Last time I told you about my first day as a traveling fictioneer, and then a few days later I was finally to leave Sweden.
My first few flights were to take me from Stockholm, Sweden, to San Jose, Costa Rica, via Oslo, Norway, and Newark, USA.
My biggest worry was the tight connection in Oslo. With only 45 minutes between flights, any delay in my first leg could mess up my whole travel plans.
As it turns out I didn’t have to worry. My flight arrived in Oslo in plenty of time and I only had to move a short distance to my next gate.
Or so I thought.
The last 30 minutes of the Oslo-Newark leg was very bumpy and I started to feel nauseated.
I got to Newark. Go through immigration and customs because you always have to do that in the USA no matter if you will continue flying to another country. And then I saw the next flight will be at least 45 minutes delayed.
I shrugged. That was fine. This was my last leg. It could be however late it wanted to be as long as it wasn’t cancelled.
Tip for the unwary: don’t jinx yourself like that if you can avoid it.
It was raining buckets in Newark.
In Guatemala, there was a volcano eruption.
The reason for my plane’s delay was because the plane we would use hadn’t arrived yet. The volcano eruption might have had something to do with that.
The 45 minutes delay turned to over an hour before we were finally boarding.
Up into the rainy air we went.
After this everything seemed to go alright. I seem to remember a bit of bumpy air, but not much and not continuous.
Then the pilot said that we were about an hour from San Jose and the airport was closed due to broken runway lights. (Impossible to land in darkness without them.) We were to go into the holding pattern because the airport thought it could fix the lights in about 45 minutes.
Ten minutes go by and the pilot reported that now the airport was reporting a later opening time and we didn’t have enough fuel so we’d fly to Panama City, Panama, as the nearest big airport to refuel and hopefully fly back when San Jose airport opened.
By now it was getting to be quite late. It was around 21:00 (local Costa Rica time) and our scheduled landing time was 19:15, already two hours behind schedule. It would take another hour to fly to Panama.
So fly we did and landed in Panama around 23:00 local Panama time (new time zone). And the pilot reported again and basically said: the San Jose airport wasn’t sure when it would open and the current flight crew had to stop working in 30 minutes.
And here I thought Oslo would be the problem. Nope nope nope.
I am sure most of you can guess what happens next if you’ve been through or heard about something similar.
Long, long, long queues through customs because more than our plane couldn’t go to San Jose. Then a long, long, long wait for coupons for hotel and meals, and then transport to hotel.
And I happened to be at the back of the bus, so I was almost last in the check in line.
Around 2:40 in the morning was when I finally stepped into my hotel room for a couple of hours of sleep.
We left our checked baggage on the plane, so I only had my handbag which did not contain a change of clothes or anything useful like that. At least I had a toothbrush and toothpaste from my Oslo-Newark flight. (I flew SAS plus, kinda like economy plus.)
The good thing? The hotel was upscale. The bed soft, the shower awesome and the breakfast was delicious.
And I’ve technically checked off Panama as a place to visit. I have after all stepped foot on its soil and I have a stamp in my passport to prove it.
Now, you are thinking that this tale must be at its end. We all got back to the airport the next day, onto the plane and flew merrily to San Jose where I didn’t miss the domestic flight I was taking that day.
You’d be mostly right. In that way that all of the above happened, but another wrench was thrown in the works first which was the thing that finally made me lose my temper.
Because so far I had been pretty zen and I’d consoled calmness because being angry and such wouldn’t make the process faster.
It still wouldn’t, but I think it is fair to say that it isn’t the best idea to test the temper of a large group of people that only had about 2-3 hours of sleep (and many even less than that).
We went to the airport. We went through security. We went to our gate. Supposedly we’d fly at 10:45.
Everyone felt pretty merry. Those I spoke to had managed to make arrangements for anything that changed with getting to San Jose a day late.
Airport regulations or some sadistic person decided that we couldn’t board until each carry on had been hand searched by one of five people setting up at our gate.
Now, I don’t have a problem with this process. Not really.
Well, they could have done it when we went through security.
Or they could have set it up in such a time frame that we could still leave on time or they could have brought enough people that they could search everything before planned take off.
They did none of those things.
Instead they set up around 10:00 and planned to get through a full plane load of people—so what 150-200 people? I really don’t know—in less than 45 minutes?
This was a US airline, which means that most everyone tried to avoid paying for checking in baggage and therefore had big carry-ons full of stuff. (I guess those people had a change of cloths… how nice…)
It took about an hour and a half.
We finally were in the air at 11:50.
Someone I’d been talking to think this happened to us because of a tip although when asked airport personnel said this was normal procedure. If it was normal and happened to every flight, all things would have been set up in advance and they’d have the routines to prove it. Or more likely they’d do it at security, you know the place where they check your carry-ons.
Plus we already knew it didn’t happen to another flight that left from a nearby gate.
This thing irritated me a lot, especially since the more prudent thing to do would have been to search some random people, not everyone. But then if it was a tip, it really wasn’t specific enough and it wasn’t like any of us had planned to be in Panama so someone would have had to be pretty crafty to set up spontaneous smuggling (or whatever the tip was).
So yes, after being calm and collected the previous day (there really wasn’t anything to do but wait), I got angry about the extra search because it was so clumsily done.
Unnecessary inefficiency bugs me. Airports are generally pretty uneven about efficiency, but there is a dance to it that looks the same more or less everywhere. When they step out of that pattern, it really is on them to make sure it doesn’t delay a flight a whole hour so they could indulge sadism or a tip or whatever.
After this, things went as smoothly as expected. We landed in San Jose at about 11:50 (a one hour flight and time zone shift meant we landed at the same time we took off). Immigration in San Jose took about an hour, maybe slightly less. Then customs for five minutes. On I went to check into my domestic flight, quick through security and I had time for a meal.
So there is the whole story of my first few flights since becoming a traveling fictioneer. The most trouble I’ve ever had.
Next time, I’ll tell you more about my visit in Costa Rica. See you then!
PS. Glad nationaldag, Sverige! Happy independence day, Sweden! (This blog post was posted on June 6, 2017.)