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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Travel Woes Part II: Buffalo to Lima

In Part I of this series, I detailed how my girlfriend and I ended up sharing a ride with a perfect stranger named Jennifer from Toronto to Buffalo to try and catch a flight to JFK airport so we could catch our connecting flight on to Lima. With our flight out of Buffalo delayed, we ended up in a bar at the airport looking to eat something (none of us had eaten in many hours) and perhaps drown our disappointment with alcohol (not an actual plan, just a joked about plan).

After we ate (I had Buffalo wings, seeing as how we were in Buffalo), we wandered outside to see that our flight was still delayed. This meant that even if we made it to JFK, it looked like we would be arriving after our flight to Lima had already left. Worried and disgruntled, we asked if there were any American Airlines personnel in the building and were told that there were possibly still some outside of security if we wanted to wander down to baggage claim. With what appeared to be at least an hour delay, we decided we might as well attempt to do so. Then, to our horror, they announced that the flight leaving from our gate was cancelled. Moments of terrible contemplation about being stuck in Buffalo for a night passed before another announcement followed in which the Jet Blue employee clarified, saying it was not actually the flight to JFK that had been cancelled, but was in fact the flight to Boston that was supposed to have left from that gate several hours beforehand but had also been delayed, and the flight to JFK would be leaving shortly. In a roller coaster of emotion, we were suddenly elated that we might actually have a chance to get to JFK in time to catch our flight. Of course, even the best estimates for our arrival time into JFK only gave forty minutes to get our bags, find our terminal, check in, and then go through security and board the plane. Jennifer at least had things a little better in that she wasn't carrying gifts to family, so she was just carrying everything on.

The flight to JFK was rather uneventful. It was full of anxiety and mentally making contingency plans in case we didn't make our connecting flight. Jennifer was no longer travelling with us, as her seat was not near ours and we had acknowledged our goodbyes and good lucks before getting on the airplane. When we landed in JFK (airport number 3!), my girlfriend and I made our way as quickly as possible to baggage claim where we then had an agonizing wait for our luggage while the minutes ticked by. With a scant fifteen minutes before our flight from JFK was supposed to leave, we picked up our suitcase and headed for the terminal train. It is at this point in the rush I made an error. Our flight, while it had been booked through American Airlines, was actually being operated by LAN Chile, which meant that instead of leaving from terminal 8, it actually left from terminal 4. In a rush, I failed to notice this on our itinerary, and therefore guided my girlfriend and I to terminal 8. In my defence, we only had ten minutes at this point to check in, get through security, and board our plane before it was supposed to leave, so I really do not think we would have made it anyway. Especially since when we finally did make it to terminal 4, the only LAN lady we could find working told us check-in had closed an hour ago and we would have to go back to terminal 8 and talk to the American Airlines personnel about being rerouted. Despite being told that check-in had been closed for that long, however, we think Jennifer may have made it since we never ran into her again (hopefully she did... I wouldn't want that crazy rented car trip to have been for nothing).

So, tails between our legs, we once again traversed the JFK terminals to return to terminal 8. This may have been the lowest point in our relationship, as my girlfriend refused to talk to me for the duration of the train ride from terminal 4 to terminal 8. One small bit of luck was with us, though, for when we got to terminal 8 and found the American Airlines counter that we needed to go to for rerouting, we managed to beat an entire plane load of angry and disgruntled travellers by only a couple of minutes. This was especially auspicious since the desk agents were possibly the slowest airport agents I have ever seen (and this is, if you recall, after we spent nearly two hours in the check-in line in Toronto). We had to tell the agent who was dealing with us that we wanted to go to Lima, not Toronto, three times. He ended up rebooking us to fly through Miami the next morning from LaGuardia. Unfortunately, since there had been so many flight cancellations, we were told there was no way for the airline to give us a hotel to stay in. They at least supplied us with a waiver for an airport limo to take us to LaGuardia as well as a $20 dinner voucher and a $10 breakfast voucher.

Though it took the limo (I always find it misleading to call airport limousines 'limousines' since they are decidedly not. They are fancier than taxis, fair enough, but they are not limousine as I understand that term) a little over an hour to show up where it was supposed to, we finally made it to LaGuardia (airport 4!) shortly before midnight. Security services were closed, meaning we had to spend the night in the outer skirts of the airport which was already unfortunately full of other stranded people. Hunkering down in a cafe (which thankfully had an Au Bon Pain open all night so we could use our vouchers to buy orange juice and salads), we paid the unreasonably expensive fee to access the Boing Boing wireless network so I could send my parents an email warning them that we weren't going to be arriving when they thought we were. My girlfriend stated adamantly that we were not allowed to both be asleep at the same time, and that she refused to sleep in a fast food cafe in LaGuardia airport (which I thought was a logical ticket for me to go to sleep, despite her later claims to my having abandoned her through the night). Given my severe inability to go long periods without sleep (a weakness those that know me in real life can attest to), I set her up with my laptop for amusement and made a bed for myself on some exceedingly uncomfortable small plastic chairs. At about three in the morning my girlfriend woke me to point out that the laptop battery was dying and her iPod was also nearly out of batteries. An odd buzzing was also coming from the nearby column which had given both of us a headache (although that was also probably helped along by the harshly bright lights, exhaustion, and general tension), so we decided to search out a new place to spend the night. I scouted much of the airport, but the only relatively unoccupied place I could find was another cafe (this time with nothing open) on a lower level. We found our way there and I rebuilt my uncomfortable bed while my girlfriend plugged the laptop in and set about keeping herself awake.

After we checked in in the morning and went to the gate, my girlfriend couldn't stay awake any longer and her desperate desire not to fall asleep in LaGuardia airport failed her. She curled up and fell asleep for a brief hour or so before our flight. To our amazement, we boarded the plane and took off without further mishap, flying on a rather cramped and lacking in entertainment (there were no personal entertainment screens, and those screens which did exist were relatively useless since the audio wasn't working) airplane to Miami (airport 5!), where we briefly stayed before once again boarding an undelayed flight (now that we were past the snowy regions of the northlands) and flew to Lima (airport 6!), arriving 36 hours after we had set out (and, unfortunately, still in the same clothes and without having been unable to brush our teeth for large stretches of that trip, thanks to the idiotic airline policy of not allowing liquids or gels in carry-on luggage). Still, we did make it.

5 comments:

cornucrapia said...

What a clusterfuck of a trip. I'm still jealous that you were in South America for xmas though.

Mozglubov said...

Jealous of me being in South America for Christmas, sure. But keep in mind I was also lying in a hotel room bed feeling ill enough that I couldn't even eat the turkey dinner my sister packaged up and sent over for me from the actual Christmas dinner. Though it was very nice to see my family, I have to say that overall it was not my best Christmas.

000breakout said...

Thanks

MJA said...

A few things I wanted to ask:

1. Was the American Airlines ticket the cheapest fare you could find?

2. There are two other flight options from Toronto to Lima - A) Air Canada flies direct to Lima at 8 hrs each way ... B) TACA also has tickets to Lima (via El Salvador)

I can't speak for Xmas rush, but either AC or TACA have cheaper flights than AA, Delta, or Continental offer, and best of all you do not have to go through US Customs and Security.

My parents left for Lima (to escape this horrible Canadian winter) on January 8th using TACA. They left promptly at 8:30am and landed in Lima at 7:00pm. No delays, and no cancellations.

Just wondering if considered those two other carriers at all, and avoid all this hassle you went through.

Coincidentally, I went through the same on my way back from Lima to Toronto, but it was my own fault for arriving early and airport and getting a massage that made me miss my flight.

I wound up taking the next flight (a couple of hours later to El Salvador) and taking the connecting flight from El Salvador to Honduras and to JFK, from there find a flight from LaGuardia to Toronto via Air Canada.

All because of a back rub in Lima :\

Mozglubov said...

Yeah, for whatever reason (I assume it was the holiday rush) the AA tickets were the cheapest available (otherwise we would have of course preferred to fly Air Canada - direct flight and it is the airline we use the most). I hadn't actually heard of TACA, as they didn't show up in any of our travel searches, but I will keep that in mind for the future (although it is my sisters' turn to come back to North America and visit me).

That sucks that you missed your flight on the way back... lucky there was another one with space!