Brazil Part 2 - Getting there: It just keeps getting worse
by jesse coombs

2/21 CANCELED FLIGHT SPELLS H-E-A-D-A-C-H-E

I just got walloped with a doozy!I got on my flight from Las Vegas to Miami and everyone was settling in for the red eye, but we had not pushed away from the gate by 15 minutes after our scheduled departure time. The pilot then told us over the intercom that there was a problem with the nose landing gear, that would take 16 hours to repair and there was no other plane available.

We were all going to have to deplane and head to UA Airways ticketing counter. I walked quickly for five minutes to the ticketing agents outside of security and luckily was early enough in line that I got to see someone right away. Many people had to wait in line a long time just to see someone. After a lot of talking and waiting the agent told me that she booked me on an American Airlines flight leaving at 6am.  It was already 1am.

She said I would get a meal voucher and a hotel room, but I did not see much point in the hotel room because with shuttles and everything else I would only be in it for a couple hours. I told her that the flight she gave me would make me miss my flight to Brazil from Miami, but she did not have any other options. She tried calling my travel agent and TAM airlines, but neither were available. And we were not able to find a 24hr number for TAM.

The only reason we had any number for them was that I had a number from trying to figure out how I would get the kayaks on the plane. So my number was for baggage and no one was answering. The US Airways agent gave me an extra $5 food voucher giving me a grand total of $15 in food vouchers. So, for not being able to fly that night to Miami, missing my Brazil flight which may likely cost me a change fee and price difference fee and spending the night on the airport floor I got a whole $15 food voucher.

Doesn't seem like meaningful compensation. Plus, to add insult to injury, the restaurants are not open during the time frame of 1am to 5am, so I would not be able to use the vouchers anyway. Not cool! Those vouchers are sitting comfortably in my ticket jacket with all the other screw ups. But the games have not stopped yet. I went to the American Airlines ticket desk at 4:45am to get my ticket for the 6am flight, and they said I had to go back to US Airlines and get them to print a ticket.

The computer printout that US Airlines gave me was not sufficient. Luckily by this point I had figured out I did not have time to be standing in lines, so I was cutting the self check in area and going right up to agents for help. I then went to US Airlines, cut the self check in area and the agent there told me to wait to be called over. After 10 minutes of waiting an agent called me over only to tell me that she could not help me and that I would have to wait in the big line. WHAT!?!? I could not believe my ears. I ignored her and stood in the first class line. I waited another 10 minutes there, and luckily the first class agent was knowledgeable and helpful and got me the ticket I needed. I then booked back to the American Airlines desk and cut that line again. 5 more minutes and I finally had a boarding pass at 5:20.

I went straight to security keeping my eye open for a quick sandwich shop to use my vouchers, but that was not to be. And then I saw the worst security line I have ever seen. If there was one person, there were a thousand. HUGE line, and I just looked at it in disbelief. Disney wishes they could have lines this long. Could I possibly miss my 6am flight when I had done everything they had told me to do, right AND wrong. Luckily, not only was it the biggest security line I have ever seen, it was also the fastest moving.

The line clipped right along, and when I got to the front they opened a new check point, so I was able to get through quickly. I went straight to my gate and started calling family at 8:50am their time to see if I could get help. After about 15 calls and countless calling card dollars I finally reached my sister who gave me my Mom's cell phone. I didn't have the numbers on me because I left my cell phone in my car in Portland. I don't take my cell phone with me on international trips because I won't be using it there and don't want to take the chance of it getting broken or lost.

Mom was good and answered her phone right away, and was very good about taking the information I gave her quickly as I had to get on the flight. My hopes is that she would be able to speak with my travel agent, US Airways and TAM and get my TAM flight moved without my having to pay a bunch of extra fees or lose my ticket for not being on the first flight. I am truly amazed at what a challenge this trip has been so far. All international kayak trips involve some level of challenge, but this is by far the most difficulty I have encountered on any trip. I am sure I have not seen the last of it. If I was paying attention to signs I would have turned gone home a long time ago.  

Next I still have to figure out the challenges of getting the flights to Brazil, getting the kayaks on those flights, and getting the kayaks and myself through customs.  

Well, things have really taken interesting turns. American Airlines is on concourse E (I think) and US Airways and TAM are on the J concourse which is completely on the other side.  I didn't want to collect my bags (two huge kayaks) until I knew the game plan. I called Mom and she said Paula wanted me to call her and she would help me. But when Mom told me the options she offered: pay $800 in change fees or fly stand by I really did not see much purpose in calling her. She was not going to be able to book me a new flight.

I decided to walk across the entire concourse from E to J and talk with US Airways about what was happening and see if they would help me get on the next TAM flight. After walking for 10 minutes to US Airways I spoke with a bald headed guy who listened to what happened and then offered no real help at all. At first he said there were no TAM agents there for him to speak with, and then when he saw one he said it would not help anyway. He said I would have to fly stand by and that was just the policy. I pressed him for more help, and he said I just wanted him to get me out of paying change fees.

I was trying really hard to keep my cool and not tee off on him, so I said 'why would you say that?' I wish I would have said 'No, I want you to deliver me on time to my destination, because that is what I paid for with my ticket. And if you can't do that, I want you to make every effort to fix the problems caused by your airline not getting me there on time. 'But of course, it is easier to think of these things after the conversation rather than during it. I also told him that I got the food vouchers, but I could not use them where they were given to me in Las Vegas, because I was only there from 1am to 5:30am and no restaurants were open during this time.

He said the vouchers were good in any airport, but I wasn't so sure. He suggested I get in line for TAM and put myself on stand by for the next flight. I decided to walk back across 10 minutes to concourse E to get my bags from American Airlines and then check into TAM. I went to the baggage claim, and did not see my bags (two Super Heros) anywhere. I found the baggage office and there was a long line of people who had the same cancelled flight as me. I waited in this line for about 2 hours before being helped. I put in a claim with American Airlines and the baggage agent said that AA would get my bags from US Air and forward them to Miami.

I then walked back again to the J concourse and went to TAM to see what my options were. What a breath of fresh air. While US Air and AA had every reason to help me, they really made no effort to reach out and make things better, just do what their policies told them to do. TAM airlines on the other hand had no reason to make an extra effort to help me, yet they were the most friendly and helpful. Fellipe, the TAM supervisor, told his agent to book me stand by and then suggested I check on my bags and he would help me as much as possible. It wasn't even so much that TAM did anything extra ordinary for me, it is just that they were much more sympathetic and friendly.

I went to the US Airways baggage office, and they were helpful also. They checked my records on line and suggested that I have the bags forwarded to Brasilia. I was planning on waiting for my bags in Miami, but this would be a much better option if it worked out. This would mean that I would hook up with my friends faster and that I would not have to pay the baggage fees of getting the oversize and overweight bags on TAM. The downside could be that there is extra delay and problems associated with me not baby sitting the boats through Miami to Brasilia. The next step was to head back to the US Airways ticket counter and see about my food vouchers that were only good for Las Vegas.

I spoke with an agent, and not surprisingly, he said there was nothing he could do and the vouchers were not valid here. I pressed him for more help, and he said he would have to talk with his supervisor. Funny thing, his supervisor was the same bald guy who 'helped' me before. The supervisor took the food vouchers and brought back new ones that were valid for Miami. I thanked them and went to security.

My stand by flight was still 2. 5 hours from departure, so I used the opportunity to get a little dinner with the food vouchers. Funny thing about airport food is that despite only ordering a flavored iced tea and chicken sandwhich the cost was still $18 with tip. I then went to my gate and waited for the stand by flight. There must have been about 12 people on the stand by list, and I can tell you that south American airlines are relaxed about pretty much all their policies, not just some of them.

There were families getting on the plane after the scheduled departure time, and the gate agents were running around the terminal looking for the late families. Pretty amazing. In the end, only one of the stand by list was put on the plane, and that person was not me. I stayed at the gate and watched the Obama / Clinton Texas debate.

I stayed up and worked on email and other stuff until 10pm, and then slept at the gate until 5am. After collecting myself in the morning I went back out security and waited in the line that had already formed for the counter to open at 6am. After waiting in the line for a little over a hour I had my first stroke of good luck in quite awhile. The very nice female ticket agent decided for some reason to book seats for me on both flights to Brasilia as opposed to making me go standby. When I realized what she had done and had given me the boarding passes I told her that if I could I would kiss her.

She said I could and blew me a kiss. I blew her one back and went happily back toward security. I called the American Airlines baggage claim phone number to see the status of my bags, but nothing had changed. After getting through security I headed to the gate and waited for the flight. True to TAM 'policy' the flight left forty minutes late, and I was sure that they would make up the time in the air. This was an 8 hour flight with a fair amount of turbulence.

Unfortunately, we did not make up time during the flight and arrived 40 minutes after we were supposed to. That meant I only had 40 minutes to deplane, go through customs, and get to my next flight. Luckily I did not have bags i would need to wait for and check again, so I was able to skip this step. Also the customs line was unbelievably quick and easy. The line into domestic flights was fast also, and then we had to take a bus to the flight. The good news is that like all the other flights TAM was late regarding this one also, and we all got on without problems. The flight left a comfortable hour late, and now I was off to Brasilia.

I slept a little, read a little, and played chess a little as I had done during all the flights. I got off the plane and Ben and the boys were waiting for me. After bit more delay we Mac brought the rental car over and we headed off to the hostel. After situating ourselves a bit we all crashed in the hostel at 2am to a cool and comfortable bed with the fan blowing &nbsp in the room. This was a nice change of sleeping quarters after two nights on airport floors. At this point the crew consists of Ryan MacPherson, Chris Zwacki, Ben Stookesberry, Pedro, Pedro's two friends and me.