Both Phil and I like to triple check details. We like to know where we need to be and when. That’s why it came as a huge surprise to us when we missed our flight from Sucre to La Paz, Bolivia! Make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you…
So yeah… we missed our first (and hopefully last) flight. This is something that we always thought happened to ‘other people’. Apparently we are now those ‘other people’. You know the ones. Those people with the ashen faces, heads hung low, a look of confusion in their eyes. You see them as you saunter through the airport and you feel smug, you’re right where you need to be. You won’t be like them.
Our flight details were correct and we arrived at the airport much earlier than we needed to. Our taxi driver took a 45 minute journey and made it 30 minutes – but that’s a story for another time.
The airport in question is Sucre, capital city of Bolivia. It’s from here that our direct, domestic flight to La Paz was scheduled to leave at 11.55am. The airport has one terminal which contains four gates. For a capital city, it’s a tiny building.
I know what you’re thinking… “The airport is small, you were there in plenty of time.. so, what went wrong, Spud?”
Good question. We still havent entirely figured it out, but its most likely a classic case of ‘Language Barrier’, with a few other things thrown in:
- Two or three flights were all due around lunch time. As a result lots of people were waiting for their flights in the same tiny departure room.
- The board declared that all flights would be leaving from gate 4 and never updated.
- The tiny departure boards dotted around the airport were no help at all. They was declaring that flights were on time even though they hadn’t left and were meant to have done so a fair while ago.
Not understanding much that was being said over the tannoy system, we sat down right by gate 4 and waited. Not only is our Spanish limited, the speakers were very muffled.
Eagle-eyed we watched the room crowd with more and more people. One hour after our scheduled departure there was finally movement. The gate doors opened and a queue formed. Hooray!
In no real rush, we joined the back of the queue and waited for our tickets to be checked. When we handed over our little slips of white paper, the staff member did a small double take – “This flight has gone”.
We were told to go and speak to another member of staff who could speak English. The really nice lady explained that our flight had departed a short while ago. Apparently they had called for us but couldn’t find us.
Phil was much calmer than me… I was on the verge of needing a paper bag to breathe into.
There was a moment, for me at least, of blind panic. Never having missed a flight before, we had no idea of the protocol. Luckily for us, however, this was a short domestic flight. The carrier, BoA, run regular flights from Sucre and so the staff member ran off to make a call.
Within 15 minutes we were on another flight going to Cochabamba.
.. “wait up, Spud! Weren’t you going to La Paz? Where’s this new place with the funny name?!”
Yep. We ended up seeing a bit more of Bolivia than we had expected. We were told to run off to a new plane whose next stop would be Cochabamba, a city about half way between Sucre and La Paz.
Off we dashed to the furthest away plane. We spoke to the staff on board and they explained that the flight would be going to Cochabamba and then onto La Paz. They needed to speak with the team on the ground to work out if we would be able to fly all the way or change to a different service in Cochabamba.
Forty minutes later, we touched down in Cochabamba. We were told that we could fly with them onto La Paz, but everyone had to get off the plane and go to the waiting room.
Off we went! After speaking to another staff member we were given new boarding tickets and seat numbers, and then back through security we were sent.
We were told that the boarding gate was number 6, and it was printed on our new tickets. When we got there the gate was closed, but two La Paz flights were leaving from gate 7, just next door.
Off we boarded and away we flew! It took less than forty minutes to get to La Paz. When we arrived, I explained the situation in my best Spanglish and we were reunited with our luggage. Our bags were much smarter than us and had got on the right plane.
Flying from Sucre Airport
The staff were not surprised that we had missed our flight; we’re pretty sure we weren’t the only ones.
Our advice if you are flying from Sucre airport is:
- Do not trust the departure boards – they lie! Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for updates.
- Watch for movement on the runway – if a plane lands always assume it’s yours. Don’t let it leave without checking.
- Look around you, where are the people close by you heading to? If you spot someone on the same flight, stalk them. Subtly, of course… or they might not let you on the plane at all.
- If you are in any doubt, ask!
Be more Phil, less Vicky and try not to freak out. Luckily for us, BoA got us into spare seats on the next flight. We are really grateful to the staff who got us sorted so quickly and made sure we didn’t have to pay anything extra.
The worst thing of all was that we had an airport transfer waiting for us and were unable to let them know we wouldn’t be there. It was booked through our hostel and we understandably had to pay half the cost.
Ultimately though, we got off extremely lightly considering!