Finally I could finish the second part of my report. Thanks to all those who enjoyed the first part and made positive comments about it. Now before reading this, I want to make clear that I don´t work for any airline and that I don´t have any hidden interest. It´s a detailed description of what happened since I left from Guatemala until I arrived at Madrid 1 day later that expected.
This Part 2 is really, really long, so please take your time to read it. Thanks in advance and I hope you enjoy the story...here it goes!!
That day me and my friends got together to watch the Euro 2004 football game between Spain and Russia at 11:45 a.m. (local time of Guatemala) before going to the airport. Spain won 1 – 0 but that´s another story...we´re now out of the tournament and the truth is that the Spanish team didn´t deserve to go any further than 1st round. It was too hard for me to get out of bed that morning as we went out the previous night and my head was about to explode...what a hangover!!!...thank God I had my luggage ready since the day before as I knew this was going to happen!!
After seeing the game we called Domino´s for 3 pizzas (there were 6 of us) and had a good lunch until about 3:30 p.m....it was time to leave.
Guatemala´s “La Aurora airport is located right in the middle of Guatemala City, so it doesn´t take long to get there no matter where you´re comming from, unless of you try to go there during the peak traffic hour of course as there are lots of cars there and people don´t have any idea of how to drive properly!!
I arrived at the airport at 4:00 p.m. and the flight was leaving at 6:35 p.m.. When I arrived at the terminal I was surprised when I saw that the general public is not allowed anymore into the check in area...only passengers can enter. I went to Iberia check in counters and had my luggage searched by security personnel before check in. Had an unpleasant surprise when the IB
agent at the counter told me that my luggage had to be checked-in unlocked or T.S.A agents in Miami could break the locks (without being responsible for the damage) when they search the suitcases during transit...I asked the lady who could guarantee that the contents of my suitcases would arrive intact to Madrid as I had no way to know who was going to place it´s hands on them (you don´t pick up your luggage in MIA
so you are not present when T.S.A people open it)...I also told her that the problem was not only to pick up my luggage in Madrid with it´s original content being intact, but the risk of someone placing “unexpected items” inside it...this is the kind of thing that I hate and it has made me decide that the next year when I go to Guatemala again I will try to avoid flying through the U.S., maybe via Mexico City unless there are direct flights by then.
After that I went downstairs to the duty free shops (many duty free shops in GUA
are located in the public area) as I didn´t want to leave from Guatemala without buying some of the best rum in the world: Guatemala´s Zacapa Centenario 23 years old...awarded 5 years in a row as the world´s best rum in the premium category (the highest category, so it´s really the best). I bought 4 bottles and the duty free girl (a very nice girl BTW...really hot!!) told me that they would be delivered to me at the boarding gate. I took a look around the terminal and saw a Mexicana A319 that just suffered a birdstrike while approaching Guatemala, so it´s next flight to MEX
was cancelled as the cockpit windshield was broken and had to be replaced. I spent some more minutes watching the city and other aircraft from the terminal and at 6:00 p.m. I said good bye to my friends...I´ll be seeing them again early next year as one of them is getting married and I won´t miss the wedding.
Flight IB6112 was departing from gate 7 and when I arrived at the boarding area our A319 had just arrived from MIA
. This time our aircraft was EC
-HKO “Gorbea”. A duty free agent was already waiting with the merchandise that had been purchased by some passengers (myself included) so I went to pick up my rum bottles that had been originally packed in a carton suitcase.
By the time we were called for boarding the night was coming down over Guatemala and a light rain was falling, but we could hear some thunders and see some lightnings in the area (this is the typical weather in Central America this time of the year).
The flight was completely full this time and my seat number was 5A
, so I was one of the last passengers to board the aircraft.
We were pushed back at 6:45 p.m., 10 minutes late and were instructed to taxi to RWY19 for a take off to the south. Taxiing was short and soon we were entering the runway. Captain José Valle applied T/O power and in about 40 seconds we were leaving the runway climbing into the sunset sky.
The aircraft had to make a 180 degrees turn to head north, so we flew over the city and a really enjoyed the sight...it´s incredible how big Guatemala City looks from the air at night. The sight became even more spectacular when we approached a thunderstorm area over Rabinal VOR because the sky around us was clear but we could see giant cloud formations (cumulonimbus) at a medium distance and they looked as if they were going to explode by the amount of electricity they were deploying. The pilot then asked everyone to remain seated as we were about to enter a thunderstorm area that covered a distance of about 300 miles of our flight path so we were going to be experiencing some bumps until leaving the north coast of theYucatan peninsula (more or less close to Cancun).
After we crossed that heavy turbulence area the flight became really smooth and the meals and beverages were served. The food was very good (grilled chicken breast with rice) but once again the flight attendants were not very friendly...they were not rude either. One important thing is that Iberia is the only airline that offers full meals on the flights between Miami and Central America.
The rest of the flight went on uneventfully and about 1 hour and 50 minutes after leaving Guatemala the crew announced that we had just started our descent to Miami. The sky was completely clear, so the views were spectacular as we approached Miami by night. The rest of the descent and approach were smooth as silk, with no signs of rough air. But as nothing can be 100 perfect and while I was expecting a perfect soft landing, it seems that the pilot tried to do it that way and flared too much, so after we had covered a lot of runway he suddenly cut the power and the A319 slammed on the runway surface. We taxied to gate E21 and our B742 for the MIA
flight was already there, parked at gate E23 and being prepared for midnight departure. I took a look at the aircraft and was happy when I saw that it was our old friend EC
-DIB “Cervantes” again. It´s incredible how enormous and “majestic” these 747s look by night with all it´s windows illuminated and the tail light illuminating the airline logo.
Numbers for this flight:
Airbus A319 EC
About 120 pax on board (100%)
Flight time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Cabin crew: 5/10
Cabin Comfort: 9/10
Aircraft Condition: 9/10
On time performance: 8/10
Average rating: 7.33 / 10
I went again through immigration and security checks and in about 30 minutes I was at the boarding area again. This time a huge crowd was waiting to board the 747 to Madrid and the screen above the boarding gate showed “Iberia 6120 Madrid, departs at 12:05 a.m.”. It was about 11:20 p.m. by then so I thought that given the enormous amount of people (not less than 400 pax), boarding would be carried out early. There was so many people there that it was difficult to find a seat, but I finally found one and I sat there and took out the same aviation magazine I bought in Madrid 9 days before. After reading the magazine for a long time I noticed that nothing had been said about boarding, and when I saw the time it was 11:55 p.m.. Another 30 minutes passed by and at 12:30 a.m. an Iberia agent announced on the microphone that the flight to Madrid was going to be delayed due to technical problems. He asked the passengers to wait for further information in about 30 more minutes. People acted as if nothing was wrong with that, so everyone just sat down, relaxed and tried to have a good time while waiting for a late boarding call. At 1:00 a.m., a new announcement was made and Iberia staff told that the problem had not been fixed yet, so we should have to wait some more time. They could not explain the exact problem as the pilot and the mechanics didn´t give further information to them. People started looking tired as it was late for being awake and there were many kids and older people that needed to get some rest. Other bad thing was that there wasn´t any bar or restaurant opened, so we had no chance of getting something to eat or drink. The crowd started to get nervous and finally, at about 1:40, a new announcement was made...the flight was cancelled until the next day at 3:00 p.m.. There was a big unanimous “oooohhhhh” after the announcement. Immediately after that, Iberia staff took again the microphone and gave us some instructions: “Ladies and gentleman we have made hotel and transportation arrangements for all passengers...we will also provide you with dinner at the respective hotels as well as breakfast and lunch for tomorrow”... “Passengers that came from Guatemala City please stand in front of Gate E21, passengers from San Jose stand in front of gate E23”....etcetera. The passengers that were not connecting from any Central American destination (those who came from U.S. domestic flights or passengers from the Miami area) were called to stand in front of gate E25 (downstairs). Groups of 2 or 3 Iberia agents were already waiting for passengers at each meeting point that had been previously announced and they had information about the hotel assignments for each group of passengers. I don´t know about the rest of the passengers, but we all coming from Guatemala were assigned to “Sofitel Miami Airport Hotel” (it´s the one you see from the airport at night illuminated with a big blue neon frame) located about 2 or 3 miles from the airport... no complaint was made for that as it was a good hotel. The bad news was that the T.S.A. had ordered that every piece of checked-in luggage had to be offloaded from the aircraft and that we had to collect them at baggage claim and go through customs. For that, we had to go to the baggage claim area in groups of no more than 10 passengers each. We were instructed to follow our respective Iberia staff members (it was like being back at school and going in a school visit following your classmates and your teacher) to the baggage claim areas. For that purpose, we had to take the train that goes from the E gates area to the terminal, but it was not working as it was 2:00 a.m.. The airport staff came to turn it on and all passengers started boarding the train in separate groups, each group with it´s “team leaders”. When we finally got to the arrivals area, T.S.A and customs officials were already waiting for us in front of the baggage claim area access doors. They ordered us to stand in a single line and after about 20 minutes we were allowed to go into the baggage claim to pick up our stuff...as I said before, in groups of no more than 10 people each time, and the following group could not enter the baggage claim area until the last of the previous 10 had finished with the process of waiting for the luggage at the belt and after that, taking it to customs for screening/searching...a nice thing to be carried out at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning. After we finished with that, we were called again by our “team leader” who guided us to the assigned exit, where a big group of vans were already waiting for us...and I am talking just for the passengers coming from Guatemala as by that time each group was “minding their own business” at different parts of the airport.
In just a few minutes we arrived at the hotel, where one of our “team leaders” (IB
agents) was already waiting for us (she got there on the first available van while the other agent got there on the last one, making sure that nobody was left behind).
There was some confusion at the front desk, as there was only one hotel employee (it was 3:30 a.m.) and we were more than 100 people, so she decided to hand over the registration forms for everyone at once so we could fill them quickly. As soon as we finished she assigned the respective room number.
Everyone could call room service (they work 24 hrs. a day) to ask for dinner, as it was included in the reservations made by Iberia. IB
also provided passengers with phone calling cards, so everyone could call their respective homes/families to explain the situation....I finally got to my room and that was it for that night.
The next morning I woke up at 10:00 a.m., prepared my stuff and went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast...I found most of my flight´s other passengers doing the same so I had the chance to share the same table with some of them...a good opportunity to meet new people. It was about 12:00 when one Iberia agent showed up at the restaurant and announced that the aircraft problems could not be repaired during the night so a group of Iberia mechanics were flying from Madrid at that time on the IB
flight due for arrival at MIA
at 3:30 p.m., so if everything went O.K. we would be departing at 7:30 p.m....that´s when people started to complaint and to get nervous. Some of them asked for a replacement aircraft ASAP, but the IB
guy said that there were none available at MAD
and that other flights going to Spain from the U.S. were full, so the only way to be at Madrid the next day was to wait until our friend “Cervantes” was repaired. He also told us that another entire crew (about 18 people) was ready to replace our originally assigned crew in case they exceeded their duty hours (that was another reason for cancelling the flight the previous night in addition to the mechanical problem).
He suggested to have lunch at the hotel (payed by Iberia of course) or to go to the airport and ask for lunch vouchers at the Iberia check-in counters (they would be given to us upon showing the boarding pass)...we could use those vouchers at any airport restaurant and spend a maximum of $25.00 per passenger (I think that´s enough for a good lunch at the airport). Myself and the other 3 passengers that were in the same table with me (a Guatemalan couple and their teenage daughter) took the second option, as it was already noon and we would be having lunch by 4 or 5 p.m. so it was a better idea to have it at the airport. We took the Sofitel Hotel shuttle to the airport at 3 p.m. and arrived at the airport a few minutes later with all our luggage. We were told that we didn´t need to check-in again as our travel documentation had been issued the day before so we only needed to drop our luggage at the security control (x-ray screening area) and leave without having to wait...thank God, because when we arrived, the line of people in front of IB
check-in area was a total nightmare: as many as 600 or 700 people!!!...many of them for the B747 afternoon flight to Madrid (the same aircraft that was bringing “our” mechanics), some others for the A319 flights to Central America and some others for the midnight B747 to Madrid (the same flight we were supposed to catch the previous night!...of course they would be flying on a different 747).
We went to Chili´s to have lunch and at 6:45 p.m. went to the E gates boarding area hoping that our flight would depart at 7:30 p.m.. When we arrived there it was kind of funny, as even though there were no less than 400 people there, all the faces looked familiar and everyone was saying “hi” to each other and asking about their night...we suddenly became something like “a group of 400 friends”...
Many of the passengers became even “closer friends” when at 7:15 p.m., Iberia staff members announced that the flight would be delayed once again and that the new departure time would be 9:30 p.m. because the mechanics hadn´t finished their job yet and the aircraft had to be tested first after they finished...people started to make loud noise...many of them climbed on the seats and started to shout “Fuera, fuera, fuera!!” “Iberia nunca más, Iberia nunca más!!” (“Out, out, out!!” “Iberia never again!! Iberia never again!!”)...the boarding area suddenly became a total chaos...many other pax started to insult Iberia staff and others threatened with trying to board the scheduled midnight flight by force if we were still there by then...they said “we don´t care about today´s passengers and it´s their turn now to stay on the ground...we are going on that aircraft if ours is not fixed by midnight...no matter what happens!!”. On the other hand, there was another large group of people that didn´t participate in that “riot”...I was one of them.
That behaviour would only make things worse, and just as a precaution, about 15 or 20 police officers appeared in the boarding area just 5 minutes later and went directly to “protect” the Iberia staff members and to avoid the access to the jetway of any unauthorized people. Many people were taking pictures (I took one, but don´t know how to upload it), many others took out their video cameras and were filming everything. I could say that about 60 or 70% of those 400 people were participating of this “protest” that lasted for at least 15 or 20 minutes until things started to settle down.
Some people started to shout again from time to time, but finally at about 9:00 p.m. IB
staff members announced that the mechanics that came from Madrid and the Captain had finally given their approval after many tests and checks so the aircraft was finally ready for departure. It was being towed from the hangar at that moment, so it would be at the gate in about 15 minutes and right after that we should wait for the catering service to load the aircraft with the meals and beverages for the flight, so another 20 more minutes or so.
The gate number changed from E23 to E21 (E23 would be used for the scheduled midnight 747 flight to MAD
) and our flight number was also changed from IB6120 to IB610R.
The crowd started to cheer and applaud when we saw the big “Cervantes” through the windows, being towed to gate E21. At the same time, some people started to get nervous and concerned about the safety of our flight and were afraid of boarding the aircraft...I told one of them: “there´s no reason to be scared, as the pilot would be the first to cancel the flight if the aircraft wasn´t safe...he wants to live as much as you or I do...or maybe even more, as he also makes a lot of money flying this thing”. My real concern was the explanation I would have to tell to my boss upon my arrival at work the following day.
We finally boarded at about 10:00 p.m. although it was not as easy and well organized as in my previous flights. I went to my seat and just felt relaxed when I finally sat down and fastened my seatbelt (I was in seat 20L, exit row and window seat).
Crew members seemed cheerful and very happy for being finally able to go back home (cabin crew members for the flights between Madrid and Miami are all Spanish) and surprisingly many of them were a lot younger than the average IB
flight attendants for these flights...let´s say there was a very nice and enjoyable “atmosphere” inside the aircraft prior to departure and the cabin staff were willing to help passengers with their carry-on luggage, kids and other things.
After the call from the cockpit to close doors and before pushback, the captain took the microphone and deeply apologized in behalf of the airline and the rest of the crew for this extraordinary delay. He explained the the aircraft problems in detail...the original fault was an electrical problem, but some hydraulic and engine problems appeared later although those were quickly fixed while the electrical thing was very difficult to repair and was the main reason for our delay.
After those “unexpected” words from the pilot (I couldn´t hear the pilot´s name this time...sorry) we were pushed back from the gate and engine startup began.
We finally reached our assigned runway and in that moment I realized that we were heavy, as the Captain applied take off power without releasing the brakes until after about 10 seconds. The 742 slowly accelerated down the runway and it took about 1 minute until it finally became airborne and slowly started to gain altitude. I have to say that passengers were very nervous during take off (I was a little nervous too) and I could hear some of them screaming during climbout because it was really slow and really bumpy...and of course...many of them were too stressed after what happened. Take off run was really long (and that also worried some people), but that´s normal for the aircraft´s high weight and the high temperature in Miami at the time of take off.
I enjoyed watching the beautiful views of Miami by night. It´s always amazing to see how big the Miami area has become through the years.
About 15 minutes after take off, the captain took the microphone again and gave us the weather forecast for the route. We expected a very quiet and smooth flight until about halfway, where there was a strong front coming from the north and we would expect some “serious chop” that would last for about one hour. After that, weather looked good for the rest of the flight and it would take us about 8 hours and 20 minutes to get to Madrid.
Time for dinner. This time, the crew attitude was excellent...sadly, the food was not as great...actually, it was really bad and I ate it only because I was starving. I couldn´t choose because the flight was completely full and by the time it was my turn to get my meal only beef was left...maybe it was dog meat or something like that.
The rest of the flight went on uneventfully. We crossed that bad weather area the captain had announced right after leaving Miami but we only had light turbulence for about 30 minutes.
IFE was also bad during this flight. I don´t exactly remember the movies that were shown, I can only say that the first one featured Michael Caine and don´t remember the other two. Audio channels were not working properly so I could only read the newspaper and count the hours we still had left until landing at Madrid...there was nobody to speak with as everybody was sleeping.
A few hours later breakfast was served. Once again, it was poor...tasty but poor...only a muffin, a croissant and Minute Maid Orange Juice. Coffee or tea completed this bad breakfast.
When we finished eating, we had only 1 hour left and everybody was out of their seats and standing on the aisles and in front of exit doors...nice for a sudden CAT.
Started our descent about 20 minutes before landing with a completely clear sky. The pilot said that the temperature at Madrid was 21 degrees Celsius and announced strong winds on final approach. We flew over Avila and turned north a few miles away from Toledo. Turbulence came and the 747 started to shake with force. There were lots of air pockets and it was kind of scary for many pax. Finally we crossed over Mejorada del Campo, San Fernando de Henares and I saw Torrejon Air Force Base a few miles away from us before crossing the A-2 Motorway (Madrid-Barcelona) and entering the airport area.
It must have been difficult to properly allign the aircraft with the runway as the wind was blowing with incredible force, but the pilot managed to make an incredible, soft crosswind landing...we almost didn´t feel the contact with the runway, but we did feel the rudder in action to get the exact runway heading right after touchdown. The anecdote was that during braking some containers were not properly secured in the galley right next to our seats, so they flew away from their storage place and spilled ice and water all over the galley and the area in front of our seats.
We taxied to the parking area and finally stopped at a remote stand, so we would be taken to the terminal by bus. Once I was down on the tarmac it was really great to see the huge aircraft from down there, many people took pictures of it before going into the buses.
My numbers for this flight:
Boeing 747-256B EC
More than 400 passengers on board (100%)
Flight time: 8 hours 10 minutes
Cabin crew: 8/10
Cabin Comfort: 7/10
Aircraft Condition: 7/10
On time performance: --/-- (no rating this time as the original flight had been cancelled)
Average rating: 5.2 / 10
After we went into the terminal and cleared immigration we went to the baggage claim area and those who were in transit to other destinations went directly to the connection flights counters. I hope they found appropriate connections to their final destinations.
And the final highlight for this “unusual” trip was that right after I left the baggage claim area and went out to the arrivals hall a press reporter from the EFE news agency came to me and asked me for my comments about what happened with our flight. She wanted a detailed description of how Iberia handled the situation during our unexpected stay at Miami because some newspaper had published in that morning that Iberia had left 400 people abandoned in MIA
without helping them after cancelling the flight to Madrid.
I explained her the things exactly how I experienced them and I told her that I wanted to congratulate Iberia for the professionalism and the dedication that the MIA
staff showed during those hours. I can’t tell about the others but my personal experience has been very positive I said after describing the situation to her.
Well, this is it. That´s how my trip ended. You can´t say it wasn´t worth it to spend a wonderful week in Guatemala, stay at a fine Hotel in Miami, have free dinner, breakfast and lunch at the restaurant of your choice and finally being interviewed by the press...al that for a small fare. I´d be willing to do that again anytime!!
Thanks Iberia for taking care of us and bringing us back home safely. Congratulations for your outstanding service and customer care during our stay in Miami...and thanks to all those who didn´t fell asleep while reading this super-hyper-ultra-long report. I hope you liked it.
Please feel free to make your comments or questions.