Half the reason to travel is to relax or have a great adventure. The other half is to show off what a wonderful and rich life you have. This piece is the opposite. It is a gripe piece. Feel free to skip to the good part of the trip (coming soon).
In the grand scheme of things, these events don’t compare to getting bombed out of your home by Russians or falling victim to Covid. But maybe this piece will make some would-be travelers feel good about their decision to stay home. Perhaps it will help some avoid some of the challenges I faced.
You walk up to the agent, ready to board your flight. You hand her your phone so that she can scan the QR code for the ticket.
She says, “I need to see your Covid test certificate.”
You take the phone back and open up the picture of the certified lab result of a negative antigen covid test taken within the last 24 hours.
She says, “We don’t accept this test.”
You counter, “What are you talking about? This is a lab certified antigen test taken within the last 24 hours.”
You protest and argue. The agent tells you to stand by the podium with the other five victims. The rest of the passengers board the plane. The plane pulls away from the jetway and then the terminal.
She escorts three other victims and yourself to the security checkpoint. The other two left behind are two older women, and one requires a wheelchair.
At the immigration checkpoint, an immigration officer checks the passports. He says, “You have to leave the terminal. You do not have valid tickets anymore.” He hands you back your passport.
That’s it. Good-bye. You learn that Aeromexico doesn’t have a ticket booth to complain to or make a reservation in the terminal. You are standing outside the immigration entry point. You are not on a plane, without a reservation, without a Covid test, and without a place to stay.
Time: One day before.
You are driving to San Jose to stay close to the airport to catch your noon flights out of Costa Rica to mitigate the risk of a long car ride on the same day as the trip. Your niece is sick, and it’s not just car sickness. Her mom records her temperature at 100.2. When your niece starts covering her mouth, you tell your brother he better pull over. As he does, your niece unleashes into a plastic bag. Her mom dumps the mess in a drainage ditch.
As you continue the journey, your niece cries because she doesn’t want to get stuck in CR for another ten days if she doesn’t pass the Covid test. Her mom tries to talk her down.
When you arrive at the resort, the guard unexpectedly takes temperatures to screen for Covid. Miraculously, she doesn’t register a temperature with the guard’s scanner. Her fever has already passed, or the scanner is a piece of junk. Either way, you all have dodged a bullet.
Time: Less than 24 hours before.
Your sister-in-law hands you the test kit. You and your four relatives are setting up for the video observation of the Azova antigen covid test purchased back in the states. It made perfect sense at the time. The test is certified and only takes 15 minutes, according to the Azova marketing literature.
You try to log on to the app on your iPhone. Nothing happens. You try to log in to the web page on the laptop. The browser rewards you with an ssh certificate dump claiming that this is an invalid site. You try another browser with the same result. It could be a bad wifi connection, but other apps are loading. It could be a proxy issue. You don’t know, so you call support. Your brother goes to the main office to try the connection there. The support guy has never heard of this problem before. Your brother calls back to say he was able to log in on the wifi network at the main office. So you all head up to the office. The wifi is better, but it is still sketchy.
The Azova App user interface is confusing. The user interface doesn’t list the dependents under their mom’s account. You make another call to support. With lousy hearing, the thick accent of the customer representative, and all the noise in the lobby of the office, you can barely understand the rep. Another issue arises, so you make another call to support. You hand the phone over to your sister-in-law, who still has good hearing. And then another problem arises. And another. Finally, you take the test. The instructions tell you that you will receive the results in fifteen minutes. The observer has already left. An hour later, you still don’t have the results. You call again. When all is said and done, and you have the certificate in an email, the entire process takes nine customer support calls and over four hours.
Time: 3 hours before.
Your brother pulls the car into a gas station to fill the gas tank of the rental before returning it. CR gas stations have attendants, and your brother requests diesel.
A mile before the drop-off, the car sputters and stalls in traffic. After a few WTFs and trying to turn the engine over, your brother realizes it probably wasn’t diesel.
You jump out of the car to push it to the side of the road. Someone in the truck stuck in traffic behind you jumps out and helps with the push. You dial all the provided numbers to the rental agency on your phone, but none of them go through.
“Ayudame. Ayudame,” you say to a man. The man takes you into the Casa Antigua Hotel to meet the English-speaking partner/owners, one of the few breaks you all catch during this whole ordeal. These decent, helpful people connect you to the rental agency. Your brother arranges for the rental agency to pick up the stricken vehicle. He leaves the keys with the owners, and the owners arrange a taxi to take you all to the airport.
Time: 3 hours after.
You’ve been to the lab and passed the same antigen Covid test a second time. It would have been a no-brainer if you knew how awful the Azova test was and how easy the lab was. You’ve rebooked the flight for 1:55 a.m. to Mexico City and 7:00 a.m. to LAX through Aeromexico customer service on the phone. It only cost you fifty dollars to change.
You chat with Jeany and her boyfriend, two of the other victims. You tell them to call Aeromexico to rebook, which they try but fail. So she takes another airline to Panama City and then to LAX with a twelve-hour layover. You feel bad for her. She won’t make it to LAX until 8 p.m. of the next day.
You chat with your brother and sister-in-law. They barely made it to their flight on time, but Delta didn’t even bother to check for a Covid test.
Time: 8 hours after.
You decided to return to the Casa Antigua Hotel. It beats hanging around in the airport for fourteen straight hours, and you want to eat dinner. When you arrive, the restaurant is already closed. But Henri, the owner, sets you up with a two-course dinner and a beer. He lets you hang around in the open-air courtyard on a perfect night. When you leave, Henri won’t accept any money. He tells you to pay it forward. Maybe these words will help pay his kindness backward a little bit.
You take a taxi back to the airport. The driver asks you about your trip speaking English, not so great but good enough. When he pulls into the airport, he shows you the fee, about 4000 Colon. You only have a twenty, which translates into about 12000 Colon. He hands you back 3000 Colon. You know the rate and tell him he should give you 3000 more back. That would be 6000 colon or ten dollars for a six dollar, one kilometer, five-minute ride.
All of a sudden, his English isn’t so good. He doesn’t offer and continues to pretend like he doesn’t understand. He understands perfectly. You argue for a bit, but he doesn’t budge.
Time: 11 hours after.
A family from Vancouver walks up to the agent as she is setting up the counter for the Aeromexico flight. You catch the part of the conversation where she says the Covid certification is no good. You intervene and tell the father that they can get the lab done within an hour, and if they don’t, they will get bumped from their flight. They have time. It is still three hours from takeoff. They don’t realize, and you don’t yet at the time, but you probably saved them at least four thousand dollars.
You see them later on the plane. The family took the same Azova test and tell you they had the same bad experience with it. The father tells you it took them five hours to take the test instead of the advertised fifteen minutes, but you take small comfort in confirming the poor user experience. They thank you for the advice at the counter.
Time: 11:15 after.
When you hand your passport to the agent at the check-in counter for the rebooked flight, she says, “Your ticket is invalid because you booked it under the same reservation as before.”
That doesn’t mean anything to you. You counter, “I didn’t book anything, your customer agent booked this.”
You argue back and forth. The agent hands you your passport back as if this is the end of the conversation.
You say, “Your agent booked this flight.” You show her the email with the new reservation on it. You go back and forth some more. She fiddles with the monitor and talks to her companions. She hands you back your passport again.
You show her the receipt in the email for the fifty dollars they charged you for the difference in price with the original ticket.
The agent is back to the keyboard and terminal and chatting with supervisors and other agents. She tries to sell you a ticket in business class for six thousand dollars.
You refuse. “I know there are available seats, because I have a reservation for them.”
At the end of the day, she finds a ticket for a thousand dollars, but because the 1:55 a.m. flight is delayed, she can only put you on the 7 p.m. flight out of Mexico City. She’s already tried to hand you back your passport three times. You take the ticket.
You think about all the times you’ve spent in line glaring at some loser that takes five or ten minutes to get through because he doesn’t have his shit together. You argued and negotiated with the agent for ninety minutes. Ninety minutes. You commend her on staying with it but chastise her company’s poor customer service.
Time: 14 hours after.
As you are boarding the 1:55 a.m. flight, a young man in front of you is called out of line and informed that his test is no good. The agent says, “That is why we tell you to check in at the front desk.”
Really? You know what he is going through. You are sure that he had confidently secured his Covid certification, and he checked in through his phone, which told him his check-in was complete.
He says, “What am I supposed to do now?”
You know the answer to that question, too. He is screwed. Despite your empathy, you aren’t going to miss this flight.
Time: 24 hours after.
You are in the Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez camped out in a hidden corner, trying to catch some sleep despite the continual blaring of repeated messages over the loudspeaker.
You WhatsApp’d Jeany. You tell her, “just thought i’d text and make you feel good about your decision. the flight to mexico city is delayed and i am going to miss the connection. the next flight out to LAX is 6 pm so i am going to be stuck in mexico city for a day”
Surprisingly, she responds, “Yeah, I’m in a corner of at a lounge in Panama till my flight in the morning Oh man that sounds awful I’m so sorry for the fiasco!”
“yeah you made the right move…”. And so on.
Time: 42 hours after.
You finally make it home. You are a thousand and fifty-one dollars poorer, not even counting the extra parking and dog care expenses. You’ve read an entire novel, Ice Crash: Antarctica and are lucky you didn’t die of sleep deprivation on the drive home.
Jeany texts, “Happy to grab drinks sometime when this is all a funny memory.”
You’ll give her a call in a couple of years when you’ve put this behind you.