travel – I almost got stuck in Mexico

Sunday morning in Mexico, my alarm goes off at 6:45 AM, to catch the airport shuttle at 7:15, to depart at 10:25. A large gap in time, but my only option. Tired and anxious to get home, I hand my customs slip to the boarding agent, and look for my assigned seat. The plane accelerates rapidly, preparing my heart to lift when the wheels do. Except the plane brakes. Then my memory brings back the feeling of landing, as we coast down the airway. Immediately, all passengers look around at one another, searching for answers and validation. Over the intercom the pilot explains maintenance is going to come to check something out.

Stories of sitting on the airway in an airplane, unmoving, have always been my worst nightmare. Now I was living in it, getting bumped by a family passing a baby around, closing my eyes, and praying to God. My eyes open and watch other people on their phones, updating their loved ones. I stare at mine like it’s supposed to magically connect to Wi-Fi or receive service in a foreign country. I want to talk to someone. But I can’t. 

The pilot’s voice becomes music to my ears. Everyone takes their seats as maintenance confirms they fixed the issue. The plane accelerates rapidly once more. And then it brakes. And then, I’m pretty sure, I actually say the word, “fuck,” out loud. The issue is worse than they thought and we have to deplane. I weave in and out of more passengers standing in the aisle for no reason and head toward the airplane bathroom. I’m fairly certain I got sick from some kind of water in Mexico and I’ll just leave it at that. 

Meg Barrett in Mexico resort

The Fiasco Begins

Eventually, I make it back through the swarm of humans, grab my belongings, and descend down a staircase out the plane door, into an open field of pavement, displaying large airplanes, and two empty buses waiting to take us to Customs. It is as if we landed in Mexico, and weren’t just trying to leave. The crowd of people feels apocalyptic. All of us stand around lost, tired, and thirsty.

Suddenly, I hear a voice shouting random names. Some in perfect English, others in perfect Spanish. The voice is listing the plane’s passengers, as if he is a teacher taking attendance, handing back permission slips for a field trip. One by one, people collect their winning ticket and race down the black ropes. A new line forms as I wait to be called. As people leave, the crowd decreases in size and I realize the voice doesn’t belong to an airport employee, but a fellow passenger. Suddenly he looks at a slip and says, “Oh that’s me… Hasta Luego!” He pretends to go and says, “Nah…” and laughs, before reading the remaining slips in his hands. This kind, random passenger, stayed behind to help the rest of the aircraft, and even paused with the best comedic timing to joke about doing so. 

Mexico Airport American Airlines

The 3rd time my heart drops in an hour

He stands in front of me with empty hands and announces the slips are done. I stand there with my hand gripped to my carry-on, holding back tears. My name hasn’t been called. Only a moment passes, but feels like an entire lifetime before a random employee appears with another stack in his hand. The passenger turned announcer says, “I have more!” Finally, my name is called. Except the line is somehow longer and my stomach is churning.

An employee instructs me to follow someone, and then another employee turns around and tells me the line I’m in, is only for handicapped. There’s a joke there, but I don’t have the energy to find it. The long line turns into a large moving clump. A woman working at Customs shouts at all of us how she needs one line, as if it’s even possible. A woman from the plane shouts back she needs two workers. I can’t argue with her there.

Finally, I make it through the checkpoint, only to go through another security system, to find I am exactly where I was when I landed, just four days ago. I’m in a lobby with a bunch of shuttles to hotels, and rental cars, but no representatives or information on our next, new flight. Desperate for guidance, I check the airlines app on my phone. It informs me my flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow morning now. My heart sinks for what feels like the millionth time. Suddenly, I hear a man arguing with an airport employee. “No, I need a flight out of here today!” The employee nods apologetically as the angry man’s family quietly follows behind him. It is now some time after noon, and I’m alone in Mexico with nowhere to go. 

Now what?

I find a bathroom and decide to weigh my options while I’m in there, but can’t hold my tears back any longer. In the stall, sobbing, I find that my Wi-Fi connection is poor. I can’t even check for other flights with different airlines, much less, contact any of my loved ones who can help me. I’m fairly certain I can’t go back to the resort I was staying at. It’s an all-inclusive with strict rules and a lot of required documentation. Furthermore, I don’t even know who is still there that I could stay with. All my friends have left, just like I was supposed to. However, I can’t stay in an airport in Mexico for 24 hours either. I order myself to stop crying and figure this shit out.

None of the alternative flights are better. They are all outrageous prices, none of which I can afford, and they still all end with me getting home tomorrow, one way or another. I check multiple airlines, for multiple airports in Florida. Nothing. I try to contact American Airlines on my phone, but a Spanish recording comes on and hangs up on me. I’m assuming she said I was out of area, or something of that nature. I give up and try to call my mother. It works, and I have no idea the impact it will be on our phone bill, but I’ve exhausted all other options.

In between my sobs, I tell her my flight info, and ask her to call American to see if there’s anything they can do. I’m still in the lobby full of rental cars and shuttle drivers. I don’t even know where American Airlines is. I call two friends who may know the numbers of other people at the resort. In between my sobs, I ask if they can contact them, and see if there’s any way I can go back if necessary. But I don’t want to go back. I’m already thinking it’s not feasible or smart.

New flight, who this?

My mom calls back and explains I have a new flight to Miami that leaves at 3:45 PM. It is now after 2. I march through the shuttle drivers and see a sign that says free shuttle to terminals. I ask a guy how to get to terminal 3. “Departures?” He asks. Clearly, he is confused why someone who looks like they’ve just arrived would want to go to departures. “First door on the left,” he says. Facing an empty street I quickly realize terminal 3 is behind me. I don’t need a shuttle.

I sprint to the staircase, pick up my carry-on, and race up the stairs, no time for the escalator. As soon as I’m about to re-enter the line at TSA, I realize, I don’t have my new boarding pass. The app hasn’t received my update so I jog back down the stairs and sprint to an available kiosk. It doesn’t work. I go to another one and stand behind the slowest couple in the world. Once they leave, the kiosk’s buttons suddenly don’t want to be pushed. Without my permission, tears fall down my face, as my finger rapidly pushes the same button from every angle I can think of. Finally it works. Then it informs me my record locator number is incorrect. I enter it again, just to be sure. Now the screen informs me I need assistance.

American Airlines Mexico Kiosk

Finding Assistance

My eyes frantically search for anyone who looks like they are heading over to assist me. I see no one. I wipe the tears from my face, but they continue to fall. My hands want to reach for a customer service agent, too far away, but my feet stay planted. I’m afraid to move. The line for customer service is another long one, so I decide to take my chances in front of my broken kiosk.

Suddenly, a man in a red jacket appears. He is also confused, and walks away with my passport. I stand there, realizing if this man doesn’t come back, I’m definitely fucked. Another man in a different jacket appears, asking if I’ve been helped. Unsure, I state a guy came over and I gave him my passport. The man asks if he worked here and I say, “He had a red jacket on.” He assures me the man will be back. That man vanishes too and I realize he was an angel I needed in that moment. The man in the red jacket is now back with my new boarding pass and my passport. He tells me to hurry, and I almost ask him if I can skip the line at TSA. But I don’t. I thank him and run away. It is now 3:08.

Groundhog’s Day

On a Sunday afternoon, it is now the busiest time to travel anywhere, especially tourists leaving Mexico, and my indecisive Libra ass looks for the shortest line. I run to the one furthest from me, all the way to the left. It’s moving and now my indecisive Libra ass looks for the shortest line to put our bags in bins. This time I make the wrong choice. My line is the slowest, but it’s too late now. I’m in it, and again, afraid to move. I remember my toiletry bag got flagged just seven hours earlier, so I take it out of my carry-on and place it in a separate bin. I wait for my bags on the other side. The toiletry bag and now my backpack don’t make it through. My hand shoots in the air as the TSA agent, formally explains who she is and how she will search my bag. Anything she pulls out I tell her to throw away. I’m ready to leave all my belongings with her at this point. But she doesn’t take anything. She hands me my things and I don’t even adjust my bearings. I thank her and run away. It is now 3:23.

I quickly weave in and out of tourists shopping for alcohol and souvenirs and employees trying to upsell them. I repeat my gate number over and over. In my head, or out loud, I’m not even sure. While running, I think to myself, this is why I keep my cardio up, and laugh on the inside. I finally see my gate. Everyone is boarding. I don’t even know what boarding group they’re on, but I get in line anyway.

Leaving my Nightmare

Once, my boarding pass is scanned, I place my toiletry bag in my carry-on, and adjust the straps to my backpack. My stomach clenches for the millionth time today. It is unclear if it’s the same sickness or hunger now. I haven’t eaten or drank anything in over 12 hours. Walking down the aisle, I find that my seat is one that reclines and has a pillow and blanket. I smile on the inside. My phone is now at 1% and my Wi-Fi connection isn’t strong enough to tell some loved ones I’m making it out of there; as long as this plane actually takes off. The plane quickly accelerates but my heart doesn’t lift, until the wheels do. Then I look through the clouds and realize how tired I am. My phone dies, but I don’t even care. I’m going home.

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