“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -Mark Twain

Friday, April 18, 2014

Can You Pull Bags Off a Plane After Loading? And the Currency Scam

Yes.  Kinda. With extreme exceptions.

Our trip to Buenos Aires began with a lovely light meal and sangria at O'Hare to set the tone.  We each decided to check a bag because we planned on shopping in BA and bringing back wine.  We boarded our plane and discovered there was a 10 minute departure delay.  Then 20 minutes.  Then an hour.  Our connection in Dallas was originally 2.5 hours and that was shrinking quickly.  We did the math and if our plane departure was delayed to a certain point, we would miss our connection to BA. We quickly searched our phones for alternate flights and routes.  We had a backup plan to re-route through Miami.  When the announcement came that we would be delayed again, we sprang into action.  I called the AA Gold number immediately to try to rebook, and Carrie flagged the flight attendant to see if wee could get off the plane.  He said yes, and AA rebooked us through Miami. 

Problem, we couldn't get our bags out of the cargo hold.  "No, we'd have to pull every bag and unload the plane to find yours."  But we were told the gate agent could make the final call on that.  So ewe grabbed our stuff and bolted off the plane.  We were the first people at the gate desk and explained the situation.  Initially Meg at the desk said no, that we had to travel on the same flights as our bags due to international immigration rules.  But she saw that we were rebooked through a different route, so she called baggage operations to pull the luggage.  After all, our new plane, and the old one weren't leaving for a couple hours so there was time to pull them and get them on the new flight.  Helpful tip: both our bags are bright blue and easy to find in a sea of black.  They found mine.  They couldn't find Carrie's. Uh-oh.  Meg discovered that they put Carrie's bag on an earlier flight to Dallas.  We weren't going to Dallas and hence there was a chane that her bag may not get on the conneting flight to Buenos Aires because she wasn't going to be on the flight with it.  But we had to chance it.

A guy behind us in line also tried to rebook and heard that we were getting our bags pulled off the plane.  How is that possible??, he asked.  We said because of international immigration flight regulations it was an exception.  If we tried to pull this stunt for a domestic flight, we didn't stand a chance.  It took about a half hour to get rebooked and figure out the luggage situation.  By that time, another passenger on the plane to Buenos Aires had just stepped off and was trying to the same thing.  Except they couldn't find him a seat and the luggage guy was nowhere to be found.  We kept quiet about our fortune and headed to our next flight.

When we made it to Miami we called again to check on Carrie's bag.  We heard it had been scanned to be on the DFW-EZE flight and should be arriving in BA 2 hours before we would.  We could only cross our fingers at this point, and also hope that my bag was following us.  We finally took off for BA and settled in for an uneventful flight, which fortunately was 2.5 hours shorter than the departure from DFW. We slept gently.  

Going through Passport Control I crossed my fingers.  My passport is almost full and I have just 2 blank pages left: pages I absolutely need to keep blank for the Mongolia stamps and Chinese visas this summer.  If Argentina chose to stamp on one of those pages, I'd be in a passport pickle.  So I paper clipped those two pages together so they wouldn't flip open to them, and the found some blank space on some already-stamped pages.  *phew*  So I just have to keep this in mind for my departure stamp and re-entry stamps into the US and I'm golden for Asia in a few months.

I found my bag quickly on the baggage carousel, but we still searched for the other.  The baggage desk agent wasn't helpful so we walked the entire baggage claim area a few times, stopping at carousels to check , looking around pillars, taking a sweep through Lost & Found.  Finally, her bag was discovered on a still-moving and crowded carousel, where at grabbed it and embraced with the enthusiasm of a long-lost relative. Success!

We found the taxi stand, gave directions and address, and hopped in.  Mistake #1: we were so exhausted that we never looked at the meter.  I asked about the fare.  It sounded high (but after research later, it was fine).  When we pulled up to the hotel, we tried to pay the fare, had some mix-up in the amount, and finally found the bills to give him the correct fare.  Except sitting at lunch later, we were doing the math, and something wasn't right.  I withdrew $700 pesos.  I had $100 left.  The fare was $600 pesos.  And Carrie had only $300 pesos left.  And three $2 peso bills.  Um, where did those $2 come from?? Suddenly I remembered an episode of Scam City on Nat Geo about taxi currency scams.  We strongly believe now that when we paid him and thought we gave him enough but didn't, he swapped out three $300 notes for the $2 ones that were bundled in half, that we gave him the wrong amount, so we handed over three more $100 bills.  Ah.  Dammit.  They got us.  Okay, the conversion rate is high so we're out maybe $15 US each.  It could be worse.  So we researched another scam about counterfeit bills and now we know what to look for.  And to get small bills because $100 and $50 notes are the most commonly scammed.  And we'll try to use our cards more often.

Lesson learned (this is the first time I've been a traveler scam victim) but it could have been worse.  In the end it wasn't a lot of money, it opened our eyes, we arrived safely, and have all our luggage.

This evening we have dinner reservations at a paralla, an Argentine steakhouse.  This country is famed for its beef, and it's said that this country is the worst place in the world to be a vegetarian.  Yay! We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch in the sunshine at an Italian sidewalk cafe in the Palermo neighborhood.  Relaxing under tree-lined streets.  Tomorrow starts the big day of sightseeing, wine tasting, and tango. I'm sure we'll sleep well tonight.

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