Travel to Bolivia
An American Airlines "adventure" . . .
Our strategy for a hassle free trip to Bolivia starts and ends with using a U.S. flag carrier and American Airlines is the only outfit that fits the bill. Our prior trips were flawless and we expected no less on this trip. Boy did we get a surprise . . .
We left Cheyenne in the early morning and made it to the satellite parking at Denver International Airport without a hitch. From there to the terminal and check-in for our flight was smooth as silk and before long were on were on the concourse waiting for our flight. Get there early for those international flights and we stuck with the rules. Our flight plan took us first to Dallas - Fort Worth and then onto Miami. This scenario does allow for less layover time but avoids a full day wait in Miami for the overnight flight to La Paz. The flight out of Denver was delayed and the specter of missing a connection started to loom. The flight got into the air and we arrived in DFW with just enough time to fast walk to the next gate where our flight to Miami was loading. Would the baggage make it? There were other flights to Miami later that day that could cover the baggage concern, so we were content to be in our seating figuring the baggage would catch up with us. The flight to Miami was fine and after arriving and getting a bite to eat we looked at the monitors and noted that the other DFW Miami flights were late, one of them not due until after our scheduled departure, actually that was next DFW flight after ours . . . our baggage concerns began anew. The flight to Bolivia does not leave until about 11:20 in the evening and by the time departure time rolled around, the airline was still making no move toward loading the plane. Instead at about 11:30 they made the announcement that the flight would not be going to La Paz at all that evening and we should call the American Airlines reservation center and reschedule our flights. Great, its 11:45 p.m. and I'm in Miami and now the American is telling me that the next available flight is in five, yes FIVE days away. But I have to give them credit, they are going to put us up for the remainder of the night.
The gate then agent then upped the ante by announcing that the flight would actually be going to Bolivia but instead of going to La Paz and then to Santa Cruz, it would go to Santa Cruz and then just come back to the States. They advised that everyone was welcome to go to Santa Cruz, including the La Paz passengers but if a La Paz passenger took that option, you were on their own from there. So now I have the choice between five days in Miami or a ride to Santa Cruz after which I am on my own to find an 18 hour bus ride up to La Paz.
I don't know what happened next, perhaps the thought of 200 pissed off passengers and likely another 200 they were about to strand in La Paz . . . so after an hour or so, American decides that they are going to La Paz after all, they thought. You see, the issue is one of having sufficient pilots, as in they said that they need 3 pilots to fly into La Paz, due to the altitude of the airport. No problem, I understand rules and regulations but didn't they have plan to have three pilots for this flight, like they did on the flight the night before, the week before, the month before, and the year before? Regardless, they announced that we are now welcome to board and they are going to TRY to have a third pilot in Santa Cruz to get the plane up to La Paz. So what is the plan if they don't get a pilot to Santa Cruz, bring us all back to Miami?
We took our chances and boarded the plane and after a bit, we taxied out onto the ramp and the pilot announced that we would have to hold for a bit to "complete the weight and balance calculations." That took another 45 minutes and then we took off for Bolivia, Santa Cruz and possibly . . . La Paz.
The flight was smooth and after we came to a stop at the jet way in Santa Cruz, we waited for an announcement that did come after the Santa Cruz passengers were up and headed to the door. Then crew announced that the La Paz passengers should remain on the plane. No announcement en route just an OK we're here and we ARE going to fly you to where we sold you a ticket to after all. Of course, an in flight announcement really would have made no difference, like any of us had the thought of pulling a D.B. Cooper over the Amazon. In the end, I'm guessing that there was a very hard working American Airlines scheduler in Dallas that night who found a flight crew, got them to Santa Cruz and as a result made our flight to La Paz happen. Whoever you are, you did pulled it off that night and I thank you.
The hop up to La Paz was uneventful and Dr. Berrios met us at the customs hall exit. We hefted our packs and headed out into the bright sun and piled into the Nissan Pathfinder for the ride to the Hotel Calacoto. We headed out the airport exit and into the teaming streets of El Alto, wending our way through the inevitable parade, one of which must occur on the main thoroughfare of El Alto every day. We found a way through and dropped off the rim of the Alto Plano and into the canyon to whose walls the city of La Paz clings. After a half hour of travel we reached the respite of the hotel.