Safe (& very long) Travels
When I first found out I was going to cover the U-17 World Cup in Uruguay, one of the first things I thought was how cool it would be to do blog posts as often as possible so that everyone can understand some of the experiences that I am actually emerged in, rather than just reading and seeing the World Cup content I put out.
I thought I would be writing my first post in a comfortable hotel bed at night beaming with excitement after meeting the incredible reporters and mentors that have flown in from all over the world for the AIPS Young Reporters Program. The funny thing about media… when you have a plan it never works the way you want it to.
Instead, I missed orientation completely and will not be getting to Montevideo until 3:30 a.m. (I’m currently writing this on the plane).
I left Albany on a flight at 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, November 10. From there I flew to Philadelphia and had to quickly transfer flights, but I made it. Then, there was Miami. When I got to Miami I was worried I would not have enough time to charge my phone (yes, I know I am a millennial.) So instead of getting a nice meal I got greasy Chinese food to go and ate alone at the charging station. Low point for sure, but it was tasty.
We boarded the plane shortly after that at around 10:00 p.m. The flight was scheduled to leave at 10:45. Everyone got situated, stuffed their luggage in the overhead bins and nestled into their seats to prepare for the 10.5 hour fight. (I even popped two Dramamine.) After sitting for a half an hour, the captain told us over the loud-speaker that we had to evacuate the plane due to a maintenance issue with one of the exit slide doors. Then it got crazy.
EST. DEPARTURE TIME: 1:00 a.m. -- Well, I have more time to charge my phone for the long flight ahead—was my way of looking at the situation in a positive manner. Two hours is nothing. Yes, people were unhappy and I get it, I mean delays are the worst. So American Airlines did the right thing and gave everyone a $12 voucher for meals, which was great except only two places were open because it was midnight. At least I could spend the delay waiting in line. Oh well, free food is free food, right?
I took Spanish 1-5 in high school and am fairly good at picking out words while people are speaking it and I can communicate with basic Spanish if I have to. As the night went on it became more and more stressful that I did not know the language that every person on my flight was speaking. Minutes after I got back from getting my bagel, my phone buzzed with an update.
EST. DEPARTURE TIME: 2:00 p.m. – Is this a typo?! P.M.!? If people were unhappy before you can only imagine how angry they were when they found out that “a miscommunication on [American Airlines] part” had caused the flight to be moved to the next afternoon. Like I said before, I can pick out words in Spanish. I heard a lot of yelling and screaming happening and I knew that something was wrong. Over the loud speaker we all heard a voice telling us that there is no hotel availability left in the Miami area and that if people are from Miami they would compensate them for travel. Where were we supposed to sleep? Have no fear, I set up shop. It wasn’t ZEN beauty sleep but I got through it.
People were fuming. There was a large group rallying around the customer service desk chanting and yelling at the airline representatives. One guy even jumped the counter and was escorted by a policeman. While all of this was going on, an 86-year old woman named Marian was sitting patiently with quiet smirk on her face.
Marian had offered to watch my luggage while I went to get my bagel earlier and she happened to sit next to me on the plane as well. We spoke for at least 40 minutes on the plane about her annual trip to Uruguay to visit her 56-year-old son that lives there. She spoke about how beautiful the country is and told me all of the places she and her husband had traveled before. Thankfully, the airline was competent enough to take care of the elderly so that Marian, and other senior citizens were able to get a hotel room overnight.
I also learned a valuable lesson. Always pack your toothbrush in your carry on, not with your toiletries in your checked bag. I woke up with morning breath and no toothbrush. No worries, I figured that one out too. But $6 for a toothbrush is a rip-off.
At about 10:00 a.m. I received another update to my phone.
EST. DEPARTURE TIME 2:30 p.m.—OK it’s a half an hour more, I can make it. BUT THE GATE WAS SWITCHED TO THE OPPOSITE END OF THE AIRPORT. Off I went again. I know I was an athlete back in the day, but holy cow my legs are ridiculously sore right now and my knee is a balloon.
When I got to gate 44 and took a seat, I met Lelen and Tavo. They were two beautiful human beings that reached out to me the night before to make sure I was alright on my own and explained any questions I had regarding what was going on. I sat with them and introduced myself and they explained to me how close they live to the hotel I am staying at and they were both extremely excited for me and my opportunity. Lelen also gave me two $24 food vouchers from the 10 she got last night while she had been complaining. We exchanged our social media accounts and they said if I need anything at all while I am there to let them know. I thanked them endlessly and then went and loaded up on snacks for the plane.
At 2:15 we received the last update.
EST. DEPARTURE TIME 3:17— But we did not leave at 3:17, it was delayed another 15 minutes after we got on the plane. Just one more pushback to make me even more anxious than I already was.
But on this 10.5 hour flight I realized something; It wasn’t just Marian, Lelen and Tavo. Those were just some of the names I remember. I came on this trip to advance my knowledge and abilities as a journalist. I was upset that I missed orientation, but I was able to meet and learn the stories of at least a dozen people in that 17-hour delay that I probably never would have talked to otherwise. I was talking to people and discovering their stories, just like any good journalist would do.