Monday, December 1, 2008

Charlie Foxtrot

It started with the belt. Or maybe it didn’t, but let’s start with the belt anyway. I started my trip with a 4 ½ hour drive to Billings on Thanksgiving so I could catch my early fight to Denver. I thought I had packed my belt (why I wasn’t wearing it is a very good question I really don’t have an answer for), but even then I knew I had packed another one just in case, since I couldn’t find my usual belt. Turns out the last time I could have used the belt I had was somewhere in the early 80’s when my waist size was much smaller. So at 9:00 pm I was off to a large chain department store that stays open all night on Thanksgiving to get a new belt. I wrapped a few different sizes around my waist but I truly couldn’t try them on because of the plastic hanging apparatus so I wound up buying a belt that was too big. At least I can punch holes in too make it work. The next morning as I was finishing putting stuff into my bags I found my good belt and pulled that out and put my new belt in the bag. That was the last bit of luck I was to have for the next day and a half.

I checked my three bags at the United counter (two baggage labels on each bag for some reason – one to Denver and another with the list of the airports I would be traveling through – Miami, Buenos Aires, then Ushuaia). No charge the computer said. Great.

The plane for Denver left on time but was delayed getting into Denver due to fog. No problem – I had changed my ticket so I had more time in between flight and although 4 hours is a bit long it was better than missing my plane. Then it began in earnest. Early on in my layover there was a spilled water incident where I wound up spending some of that four hours backed up to the hand dryer in the men’s bathroom trying to dry out the seat of my pants. Funny looks from fellow passengers are worth having a dry butt.

Off to Miami on time. I arrived in Miami at the J concourse and since I was switching from United to American I had to get to the E concourse. Fine, except to do that you have to go out of the secure area and back through security to get to the E concourse. Not horrible but certainly more trouble than a person should have to go through, but that’s the Miami airport. Then the train to my gate was not working. I had to get on a bus to get driven to my gate, which then required a set of escalators to reach. Except the second escalator stopped working half way up and I watched the young boy in front of my nearly do a header into his Thomas the Tank Engine carry-on. I hauled my carry-ons up the rest of the stairs only to find that the gate I was supposed to go to said “Aruba at 11:47”. Mild panic set in with the thought of trying to get back into the main airport, but a quick question later and I found out that I was indeed at the right gate. Whew.

Then I got on the plane and found out I had the worse seat in the house. I was in the inside right seat of the center four seats in the extreme back of the plane and there was a metal box under the seat in front of me that took up most of the foot room. And I don’t fit on the things they call seats on airplanes well anyway, especially not on a nine hour fight. At least I sat next to an interesting fellow traveler who told me about his work in London as a trader in emerging world markets.

Fast forward to the next morning to the baggage carousel in the Buenos Aires International Airport. I made it through immigration fine and stood to the back as people gathered around the carousel and grabbed their bags. Finally the carousel stopped and there were NONE of the 3 bags I had checked the morning before. None of them. I spent the next half hour filing a claim and then had to get the boarding pass for my next flight to Ushiaia. This, I found out, required a short walk to the nearby domestic terminal. In muggy, sweaty Buenos Aires, in clothes I had already been wearing for a day. Yeah it was bad. When I got to the domestic terminal there were only two security people in the very large room full of a maze of ribbon dividers leading to the counter. I inquired and found out that I was in the right place to get my boarding pass to Ushuaia. I weaved my way to the counter and started looking around for someone to help me. Again, just as I was starting to feel a bit of panic with the thought of how much time I had left and how much time it would take to get through security, a woman came around the corner and jumped over the baggage scale to check me in. “Any checked baggage?” she asked.

When I received my boarding pass I was then directed back to the terminal I had just come from to a gate I had just walked by to get through customs. OK. After a thankfully cursory security check, I arrived at the gate and a short time later boarded another bus to get on the plane on the tarmac outside the terminal where I had to go to receive my boarded pass! By this time I was laughing (probably a bit hysterically) but it all seemed just too bizarre to be really happening to me. At this point I thought that maybe they just checked my bags all the way through to Ushuaia anyway and I would find them there, or at least I was hoping that was the case.

Unfortunately it wasn’t true. After again waiting until the baggage carousel stopped and none of my bag emerged I knew that it was going to get even more interesting. I had already been planning what items I need to purchase on the flight down and now I had to put the plan in action. First I needed to get to the hotel where reservations had been made for me. When I arrived at the hotel, I inquired about my reservations and after a few minutes of clicking on a computer behind the desk, the front desk clerk determined that I had no reservation, nor had my penguin counting partner, Elise, checked in either despite having arrived the day before. I checked my name, her name, Oceanites, Ron Naveen – nothing. Things were really starting to get on my nerves at this point. At least they had a room and after getting settled and getting online and sending a few emails, I found out that I did indeed have a reservation and in fact Elise had checked in the day before and was only two doors down.

After quickly somewhat washing my clothes in the tub, I put them back on – still mostly wet – to go on an incredibly expensive shopping spree for clothes I already owned and should have been with me. I don’t particularly like shopping anyway and this was miserable. I wound up with the some clothes and cold weather gear to get me through my first trip but my wardrobe is certainly more limited than I had hoped. Hopefully my baggage will make it to Ushuaia in time for my next trip south. But as for now I am heading to Antarctica with essentially no clothes. I guess it makes a good story.


PBurns said...

It does make for good story! And you pay extra for those (in misery).

I got my clothes back once when a crafty Berber lady yelled in Arabic into a phone and then slammed it down almost cracking receiver. What had she said? She smile: That I was a reporter for The New York Times (I wasn't) who was interviewing the King of Morocco tomorrow (he was coming to this Moroccan town the next morning) and if I smelled then like I smelled now, someone at the airlines was going to end up in jail.

The bags were delivered within two hours thanks to a special flight :)


Vickie said...

lol....I was about to post a comment, and then I couldn't remember it for laughing at your response to the comment above. What an ordeal! I love the Berber lady!