My flight from Lima to Miami (connecting through to LaGuardia) left at 11:40 p.m. on a Monday night.
And though a nine-hour layover in the Lima airport didn't sound like fun, I had carefully booked my flight out of Cuzco for 1 p.m.
Because Cuzco is high in the mountains, and when there is bad weather, there are no flights. So I wanted to make sure I had plenty of chances to get to Lima in case my 1 p.m. flight was cancelled.
But the weather was perfect and my flight landed in Lima on schedule at 2:20 p.m. I had to pay for luggage storage. It was too early to check in. "You cannot check in until three hours before your flight."
Which I tried to do later, but somehow the entire planeload of passengers had managed to get there first. I hadn't rushed. By then I'd checked online and knew the flight had been delayed to 4:40 a.m. Ick.
I asked the security officials and the line managers. "How can I talk to an agent? I want to see if I can get transferred to the LAN direct flight at 11:50 tonight. It goes direct to JFK." I was on a frequent flyer ticket. It was theoretically possible to do this without paying anything.
"Wait in this line."
"This line will take hours. By the time I get to the front of the line, the other flight will be gone."
"It will take an hour."
It didn't take an hour. Two-and-a-half hours later I was still asking officials to help me. They were still telling me to wait in line.
American's office was closed. Their phone number reached only a recording. I pulled out my laptop and emailed friends. Was anyone online who could call American and get me onto the other flight?
Finally, Steve B showed up. He called American and got me on the LAN flight. "It's about to close! Run! Run!"
I ran, dodging baggage carts and those men who wrap luggage in giant swaths of plastic wrap. (Why? People are weird.)
And I raced to the LAN desk.
"The flight is closed."
"Please. What can we do? Is there any way?"
"Please. I have waiting for hours for a flight that is now leaving at 5:50 a.m. PLEASE."
I tried to cry but the tears didn't come. Yet.
I trudged back down the departures level of the Lima airport. Now I had a problem. Now I had no reservation for any flight to New York.
That pleased me for a moment. I had enjoyed my time in Bolivia and Peru and waiting for me at home was snow, ice, and moving an office across town. Plus my ears were stuffed up. Badly. I couldn't seem to equalize after being on the plane from Cuzco.
But I had to teach on Wednesday night. I could not stay in South America. I had to get home.
The line that I'd jumped out of was still about an hour long. And I had no reservation for any flight.
"Steve, are you there?"
"Can you help me?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Can you call back American Airlines and get me on ANY flight? Anything to the US?"
"You're on the 7:35 a.m. flight."
I waited in line, desperate to get rid of my bag. But even as I waited, I knew they would refuse to take it until 4:35 a.m. Three hours before.
Finally, I was at the counter.
"It is too early. Come back three hours before."
"No. No. You don't understand. You have to take my bag. I cannot carry it around the airport anymore. I have been here since 2 this afternoon and I CAN'T CARRY IT AROUND ANYMORE. I don't have any money for the baggage storage. Please, just take my bag. I'll come back later, but please check my bag."
The attendant looked at me with a little fear. Clearly, she had a crazy woman on her hands.
"I was on this flight, but then I got moved to LAN, but that was closed so just put me back on this flight then."
"No, this flight is full."
"Please. Do you have a supervisor?"
She got her supervisor, explained something tersely to her. The supervisor said I could switch to the earlier flight for $400.
"No, no, I don't care which flight. But please, can't you check my bag?"
I was delirious by now. I could have gone to the ATM and gotten out more Peruvian money and checked the bag, but I couldn't face it.
"Please, just take my bag. I was on the flight, and then I went to LAN, and now I am on the other flight..."
She glared at me and told me to come back three hours before, and this time, I didn't have to pretend to cry. I choked up and went silent, desperately trying to regain my composure.
And everything changed.
"Take a minute. Shhh... calm down. Explain slowly. Would you like a hotel?"
And with that, she checked my bag and gave me a voucher for the Radisson just across the driveway. I checked in, got my free meal that came with the voucher, went online and chose my seat for the flight. Then at 4 a.m., I ran down and got my boarding pass, went back to my room and showered, then strolled onto the 7:35 a.m. flight.
Which left on time.