After an enjoyable and relaxing week in Villa de Leyva, Christine, Luis Armando, and I left the little pueblo to head back to Cali. The plan was to catch a bus to Tunja and then another to Bogotá in time to get some lunch and head to airport in time for our 3:30 flight. Simple enough, yes? That's what we thought too.
The bus travel went well, with the minor exception of being randomly stopped and searched by the Colombian military, but I'd rather have to put my hands on the side of the bus and get patted down than have unsafe highways.
We got to the Bogotá airport at around 2pm and were immediately told that our plane had been overbooked...BUT we were being put on a later 5:30pm flight AND were getting some free bonos for future flights. In return we had to stand in line at the check in for a little over an hour. Finally having checked in, we made our way to the appropriate gate only to find that our original 3:30pm flight was at the neighboring gate and had not left yet at about 4:30pm. Eventually they took off and simultaneously our flight was delayed until 6:30pm. The first ting we noticed, other than the fact that no one seemed to really know anything was that somehow an entire planeload of people had been overbooked. I would love to know how that happened, especially when everyone we talked to was supposed to have been on the 3:30pm flight with us. Hmm...
Fast-forward another hour and we are told that our plane, which incidentally, has not shown up yet, is not going to be there until "maybe" 10pm. Or it could just be canceled altogether, they don't really know. At this point our fellow airline travelers began to get a little...peeved? Angry? Riotous? Let's just say about 60% of the flight basically stormed the gate desk all screaming at the same time. The military police stationed at the airport were summoned and were a solid presence from here on out, guns, batons, giant boots and all.
Luis Armando spent a lot of the next few hours with his fellow proactive Colombians questioning the airline workers about the location of our plane, why everyone at the airport was so ignorant, and when when when? Christine and I laid on the floor and watched the growing mob and equally growing number of armed military personnel. Various members of the mob began to emerge in our minds with names and predictable personality traits. There were several stereotypically power tied businessmen on the flight who were obviously used to being in control and getting what they want. They became our favorites to watch. There was also the man in the backwards Kanga hat and sports coat who looked like a Samuel L. Jackson wannabe, the "lady in white," and "chair guy" who seemed to feel that standing on various elevated places yelling random things to the crowd was helping things. "Chair guy" was mostly ignored although on several occasions he was successful in inciting the mob into chanting, "mentirosos" (liars) and "bonos." With each chant the mob caused at least one or two more military troops to show up. (There was also "good hair man" who didn't ever do anything except become our own minor celebrity solely based on his Patrick Dempsey-like locks.)
Eventually, around 11pm, an airline spokesman showed up to let us know that a plane was found to take us to Cali, unfortunately, the pilot had "timed out" and a new one needed to be found. How an airline shortchanges a plane and is out a pilot is beyond me but they haven't asked me to run the company yet so I'll stay out of it.
At about 12:15am we had a pane and a pilot and a crew. At this point the airline thought to themselves, "what else can we do to not get these people off the ground very quickly? I know! Let's board them by calling out their names one at a time! Brilliant!" So, one by one we were called by name and allowed to board the plane. After about 15 minutes Stephani Johnson got called to board. It was like getting the VIP treatment walking down the tunnel to the plane since no one else was in the tunnel with you. A few minutes later Christian Dussault joined me on the plane followed by our pal Luis Armando, who had no identity crisis. When several of the "Power Tie Crew" boarded they were greeted by an ovation of sorts. It doesn't take much to be a celebrity. We were also given more bonos, as if we were all dying to fly this airline again.
Wait! We can't take off that easily! As we were taxing down the runway an older man in the front half of the cabin suddenly passed out. This was most likely due to the fact that while sitting on the slowly filling plane there was very little circulating air. After returning to the terminal to drop this gentleman off, we finally were in the air at 1:45am - ten hours and fifteen minutes after we were supposed to take off.
I know others of you have probably spent many hours in an airport due to cancellations for various reasons; however, the introduction of near riots, the police, and complete ignorance raised this airport experience to a whole other level for me. Moral of the story: Don't fly AeroRepublica.