I don’t tolerate perceived bullshit and can be abrasive in the best of times. After a month of cold showers and a 2am night followed by a 6am wakeup for an 8-hour-long hike, when the gate agent tells me I can’t board the airplane home, I get pissed. When pissed, I get creative.
I can’t get on the plane because my bag is too big. It won’t fit in the overhead compartment, says fiery-haired young gate agent Miguel.
“Can you check it?” I ask.
“The bag-check counter closed an hour before departure.” I did arrive only 55 minutes before departure. This whole kerfuffle–all that follows–is my fault.
“I was here 5 minutes before the hour,” I say. “The counter was closed.”
“No you weren’t,” he says. “I was the one who closed it.”
Our relationship has begun on… rocky footing.
“Take a seat over there,” Miguel tells me. “We’ll reschedule you after this plane leaves.”
“When does the next flight land?” I ask him.
This is an implementation of what I call manaña culture:
“The willingness to put up with unsatisfactory solutions, especially ones that involve delays or wasting time.”
The first cultural difference I noticed in Colombia was the propensity of slow-moving lines. Fixing the bathroom door in my AirBnB apartment took a whole week. Purchasing an official SIM card required a 45-minute wait for the saleswoman. That’s like walking into Verizon and the phone seller being “out.” Here, “tomorrow” feels like never.
I try other tactics, beginning with bribery. “Is this a problem that can be solved by money? Because I’d be willing to pay any number of pesos.” An implicit bribe and plausible deniability: very proud of this move.
“No,” Miguel says. “Take a seat over there.”
Creativity: “Can I ship it? Mail it? Give it to a friend?”
No, no, and no. “Take a seat over there.”
Emotional appeal: I screw up my face and sob. Great move. Really proud. I didn’t even know I could.
“Don’t cry,” says Miguel. “Take a seat over there.”
I continue crying and not-moving-toward-the-seats-over-there. After a minute of crying, the tactic clearly won’t work. I cease the tears and take a seat over there.
The problem is my suitcase. What if I didn’t have it? I move the valuable items to my backpack and unpack the suitcase into a large gray trash bag. How to dispose of the suitcase? In the garbage, of course. I dump it beside the trash in the single-stall family restroom.
Returning to Miguel, I offer him my boarding pass. “Take a seat over there,” he says as though it’s his catchphrase.
“I don’t have the bag. I threw it away.”
“This is an international airport. You can’t just throw away your luggage.”
“What do you mean I can’t?”
“For security reasons.”
Still now, in my calmer mind, I find this absurd:
It’s unenforceable. Someone could very easily trash a suitcase without being noticed. Not me, of course, because Miguel has an annoyingly normal memory.
The suitcase itself has come through security. What’s the point of security if it doesn’t screen items?
What constitutes luggage? If I carry in a bag of McDonalds, eat the food and trash the bag, that’s clearly allowed. What if I transport clothing in a shopping bag (as many people do)? If I move the clothing to my backpack, is the plastic bag un-disposable?
This whole situation makes no logical sense. It only exaggerates my belief that terroristic security measures are more dangerous than the actual threats.
I did, however, tear the name off my luggage when I left it in the bathroom. I was clearly aware someone might find this disposal suspect.
“Can I talk to your manager?” I should have played this card earlier.
“Yes, when the gate closes. Take a seat over there”
I begin crying again. “It’s my mother’s birthday tomorrow.” Another lie. Not proud of this. Also not very strategic. If emotional appeal didn’t work previously, it’s unlikely to now.
I try talking to the other gate attendant. She doesn’t speak English and pretends not to hear my broken Spanish. I don’t like her. I’m a customer and she literally ignores me. I can see why she does it. I just don’t respect the tactic from a customer-service perspective.
The fight pauses when I ask Miguel his name. He points to his badge. “Miguel,” I say. “You must have a hard job. You have to deal with passengers like me every day.”
“Not every day,” he says.
“Where are you from?”
“Where did you learn English?”
“Why do you speak with a British accent?”
He points to the flags on his badge. One is the Colombian flag, the other England. My question remains unanswered. Our ceasefire ends:
“Repack your suitcase and sit over there.”
I retrieve my suitcase from the single-stall restroom and insert the plastic garbage bag in it. The suitcase is thinner now that the bulk is in my backpack. There’s also an expander—I zipper it down. It might even fit now. I bring it to the gate. “Can we try?” I ask Miguel. “See if it will fit?”
Miguel eyes the bag and assents to the test. He scans my boarding pass and escorts me down the gangway. “If it doesn’t fit,” he says. “You can’t board the plane.” He obviously wants to be rid of me (or is just doing his job).
Lo and behold, the collapsed bag fits. I solved every problem before the one he actually named.
The man in the seat beside me, Juan Pablo of Mexico, asks what the problem was. He probably saw me crying. I tell him my stupidity and don my eyeshade. The anti-hero could clearly use a nap.