On the way out of Quito, after my family and I had arrived at the airport, secured boarding passes, passed through security, and had our bags searched by hand at the gate, we were ready to board. There was an announcement that the flight had been overbooked, and that American Airlines was offering a free ticket and $500 for anyone willing to leave Quito the next day. I live in my van, hence it seemed foolish not to take them up on the offer to spend an extra day in Quito. I figured that I could make my way back to my cousin’s house. I’d heard that city cabs are cheap, and having practiced my pigeon Spanish for nearly two weeks, I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal.
I jumped up, somewhat to the surprise of my family. (Editor’s note: my cousin, who is reading over my shoulder as I type, says “I wasn’t surprised at all.”) I said something about how I was going to go for it, and headed for the counter. “Volunteer?” said the attendant. I nodded in the affirmative. She took my boarding pass and said that she’d re-book my flight in about ten minutes.
I went back to talk to my family. “You know, that was probably one of our seats,” said my cousin. Indeed, I had “D,” an aisle seat, leaving one of the family sequestered away from the rest of the party in a middle seat. “Hmm. Perhaps I should have thought about this or at least consulted with my traveling companions before committing,” I thought.
I started trying to figure out how to contact C, my cousin who lives in Ecuador with whom we’d been staying. I knew that her Skype contact connected to her phone. I tried that. No luck. I wasn’t really sure whether that Skype contact was for her or for her husband who was currently en route back to Quito from Dubai. I left a voice message.
I waved to my now-former travel companions as they boarded the plane.
Next I tried sending text messages. Again, I knew that her Google Voice number forwarded to her phone, but wasn’t sure which of the numbers I have for her was correct. I was also not that sure that she’d notice a text message, as she is still new to the world of telephonic textual messages. Working quickly, I sent semi-cryptic messages to both of the numbers and one that I had for her husband. I got no responses.
I sent an email.
I realized that I had no idea what the address of their house was and remembered that part of the reason we had not ordered food for delivery the previous night was that merely providing the address was not sufficient for most people to find the place. Fortunately, the school that C’s kids attend is in walking distance from the house. I pulled the school’s web site up on my phone and scribbled down what appeared to be an address. It didn’t look like an address, since there was no number, but I inferred that there were two cross-streets and the name of the neighborhood. Also, I hoped that the school might be a well-enough known landmark for a cab driver to recognize. I wrote the address on a card and kept the web site up on my phone so that I could ask the gate attendant if indeed that was an address that I could give a cab driver, and that if I did so, I would have some hope of being delivered there.
The gate was now empty. I started wondering if I’d get bumped to business class for my flight back. I hadn’t really heard what the offer was beyond the $500 and flight out tomorrow. I remembered that I had only $15 in cash. Using ATMs in Quito results in being subsequently accosted by bandits who then force people to empty their accounts with sufficient frequency that the US embassy encourages people not to use them. Perhaps American Airlines would give me promised money in cash? It’d be OK. Though the car service that had delivered us to the airport charged us $12, regular cabs are very cheap, so I could probably get back to the house–or at least to the nearby school–for under $5, assuming, of course, that the address that I wrote on the card worked.
And just as I was about to get my new ticket issued, they asked my name, and gave me back my boarding pass. It turned out that they didn’t need my seat after all. I boarded the plane in the aisle seat next to my cousin.