Sunday night I said adios to the family and set out for the airport for my business trip to Brazil.
It started auspiciously enough, a mere 1 and a half-hour delay on United airlines, nothing I couldn't handle. What the heck? I thought... one more glass of the red wine which was so lacking and yet so needed right after the move from hell.
Indeed, the 10-hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where my connection was, was going quite well. It had all of the positives going for it: I was pleasantly plied with red wine, I had my Sonata sleeping pills with me, and I had a nice quiet lady who didn't want to talk to me next to me. We briefly figured out, through our common reading materials, that we had sons the same ages, but, both being weary and wise travelers, had that silent telepathic agreement between us to leave each other in peace and quiet without children.
It was perfect....
until we landed in Sao Paolo.
Having landed at 10:30 am, I figured I had plenty of cushion for my layover until my connecting flight at 1:05 pm.
HA!, some little demigod was chuckling.
Like the bright airline passenger I am, I dutifully followed signs to "connecting flights;" I had my baggage ostensibly checked through to my final destination and had my boarding pass for my connecting flight.
The "connecting flights" sign led me and my fellow bright passengers to a maze of lines in immigration. So as not to upset the laws of Murphy, the "Brazil citizens only" line was empty, while the "foreigners" line seemed not to have an end, literally, as people continuously took their places at the end of the ever growing queue.
The line moved relatively quickly, and my passport was stamped without much fanfare. With that line behind me, I moved ahead to discover a new line, this one not moving so quickly. The customs line. A queue of folks lined up to declare nothing. The line painstakingly snaked its way back and forth as bleary-eyed passengers from 2 overnight flights converged in line and struggled against the gravity which dragged their eyelids earthward.
After an hour, I was through customs and immigration and searched for departure signs which would lead me to my connection's gate.
Alas, this was very foolish and silly of me.
Though our luggage was checked through to their final destinations and though we all had boarding passes for our connecting flights, we had to collect our luggage there and re-check it.
Okay, I thought. This isn't uncommon. They make the foreigners do this in Philly when they arrive from international cities. I saw my suitcase right away, recognizable from its bright red color and further distinguishable by the big-ass brightly colored baby rattle-themed ribbon tied to it, grabbed it and figured I was ahead of the game since most folks were still waiting for their luggage.
Instead of quickly being able to re-check it and proceed to the gate as in Philadelphia, though, I was met with unexpected horror as I turned the corner and gazed upon yet another prodigious line at the TAM Airlines check-in. The chaotic line zig-zagged back and forth for what seemed like a mile and protruded from its opening by about 15 people and was still growing. I looked around in desperation, trying to make sure I was supposed to be here. My fellow travelers and I exchanged glances, thinking... "really?" We really have to wait in this line to re-check our luggage? Worse, the line didn't move. At all. No movement.
2 very confused and stressed out female TAM airlines employees in charge through the crowd.
After a few minutes, the crowd began its friendship making.
"Where are you going?" "What time's your flight?" It took us awhile to figure out that we were ALL running late at this point, but desperation hadn't yet kicked in. Every once in awhile one of the desperate looking female TAM airlines employees would stand up on the luggage conveyor belt to be seen over the crowd, pause, and then yell something in Portuguese, unintelligible to most of the travelers who had originated in the ethnocentric United States where no one speaks any other languages but English.
Trying their best to be good diplomats, the few Brazilian teenagers who were stuck in line with us gave us updates every now and then. "Yeah, your flight has been canceled. That sucks."
Further, my international world blackberry wasn't functioning, not allowing me to make phone calls or send or receive emails. I had no way of communicating my delay to my kind customer who was scheduled to pick me up at my destination airport.
Three hours later. Yes. Three hours later, after I had completely read and digested an entire issue of Runners World magazine and my back hurt from standing, I was called to the front. It was my turn! I was elated.
I said to the haggard-looking TAM employee, who couldn't understand a word I said: "Wow. That was the longest I've ever waited in a check-in line." I smiled. I didn't want to be an ugly American. I'm sure she was having a tough day, too. But c'mon, folks, Isn't this routine? We just needed to give them our bags and proceed to the gate, eh? Are there not procedures in place for this sort of event? Doesn't this happen every day? Doesn't anyone in charge sit back, take a look, and think... "hmmm. This is really an asinine process. We should figure out a different way to do this, Bob."
She smiled back and nodded. Handed me a boarding pass for a flight 2 hours later than the flight I had missed.
Oh well, at least I could go find a potty at this point.
Only nope I couldn't. Turns out that the domestic flight on which I was booked 2 hours later than my earlier flight was going to be boarding soon and I was supposed to be at the gate within 5 minutes before they closed the entrance to the gate area (an hour before the flight left).
No food and no potty.
I looked on the bright side, though... I was on a flight out the same day (I got the 2nd to last seat), I had successfully found my gate, and ...
there was one chair left in the waiting area! I pictured myself racing a little old lady to get first dibs on the last remaining seat... but happily no there was no competition.
sometimes one has to be grateful for the little things.