To Brazil: Down with American Airlines

As a matter of background, most of you know that Beto is a globe trotter. Not the basketball playing variety with guest appearances on 1980s episodes of Scooby Doo, but the real-deal-businessman-Hong Kong-visiting type.

I, on the other hand, am pretty much a homebody, and given my choice, I'd easily choose the All-American road trip over the exotic vacation in faraway lands. I stress about airplane death spirals, airborne viruses and unavailable overhead bin space. I also don't suffer inefficiency or crowds very well.

We've been shooting for one vacation a year, and this year's trip was to his hometown of Natal, to visit friends and family. At least, that was the goal...or should I say GOL... until we entrusted our fate to American Airlines.

Fifteen minutes before our flight to Sao Paulo, the flight was cancelled. Not because of maintenance or weather... but because - for the first time in Beto's memory - Brazil's air traffic controllers went on strike, shutting down all air traffic.

That's right. I, my friends, am cursed.

I quickly called an agent and rebooked at the earliest opportunity - two days away. Two days in Dallas, Texas. Contrary to untruths perpetuated by the popular nightime soap opera, Dallas is NOT an exciting place.

So, for 30 minutes, we waited in line for our voucher to Dallas' finest roach motel while the desk agents were laughing amongst themselves and taking their sweet, sweet time. Then we were required to get our baggage.

I exaggerate not. The first bag from our flight - the flight that never left the ground and from the plane that was parked 200 yards from baggage claim - did not arrive for 2 hours. Our bags were not among the lucky. And notwithstanding that 20 other people were without luggage, baggage claim insisted that all bags were delivered. Baggage claim told us to take it up with ticketing, upstairs. Ticketing told us to take it up with baggage claim, downstairs. One person said the bags were at D16. Another person said the bags were at the other end of the terminal at D30. Up and down, across the terminal, attempting reasoned and rational conversation which evolved into emotional appeals and finally, profanity, I easily clocked 5 miles until... 4 hours after our flight was cancelled, Beto's bag finally appeared. But not my bag. Of course not. But you knew that would happen, didn't you? Let's revisit Beto's joy, shall we...

Back to the ticket agent who offered the sage advice to visit every baggage carousel in the airport. Riiiiiight. Her supervisor put a locate on my bag and an hour later (at 1 a.m.) - five hours total from when our flight was cancelled - still no bag.

Having had enough, I resigned myself to the inescapable conclusion that my luggage was lost. The next logical step? A claim for lost luggage. But as evidenced to this point, American Airlines does not operate on the standard form of logic that allows most humans to thrive on planet Earth. AA wouldn't let me make a claim because... wait for it... we were not at our final destination. You're kidding me, right? No one was at their final destination ... the entire flipping country shut down! For all we knew, Dallas WAS our final destination. See my reaction below...Juvenile? Yes. Cathartic? Also yes.

The agent blamed me for the problem.
So, off to the hotel.

Total dump. In the process of undressing in a fit of rage, my passport flew out of my back pocket and into the toilet. That's right. After harassing Beto for the absurdity of keeping his passport in a plastic bag, mine ended up floating in the toilet. After drying the passport with the hair dryer, I exercised remarkable powers of deduction in determining that the hotel sheets were not likely clean, and opened Beto's bag looking for makeshift pajamas sufficient to cover every square inch of skin, only to find that the majority of his clothes looked like this...

American Airlines left his bag in the rain.

We were starving, so after laying out his clothes to dry, we chowed on the only food we had - a box of chocolates we brought as a gift. Thirsty, we quickly found out that the vending machine was broken. Nothing to drink but crappy Dallas tap water. Went to sleep and woke up with bug bites. No lie. Probably the same bugs that ate these holes through the curtains:

The next day, we tried to get on a flight, but couldn't. So, we decided to make the best of it. Eschewing my typical pessimistic M.O., I shouted "lemonade out of lemons." We booked a room at the swanky hotel airport (and actually checked in VERY early! Hooray!), and found out that American Airlines actually, finally, 16 hours after the cancellation, found my luggage. Of course, my clothes were also drenched.
Here's my $7 bargain meal of desperation...

Things were looking up, notwithstanding that we were stuck in Dallas. I hate Texas.

We then attempted to get seat assignments for Sunday's flight. We waited in line, and were the last two to be helped when American Airlines shut down the ticket counter and instructed us to go to the other end of the terminal for assistance. As you might have imagined, we were not pleased and went on to drown our anger in a crappy franchise restaurant that shall go unnamed to preserve any credibility we might have.

Finally, Sunday evening arrived. Boarding was delayed for 40 minutes so they could "clean the plane." After boarding, we sat on the runway for another 40 minutes - thereby spending what was - coincidentally enough - the same exact amount of time we had for our layover in Sao Paulo to catch our flight to Natal. We knew then that we'd miss our connection.

Cursed. Cursed. Cursed.

We arrived in Sao Paulo with 10 minutes to spare when we were pulled out of line. "Hallelujah," I shouted! "They are going to move us to the head of the immigration and customs lines so we can catch our flight." Nope. American Airlines decided for us that we would not make our connection, and also decided to rebook us on a 6 pm flight (it was 9:15 am, for your point of reference), out of another airport in Sao Paulo. Now, I don't know if you know anything about this fine city, but not only is it HUGE, it is also so crime ridden that Beto requires an escort and a bullet proof car to travel. Like bloody hell I was going to hop on an airport shuttle that has "American Tourists to Rob and Murder" written all over it in ink that only the robbers and murderers of American tourists could read.

Recognizing the conundrum, and the fact that that next flight was 9 hours away, Beto asked American to endorse a ticket on a non-affiliated airline - the only other airline in Brazil. Departing from company policy by demonstrating a brief glimpse of human compassion, they agreed. So, with an ounce of hope, we waded through immigration and customs, and made our way to the other airline - GOL - the equivalent of the ValuJet that plummetted into the Everglades several years ago. The flight to Natal was scheduled to leave in 45 minutes, so we were understandably elated to have found it. Only problem - American failed to properly endorse the ticket, and GOL would not take it. With only 45 minutes to spare, there was no time to go back to the American counter for the proper endorsement, so we just bought a whole new damned ticket to get from Sao Paulo to Natal. After $3000 for the original ticket and several hundred dollars in Dallas, what's another $300, right?

As an aside, for those of you traveling to Brazil, you will be happy to note, as evidenced by this sign, that for your safety, the country prohibits weapons, bombs, incendiaries, knives, and... frozen fish... on its flights.

Got to the gate to then find out that the GOL flight was actually delayed for more than an hour, and so we would have had time to get American to endorse the ticket, had we known.

Welcome to our first two days of vacation.