Horizon at Sandy Point

Monday, October 8, 2012

Ticketless in Tobago

I have always liked the informality of the Tobago airport. The benne balls and sugar cakes are right here across the road from the check in. You arrive and the Tobago air feels different. On departure, you walk in Tobago breeze or sunlight to your flight.

So how did we come to be in this crush this time in Tobago? On one of the busiest holiday weekends in the year? We were on time for the flight. But there seemed to be at least three other flights for the same hour.  We jostled along the unruly queue to the counter. A very large woman with extended family and many suitcases barged ahead for a flight that was already boarding. The husband protested, "But where were you all this time?" The large woman called to her fellow traveller around his shoulder as if he didn't exist. I gave him a nudge, don't go there.

At the counter, we presented our ID and I gave the ticket reference and flight time. "That flight left this morning," the attendant was curt, looking beyond us to the next in line.

"But but, there's no flight this evening?" I insisted, something dawning in the back of my head. "How do I get another flight? Can I go standby?"

"You see all these people, they listed on standby already. You have to go and list."

"Can I buy a ticket?"

"The earliest flight you can book is Thursday."

"So what should I do?" The back of my head is reeling with the realisation that airline schedules use a 24-hour clock, and 6.40 means only one time. While my mind is kicking itself, I feel as if I have slipped off the rail and am in limbo.

The supervisor was a face I remembered from a few years ago. Go to the back, he said, and he would see what he could do. So we hung around keeping him in sight so he couldn't avoid us. Eventually, he called for names to be put on a new standby list, and we needed a printout of our tickets because the computer had packed up under the pressure. You could get a printout in the ticket office across the road. We scurry over and deliver it back to the airport. But there are already more names on the list than there would be seats on all the flights until past midnight.

We listened to the names called for standby seats for the next four or five flights. There were dozens of others listening hopefully.

Nearly eleven, I asked the person at the check-in desk, "Okay, level with me, what's the chance of getting on tonight?"

"Well, the eleven o'clock has no empty seats. There's another flight at 12.30 and that's supposed to be booked up too ..."

I considered the options: wait for the last flights, and sleep in the airport; go to Store Bay and sleep on a bench. Tobago closes down after ten. We decided to go back to the hotel to get a room for the night. We were thankful to be accommodated (Kariwak, best hotel in the universe!), and slept for four hours before walking back to the airport before the first flight. The Caribbean Airlines counter staff were fresh and friendly. The standby system was orderly and predictable. We got back to Trinidad before midday.

Surrounded by people in this tiniest of airports, we became chatting acquaintances, looking after each other's bags, we felt safe. But, we will look very carefully at flight times from now on!

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