Monday, January 12, 2015

But This Is Not Quito!

For some reason, I had great expectations knowing we were flying TAP Airlines, the Portuguese carrier. Leaving Budapest, I was not disappointed; the legroom was sufficient, without getting knee knocks every two minutes.  Breakfast was a bit strange and carbo-loaded, certainly not the diabetic menu I requested. The main item was a sandwich solely consisting of fried onions. Other than this, it was a fine flight; longer than remembered, the flight is three hours and 20 minutes. Portugal is one hour behind on the clock than Hungary.

With a four-hour layover, the Diner’s Club lounge was a haven for us. We keep making the wishful mistake of going into the Premier lounge next door for the highest of high fliers, but each time, there is a redirect to next door. Not that there is anything wrong with the lounge we were in, it is spacious, has great artwork, and a lovely spread of food and drink, but there is still the feeling that something better is only 30 feet away that nags at you. 

Finding that TAP was our connecting flight for the leg Lisbon to Miami at first was a relief when the alternative could have been American Airlines, not a favorite. The joy of this situation was short lived. Initially stampeded into buses and hauled to the plane, we were kept waiting on the bus for 23 minutes before allowed to board. We were in row 39 F and G. As it turned out, this was favorable in that thru row 37, the center section was four across, but starting with 38, it was only three across. We did not have a seatmate, which was ideal. My aisle seat was broken and would not stay in place. Most be old and cannot keep it up any longer.  The seat in front of me was the same. To make matters worse, under the seat in front at my feet was an attached metal box, limiting further my foot room. The pitch on these seats was less than optimal, so we were scrunched in. 

Another disappointment was the entertainment system. Although they had a wide selection of movies and a few TV shows that was the extent of it. We had seen about 98% of the movies on offer, but the worst part of this was discovering the viewing limitations. Each movie plays on a loop. You switch to channel 10 for example and there movie A is playing followed by B, C, and D. If you miss the first part of movie A, there is no way to back it up or skip to the next movie like other airline video systems. For eight hours, we napped or read. 

The meals were less than exciting; even by airline standards, I would generously give them a C-. The attendants on the left side, who claimed all they had left was fish, served us. Fish and I are strange (b)fed-fellows. Generally, we don’t agree on anything. I had requested diabetic meals throughout, but this did not happen at all. In addition to the fish, there was a roll, another roll, another high carb biscuit and rice with the fish. A discoloring of the fish gave the impression that a tomato has passed by at some time or another but was not invited to stay. With gratitude that I had the presence of mind to think ahead, I dug into the bag of peanuts I brought with me. 

Before landing, we had breakfast, which seemed strange when it was evening in Miami. Again, the three rolls served went uneaten. I did partake of orange slices, but passed on the chocolate umbrella and the custard.

Once we landed, we were on the tarmac for 39 minutes, because there was no slot open to park the plane. We had two hours in between connections. Okay, now bear with me, because I swear on my passport that I am not lying and Ron will stand witness. From the gate where we deplaned to the first section of the passport control area was one ½ miles according to my pedometer. Eight moving sidewalks that worked expedited the walk, but it was still time consuming. Others did not. I vaguely remembered this from last year going to Panama. At the end of the rainbow, there is no bucket of gold, but fool’s gold. There are 30 machines lined up for US citizens only. Others go in a different, shorter and more efficient direction. There were about 400 people in line for these self-serving mandatory robotic menaces. After choosing a language, you scan your passport photo, answer online questions, then the machine moves up to capture your face and snaps your picture. Do not leave yet, it has to print a receipt for you to take with you. Mine had an X on it. Curious!

Thinking this was more resourceful than standing in long lines waiting for a Customs officer to check our passport was a fool’s errand. After another ¼ of a mile walk, we reached the next section. All of those US citizens with an X on their picture had to go through another line. Well, only 269 people ahead of us here, but nevertheless, we still had to get our luggage, get our boarding passes, go through Customs, security and try to make our flight. 

By the time we made it through the labyrinth of bureaucracy, we missed our flight. Directed to the American Airlines counter, we needed to be re-ticketed.  Oh, the next flight is not until tomorrow. Well, that means we lost the money paid for out hotel in Quito for tonight. We lost the airfare we paid to fly from Quito to Cuenca tomorrow. We have to shell out money for a hotel for tonight. The problem was partially due to airlines not getting along. TAP is part of the Star Alliance, while American is not. TAP could not issue boarding passes all the way through to Quito, but still the delays were a different story. 

The agent suggested we go speak to the TAP people as they were responsible for all of this, but of course, their check-in counters are in a concourse a mile from where we were. When we found them, there was not a soul there. Asking around, we learned they only appear three hours before the next flight. There were no TAP offices in Miami airport. 

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