Not once but TWICE on the same trip, I found myself spending time at the airport. 7 hours to be exact. Surprisingly, I found things to do and the time passed quickly.
Getting Stuck at the Airport. Twice.
This is an article I never thought I’d write.
I’ve had my share of one and two hour delays. On occasion, the rare four hours of wandering the terminal.
But then there’s THE TRIP.
The one with the seven-hour delay at my home airport, an overnighter at a small airport, a two-hour delay on the plane, then capping it off with another seven-hour delay at a large airport.
All on the same trip.
So now I’m sort of an expert on killing time at the airport.
Being Stuck at Your Home Airport
How it Started
It was a complicated trip from the beginning with tight layovers. Raleigh-Durham – Houston – Panama City – Santiago Chile.
Arriving at the airport at 4:30 am, I made it to the gate 30 minutes before boarding began for my 6:15 am flight.
Everything was going great.
The gate agent made the pre-boarding announcement and people started lining up.
Two people headed down the jetway and surprisingly came back a minute later. Our confusion cleared with the announcement, “mechanical issues”.
Fifty minutes later, it was clear I’d miss the connection in Houston so they rebooked me.
I looked at my ticket and just sighed with defeat. My new flight was in seven hours.
I could have asked my parents to come get me. But it would take an hour, then we’d have to go somewhere, then I’d have to get back to the airport and go through security again.
Instead, I killed seven hours at the airport.
How I Spent 7 Hours at RDU Airport
Considering I had arrived at 4:30 am, I was tired. Since this is my airport, I had the home advantage.
Knowing there were lounge chairs near the escalators, I headed towards surprise number two for the day.
Shockingly, I found myself standing in the middle of the terminal staring at a store instead of cushy lounge chairs, thinking “who the hell is buying Swarovski crystals at the airport?” That just seemed like a bad swap.
Luckily, there were new benches across the way so I secured one. It was a nice spot. Electrical outlets everywhere, soft fabric, and a little bench the right size for me to doze.
Safety first. My duffel carry-on and backpack were both locked. I put my phone and wallet in my backpack and laid my head on that. Finishing up, I looped my hand through the duffel straps.
While I didn’t really sleep, I relaxed and rested for a bit.
2 Hours Down, 5 To Go
After my snooze, I was ready to stretch my legs.
Next up, exercise.
The great thing about terminal one at Raleigh-Durham airport is that it’s an oval, just like a running track. Perfect for loops.
As I wandered, I made note of the shops and restaurants. Nothing super exciting.
Needing social interaction, I headed back to “my” bench and texted friends.
That killed an hour.
3 Hours Down, 4 To Go
It seemed like time for another loop around the terminal and playing the Bionic Woman on the people mover.
Next, I opted for food, but couldn’t decide what I wanted.
So I wandered around the terminal a third time. Then I texted to get votes.
It all ended with me choosing the worst place I could have stopped for lunch.
My burger with mayo, ketchup, lettuce, tomato, and pickles showed up with just the mayo and ketchup. Ewww. They gave me the remaining ingredients in a little bowl to add myself.
I should have just gone to Popeyes.
4 Hours Down, 3 To Go
I had a new camera and brought the manual with me, but the small print was causing me issues. While I don’t need them all the time, the size 8 font necessitated reading glasses.
Except I couldn’t locate them. Time to go shopping.
After wandering into a couple of stores, I finally relented and bought the most expensive pair of reading glasses ever.
Since I was in shopping mode, it made sense to head into Brooks Brothers, Vineyard Vines, the little accessory shop, and the North Carolina random products store.
I never did get around to reading the camera instructions.
5 Hours Down, 2 To Go
With two hours left, I headed to the gate, texted and emailed until they started boarding.
We boarded with no issues and the next flight went smoothly.
Seven hours down. Check.
How it Happened
I can’t complain about this one. I did it to myself. It was actually part of the plan from the start.
Knowing I’d have an abundance of luggage, it just didn’t make sense to go all the way from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas to check into a hostel for a few hours, then lug my bags to the bus station the next morning.
The plan was to finish up at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, return to Puerto Natales to pick up my luggage and take the last bus to the Punta Arenas airport, arriving at 11:45 pm.
How I Spent the Night at Punta Arenas Airport
Finding a Spot
Imagine having a backpacking pack full of gear in a 100-liter bag with other random items, a small carry-on suitcase and a personal backpack in your possession.
You have to keep track of them until you can check-in for your 10:43 am flight.
Movement meant lugging 50 pounds along for the ride. Trust me, you don’t go far.
Lucky for me, the Punta Arenas airport is actually a nice place for the night.
It’s bright, there is someone at the information desk all night, and a woman cleans the floors with what I can only describe as a Zamboni-like vacuum cleaner.
There were about ten other people also spending the night.
On the first floor, I found 3 chairs in a row with no middle armrests right along the wall. No middle armrest is very important when selecting overnight sleeping arrangements at an airport.
Every piece of luggage had a lock. I pulled out my neck pillow and put that on top of my personal pack for a pillow. Then I looped my arm through the straps on the 100-liter bag with my elbow on top of the suitcase.
I’m a pretty light sleeper, so if anyone tried to move an item, I’m pretty sure I would notice.
Finding Another Spot
Somewhere in the middle of the night, it became cold. I’m against a glass wall and the temperature dipped pretty low that night.
After a spirited ten minute conversation in my head, I opted to go upstairs rather than dig out the sleeping bag.
So I lugged my 50 pounds up the non-functioning escalator. Once again I scored another group of three chairs with no middle armrest. They weren’t as comfortable as the set downstairs, but it was a lot warmer.
Besides being warm, the other benefit to upstairs was the restroom was right there.
I set up and dozed until 5:30 am.
In the morning I brushed my teeth and put a comb through my hair, then headed back downstairs on the still not functioning escalator with 50 pounds of luggage.
The airline let me check in so I dropped the heavy bags which was nice.
The Things You Learn
What was most interesting is security didn’t open until 6:30 am, but there was a 7:00 am flight boarding at 6:45 am. I’m still not sure how that worked out.
Chile seems to work on its own time.
Overall, it was noneventful. I would do it again.
Delayed Again – But at Least We’re On the Plane
How it Happened
The flight home was simple. Santiago – Houston – Raleigh-Durham. Surely life wouldn’t throw me another delay. Right?
“We’re boarding”. Those were the excited words I texted my mom. “We’re actually boarding”. Everything was on time.
Life was looking up. I’ve got the seat next to me free on an overnight flight and we are on time!
The cabin doors closed and the pilot announced we were heading for an early departure.
The curse had lifted!
Not So Fast
We pushed back from the gate.
And then nothing.
No whirring noises. No checking the flaps. No engine turning over.
Thirty minutes later the pilot announces there’s no power to the back galley. They tried rebooting, but a mechanic was needed.
I didn’t think it would be an issue if one of two galleys didn’t work on an overnight flight, but apparently flying with a non-functional galley is a no-no.
Fifteen minutes later, another announcement. We aren’t being allowed back to our gate.
The pilots drove the plane to the middle of nowhere and a stairwell for the mechanic pulled up.
Now, this is Chile. As I mentioned, they work on their own time. Urgent doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.
Twenty minutes later the mechanic boards. He fixes the issue in less than ten minutes.
Except now they have to run some sort of test that takes twenty minutes. Then it’s another thirty for the paperwork to be completed, then we sit for a bit to get the flight plan settled.
Food to Tame the Crowd
On the bright side, they gave us water, cookies, and chocolate mousse. I think they took the mousse from the dinners they had planned to serve, but it was still nice.
The downside is that my 9:45 pm flight took off at 12:05 am.
This meant I missed my connection in Houston.
At 8:10 am I was given a ticket for the next flight to Raleigh-Durham departing at 3:00 pm.
Yep. That would be in seven hours. I didn’t even have it in me to sigh.
How I Spent Time at Houston International Airport
The great thing about Houston International Airport is that it’s huge. Tons of stores and restaurants line the terminals and great people watching.
The bad thing is that it’s huge and my flight wasn’t posted so I didn’t even know which terminal to be in. According to the airline help desk, it could be one of three.
Well, I’ve got time.
I found a little space in the food court, grabbed a latte and a scone, then set out to change my foreign SIM card back to the original.
Thanks to my thinking ahead on this, I had a pin that easily dislodged the SIM. The whole process took 2 minutes which was a bit of a bummer. I was kinda counting on it being more involved.
At least now I had a US phone and could call and text friends and family. I’m sure they were thrilled.
That killed about an hour and a half.
2 Hours Down, 5 To Go
I did a little browsing in the small duty-free shop, then explored the candy store.
Having “done” terminal E, I headed to terminal C mainly because it seemed livelier.
There were fast-food restaurants, a bar basically lining a hallway, and a barbecue place where the staff seemed a little desperate to greet anyone that might even think of entering.
Next up was terminal D.
Again just some restaurants and a couple of stores.
I headed back to terminal C and found an empty gate with phone chargers. Having nothing else to do, I charged my phone and people watched.
A man was traveling with his dog which was now out of the crate and on a leash. It wandered to the edge of its leash and pooped on the carpet. The man was good about it and picked it up with a doggie bag, but ewww.
Isn’t there a place or process for this? I mean it’s not like you can just pick dog poop off a carpet and all is good.
3 Hours Down, 4 To Go
By now the flight was posted and I had a departure gate. Terminal C was going to be my home for a bit.
I wandered by the food court again and made yet another bad decision for lunch. This is clearly an area I need to work on.
Deciding to just hang at the gate, I was surprised to find it packed with people getting ready for the current flight.
Well hello. This flight is going to Cabo. For a fleeting second, I pondered trying to sneak on board.
Lucky ducks boarded and departed on time.
4 Hours Down, 3 To Go
Needing a little exercise, I did the terminal B, C, E loop again which took a bit of time.
I finally settled back at the gate (again) so I could secure one of the outlets for my phone.
Feeling a little bored, I went through the photos on my phone and camera and deleted some of the bad ones.
5 Hours Down, 2 To Go
By now, people on my flight were filling up the gate area. The gate agent was there and they had listed the flight.
I spent the rest of the time on my phone texting, posting to Instagram and getting caught up on Facebook.
We did board on time and the flight headed out without incident.
I landed at Raleigh-Durham airport on time.
The Moral of the Story
I guess the moral of the story is if you see me at your gate, you should probably book a new flight.