I was really tuckered
out after a month-long stay visiting my family in
California and was looking
forward to an easy flight home to
Guatemala. Billy (that angel of mine!) was
waiting for me in
Antigua and he had arranged for our private driver to meet me
at the Guatemala City airport about an hour away and bring me to our hotel.
Traffic was smooth
riding over Highway 17 from Santa Cruz to San Jose Airport this Tuesday morning
and I arrived in plenty of time to go through TSA pre-check security and
catch my flight.
Everything was going as
I expected, and once I boarded the plane and settled into my seat, I ate one of the sandwiches I had
packed to get me through the long day of travel ahead.
Gorgeous seaside town of Santa Cruz, California
Just a moment please
I didn’t even blink
twice when the airline pilot said we would be having some repairs done to the
fuel gauge before we left the hanger. I figured he’d pick up any extra time we
needed while in flight. I had a tight 40 minute connection in Dallas that would take
me to my next flight to Guatemala City, but I tried not to stress about it.
The captain again came
on the intercom to tell us that the fuel gauge had been repaired and that we’d
be on our way…
Except he didn’t say that.
What? Wait a moment, what did I
Dallas had requested at
least an hour grounding of all planes – nothing and no one were leaving or
arriving to Dallas Fort Worth airport due to a major storm and flooding to that
I confidently pushed the
service button above my seat, anticipating a flight attendant to come and answer
questions about my connecting flight to Guatemala. After all, there were several
flight attendants in the aisle already doing this for others.
Oddly, no one was coming
to my seat as they all disappeared to the back of the plane.
The woman next to me
suggested that I take all my belongings with me and be prepared to deboard the
plane. “You’ll probably have to reschedule your flight” she said to me
A sinking feeling came
over me as visions of Billy waiting in Antigua and my private driver waiting in
Guatemala City flashed across my mind. I wondered how this was going to play
out. I endeavored to maintain my peace of mind.
I made my way to the
back of the plane where the flight attendants seemingly were hiding from the
passengers. That couldn’t be true… Could it? Asking what I needed to do about my
connecting flight, the attendant responded in a high, shrill voice, much louder
than I had expected someone in charge to speak to me.
“YOU’LL HAVE TO SPEAK
WITH A TRAVEL AGENT ABOUT THIS. IT’S NOT OUR FAULT THAT THE PLANE IS GROUNDED!!”
Okay… And where might I
find this agent?
“AT THE FRONT OF THE
PLANE BUT HE’S VERY BUSY RIGHT NOW AND THERE IS ONLY ONE OF THEM! JUST GET IN
LINE! WE CAN’T HELP YOU!”
I struggled up
the crowded aisle of the plane to the front where there was, indeed, a line, but
no one was moving.
I couldn’t believe how
quickly things drifted down from order into chaos.
I noticed that the
pilots in the cockpit were looking over charts and maps laid out between them
and another flight attendant was asking over the intercom for everyone to remain
seated. No one was moving in or out of Dallas and we had to stay here and wait
until we were cleared to fly.
So I asked this young
woman what I needed to do about my connecting flight, realizing that – with
flight time, even if we left this moment, I had already missed my connection.
The line to speak with
an agent wasn’t moving. Someone in the front was speaking very loudly that she
had to be rerouted to Madrid and had to arrive today because she had an 84 year
old woman with her. She could possibly stay the night somewhere, but it was too
much to ask of this 84 year old woman, so therefore, she needed to have this
arranged right now. Her urgent needs took precedence over the increasingly long
line of those waiting for service.
People continued to back up behind
me and still, with the one agent working, no one was moving. Another man going
to Guate City had rescheduled himself by using his smart phone and he was going
through Miami. He suggested that I might do the same.
I felt like a digital
dumph. How did he do that? Oh Gawd. He was probably on some cell plan that
covered every country he traveled - I didn't have such a cell plan...
I needed to speak with a
real human being and quickly.
The instructions from
the flight attendant at the front of the plane varied from moment to moment.
Yes, get off the plane and reschedule. No, stay on the plane and stay overnight
in Dallas. No, we don’t compensate you for your room, that’s on your dime. Yes,
you must get off the plane now, as everyone is getting off the plane, we aren’t
going anywhere, we are cancelled. Bags will be returned to baggage claim. If you
do get off the plane, we can’t guarantee that you can get back on. If you want
to reschedule you’ll need to get off the plane. Maybe you should stay on the
I took a look at the
woman who monopolized the one agent’s time in rescheduling her flight, and if
she was any indication, thought I had better get off the plane before the full
flight deboarded. Or else
I could be here all night rescheduling myself to my destination.
Off the plane and back
at the airline check-in gate, the lady with the 84 year old passenger is still
yacking away with another agent while people in my line are actually moving
Why is this bedlam
This kind of stuff
never happens to me!
Everything always runs
smoothly for me, because that’s what I tell myself, and that’s what I tune into.
It’s what I look for and that's the wave I ride… yet here I am at the airline gate rescheduling myself
my bag is still on the plane.
I was confused. This is
not how my life normally goes.
Mild internal panic
The next thing I know
there’s a flurry at the gate, and we are told that the plane is leaving in 5
minutes. Get on the plane or your bag leaves without you.
Oh No!! My bag goes to
Guatemala City in Central America? Without me?
In my mind I see a
ravished bag, devoid of contents as I arrive in an international city of over 17
I freeze in place for a
moment, mentally let go of my bag that’s on the plane and speak with the travel
agent facing me at the desk.
I get myself rescheduled
for two days later, and head on to the baggage security desk to make a claim
about my now orphaned bag.
The baggage claim man
seemed like he was 10 years too long into this job and there was no engagement
with me coming from him. We make arrangements for my bag to be collected in
Dallas and flown back to San Jose, where I’ll pick it up two days later when I
come to board the plane on Thursday.
Meanwhile, in Antigua,
Billy has caught wind of the news about my flight and Skypes my cell phone. I
give him the skinny, and understandably, he’s disappointed.
Family came from an hour
away to pick me up once again and take me back to Santa Cruz.
Catarina Arch in Antigua
Luggage, luggage, who
has the luggage?
Over the next 2 days I
call the baggage claim several times to be assured about the location of my bag
only to find that it has already been flown to Central America.
morning before the Baggage Security Office opened, I prepare myself to have the
necessary documents or claim numbers to show that I own this particular bag,
once I arrive in Guatemala City. This security agent shows me the computer
screen that tracks my bag and promises that my bag has been received and scanned
at the airport in Guate City.
Should be smooth
After a long and
uneventful flight (with the same tight connection in Dallas where I literally
run to catch my then-boarding connecting flight) I arrive in the big city, go through Immigration and Customs
and then begin to ask around for the Baggage Security Office. Finding my driver
waiting for me outside the International Arrivals doors, I enlist him to help me
find my luggage.
Everyone I asked had a
different idea. Go across the street, go upstairs, go downstairs, go back across
the street, go to this office and then that one. Finally, in a very roundabout
way, I am at a desk in a dark corner where a young woman with a distanced
attitude tells me to wait here until another agent arrives.
My driver, Hernan, says
to me, “Wait here, don’t move. I’m going to go get the car.”
It was no longer than a
moment when another
humorless woman meets me at the desk and tells me she has not seen or heard of
this bag. It’s not here. If it were here, she would know about it.
I grab Hernan and with
my eyes, pleaded that he not leave me.
I hung onto the view I
had of the computer screen that morning which showed me my bag had arrived and had been
scanned. It was here, I kept telling the agent.
That’s impossible, but
we’ll see. Come with me. You cannot take anything with you. These are our
security instructions. You can have nothing with you. Leave your passport at
I hesitate for just a
moment as I realized that I had my credit cards and my birth certificate in my
daypack. There was all my money;
left-over Dollars from my visit to the States and all of my Quetzales to help
ease my transition back to Guatemala. I had new solid state hard drives, new SD
cards, memory cards for computers, my smart phone, camera, my thumb drive, and
every other digital gadget I owned, along with personal medication that I take
on a regular basis.
In a second, I whirl
around again to Hernan and give him all my cash, all my digital equipment and all my
IDs. I say to him, “Wait here. Don’t move. I’m going to get my bag.”
Following this woman
into the baggage retrieval area I felt digitally and financially naked. I hadn’t
a cent or piece of identification to my name and I was in a foreign country. I
had just given everything of substantial value to my driver.
A thief’s dream?
What was I doing?
The treasure in my daypack and
travel bag was worth far more than Hernan would be making on this cab
ride to Antigua…
It was a thief’s dream
My luggage was not on
the carousel and I looked around the desolate and dimly lit area.
It had been an hour
since I began this luggage search and nothing much had moved forward.
I was mystified as this
was definitely not the norm for me, but
chose not to panic.
Eyes darting around the
gloom of the room, I finally see a young man rolling what looked to be my bag.
Rushing up to him, I verify (along with all the scanning information) that it
was my luggage and now I needed to return to Customs and go through the X-ray
I had forgotten that in
exchange for all my gear and passport, the emotionally cool young woman gave me an airport
ID badge that was clipped to my blouse. Relief and confusion must have been all
over my face as I was led to the security machine. People were smiling now, and
a man helped me lift my heavy bag onto the moving belt. I was in pleasant shock
as I realized that the flimsy lock I placed on the zipper was still intact.
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I was almost giddy with
Gracing through security
I find my way back to Hernan, who, thank God, had not abandoned me. I return the airport ID badge and collect my
passport and other gear. Hernan’s son comes up with the taxi and we all take our
Rain falls on the
windshield and the wipers slap it away. Traffic is horrendous and the streets
are slick reflecting the colored lights of advertisements as we head through the maze of
cars and trucks.
Hernan calmly reaches to
the back seat and locks that door, then his own. Following his lead, his son
locks his door, and then I lock mine.
After all, we are traveling about 5 miles
an hour, in the dark, in a city of 17 million.
What could go wrong?
Always carry your
necessary medications with you in case you get separated from your luggage.
Pack the items of most
value (digital equipment) with you to carry on the plane. Do not place in your
Put an ID and a little
extra cash in a pocket so at least you have proof of who you are, and some cash
in case you need a meal, or to pay for transport or hotel until things settle
down. If Hernan would have betrayed me and left with my gear, I would have had
Do not let go of your
baggage claim tag even if you are rescheduling your flight and you get a new
print-out. Get a tracking number for your gear.