Trouble in Paradise
There is a Moorish proverb that says “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” Indeed, this was my experience on my latest travel adventure.
The trip to Costa Rica should have been relatively uneventful. The problems, however, started in Houston. The flight was scheduled to depart on time. Then, the flight was pushed back by one hour. My husband and I decided to grab a bite to eat with our extra time. As we finished dinner we heard an announcement over the loud speaker. Our flight had been pushed back to its original departure time.
We quickly finished and made our way to the gate as priority boarding was beginning. We chatted briefly with some other people in line. There was quite the confusion over the gate assignment. Some people had been moved around from three different gates.
We all boarded the plane and waited for take-off. Then a flight attendant made an announcement that the pilot hadn’t boarded and we had to deplane and wait in the terminal – again. It’s hard to believe that United didn’t know the status of its pilot before we boarded and changed the flight back to its original departure time.
We waited for the pilot. We’re asked to board again. The pilot was allegedly on his way, having just landed a flight from California. It is unknown whether or not he received a break between flights, or if he had flown other flights earlier in the day.
All the passengers boarded and waited for the pilot. After awhile he boarded and we were finally ready for take-off. The flight was relatively smooth until we prepared for landing at the Liberia airport in Costa Rica.
We prepared for our descent. My husband looks out the window and then things got very interesting. We saw the runway and we realized that our plane wasn’t near the only runway at this small airport.
Almost instantaneously, we’re back in the air heading up. The pilot came over the intercom and said that there was fog and we can’t land. There is no mention of missing the runway. I suppose he didn’t want mass hysteria or to be blamed for his error.
We’re back in the air. The next announcement said that we’re headed for San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, and its airport that is approximately a four hour drive from Liberia.
We land, this time making it onto the runway. We stay aboard the plane. There was discussion about trying to land again in Liberia. There was also discussion about staying in San Jose for the night and trying the flight the next day. We patiently waited, but traveler’s fatigue and frustration was growing.
The final announcement informed us that all passengers would be staying in San Jose overnight. There were no additional details. We left the plane without knowledge of whether we could obtain our luggage, or where we would stay. No one could tell us when our flight would depart the following day.
It was very late by this time and the airport was practically closed. One United employee remained and a handful of taxi drivers and rental car company employees.
We learned that our luggage would be available in the baggage claim area. United is working to obtain hotel rooms. This is not a small exercise since the flight was a full 737 aircraft with six seats across each row.
We find our luggage and waited at the outside curb. Many Costa Ricans speak some English, so we used our best Spanish and they used their best English. Eventually, we boarded a shuttle and were transported to a nearby hotel. We learned later that not all received rooms. We were lucky to be only mid-way in the line.
Our room was clean and that’s all that mattered since exhaustion had set in. While still on the plane, we met another American couple from Arizona who are also traveling to our intended resort. We were staying at the same hotel in San Jose and we agreed to wake early to figure out what we’re doing. United said that someone from the hotel would phone us about the departure flight, but we didn’t have confidence that would happen.
After getting a few hours sleep, we woke up, showered and headed downstairs for breakfast. We meet our new Arizona friends. We stop by the front desk and learn that United was sending a shuttle for us at 11, and the flight will depart San Jose at 2. This is not a sure bet since we don’t have boarding passes. We were skeptical.
Since we’d already lost a full day of vacation, we decided to rent a car and make the journey across Costa Rica. There was a four-door rental available with a GPS. The Alamo representative said the roads were good and well-marked. He helped us change the GPS from Spanish to English to make it easier for our trip.
We loaded our luggage and began our travels. Our Arizona friends are getting ready to relocate from to Washington in the next few weeks. For relative strangers, we hit it off immediately. I suppose there’s some level of trust when traveling. We were all in the same predicament and had the same goal – to arrive at the Riu Guanacaste safely and without further delay.
The roads were surprisingly good once we left San Jose. Costa Rica has spent a ton of money on infrastructure and understands the importance of tourism to its economy. We learned later from a tour guide that tourism is the country’s number one industry.
The road had three tolls. Thankfully, our Arizona friends had changed some money to the Costa Rican currency before we departed. As we continued northwest, we began to see sand and water.
Our GPS warned us of dangerous bridges, but they were mild compared to some back roads in America. We approached the entrance to the resort around 1:30, a half hour earlier than we would have arrived in Liberia on the rescheduled flight.
Although the detour was an imposition, it ended up being a wonderful adventure with new friends. We ran into them a few times throughout the week and I’m happy to report that we all had a wonderful vacation after all.
United clearly needs to work on its scheduling, customer service and pilot training. However, they weren’t able to ruin our vacation in paradise.
I contacted them June 13 about the ordeal, and I still haven’t received a response. It leads me to believe they don’t really care about passenger safety.