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Saturday, August 3, 2013

A 41 hour trip back to the States

I thought my trip back to the States would be uneventful. I was wrong.

It deserves a post of its own.

My flight was supposed to be ~2:30PM, connecting in San Jose, Costa Rica and arriving at JFK the next day ~2AM. When I checked in online, it turned out my flight had been moved to ~10:30AM, connecting in San Jose, Costa Rica and San Salvador, El Salvador. The change didn't affect my schedule, but I was certainly glad I found out about it. I ended up not being able to check in online anyway, receiving some vague and opaque message instead. 

I like to create time buffers when I know I need to be somewhere at a specific time. So, I left my hostel at 6:30AM, arriving at the Lima airport 40 minutes later with plenty of time to spare. Unfortunately, checking in ended up taking 2.5 hours. At the end of those 150 minutes I asked the woman at the counter what had went wrong. Response: "I don't know, but it works now." I smiled and walked away. I had just enough time to leverage my access to the VIP Lounge and stuffed myself silly with breakfast (read: carrot cake and coffee) before boarding. Here was what was served on board. Business class is great. 

On my San Jose, Costa Rica connection it was even stranger as the flight crew repeatedly informed us that we couldn't leave due to immigration issues. After sitting idly on the plane for over an hour, we finally took off. We arrived in San Salvador, El Salvador too late for the ~25 of us to catch our respective connections. Rumor was that a couple folks on the plane had not paid their Costa Rican departure tax (I don't know how this could have happened), and no one was leaving until that happened. Whatever the reason, it ended up costing the airline enough to pay for 25 hotel rooms, food, and vouchers for future travel ($200 per person, but I was nice to the woman at the counter the next morning so she bumped mine up to $300).

As we headed out the airport to the hotel, everyone picked up their checked luggage - except, mine wasn't there. I was told that it's somewhere, but "we don't know where." Eh, OK. No use crying over spilled milk, so I laughed it off and headed to the hotel. (This was the first time I've checked my bag during this trip. I only did so because I bought two bottles of liquids that I couldn't take on board - Peruvian airport security didn't care, but TSA does).

The next morning I asked the woman at the ticket counter if she could confirm that my bag was following me to JFK. She called baggage, but again, "it could be anywhere. We don't know. Sorry." OK then. No use crying over spilled milk, so I laughed it off and headed to my terminal.

A large section of the terminal was actually sectioned off with additional security. It was for all gates whose planes were heading to the US. Everyone went through three additional layers of security. At the first, all carry ons were manually searched. At the second, everyone received a personal pat down. At the third, all shoes were taken off and manually inspected.

After landing at JFK, I leveraged my Global Entry status to bypass the immigration line, and was happy to find my backpack at baggage claim. There was only one person in the customs line. When it was my turn, I handed the officer the receipt that the Global Entry kiosk printed out. He told me I could had also skipped to the front of the customs line. Oh well, it was only one person. Next time. 

It was 11PM. The airline told me they would pay for my hotel in NY, but I hadn't run into anyone from the airline. I made a last ditch effort up to the departure counter, where the supervisor called for someone to meet me back downstairs at the welcome center. Success!

By 11:30 I was at the reception of the Hilton Garden Inn (with the Sheraton next door. After having spent over 6 months at a Sheraton in Hartford, my phone had automatically connected to its wifi, even though I was in Hilton). My hotel voucher covered breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant closed half an hour ago so dinner was out. I'm leaving at 5AM so breakfast (starts at 6) and lunch were out. A gentleman at the receptionist said I could order take out. He listed out my options - pizza, Chinese, Italian, etc. I told him I would take a menu and think about it since I wasn't sure I wanted to wait for delivery at 11:30PM. Without asking which menu I wanted, he handed me the Chinese menu.


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