“The next few hours were spent filing through a series of lines sleep-deprived, as the airport kept filling up with people and news crews, with little to no one leaving.”
When my partner and I went to South America for a few weeks, we had no idea what we were in for. Both of us are well-travelled and come from immigrant families. However, nothing can quite prepare you for being in a foreign country without a local showing you around or knowing the language.
It was one of the best trips we have ever taken, full of surprises and changed plans from beginning to end. However, no journey is without travel woes. One day, in particular, stands out as the worst of our entire trip.
One of the last scheduled stops on our trip was El Calafate in Southern Patagonia. Thinking we were experts when it came to LATAM flights, we arrived at Buenos Aires’ smaller airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, bright and early to avoid lengthy queues. We were rewarded with a decent spot in the line which made up for skipping breakfast — and coffee — to make it there. Sharing a bottle of water between us, we knew we would soon be partaking in some in-flight refreshments. Or so we thought.
Previously, we had waited in a seemingly never-ending line for our flight, and so we weren’t bothered. Two hours went by, and no one had moved. The line was getting longer, and we could hear people arguing in Spanish around us as we were blissfully unaware of what was happening. Getting closer to departure time, I managed to finally spot a LATAM employee to find out if we were going to be served in time to make our flight.
“Oh,” she said nonchalantly. “That flight has been cancelled. All the flights have been cancelled — you will have to call the service centre and get put on another flight.”
“But,” I said anxiously, “We have no way of calling, and nowhere to stay.”
She just shrugged her shoulders and moved on. I have never been so paralysed and at a loss of what to do. No internet. No food. Barely any sleep and now no flight?
Then we saw it — all the employees walk out of the airport, and the pandemonium began. Luckily, my partner was more clear-headed than me, and led the way to the other side of the airport and found some WiFi. After calling home with no answer, we realised we were on our own and would have to figure out what to do.
The next few hours were spent filing through a series of lines sleep-deprived, as the airport kept filling up with people and news crews, with little to no one leaving.
There was the line to the unmanned LATAM counter to put us on another flight. We quickly gave up on that and lined up at another airline to buy new flights, which were, of course, sold out as soon as we were finally served. So we went back to the LATAM line to wait, only fuelled by a cold airport sandwich and the reality that we had nowhere else to go.
After what felt like forever, the strike ended, and staff returned. To our dismay, we were told all the flights were full, and the only one we could get out on was tomorrow, meaning we would have just one day to spend in El Calafate. Discouraged, we left and were about to book an Airbnb and head back to the city when my partner, knowing how disappointed I was, convinced me that we had to try one more time.
We still had some time left in Argentina, so we lined up — one last time — and asked to move both our flights so that we would go the following day but extended our stay in El Calafate. To my sheer surprise, it was no issue at all! I explained how grateful we were and how we almost left.
“Do you have anywhere to stay?” he asked, to which I responded “Not yet, but we will book somewhere and come back to the airport tomorrow.”
He then pointed us to our last line of a very long day. LATAM was offering free hotels, airport transfers and meals for any travellers whose plans had been disrupted. After eight hours in a hot, crowded airport, the air-conditioned taxi felt like a five-star resort, and we immediately collapsed on the hotel bed once we arrived.
And so the next day we returned. No strike, no delay — we seamlessly flew to El Calafate, and I am so grateful we did. The scenery was breathtaking, and witnessing the Perito Moreno Glacier is something I will remember for the rest of my life.
Moral of the story? Make sure to exhaust every option before giving up. Ignore the part of your brain that just wants to sleep, and keep trying. Not all travel experiences are as enjoyable as Instagram will have you believe — some are simply just exhausting. But I assure you, once you get to where you know you need to be, it will be worth every sleep-deprived minute.
Author - Priscilla Southcombe
A full-time freelance writer, Priscilla has written on a variety of topics and subjects. However, the highs and lows of travel remain her favourite subject, in life and writing.
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