Until You Get on the Plane

Christmas in Antarctica originally posted by Linda Lou Burton December 16, 2005 from Lima, Peru – The yippy dogs kept at it all night. The planes kept coming in. But that was OK, because I was going to Santiago. I slept despite it all.

6 AM wakeup. I called Par to give him the news. “I’ll be in Santiago no later that 9:45 AM on Saturday,” I said. “What arrangements can you make to catch me up to the ship in Puerto Montt?”

Par did not know. “But, I will get you there,” he assured me. “Call me when you know which plane you will get on.”

I dressed and packed, confident, though much uncertainty lay ahead. It was going to be a good day. In the shuttle, I heard a familiar sound. Three people, together, talking Southern. I had to ask where they were from. “North Ca-ro-lin-a,” was the answer. “Montreat College. We’re he-yah to play basketball.” We exchanged stories and wished each other luck with what was ahead.

A light bulb went off in my head about my luggage. A cart! “Please let me out by the CARTS, instead of LAN’s gate,” I asked the driver. I’m finally getting smart, I thought to myself, as I piled four pieces on one easy-to-roll cart.

Inside, I began working through the line-up maze. “Please do not fly today and we will give you a ticket anywhere we fly,” was the first approach. “No thank you,” I replied. “I am flying today.”

“Put your luggage here,” I was instructed. A swarthy man x-rayed my bags, rubbed the outer surface, then tagged them with a sticker of approval. Clunk, they went into a pile with other bags, all much larger, heavier, more beat-up than mine. What a travel baby I am, I thought.

At the counter, I asked for standby. A ticket was prepared, but I was assured I would not get on the plane. “We are overbooked,” I was told. “I will wait,” I answered. “And, if you cannot seat me, you can endorse my ticket to American. I have a seat reserved there.”

This caused a great flurry of protest.

No! Your ticket is not endorsable!

Yes! Magdalena looked it up yesterday!

No! You must call reservations!

Yes! I did! That is who said!

No! We will not endorse this ticket!

Then, I will know that I will get on this plane today, I said.

With my standby ticket in hand, I moved across the way to Security.

Serpentine. Serpentine. So many children traveling with parents. Children, rushing, languages, colliding, everyone, pushing. All possessions in a tub. Everyone watching everyone. Passport. Boarding Pass. Hurry up. Move it on. Gate 115.

I called Par in New York. “I am standing by the gate,” I reported. “What arrangements have you made?”

“Until you get on the plane, we cannot make arrangements, because we do not know what time you will arrive. Once you are on board, we will proceed with the next ticket.”

“How will I know what to do? Will someone meet me at the gate in Santiago?”

“No, no one can meet you there. You will have to manage yourself. Go to the ticket counter and ask them what ticket they have in the computer for you. It will be ready. Wherever you go next, someone will meet you and take you to the ship.”

Announcements, announcements, noises blaring, it was almost time to begin boarding. “I have to go!” I said to Par.

I sat. I waited. Row by row the numbers were called, the line grew smaller, and smaller. Finally, there were only 12 people left standing. I inched towards the counter, listening.

And then it happened. They called my name. I stepped forward, and accepted the boarding pass in awe. Seat 16J, it said. Get on Bus 38, they told me.

I stepped outside, boarded a bus. A few more people came, and then we were driven several miles across runway and pavement, to a distant loading area.

16J would have been a window seat. Of course that part was too good to be true.

They put me in the center seat of the center aisle. But I did not complain.

Just after takeoff, I was fed. Pasta, bread, salad, water, even dessert. No food like that on domestic flights! Maybe I can even sleep, I hoped.

There was a mini-screen in front of me, offering news, videos, games, even a GPS map. I tuned into the map and watched my progress south.

At 6:30 PM, Pacific Time, I finally made it across the equator. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes.

We got to Lima at 9 PM. One stop, passengers off and on, refuel, clean the toilets. By now I’ve met Sofia, in the seat to my right. She was headed for Buenos Aires, to spend Christmas with her family. We watched each other’s things, stretched our legs, walked to the restroom.

The door was open at the back. I caught a breath of dark Peruvian air. It was humid, 74 degrees.