different, different world than what I grew up in."
He's headed home for a family reunion in Mound Bayou. He flies into Memphis and will drive the rest of the way. He hopes to get some golf in before eating up barbecue and tall tales with family. It'll be the first time he's seen most everyone since his mother died last year at 82.
"My mother raised us all on her own," he says. "Even today, I don't know how she did it."
Life of a rocker
Jim and Julieanne Goodwin can hardly contain their excitement about this trip. "Everything seems less painful than usual," says Jim.
They're on AirTran Flight 425 from Memphis to Atlanta, but their final destination is Denver, where they'll see their 22-year-old son, John, at the University of Colorado. They'll be joined by their 23-year-old daughter, Anne, for a full family affair in the Rockies.
The couple are from Tupelo, Mississippi. "You know, Elvis is, too," says Julieanne.
What would a flight out of Memphis be if someone didn't invoke the name of the King of Rock 'n' Roll?
Flight attendant Tyk Phillips, 64, used to live the life of a rocker.
From 1963 to 1973, Phillips played in a band that traveled the nation. After that, he promoted concerts for nearly a decade and then worked special effects lighting for rock bands for two more decades.
"Had a ball," he says. "We did The Who tours. Neil Diamond. Barry Manilow. Journey. Rod Stewart. ZZ Top. You name them, we've done them."
He started for AirTran in management before trading it in six years ago "to do something fun."
Now, he likes studying people on planes, striking up conversations and hearing their stories.
As the flight arrives in Atlanta at 11:55 a.m., flight attendant Selina Menowski tells a young toddler that he's a "cutie pie." He pouts and stomps off: "I'm not a cutie pie." She laughs.
'Some things you just leave alone'
Dexter Kluttz, 60, is in seat 28F as AirTran Flight 163 heads to Jacksonville from Atlanta. He started his day at his home in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and now he's flying to Florida to meet up with a boyhood friend.
Ever since they were 20, the two have traveled to fish and party. Their mancation delegation used to number six, but deaths have cut the group to two.
Kluttz and his friend will drive to the Carolinas. The plan: deep-sea fishing off Cape Hatteras or Myrtle Beach. They've been plotting the trip for a year and a half.
"The thing about it is, the fish don't matter," he says. "It's just basically about getting together again. It becomes more important as you get older."
Their best mancation was in Germany when all six were still alive.
What made that trip special?
Kluttz bristles, chuckles and mentions the unwritten rule of mancationing: What happens on the road stays on the road. "Some things you just leave alone," he says. "Let's just say it was a good time."
As the jet reaches a cruising altitude of 27,000 feet, Keith Walker, 47, rests in seat 21F.
Based out of Austin, Texas, Walker travels frequently for work.
"I fly 35 to 40 times a year, so you have to enjoy it," he says. "The people I meet are enjoyable. You can't allow the frustrations of flying to be an issue. That just is what it is."
Walker works for a nonprofit agency that helps put veterans with disabilities back to work.
His life changed in 2009 when he met an Iraq War veteran whose carotid artery was severed by an IED explosion. The loss of blood left him with mid-term memory loss.
For Walker, that meeting "put everything into perspective in the blink of an eye."
He left a job with a large defense contractor and moved to his current company, which employs 1,400 people, including more than 900 with a wide range of physical and mental disabilities.
"Our company mission is to create a job opportunity for every type of disability."
The saddest trip
Lillian Eversly would prefer not to be making this journey.
"Right now, I'm very emotional. I'm going home to Trenton, New Jersey, to bury my sister," said Eversly, 61. "It was a sudden heart attack, so it's not a pleasant trip for me."
There were six brothers and sisters. Eleanor Culbreath, 69, was the second to pass. Lillian and Eleanor would take turns visiting each other. One year, Eleanor would come to Brunswick, Georgia, to stay with Lillian; the next year, Lillian would visit her older sister in New York, where she lived. Their family home was in Trenton, where her sister will be buried.
"We were very, very close," she says. "I feel a tremendous loss and void and hurt."
The two didn't visit this past summer. When they last spoke by phone, they talked about their children and grandchildren.
Eversly pauses, gathers her thoughts. "I didn't expect to be going home for a funeral, but such is life."
At 2:24 p.m., AirTran Flight 339 departs Jacksonville for Atlanta, where Eversly will change planes for the long trip home.
The toddler express
Immediately, something becomes obvious on AirTran Flight 164 to Indianapolis, scheduled to leave Atlanta at 4:20 p.m. There are at least a dozen kids under the age of 3, seemingly all over the place.
This can strike fear in even the most experienced traveler: Will a screaming kid be sitting next to me?
All 117 seats fill up, too, the most full this 717-200 has been all day.
Flight attendant Trina Holden — passengers tell her all the time she looks like Rihanna — takes it all in stride.
She's been a flight attendant for 14 years and was aboard a Continental jet from Newark, New Jersey, to Los Angeles on September 11, 2001, when news of the terrorist attacks came.
She was in the bathroom when her crew members knocked. "I was like, 'Can I get a moment of peace?' " They were told that something had happened to planes in New York and that air traffic control was doing its best to find a place for their plane to land. They eventually touched down in Omaha, Nebraska.
"I'll never forget it," she says. "Flying has definitely changed after that. It will never be the same.
"But at the end of the day, it definitely beats sitting in an office doing a 9 to 5. ... I know that this is where I need to be."
The human lie detector
A body language expert, Linda Clemons is on board AirTran Flight 324 from Indianapolis to Atlanta. She's headed to Palm Beach, Florida, for a black enterprise conference. She travels 20 days a month, and planes offer her opportunities for research.
"I've got a world of people to be able to be my case studies, just to look at, and I love it in real time," Clemons says. "When I'm flying, I'm just like a child at the holidays."
Can a plane serve as a metaphor for our global society?
"No matter where we are in the world," she says, "the emotions are the same -- fear, surprise, happiness, sadness. But it's so interesting to see how it's displayed on a plane."
Among her clientele are salespeople, lawyers, girlfriends, boyfriends or spouses "trying to read their significant others."
"I have folks invite me over to be a human lie detector."
Quick with a smile and a laugh, Clemons explains one of her tricks:
"I watch couples. I can always tell, if they're sitting beside each other, if they're in love ... because the way they sit will form a heart. If there is dissension or stress, I can see that."