Flight wasn’t fun – now let our Brazilian holiday begin!

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Through the small oval window over the left wing, I see blue sky and soft clouds hovering above the aircraft and my dream of a breezy beach holiday getting closer below. Wait, no, that’s a mirage, what’s coming into view are houses of various colours and shapes packed together in a sprawling maze of streets and alleys – the famous Brazilian favelas. The Dreamliner tilts slightly to the right as the pilot angles the airplane for decent at Guarulhos International Airport in Sao Paulo and I’m reminded that we still have one more connection to get to our final destination, Recife, in the northeast of Brazil. I’m staring at the plane’s current route on the in-flight entertainment system in pure silence. This is torture.

I feel a bump when the aircraft touches down and the noise of the wind hitting the flaps scares my children – I kiss their messy hair. Well, not far now, I think to myself as I stretch my legs under the seat in front of me. My back aches and limbs tingle. That’s what happens after 18 hours trapped in an aluminum tin. The seatbelt light comes off, I get up and glance at my fellow zombie-looking passengers of long haul economy class, jumping from their seats to grab their carry-on luggage. I always wonder why such a rush to deplane, we will all have to queue again at immigration and the conveyer belt. But I guess when we are disembarking from such a long flight our thoughts are no longer coherent, the brain is too tired and confused to make sense of anything. Our survival instincts direct us to get out of the plane, and to do it fast.

So I gather up my belongings and the stuff my kids dropped and put my children in the line while my husband collects the hand luggage in the overhead compartment. We are then herded off the aircraft and rush to immigration.

Fifteen minutes standing in the queue feels like an eternity when you haven’t slept in two days. Screaming and inconsolable children makes our heads thump – I feel sorry for their freaked out parents and grateful that they aren’t mine. My overtired boys stopped whining at the promise of McDonalds once we clear customs.

We go through the required procedures and are left with 30 minutes to board our flight to Recife. Our gate is on the other end of the airport so we pace down the wide glassed corridors, following the signs to terminal 2 – it’ll take eleven minutes, the sign on the wall tell us.

Guarulhos airport has been recently redesigned and looks beautiful. There is plenty of natural light and long moving walkways to my kid’s delight. Looking at them play you couldn’t tell these kids haven’t slept in two days. I notice that my eldest doesn’t have his backpack.

“Lucas where is your backpack?” I ask knowing we are in trouble.

“In the trolley, I think.” He replies walking backward on the moving belt and points to the cart my husband is pushing.

“That’s your dad’s backpack.”

“Oh,” he sighs.

“Where is your iPhone?”

“Oh, no”

I turn to my exhausted husband giving him an accusing look and remind him that “it was in the overhead compartment along with your backpack.” He has deep dark pockets around his eyes and it does not look like he’s registering what’s happening.

“We have less than 30 minutes to board the plane on the other side of the airport. Let’s just leave it.” My husband answers unsympathetically and the children stare at me with teary eyes.

“We can’t leave the kids’ iPhones behind,” I argue. “This is what we will do: give me my boarding pass and go ahead with the kids. I’ll go back to the Latam terminal to try to find the bag. I’ll meet you at the departure gate.”

I turn around and run back to the arrival’s gate as fast as I could, weaving through the rushing crowd. I feel my blond ponytail swinging frantically from side to side and beads of sweat gather in my forehead. The oncoming traffic of people look at me like I’m crazy, I think if I were in Sydney security would stop me for questioning. I make mental calculations of how long I have before my plane departs and wonder what possessed me to give iPhones to my children.

I spotted the staff in Latam uniform behind the help desk and explain I left a bag in the airplane.

“You need to go to the lost property desk,” a friendly staff explains pointing to the lift.

“But I have less than 20 minutes.”

“Just go up to level one and turn left. They will be able to help you there.”

And they do. The officer dials the aircraft and they confirm they found the said backpack.

“The customer has to board another flight in 15 minutes, could you bring the bag here immediately?” I hear him asking the person at the aircraft and cross my fingers.

“The bag will be here in five minutes.”

I wait pacing up and down the corridor, which is packed with lost items like surf boards, guitars, luggages of all shapes and sizes. I can’t take my eyes off the clock on the wall. I’ll have less than ten minutes to make my way to the gate – butterflies flutter in my stomach.

Within the promised five minutes I’m running back to the domestic gate with my faith in humanity restored. Pumping my legs as fast as they could go, I jet to my destination dodging people, luggages and trolleys. I was soaring like an eagle on a mission. No way was I going to miss my plane.

I’m approaching the gate and see a long line of passengers already boarding the flight. I spot my family there waiting for me. I wave the backpack up in the air and catch their attention – mission accomplished, I announce. Together we walk through the portal to our final destination, in three hours the plane will be kissing the ground and our summer holiday will finally begin.

The perils of auto-pilot when in transit

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Phew, we made it back to the plane – but only just! I was calmly browsing the souvenir shop at Auckland international airport as we waited for our lunch when I heard via the airport speakers the names Lucas and Thomas being called. I looked back at our table and the boys were there with Paulo so I thought I must have misheard the announcement. But a few seconds later I heard the speaker again, this time I devoted my full attention to it: “Paulo Emilio Pinto, Rosana, Lucas and Thomas report immediately to gate 4C – your flight is about to depart”. I panicked, I knew we were nowhere near gate 4C. I looked around and could not see my family – have they rushed to the gate ahead of me? I stopped for a few seconds to take a deep breath and refocus. I looked around again and found Thomas still with the restaurant pager in hand waiting for our lunch and Paulo chatting to an acquaintance. Surely they were oblivious to the threat that we were about to miss our long haul flight.

Now, this is a week before Christmas, you can imagine what would happen if we did lose our flight. So as we weaved our way through the crowd my mind was racing worrying about the prospect of having to cough up the airfares again and the nonprobability of finding four seats on a plane to Brazil anytime soon. It probably took us three good minutes to reach gate 4C but it felt like an eternity. All passengers had already boarded – there was no one around but two unfriendly woman who told us off for being that late. Guilty as charged but it felt like being told off at school, we felt deeply embarrassed. Surely we created more work for them – they had to get a bus just to take the four of us across the tarmac to the plane but a small dose of customer care would have made the this stressful experience a bit easier.

The bus trip to the aircraft was tense, we’re expecting an even meaner reaction from the flight crew as well as booing from the expecting passengers, stranded on the plane because we decided to have lunch. But as the bus approached the plane, we could see the crew looking out the door and to our relief, they still had a smile on their faces. High five to Lan Chile crew! We were directed to our seats without major embarrassment, just a few looks from our fellow passengers but no collective display of disappointment.

We almost missed our place because of the dam auto-pilot. We do this trip every year so we know the drill: we stop over in New Zealand for a couple of hours, go to the bathroom, pass through the airport security and then the foodcourt, before going back on the plane. We always keep an eye in the flight information display but this time we didn’t. We just went through the motion without really thinking much, not realising that the stop over this time was less than two hours. We were tired and hungry and that didn’t help but with all the mindfulness that I have been doing and preaching, I felt a bit silly that I was so mindless in this instance.

All ended well but we ended up boarding the plane with an empty stomach. The pager was probably beeping at our empty table in the foodcourt by the time we embarked and a lucky passenger must have just scored a free lunch.