Monday, September 1, 2014

I'm asleep at 35,000 feet but the feel of the plane slowing down wakes me.  It's night time over the Amazon.  I look out my business class window to see the engine shooting flames out over the night sky.  I sense that isn't a good thing.

This was a typical business trip down to South America.  My last stop was in Sao Paulo, Brazil and I had a business class ticket back to Atlanta, Georgia and then a connection on to Portland, OR.

No, that actually isn't my plane in the picture.  Very few indigenous tribes have cell phones and fewer still would send me a photo even if they had.  And no, I didn't bungee jump out of the plane for a quick shot just for a good blog post.  So back to the story on the plane...

Of course, by this time, it isn't typical.  the engine is on fire flying over the Amazon. Repeat; The right engine is on fire! I don’t think this is part of the new “come fly with me” feature that the airline sells me on TV. Of course, “Come die with me” is not a very big sales booster.

As I turn around to see the look of terror on the faces of the other passengers, all of a sudden every flight attendant on the plane comes rushing up to the front of the plane and disappears. WTF? Have they grabbed their emergency parachutes, said “Good Luck” and then parachuted out to safety leaving me to have to navigate the plane? Hey, I’ve seen those disaster movies...

When every airline attendant is holding one of these, you're doomed!
Luckily the attendants return. But with their red flight manuals! I’ve never seen flight manuals in a plane before. Am I still dreaming and we’re in airline simulation school? Did they have a quick staff meeting and brainstorm on the best way to scare the shit out of the passengers in the most subtle way? If so, they’re good at it because uniform red flight manuals scare the crap out of me! Could you please look up “Game Over” or “We’re Screwed” in the index?

Now the real terror exists outside. Sure, they could just land at the quickest available landing strip. Of course, WE’RE FLYING OVER THE BRAZILIAN JUNGLE!!!! Not a lot of jumbo jet runways or wide open Salt flats around. Oh, and just my luck…I’d survive the plane crash, be stuck up in the trees and have to find my way out of an endless leech and snake infested jungle eating bugs to survive. Death is sounding better all the time.

The Amazon you see a lot of landing strips?
Did I mention this is a two engine plane in which one of them is on fire? Sure, they have one other engine on the other wing. How hard can it be to fly with one engine? Apparently (as I found out later) it’s not that big a deal; the military does it all the time. Guess that speaks volumes for their defense contract quality measures, does it not?

Even Death Row inmates get a better last meal than this...
So…anyhow…we’re all sitting on the plane waiting to die. There’s no damn cell phone service and I’m wondering if I can leave my kids a message on that black box they always find when they search the wreckage. I’m also wondering why they can't make the whole damn plane with that indestructible material. Oh, and screw the cell phone rule; I’m calling home before the end. What? My phone service does not work over the Brazilian jungle? What a crappy phone network. There are many indigenous tribes I could be talking to right now if they’d ever get their act together. When I come back as a ghost, I’m haunting them forever!

As it turns out, we need to make an emergency landing in Guyana. Guyana! “Excuse me, Miss manual-carrying flight attendant, isn’t that the country that Jim Jones served Kool-ade to his followers and killed them all?” Not only is that the very same place but no airline flies there commercially and so the airstrip is very small. Very small! We did have a smooth landing but we were in the grass way beyond the tarmac. They used their brakes so hard that we had to wait twenty minutes before we could taxi over to the tarmac because the brakes were too hot to operate the plane. Joy!

Guyana...not on my travel bucket list, not on my plane itinerary but here I am...
After finding another pair of undies to replace my soiled ones from that experience, I got to enjoy all the pleasures that my $6,450 business class ticket price would bring. First of all, they wouldn’t let us out of the plane and after about four hours they finally open up the doors because we’re all sweltering inside as the plane wasn’t designed to be a human crockpot. Once outside, we’re allowed over to the gates and such. I snapped a great photo of me behind the sign that says, “Welcome to Guyana…We Hope you Enjoy our Malaria Infested Jungles” (okay, I may have embellished the sign a bit).

We had the benefit of waiting in the gate area or staying on the plane. For a few hours they let us walk around between the two. I did get to visit the gift shop and go out for a bit. How dangerous can it be? I did some walking around and that was about it. Nobody converted me into a sect. I didn’t see any mosquito infestations in town and nobody sold me drugs. But as I get back, they suddenly want me to decide: On the plane or in the gate area only. No more tarmac walking or going anywhere else. Riding home over land on a donkey wasn’t an option any longer. Building a raft out of coconuts and sailing up to Florida was out too. I’m going to have to fly again.

Somehow I missed this on my walk around Guyana
I chose to stay on the plane. The look of hard plastic chairs and no food service at the gate did not seem all that appealing. Our wait on the plane was an incredible nine hours. No, that’s not a typo! Apparently they had to get another plane from Caracas, Venezuela because ours was too big to fly out and replacing an engine there was out of the question. The airline was going to have to take apart the plane in pieces and fly it all back to the states. Fun!

So there we were, reading the in-flight magazine for 27th time and bitching about whatever mundane thing we were going to miss as a result of our being inconvenienced enough to survive but still be delayed. When our new plane did arrive, they found out that they could not just switch the luggage. Apparently the giant loader cubes are different sizes on these two planes. Lovely…that meant we had to wait another two hours while they unloaded and reloaded all of our checked luggage by hand! Oh, and Guyana doesn't have a credit system so the airport was demanding local currency in cash for fuel so we could take off again. Nice that we get to wait longer for all their little international gotchas.

Given that our new plane was much smaller; hard decisions had to be made. There were not enough business class seats on this plane for all of the business class passengers. Guess who got bumped down to coach? Yep, lucky me!

So we make it over to Miami and its Sunday night at about midnight Miami time. The captain informs us we’ll just be stopping for gas and then flying directly out again for Atlanta. Weird, I wonder if he has to pump his own gas? Of course nothing happened that way at all. As soon as customs found out that they manually loaded the checked luggage, they forced everybody in the entire plane to exit the plane and re-ticket for the same plane right after they got their luggage and rechecked it through customs. You would not want somebody to have smuggled more trinkets into the USA without accounting for them now!

You don't normally see this kind of line at 11:30pm on a Sunday night at ticketing
So 325 passengers are lined up at a single ticket agent counter awaiting another ticket for a flight they already have one with. As it was Sunday evening, the ticketing computers were off line and we had to wait longer while they booted them up. It finally took them so long and there were so many passengers carrying torches and ready to burn any airline personnel they could get a hold of that they ended up going with our old tickets. Duh! I have no idea what the big deal is; the entire flippin’ terminal is EMPTY! You could film a sequel to The Shining right here in the terminal and it would be just as creepy empty. Maybe have twins of Jim Jones walking up some abandoned hallway as they carry flaming black boxes. Hell, I’d run screaming…

So our plane is there, we have our luggage that we got the benefit of picking up from the plane only to take through a security scanner and then put right back on the same plane. We were all ready to board but they were not letting us. Apparently we didn’t have a flight crew! “What’s wrong with the flight crew we just had?” I asked. “Oh, they have exceeded their maximum allowable shift time,” claimed one of the airport flunkies. Errr…how about my maximum allowable tolerance of your airline fiasco? Where is my comfy bed so I can sleep?

A new flight crew finally arrived a couple hours later from Ft. Lauderdale. Great…we got a bunch of hung over beach party employees to assist us to Atlanta. Joy. We did make it to Atlanta without incident. Of course, I had to spend the night and get another flight the next day before getting home. I missed important things at home and work having lost a couple of days during my 36 hour saga. Afterwards, I pushed the airlines for compensation in the form of tickets or something! I deserved it. My pushing went all the way up to the President of Delta airlines (I still have the letter somewhere) where I’m basically told, “tough luck”; they were treating this with the same seriousness as that of somebody that had a movie-screen that didn’t work in their seat: a $200 voucher. Now there’s customer service!

After that, I took a different tact. The business class ticket cost $6,450 while an equivalent economy class ticket cost $680 dollars. You’d think that for the additional $5,770 I should be getting a massage, haircut and jacuzzi soak for that much more! Of course, I demanded that since they were the ones that bumped me down to coach and squished me into that tiny seat for all those hours and fed me coach food, they owed me the difference in cash. And guess what? I got the money and got to keep it myself even though this was a company ticket. Finally…some justice for my suffering…

Oh, and I'm sure there actually is a lot of beauty in Guyana and I'm sure there are travel blog readers who've been there to enjoy it.  Let's just say this wasn't the trip for me to.

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