Sunday, March 4, 2018

Who's in your corner? (Escaping Sao Paolo Airport Prison.)

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa
I was a prisoner in the international terminal of Sao Paolo Airport. With no visa, I couldn't leave the area, and without a flight onward, I was stuck. I was upset and annoyed and wondered what was going to happen next. Also, the staff at South African abandoned me. They had finished boarding the passengers, and then they abandoned me, despite me asking over and over again to talk to the supervisor. The team leader did not let me talk to the supervisor, and I confronted him later, calling him a liar - for telling me the supervisor would come and never did. When I told him I needed help sorting this out, the team leader stuck his hand in my face and took a personal phone call on his cell. To make matters even worse, the staff at South African kept trying to tell me that Turkish Airlines was at fault (which it was) for not advising me earlier; so they had no responsibility to help.

How would you feel? Not much money left. You're stuck in a place you can't even sleep. And you can't exit. Ugh! Remember; I arrived into Buenos Aires at 03:00AM. It was now about 7:30PM. I haven't slept. I've been awake for 14.5 hours. All this, because of the visa problem that Americans have with Brazil.

Anyways, I was escorted back to the Business Lounge in Sao Paolo airport, and I asked for help. I surprised myself by being a lot calmer than I would usually have been. Actually, (I don't know why), but I was at peace about not making that flight. It's not the first time I missed a big flight. There  was this one time in New Zealand that I missed my flight to Los Angeles, because an airplane crashed in Wellington Airport, delaying my flight to Auckland by three hours. As a result, I missed my Thanksgiving flight back home to Los Angeles. But an understanding supervisor let me board the next day, without having to pay thousands of dollars. Let's not forget when I was put under Russian house arrest - for not paying a bribe. So, by this point in my life - I think I've figured out - it doesn't really do you any good to be upset to solve the situation. But I just had to get out of Sao Paolo International Airport Terminal.

I persistently and politely told the staff at South African to help me, since they were the only ones around. And to my surprise, a senior guy at the Business Lounge was able to coordinate people from United and South African Airlines to help me. He kept asking if I was fine.

I told the United Representative, just send me to Europe then. If it was Turkish Airway's fault, then they could send me to Istanbul. I'll figure it out from there. He tried to send me to Frankfurt, Germany but I just missed the flight. He checked whether he could send me to Lisbon, Portugal. I told him that would be fine, since I had a friend living there currently.

Meanwhile, the South African supervisor just waited with me and kept me company. Even though he later alleged he wasn't doing anything, that wasn't true. He told me he was Argentinian. I told him it was because I visited his country I was in trouble.

Then, I laughed, to let him know it was a joke. I told him in Spanish what I did in Argentina, and told him I was sorry for being stressed. And thanked him. But he had a good sense of spirit and well-being, and kept me company until everything was going to be sorted. Though, I didn't know if it would be. To pass the time, I told him about my time in Argentina and all the different kinds of foods I ate.

The United representative found me something that wasn't going to work and cost a lot. But he was really working hard to help me. So, I opened up my computer and found every route possible to get me out of Sao Paolo. I asked for a paper and pen and wrote down all ten routes on that paper. I liked how he said on the phone: "Hold on a minute. The guy is doing something and writing something for us."

(And I think this is an important business lesson in general. If you're going to complain about a problem, always have a few solutions for the person helping you.)

The United Rep. went back and told him all the options available. After discussing the options with the other person on the phone, the rep. told me that he was going to fly me to Washington D.C.

"Then what?" I asked.

"Then, you'll be flying into Senegal and then into Johannesburg. We just have a problem with Cape Town. We only have a flight for you a few days later. You'll have to stay in Johannesburg for two days."

Excited, I said, "Not a problem." I thought I was going to Europe or Turkey or the Middle

One hour later, I was going to board my flight back home to the US of A. I was going home, at least for awhile. It was strange thought for me to realize I was going back home and leaving South America. No more Spanish. I've been in South America for almost 8 months now.

After the problem was resolved, the South African supervisor left. I gave him a hug and thanked him. I gave the United Rep. and thanked him from the bottom of my heart too. I really wanted them to know I was grateful.

The representative for Star Alliance asked if all had been resolved. I told him it had been.

I thought to myself: Wow, I'm really lucky. I'd like to think of myself as an escape artist, escaping problems. But without the help of other people, I couldn't take that credit.

I emailed my contact in Johannesburg and asked him if I could come for a few days. He said, "Yes."

A special thank you to my benefactor for getting my first class ticket to South Africa. A special thank you to United Airlines - for their awesome service and to Niclos Micheletti from South African Airlines for being there to help me sort out the problem. 

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