Maybe that’s why I would think twice flying with Aeromexico again…
I don’t usually talk about my travel mishaps because it was embarrassing and stupid. In fact, they always happen, and they happen almost every time – I forgot to bring something (my local metro card, my toothbrush, my sim card, or my memory card); I drop something (my phone on the bus, my umbrella in the theatre, or my sunglasses in the restaurant); I forgot to charge my battery for the camera, or I did remember to charge my battery but I forgot to put it back in my camera…
Well, those incidents were probably my fault and then I was chatting the other day with a bunch of friends about my panic moments of taking a train. Yes, and especially in Japan. Even with the help of an app these days, taking a train in Japan sometimes could be super confusing! Different platforms, stations, and classes. When hundreds and hundreds of passengers keep pouring out from the train and I just got panic and all confused; I couldn’t even count how many times I boarded a wrong train or got off at the wrong station… I could go on and on about my JR horror stories, but this is now what I wanted to share today. Today, I wanted t share a little bit about catching a flight; and apparently, to my surprise, many of us have all been there.
The beginning of a nightmare
So, I took off from Los Angeles last December, heading to Chile for my year-end South America trip. I had to transit to Mexico City at 5 AM (because I flew with Aeromexico), and we were already delayed about… 1 hour. It seems to me, that I had to expect a lot of delays when traveling to South America from the U.S…. I had the same delay when I was heading to Peru, we were stuck in the middle of the airport while we were on the plane, and we had to wait for an hour before taking off.
Anyway, the flight carried on as usual. Five hours later, we had our seatbelts fastened and ready to touchdown. I could see from my window the entire Mexico City; though at dawn, the city was glittering with street lights and traffic was bustling. Somehow, magically if I might say, when we were literally 10 meters above ground, the plane pulled back up, and we were up in the air again. I didn’t know what happened, I didn’t understand why. The pilot was speaking something in Spanish and I didn’t understand. When I look out the window, we were high up and the city is covered with fog. We flew for another hour and finally, we landed. It was a little bit unexpected, but well, I had a 6-hour window before I hopped on my other flight to Chile. However, we were stuck on the plane after we landed and I wondered if they had a problem with the airport shuttle (the same thing happened in Peru and we waited almost an hour on the plane for a shuttle bus to come and take us back to the terminal). It was until then, that a lady sitting next to me in the business class told me that we were actually in Guanajuato, a nearby airport, due to the fog!
We were just waiting until the weather condition in Mexico City improved and we could go back. Due to security (and most likely, operational issues), we were unable to get off the plane, even though some of the passengers were actually heading to Guanajuato. What confused me the most was that when I looked out the window, the weather was sunny, warm, and calm.
Of course, there were a lot of concerned, anxious, and jumping passengers during our wait as many of them were also heading to different connection flights to Argentina, Peru, Chile, and so on. I remembered the flight attendant told them, repeatedly, that due to the weather, many connecting flights would “probably” be delayed and they did not have to worry.
I have had takeoffs and touchdowns during typhoons, hurricanes, and snowstorms – I was confused because apparently heavy fog during touchdowns was a big no-no in Mexico (and later I met a friend from Spain and she told me, yes, Mexico City was a valley and it happens – I didn’t verify). Anyway, we were delayed almost 5 hours before we finally had a go from the Mexico City Airport and finally returned to Mexico City.
When we arrived at the airport, I could still see my plane parking at gate 66 from the window. But deep down I know it would not be that easy. In Mexico City, passengers have to go through customs clearance even though they are only transiting with the same airline. The other time when I was in Cancun, back from Cuba, we had to wait for an hour for the sniffing dogs to check our luggage, before they released them to the luggage belt, and we could see our luggage through the window, sitting there, waiting.
When I finally passed the customs (which took almost an hour in the queue), I missed my connection flight by 5 minutes, and someone at the luggage claim said the plane had already taken off. The connection flight was on time after all. In distraught, I was guided to a counter while a rather rude lady gave me another flight to Chile the same day because I had to be in Chile the next morning. I got bummed from business class to coach, but the lady couldn’t do anything about the refunds. I was kicked from offices to offices, counters to counters in the airport terminal, and all of them said I had to go to another office, or I had to call (well, classic poor customer service).
I didn’t want to be stuck in Mexico City, I didn’t have a phone, I hadn’t eaten and I had to agree to take the Avianca and LATAM flight to Chile because I need to arrive in Santiago the next day or I might miss all the connections that I planned for the trip. The domino started. I had to make fast decisions. I had to act fast too because I only had about an hour to get to terminal 2 to catch my compensation flight! I had to use my plan B. Should I change my destination? Should I change my route? Should I wait for a day for my flights?
Any of these decisions would change my itinerary and I had to re-book my hotel reservations, connecting flights, and pickups… While Aeromexico staff told me the airport offered free Wi-Fi – but wait, I only get 5 minutes of free Wi-Fi for each mobile device in the airport (seriously?), and it was not enough time for me to rebook everything. Even worse, the Aerotrén (a people mover at Mexico City International Airport) was out of service that day and I had to line up for a shuttle bus that transported us to terminal 1 in traffic. Enough was enough!
When I made it through traffic to terminal 1, I could barely make it to the check-in counter (and got ‘almost’ yelled at by the ground staff, said I was late, and so my seat is ‘not confirmed’). I had to be on standby at the gate (another long queue to security check, yes, of course); Finally, I made it to my flight to Bogota, Colombia, deep-breathing and calming myself in the entire process, and luckily I didn’t have to spend the night at the airport (I actually might).
Once I arrived in Bogota, though less dramatic, I had to go through the customs clearance, check-in, check-out, and luggage claim all over again before I, yet again, barely made it on time to my connecting flight to another destination. In the end, it took me 60 hours to get to San Pedro de Atacama, and I traveled through 4 countries in 48 hours with 6 flights, all the while thinking I am never flying with Aeromexico again.
Lesson learned for transiting on your journey:
- Don’t underestimate the time you need for Customs (even if it’s a transiting flight). Never underestimate the time you need through customs, the length of the queue depends on flights (hence, the volume of arrivals). Sometimes the queue could be short, but always assume they are long. Check if you need to go through the custom for your connecting flights and head to the customs as fast as you can if you do. Make sure you have the immigration form filled out on the plane and bring a pen with you!
- Take care of your luggage. Remove old barcode labels on your luggage because old barcodes confuse the scanners and increase your risk of losing them during transportation. If you are a frequent flyer member of the airline, make sure the ground staff put on the “priority” tag on your luggage.
- Do the research and understand the airport terminals. Airports have more than one terminal and they could be far apart. Passengers may require to go through customs and reclaim their luggage if they are changing terminals. Again, don’t underestimate the time required to wait for a shuttle (even worse if there is no shuttle).
- Get Wi-Fi. As I said, some international airports provide free Wi-Fi but most of the time those Wi-Fi are extremely unreliable, limited, or not user-friendly.
Tip: look for cafés (or Starbucks) as they usually provide much more user-friendly free Wi-Fi services.
- Have your Apps handy. Download the airport apps, or airline apps (while you can). Although you may not need it, it could be useful when you are trying to locate the airline office, gate, lounge or information kiosk when you are already in a hurry.
- Always have a backup plan, a Plan B is your friend (or even C & D). Yes, always think about a plan B because anything can happen. What could you do if you can’t get to your destination? Any other route? Do you have a change of clothes if your luggage got lost? Do you have the contact numbers you need on your phone? Bring a good book, water, and snack with you in your carry-ons; and always bring a power bank and charging cord in case you have to be in a long wait.
- Travel with a companion has value. Don’t be afraid to talk to people, I was glad that I had help from other fellow travelers (while sorry to say, much more helpful than ground staff) along the way. They shared their experience, kept my spot in the queue, and even acted as a translator when I failed to communicate with the staff…
- Consider direct flight as a higher priority. Choose a direct flight if you can. To me, it’s always my top priority unless no direct flight is available then I consider connecting flights. If you have time, plan to stay a day or two in your connecting destination. There is always something to see and do in a place.