Cultural practice observed: a crowd at the airport can cheer as loudly as the crowd at a fútbol match. I have been on airplanes where people cheer when we land safely; I have never been in a terminal where the crowd cheers after an announcement that a flight will soon board.

And this was not just a little clapping or a little cheering. This was full-on rhythmic clapping followed by cheering for over 1.5 minutes. I missed the clapping-only part in the video.

What earned this?  A typical (for many frequent travelers) not-so-fun airline experience.

Buenos Aires experienced torrential downpours Wednesday night and Thursday morning. All of the early morning flights were canceled, but my 11.10 am flight kept its “on time” status all the way up to, and past, 11.10 am. We did not even have a gate assignment until 11.45. (I still do not understand why airplane/train/bus terminals only post gates at the last minute—I find it hard to believe they do not know which gate each flight/train/bus is going to use until 20 minutes before it leaves.)

Even after the storms dissipated, we had to wait because it was dangerous (or had been too dangerous) to fuel the planes. After a two-delay, we took a bus out to the aircraft and climbed into a very hot airplane.

After everyone was seated, the captain announced that the crew had exceeded their allowable work hours so we had to wait for the buses to come back, deplane, and wait two more hours in the terminal.

Excuse me?!? I fully support limiting the number of hours airline crews work for safety reasons. But, really?!? How did they not know this when they started the boarding process? Or, if there was a chance that we could take off if all of the passengers were on the plane before a certain time, why didn’t they tell us so everyone could move a little more quickly? After waiting around for a few hours—which many people spent sitting on the floor—I am sure everyone would have hustled a little if they knew that there was a deadline.

In a nice gesture, LAN issued vouchers for lunch. In a poor execution of this nice gesture, people swarmed the two gate agents who had to go through the time-consuming process of filling out three lines of information on each voucher. For 168 passengers. The ensuing mad house defied the stereotype that Argentines like to line up; it was chaos. I then used my hard-won voucher to purchase the absolute worst meal I have eaten in my five weeks here.

The two-hour delay turned into more than three. When they finally announced that we would be boarding soon, the applause and cheering broke out.

BTW, it was another 20 minutes before they started clearing us to board the buses again. Those of us who had printed boarding passes at home no longer had them since the they kept them when we boarded the first time. Other people did not have their boarding pass stubs handy. So everyone pulled out an ID. One gate agent read names off the IDs while another crossed names off a paper list—that I am pretty sure was organized by seat number. It took an hour to get everyone out to the plane.

On the bright side, I was not in a hurry—my tours of Iguazu Falls did not begin until the next day, so I was not missing anything. I was not traveling with multiple cranky children by myself. I had a lot of articles and a new book to read. We were treated to a beautiful sunset during the flight. And the snacks were much better than in the US: cheese crackers. lemon-filled cookie sandwich, and chocolate alfajores, the Argentine national dessert.

LAN snacks in Argentina

LAN snacks in Argentina

Sunset from the plane

Sunset from the plane