The Price of Free Tickets
When we travel, we seek adventure. But sometimes you should be careful what you ask for...
After saying goodbye to my parents and then my brother and his wife, we walked into the terminal at DFW Airport. The flight information we had indicated Gate E4, near where we were dropped off. Unfortunately we discovered that the Spirit Air ticket counter was actually on the other end of Terminal E, around Gate 27. So we rented a cart and took a walk. We detoured around a section under construction, exiting to the sidewalk at about Gate 21 and re-entering the building at Gate 30. We were missing a section! Eventually we found the Spirit counter down past Gate 32 and got our boarding passes. After we walked away we discovered that Bryn had passes for both legs, but I only had one. I returned to the counter and received my extra pass without much delay. I'm glad I discovered the error when I did, otherwise I would have walked a 5K to fix it. We were surprised to discover that in spite of the fact that we did not reserve our seats online we were sitting next to each other, with a window seat for both legs. Bryn was happy.
We proceeded through security, where TSA agents took special interest in our bags. I suspect it was because of our one-way tickets, or our destination, or maybe the fact that I had a bag full of electronics gear. Two hard drives, a router, two sets of mini-speakers, headphones, a camera and a plastic bag with enough adapters and cables to assemble my own mini-Skynet. He dug through it, then indicated to me that he was going to swab it. Was he asking permission? What if I said no? LOL I assume he was looking for traces of explosives. Bryn's bag was delayed while they tried to figure out if a pair of scissors was legal. They were (yay?).
We then proceeded through a maze of construction tunnels and underground passageways and long people-movers until we got to our gate, E27. At the time I thought it was a new addition to the airport, but I could never figure out exactly where we were. I could see a major American Airlines hangar out the window, but I thought that was on the west side of the airport, and Terminal E is on the east side. I had to do some research on this, but as it turns out we were actually in the old Delta satellite terminal! When they moved their major hub to Atlanta they abandoned this building and it sat unused for eight years. It is now fully remodeled and all nine gates are exclusively for Spirit Air planes. It is very nice! There are sundries, books, a Starbucks, a Dickey's BBQ, a bar. There are also lots of comfy chairs out away from the gates, very handy if you have an extended layover or get stuck in a weather delay.
As we sat at the gate it became evident that things were were not going to go smoothly. A flight to Denver was scheduled to depart at 4:55pm. Our Ft. Lauderdale was scheduled for 5:00pm. Both flights had a status of 'on time.' After the Denver flight boarded, the truth appeared on the departure board -- 5:50PM. The gate attendants announced that we were overbooked and asked for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for round trip tickets. I think someone took them up on the offer. We then boarded and finally got into the air around 6:15.
We arrived in Fort Lauderdale almost two hours late. But we still arrived at our departure gate almost an hour before the flight, standing room only in Terminal H. It felt like we were already in Nicaragua. Lots of people, many having chosen spots on the floor to sleep. About ten minutes later our gate crew started asking for volunteers to give up their seats. At first the only inducement mentioned was a meal voucher. No one bit. Eventually someone figured out that there were no other good "next available flight" options, so they upped the ante. A free night's lodging was added. Still no go. Then they offered a free round trip ticket. That seemed to do the trick.
One spanish speaker beat me to the gate, asked some questions then walked off to consult with others. I asked about the details, then asked about the round trip ticket. I was trying to make sure both Bryn and I would get one. The gate attendant evidently thought I was trying to play hardball, and said "OK, two round-trip tickets for each of you." SOLD!
We both filled out voucher forms. At some point we were told that this was conditional, that we still might be boarded on the flight, and we understood that. We were instructed to go back past security to the Spirit ticket counter and ask for a supervisor. We made the long walk, waited in line, then asked a customer service person for the supervisor and she took our boarding passes and vouchers into a back room. After about twenty minutes Xomorro ('Shomorrow') came out and told us that there were problems. The only way to get us to Managua was to fly to Panama the next day on Copa Air out of Miami, then the day after that we would fly to Nicaragua. We told her that wasn't a problem at all! She was relieved, and a bit confused. We explained that we were traveling through Central and South America. Evidently not too many people do that. LOL
She then explained the following things that we would get at no extra cost to us:
- One night at a Ft. Lauderdale hotel
- One meal
- A cab to Miami International the next day
- A flight to Panama
- A night at a Panama hotel for the 16-hr layover
- A flight to Managua, Nicaragua
When she went back into the back office to finalize things, we were excited! An adventure for sure, a good way to start the trip. Plus, an extra country stamped on our Passports. And then she came back out and ruined everything.
Evidently, the plane was, incredibly — 30 minutes after 'final' boarding — still sitting at the gate, and the captain decided they had room and could wait for us. Xomorra was apologetic and seemed incredulous that they would do this. We had to go back through security, walk all the way down to the end of the terminal again. The gate attendant apologized profusely and took down our confirmation number and promised to give us one free round-trip each. Then we walked on to the plane full of tired, cranky people. And what a lovely and warm reception we got! It felt incredibly frustrating trying to explain all of what just happened with a facial expression. We did get to tell our story to a couple of people around us, plus a flight attendant. The rest of the plane were probably just staring daggers at us. I hope they at least think we're really rich or important people who pulled strings. Of course if that were true, we would have been sitting in the front of the plane, not the exit row.
The plane finally left the gate about fifteen minutes later. The flight was originally scheduled to arrive in Nicaragua at 12:23AM. As we taxied to the terminal the pilot announced that it was 2:15. We cleared immigration after someone escorted Bryn to an ATM. We had forgotten about the entry fee ($10 US each). Customs was quick and painless. The taxi driver found the hostal without too much delay and we were in bed by 3:00am.
At first it seemed like we would lie awake forever, our brains unable to shut down. The small window unit struggled to overcome the intense humidity. Eventually our brains were lulled to sleep by the ambient symphony of a light rain and air-conditioning throbs and window pane rattles and the occasional chirping of the geckos who watched over us. We slept the sleep of the dead.