Never on Sunday

pexels-photo-358319.jpegIn my limited experience of overseas travel, three airports/ flights stand out as being more challenging than usual. It may be coincidence, but they all took place on a Sunday.

The first was a flight from Dublin to Madrid. We weren’t even meant to be on that flight, but my husband had been ill overnight causing us to postpone our flight. So instead of the early Saturday morning flight, we left on a Sunday afternoon. At the gate we realised that this was no ordinary group of passengers. About half were schoolchildren, aged between ten and fourteen. They were excited after a weekend
excursion, and once on board, showed no interest in sitting in their assigned seats, listening to safety briefing or even wearing seatbelts. They shouted to each other across the plane in Spanish. Not only were they impervious to the requests of the flight staff, but the accompanying teachers did nothing to settle them. The flight attendant – a mature woman who no doubt had children of her own, told us that this was a common occurrence. Rich private school kids, hyped up on a weekend of freedom, CocaCola or more.

We did make it safely to Madrid, but this was strike one against Sunday.

Strike 2 was in Casablanca. No romance with Ric climbing the aircraft stairs. We had started the day in Fez, leaving at the time of the first muzzerin’s call, driving for several hours to Casablanca. Why this was necesssary when Fez has a perfectly good airport, wasn’t clear – it was the way the tour was planned, and in my naivety I hadn’t questioned it.

Although it was a week after Eid, there were still many family groups travelling, and the airport was chaotic. So much so that we had to to queue outside to even get intothe terminal. Flights were delayed, gate numbers on our boarding passes bore no resemblance to what was on the indicator boards, and there were few announcements in English. My attempt to spend my last few dinars on coffee were successful only after a group of men pushed in front of me.

Everywhere there were signs warning us not to take large volumes of fluid on board and to have all our tubes creams and potions in clear plastic bags. Standard procedure, but despite passing through several checkpoints, no one ever asked to  see mine.

We finally found ourselves at the right gate, waiting,waiting, along wth many others. We chatted to a couple of young Americans who were seated behind us, and joked about leaning our seats back on them. Be careful what you threaten. When we took off, my husband’s seat flew back and he was left staring at the ceiling until we gained altitude. As the plane shuddered and rattled, I began to have thoughts about having to leave him and saving myself if we did end up in a disaster situation –  our daughter has a chronic illness and is unable to live independently.

Strike three was in Lima today. Wedged between the successful economies of Ecuador and Chile, Peru is very much a developing country. The airport is busy, but there aren’t enough gates so buses are often used to transport passengers between the plane and the terminal. There seems to be a severe lack of toilets, too.

Today’s adventure started when my alarm went off a t 12.45 am, in preparation for a 1.30 pick up from the hotel for a 4.15 flight from Quito. There would be a short layover in Lima,  and then onto Santiago.

When I tried to print my boarding pass, a message about priority passenger came up. I stood up straight, rearranged my scarf, and waited to be invited to upgrade to business class. Ahh, those two minutes of hope, soon dashed. Not business class, but no room on the aircraft. Despite booking my flight six months ago, I had been offloaded to a later flight. In compensation, I had two hours free wifi (usually you only get half an hour at Lima airport) and was given a breakfast voucher. I couldn’t find the restaurant I was meant to use it at, so I contributed to the flagging Peruvian economy by paying $US11.50 for coffee, juice, and a few small rolls.

Being Sunday, and the last weekend of the annual Chilean vacation month, there we many families with young children travelling, and both airport and plane had many unhappy babies. In the restaurant where I had breakfast, the music and chatter were so loud that it was impossible to hear any announcements.

Earlier I had congratulated myself that being half asleep minimised my stress about the delay. But the noise levels, missing free breakfast and the crowds soon had me anxiously waiting the call to board.

The flight was relatively uneventful, except for the crying babies, and the fact that there appeared to be no expectation that you would sit in your assigned seat. But I was aware that my luggage was probably on the original flight, and having been told at length by some travel  companions  about their battle to find their luggage in Shanghai, I was aware that finding my suitcase might be an issue.

I passed through immigration and customs without drama. But the baggage hall was chaos, with piles of unclaimed suitcases between carousels and  stacked up in corners. I couldn’t find the indicator board telling me which carousel to go to; nor could I recognise anyone from my flight. Finally I found the carousel, through a door at the end of the hall, but, as I expected my, suitcase was not among those going round and round.

I pulled out my phone, and composed a question in Google Translate, asking where I should begin to search for my luggage. But as I approached the Latam enquiry counter ther was my familiar green case with its red Bunnik’s strap and pink ribbon on the handle. I breathed a sigh of relief, and headed for a taxi, incredibly grateful for my distinctive case in a sea of hundreds of apparently identical black bags. I don’t know how anyone else found their suitcase.

All these things might happen any day of the week. And it was a Saturday, not Sunday, when my boarding pass had seat number XXX, and the driver I had booked to take me from Lima airport was late.

But on the balance, it seems wise not to book an international flight on Sunday unless absolutely necessary.

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