Since I’ve been back from Peru for over three months now, I figured it was time to share my “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Lima Airport Experience.” While I had talked a bit about my nightmare ride from our hotel in Lima’s city center to the airport (a 12 mile ride which took two hours!), I never talked about nightmare two of that day. One would think that after sitting in a taxi for that long, the rest of the evening should have been a breeze, right? Of course not. As much as I love travel, I abhor the “getting there” part. There is nothing fun or enjoyable or remotely pleasant when airports and airplanes are involved. Absolutely nothing. And this is why:
After getting out of the taxi and tipping the driver $20 USD since he had it worse than us passengers, we made our way inside of the departures terminal. I mentioned before that Lima’s airport stinks for a variety of reasons, including the fact that check-in for international and domestic departures are all in one, equating to horrific lines depending on the time of day. The airline we flew on to Peru offers two flights a day to and from the United States-one going to Newark Airport, the other to Houston (our destination was the latter). When we made our way to the United Airlines check-in area my heart sank when I saw the long line of people. (Thankfully I had ordered the cab ridiculously early from the hotel, so even with the Lima traffic nightmare we still made it there within the recommended “check-in three hours before international flights.) Then I saw a smaller sign indicating the line for the Newark flight; this was the long one. So we were able to walk right up to the check-in desk only to be told that our flight to Houston was delayed and they had rebooked us on another flight that was leaving an hour before our normally scheduled one was supposed to. Red flags immediately started going off in my head, especially since I knew there were only two flights a day on United Airlines between the United States and Peru but all of a sudden a third flight leaving only an hour before another one just magically appears? And the distance between Peru and Houston, Texas is not short. Likewise, as I had already booked and paid for economy plus seating, I was concerned that these seats would be “lost” on the new flight, my money just down the drain. I mentioned this and the attendant said she would “put us in the exit row.” As exit row dimensions vary from aircraft to aircraft, I just had a bad feeling in my stomach. She even said I could come around to her side to look at the screen and see about other available seats, but when I peered around I was looking at a screen straight out of the 1980s, nothing I could intelligibly understand. So I essentially said fine and we went on our way, with me feeling certain that I had been royally screwed by United and was out the almost $200 I had paid for the economy plus seats.
After grabbing some food since our new flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 10:55 PM (our original one was supposed to leave at 11:55 PM), we made our way through security, which was a breeze. As we walked through the international terminal, we kept walking…and walking until we got to the end and saw a sign indicating that our gate was below. Let me just say that I can’t stand airport gates that are almost an “afterthought.” And of course that’s what ours was; we were the only flight located below, away from shops and any other source of amusement. I also became concerned since being on ground level, it was just doors to the outside, indicating to me that we would be in a smaller plane (one without the two, three, and two aisle seating which I like).
And so the waiting began. When 10 PM came and no one from United was at the desk at the time our tickets said boarding would begin I started to get suspicious. 10:15 …10:30… At 10:55, the time we were to depart, a worker from the airport got on the intercom saying that the flight would be delayed (go figure), as the flight crew had been detained in customs (what the $%^*?). I have flown how many times and never before had I heard such ridiculousness.
The minutes kept passing and still we had not boarded the plane. Meanwhile, airport workers kept coming by and getting “stuff set up.” It only then dawned on me that the Lima Airport would be doing what the Buenos Aires Airport had done when I left there in 2007-they would be “hand screening” passengers’ luggage, each and every one, even though everyone in the terminal had gone through xray machines. Biggest waste of time? My god, yes. Biggest waste of money, even more! And the most exasperating thing? Water or any bottled drinks you had bought post-security screenings were not able to be brought on board. South America-you run the stupidest and most inept of airport screenings.
Sometime past midnight we were able to line up to go through the “new” security screenings by zone. With my United credit card, I’m supposed to be zone 1 but in the “rebooking” I was now zone 2. While I was fuming at this, the only thing that zone 1 people got was waiting longer on the bus outside. Finally the buses departed to take us to the plane. Once the bus stopped and they opened the doors, a free for all ensued with people pushing and shoving to get to the airplane ladder (this continued on the ladder itself which was most disconcerting).
We finally boarded and found our seats and discovered that there was even more leg room in the exit row than what was offered in economy plus. (A downside of this was that throughout the flight people would use it as their own path to go between the aisles, which stunk since if you were sleeping, you would often be awakened from people stepping on your feet.) By now it was well past 12:30, going on two hours later than our rebooked flight time.
And then the shitstorm continued…the pilot announced that a light had come on indicating there was an error but they had maintenance staff looking at the issue and they hoped to have it resolved. More minutes go by. The captain reported that they still hadn’t been able to identify the issue but were diligently looking at it. By this time I was coming out of my skin- feeling physically exhausted since it was the end of a long and tiring week, having spent the entire day on our whirlwind tour of Lima, and now this.
It was then that we literally heard screaming in the back of the plane. It eventually came out that two days earlier, a flight from Lima to Houston had been canceled and the majority of the people on our flight were supposed to have been on that one, but instead had been stranded at the Lima Airport for two days. So while I was nutty, some people were understandably even more so. Apparently someone had started filming and the flight attendant had said to this person that filming on board an aircraft was not allowed. Cue the screaming. And while all of this was taking place, another announcement came on saying that the Lima Airport shuts down for the night at 1:30 AM and that if we didn’t go air up before then (it was now about 1:15 AM), we would be grounded! I had never felt so furious or sick than those minutes where I truly thought we were going to be stuck at the Lima Airport after all that we had just endured.
By some miracle, we made it airborne before the Lima Airport closed up shop for the night. And while I know it’s hardly the same, the initial moments of flight were just like in the film Argo when the captain announces they have left Iranian airspace.
And the kicker of all kickers? The flight we were originally booked on…the one that was delayed? Well, that flight and the flight we ended up on arrived at Houston’s airport within minutes of each other. Two 767 jets from Peru arriving basically…together. And the added salt on the fresh wound? Their luggage arrived before ours.
I loved my trip to Peru but the getting home part-starting with the cab ride and ending with the airport-was just the worst experience I could imagine. A true traveler’s nightmare.