Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weight And Feathers

Did you ever wonder where your luggage went?

Or, more precisely, since it usually ends up where intended, Why? As in Why did my baggage go over there, at least for a while, when it should have come over here?

Well, I don't travel much, but yesterday I found a clue, relevant in at least in some cases.

See, I was on a long flight, a series, from San Francisco, USA, to Cuenca, Ecuador. First we went to Atlanta, Georgia, and then to Quito, Ecuador. OK so far, right? (I assume you're with me on this part.) Those two legs are in themselves quite a feat of modern technology, and, as such things go, went well.

Aside from the lack of sleep, inability to move for five or six hours at a time, advanced thirst, and extreme lack of calories – the usual. More or less. I chose to get sketchy on the water to keep from having it drain out the bottom of me, which is a nuisance at the best of times.

p>Skipping eats also means that less of you-know-what wants to come out and start life on its own, and there isn't so much raw material for natural gas eruptions that way either. Reduced calories also means that the body doesn't have to work as much, and can concentrate on putting up with sitting, being uncomfortable all the time, sitting, being scrunched while in a sitting position, being unable to lie down and sleep because of the sitting position, and related issues, like seat-kickers.

OK, done, for the most part.

After arriving in Quito around 11 pm local time, I found that I had to wait five hours to check my luggage, and another two after that for the actual boarding. You know – the usual sort of miracle-filled hell that is modern travel, also known as not being able to sleep all day because of jostling and bumping and general random pain, and then sitting up all night with nothing to do, to make up for it.

And then, something fine happened.


We got on the plane on schedule, each passenger in the right seat. The baggage was loaded, and all the rest.

But people milled in the cockpit. Well, two or three did, in yellow vests. The door was open, so I could see.

Eventually someone or other announced that there was a technical problem. Later on there were words about a circuit breaker having to be replaced, and yet later someone mentioned having to recalibrate or re-program something. This brought us up to about twenty minutes past takeoff time.

Then one woman in the first row got up and surrounded the lead flight attendant, virtually howling her outrage and waving various fingers around. That lasted five minutes or so. Still with me?

Someone then announced something or other about landing weight limit or whatever, and this was the green light for a second woman to go up front and howl for a while. She did an absolutely stellar job of it too, going on for at least ten minutes, going right up to the edge of thermonuclear war.

The gist, if there is one, for someone perennially at the rudimentary level of Spanish, was that a simple technical issue which might

  1. prevent the plane from taking off
  2. prevent the plane from landing
  3. make the plane blow up at an inconvenient location
  4. make the plane do something even more interesting

was not to interfere with someone's schedule. (Illustrated by hand gestures.)

OK, fine.

Eventually the extra yellow-vest people left the cockpit and the exterior door got closed. Then the plane moved a few feet. Then the plane stopped.

Then the plane sat still for ever. Then, about a year later two men came on board and the lead flight attendant called Woman Number 2 to the front. At this point spontaneous applause broke out behind me. (I was way up front, close enough to get my eyebrows singed from the action.) Woman Number 2 then picked up her argument where she had earlier run out of breath, and waved more of her hands and fingers, but not all of them at once, keeping a few in reserve. This impressed me. She must have been a pro.

All was fine with me. I was waiting for the the handcuffs to come out, and to see the two guys carry her off the plane screaming and spewing curses, which seemed the least they and she could do for our entertainment (and satisfaction, both).

During this second episode of hooting and accusing and general hollering, no fewer than four other passengers got up, one at a time, and joined in the discussion. Woman Number 1 made a comeback tour, and three others who hadn't been on stage until then got their big breaks. You might see them soon on or near a plane containing you, depending on your luck and the phase of the moon.

Somehow the exterior door got closed again, and all passengers were once again strapped into their seats. I doubt that this had anything to do with one English speaker who shouted Let's get this plane rolling – NOW! at about the time that Woman Number 2 seemed virtually certain to become the contents of a gunny sack tossed into the nearest river.

No such luck. And the plane didn't move either. Nor did anything encouraging happen when a bunch of passengers in the rearward rows began yelling Vamos! Vamos! Vamos!, the equivalent of Let's go, Joe!

But something like an hour and a half behind its schedule the plane did leave the ground, after which it flew to Cuenca, and landed, and we all got off with our original numbers of fingers, toes, heads, torsos, and internal organs. Nor were there any brightly-colored flames (that I noticed) to amuse us or stimulate onlookers.

However (we're getting there), as all of us former passengers stood around the luggage carousel, which sat there quiet and not running, a man came in and gave a long speech. I was hoping that we were the recipients of a national award for perseverance (with the exception of Woman Number 1, Woman Number 2, and their supporting cast). Or that we had each won actual prize money because they were short of award plaques at the moment and couldn't let us go home without something. You know? Something fine. Like a bag of cash for each of us.

Instead, we were back to the landing weight. We thought we had heard the last of that, but no. (Brace yourself for another gist, coming up any moment now.)

The gist being that in Quito they had the choice of either removing all passengers from the plane or removing all baggage, which is what the luggage carousel oration was about. So I guess they chose to keep the luggage for a while rather than to have a couple hundred raging ex-passengers roaming around the airport waving fingers and hands, and throwing epithets. Baggage is so much more docile, isn't it?

I don't get why this happened in Ecuador, but maybe that's Ecuador. I don't get around much so maybe this happens all the time everywhere.

So back to the story – they removed the baggage and told us about it at a location well to the south, where it was impossible to do anything about it but fill out a form and believe their words saying that all baggage would be on the ground in Cuenca by 1 pm.

No. Seriously – oh so no.

I went to the airport after 2 pm and got instructions to come back at 7:45 pm. I guess weight is a tricky thing, so they put all our luggage on the very last flight of the day (on another airline, just to be safe), and then went away and closed their eyes and put their fingers in their ears.

Well, you know. Things.

It all worked out in the end, right? Matter was neither created nor destroyed, only hidden from view for a while, and around 9 pm it was released to us, so we could just get over it and do things.


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