Monday, May 23, 2011

Perhaps it's wise to plan for the worst

It really is a wonderful experience and adventure traveling to another country, even if you’ve been there before. To expand your horizons, to engage a culture foreign to your own, to see the world from even the slightest different perspective are rewards in themselves. It’s an entirely different experience traveling with others, especially when you are the tour conductor or trip leader. To be responsible for the safety and well being of any number of other people is certainly daunting, but with the right people, those responsibilities, although great, are not overly challenging.
Our two-week excursion to Peru was to begin with a noon departure from the Huntsville International Airport on May 20. We were to fly to DFW, then back to Miami, then on to Lima, arriving in Lima at 4:30am on the 21st. Program participants were to arrive at the airport two hours early so we could ensure a smooth start to our journey. When I arrived at 9:45am, a few had already checked into the flight and had found that all flights into DFW were cancelled due to severe weather, and our group had been split up into two: one going to Chicago, the other to Washington, D.C. Both groups were to meet in Miami and resume the trip as originally planned. Sadly, that was not to be the case. For reasons that I did not understand or consider at the time, I was placed in the smaller group of four people sent to Chicago. The remaining 12 went to D.C. on U.S. Airways. (There was a small checked baggage fee issue for the last three in that group, but I was able to see it sorted out.) Both groups departed Huntsville on time, and the larger group (containing all of my undergrads) traveled smoothly for the rest of the trip, arriving at the scheduled time in Lima, with all of their luggage.
My little band of four was not so fortunate. We arrived at Chicago O’Hare to find our 5:30 flight to Miami was delayed until 7:05, putting our arrival in Miami at 11:15, a mere 40 minutes before that flight was scheduled to depart. We were willing to risk the late arrival in Miami because we had told the rest of the group to strongly encourage the Miami flight crew to hold the plane for us. Then the flight was delayed until 7:45. This required immediate action, because missing the flight out of Miami last night meant not getting to Lima until 9:45PM today. This would leave ¾ of my group alone in Peru without me and without the money to pay for the accommodations. Obviously I could not allow this to happen, so I called the rebooking services and managed to maneuver us into a flight to NY La Guardia with a transfer to JFK and a direct flight on LAN Airlines from JFK to Lima arriving about an hour and a half behind the original group.
With too much to detail, we raced to make the La Guardia flight from Chicago, were booked on the LAN flight, only to find that our reservations had been cancelled en route. We were placed on standby with the option of being routed through Guayaquil, Ecuador on a later flight that would arrive at 9:30am in Lima. Fortunately, miracles happen (as stated by the ticketing agent at JFK,) and we made the earlier flight. Unfortunately, when we switched airports and airlines, our bags had no way of knowing where we were headed and had only to wait and carry out the journey as originally planned. I don’t expect them to arrive any sooner than 9:45 tonight, but they have to make it through customs by themselves, then across Lima and to the hotel. I hope we see them tomorrow.
Then again, we have travel insurance that covers our lost luggage up to $300 if the bags are delayed or lost for more than 24 hours. I might get some new clothes out of this little adventure.
For now, we are all safe and secure, albeit travel-weary and worn, in Miraflores, Lima, Peru. I trust that all of the hiccups are now behind us and we can enjoy a smooth trip for the duration.

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