Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Harrowing Flight to Belize

The pristine, unstamped passport dangled from the pouch around my neck as I dragged my suitcases up to the Continental Airlines counter. A uniformed woman behind the dark counter glanced up. “You’ll have to wait a while until we open, or you can use the kiosk if you don’t need to check your bags.”

“Sure, I’ll use the kiosk,” I said. “Are there instructions on it?”

Another woman jumped out from behind the counter and said, “Oh it is easy. You just punch in your code. Do you have a code?”

I dug around and handed her the paper. She tapped the keys on the screen. “Where are you going?”

Belize,” I said.

“Oh, then you can swipe your passport.” She held out her hand and I placed my passport in it. She pried open the pages and ran it through the machine, tapping her foot while we waited.

The Continental Airlines ticket agent behind the counter looked up and her gaze cut to mine. “She doesn’t work here, you know,” she said.

My eyes swung to the woman holding my passport and my heart tumbled. “She doesn’t?”

“Oh, no. I’m just here to catch a plane for my vacation,” the non-employee admitted. “But I do work for U.S. Air.”

Sure she did. I held out my hand, palm up, indicating I wanted her to return my passport. She ignored me, punched another button on the machine and my boarding pass popped out. “Here you are; your two boarding passes and your passport.” She started to hand them to me, and then snatched them back. “Wait, let’s just see if you signed your passport. A lot of people forget that.”

Geeeeez, like I would forget that.

“Oh, yes, see? You forgot that.”

I leaned over and narrowed my eyes at the page. The signature line was empty. I patted my pockets for a pen but the non-employee was ready with one, supervising my signature. “There, you are all set now. Gate D-1.”

For someone who didn’t work for Continental, she was a terrific.

In the security line, one small group of travelers hovered around the TSA agent, but the other line was empty. I ambled up and received an eye roll. “Am I in the right line?” I asked.

“Sure,” the TSA agent said, “if you plan to fly the plane.” He leaned over and undid the barrier ribbon into the other line.

When the group moved along, I held out my passport. “Here is my brand-new-never-been-used passport,” I beamed.

He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s see if you signed it. A lot of people don’t.” He glanced down and smiled. “Good.”

“Well, yeah. Of course I did.” I took it back and swaggered over to the trays, stripped off my shoes and jacket, plunked my cases onto the rollers and sashayed through the X-ray machine, redressing on the other side.

One of our group flew in the day before, but eight of us flew out together for our trip to Belize.

Hole up in Houston

The flight to Houston was uneventful, but I couldn’t sleep. We had breakfast and waited for the next leg of the journey.

Biding our time in Belize City

From Houston we flew to Belize City, struggled through customs, got a fabulous stamp in our passports, and eventually boarded a tiny Tropic Air plane for Placencia. This is when the fun began.

Boarding Tropic Air

The small plane looked more like something they fly over large fields to dust crops. There were only seats for thirteen, but they managed to squeeze another into the co-pilot’s seat.

We began to taxi out to the runway and a loud squeaky, grating sound, like metal-on-metal, had me gripping my puny little seatbelt. A couple of thumps later and we turned onto the runway. The plane picked up speed, only instead of heading straight, it veered off to the right. The pilot jerked the wheel and it swerved to the left. He cranked it hard and we swiveled to the right again, all the while the screeching of the metal-on-metal mixed with the thumping of imminent engine failure. At the end of the runway, we managed to get a few feet into the air, but that didn’t prevent an alarm from blasting a warning that we’d run out of runway.

We staggered up, over the vast blue waters of the Caribbean and managed to hurl ourselves into the sky, long after we’d left the comfort of the airport runway.

Welcome to Placencia, Belize

Visit tomorrow for a continuation of the trip to Belize.


  1. cool cool cool - how fun! business trip!? even better! are you there now? are you back? is there a limit on questions? looking forward to tomorrow's post...

  2. Sounds like fun! Hope you enjoy(ed) your trip!

  3. I worked in the airline industry for 10 years. I've met millions of you forgetful signers, wrong line-upers, and white knuckle flyers. Now, after NOT being in the airline industry for three years, I am, sadly, one of them. Truth be told, my passport expired in 2008 and I can't even cross the border.

    Can't wait for more pics, Belize sounds fabulous :)

  4. I'm hosting a new microfiction meme and hope you'll join in.
    Succinctly Yours
    begins on Monday, March 28th. Check out the link for the photo and optional word.
    Hope you'll join in.


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