A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere: An Iguazu Fail

I write this post on Saturday morning — not from Iguazu Falls as planned, but from New York – JFK, Terminal 2.

That’s right.  I never made it to Iguazu Falls.

There were a ton of little things that went wrong with my trip, and they all caught up with me Friday afternoon in Sao Paulo.

Red:  Planned Flights Blue:  Actual Flights Purple:  Planned = Actual

Red: Originally Planned Flights
Blue: Actual Flights
Purple: Planned = Actual

Basically, I was both physically and mentally exhausted.  Confronting me was a ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo before a late night flight to Iguazu Falls.  Considering how exhausted and out of it I felt at 4pm, I couldn’t imagine dealing with negotiating with a Brazilian cab driver, crossing the Brazil / Argentina border, and locating a small hostel in Puerto Iguassu, Argentina twelve hours later.

But what exactly happened to get to that point?

A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail

It was a comedy of errors, really:

  • A last-minute schedule change resulted in a different itinerary

Thursday morning as I attempted to check-in for my flight with LAN, the website indicated that my confirmation number was not valid.  As such, I called LAN to see what was wrong.  The agent with LAN told me that my SCL-GRU segment of my itinerary was showing a significant delay, and I would misconnect in Sao Paulo.  He offered me two options — overnight in Sao Paulo and get to Iguazu on Saturday afternoon.  I declined this option, as it would only leave me a day in Iguazu.  The second option was to take an earlier flight from JFK to Santiago and on to Sao Paulo on the LAN 787 Dreamliner, then have a ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Iguazu on the same flight.  In order to do this, I had to leave work three hours earlier and confirm standby space on an earlier flight from DCA-JFK.  After speaking to American, I decided on this option.

  • I chose a bulkhead seat for my long, JFK-SCL flight, but LAN changed my seat assignment prior to check-in

The LAN agent assured me that I had confirmed a bulkhead, window seat on the 787, seat 12L — that is a necessity for me traveling long-haul in economy — I just need the extra legroom, otherwise I’m miserable.   When I got to JFK to check-in for my LAN flight to Santiago, they had me in a non-bulkhead, middle seat.  The check-in agent assured me that there were no more bulkhead seats, and all they had were middles.  I protested, and eventually he found a normal aisle seat.  Okay, I guess I’d have to make this work.

  • Extremely cramped economy seat led to little to no sleep on an 11-hour flight

Fast forward to the LAN flight — it was on a nice, brand new 787 Dreamliner, but at the end of the day, I got no sleep whatsoever in the cramped quarters of my seat.  At 6’4”, I could not fit my knees inside the row, so I was basically miserable.  I did get a couple of hours of sleep on my Santiago to Sao Paulo flight (I had a bulkhead, window — as requested), but that was too little, too late.

  • Could not access lounge for long, ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo

When I arrived at Sao Paulo, I’d planned on showering and relaxing in the AAdmirals Club or LAN lounge during my ten-hour layover.  Already exhausted, I quickly learned that this would not be possible, as Sao Paulo requires you to clear immigration and then proceed to a separate domestic terminal, which does not have access to the lounges.  At that point, I was already in a fragile state, and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back — I snapped and just wanted to be home.

  • Complete and utter exhaustion

I have a lot of other things going on in my life right now, and I seriously considered not even taking the trip.  I finally decided to go, but given the level of exhaustion I was experiencing in Sao Paulo, I concluded that if I went through with the trip, by the time I got to Iguazu, I’d be completely exhausted, rendering Saturday pretty much a waste.  This would leave me with only a day in Iguazu (Sunday), and I’d be even more exhausted when I got home.  I’d miss a day of work and be generally worthless for a week — and I really can’t afford that.

Given that stark realization, I searched for ways home.

Fortunately, a friend (who is an airline employee) offered me a buddy pass to fly me home to DC via JFK a few hours later on a Delta flight.  I happily accepted, and ultimately enjoyed a relaxing, ten-hour flight in Delta Business Elite class back to JFK.

Delta Business Elite for GRU-JFK

Delta Business Elite for GRU-JFK

While I’m upset that I did not make it to the falls, I feel that this was the best choice for me, as I simply have more important things going on in my life right now.  At the end of the day, the Falls aren’t going anywhere, and I’m sure I can make it back there in the future.  I ended up getting to spend the weekend with my girlfriend, relax, and watch some football — still not a bad weekend.  And oh, yeah — I went to South America for the day too!

The trip didn’t go completely to waste, I guess — I still netted about 15,000 American miles from my fights to Sao Paulo.  But really the only proof I have of me even taking this trip is a passport stamp from Brazil and a few great pictures of the Andes Mountains as we ascended out of Santiago.  It was truly a 36-hour trip to nowhere.

Evidence that I actually went to Brazil before bailing

Evidence that I actually went to Brazil before bailing

Despite missing out on seeing a Iguazu falls, things were not panning out as planned, and I really just wasn’t feeling well.  I guess it’s sometimes it’s just best to cut your losses.

Has anyone else just completely ditched a trip?

3 Thoughts on “A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere: An Iguazu Fail

  1. File a DOT complaint against LAN, they suck anyway one of the worst I’ve flown.

  2. At least now you know your limits. Personally, I would have still flown the itinerary — but I would have picked a hostel in Foz do Iguacu, Brasil. I went there back in 2011 and loved the experience. I stayed in a hostel not too far from the bus station and easily took the bus to go to Iguacu falls. I also went to the Argentinian side as a daytrip and was amazed by it as well.
    You’re very very lucky you have a friend who gave you a buddy pass to fly biz back to the USA. If you did not have that option (as I’d imagine most of us do not), what would you have done?

    • Yeah — I had a hostel lined up in Iguazu on the Argentinian side. I still want to go back — surely I will someday.

      I’m incredibly lucky to get hooked up with my friend’s buddy pass. If that didn’t happen, I was prepared to use miles to fly back on AA. Probably would have only done economy and sat in MCE, though. I actually was all but ready to book the return on AA when he offered me the buddy pass.

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