The Big Delay

The Big Delay
January 9, 2011 Lainie Liberti

Or was it?

While the impersonal cold white tiles formed a continuous pattern of  large square blocks, they retained the icy temperature of the early Panama morning. They weren’t designed for sitting nor invited a weary traveler to find comfort but that’s what a group of us were doing as we alternated between sitting upright cross legged  to sprawling across our scattered luggage attempting to use the soft packs as cushions to  create some sense of comfort. This morning was the morning after we should have departed  flight number 101 – Aires Airlines, Panama City Panama to Pereira Colombia, but we found ourselves no closer to our Colombia destination.

“We hate delays by others, but sometimes it makes us wise.”

We were originally 32 persons, passengers, travelers, but this morning we were just a fraction of that and wondered why. We had been instructed to be in the lobby of the hotel at 4:00 am to catch the shuttle back to the airport, as we were to board a 6:00 am flight. Two shuttles transported 15 or so sleepy people back to the Tocumen Airport in those early hours, where we waited for the Aires representatives to man the check in desk.

I yawned, tried to shift my weight and placed my silk pashmina over my body mimicking a blanket the best I could manage.

A few hours earlier, my morning dreams had been interrupted by the abrupt noise of my cheap cell phone alarm alerting me it was 4:00 a.m. At first I was startled with the unfamiliar surroundings as my eyes came into focus, just as the memory of my dreams started to dissolve. I noticed the pile of tops, my new jeans, my ballet slippers and my small leopard hand bag I had placed on the top of the dresser the night before. These were the items I deemed as not necessary, rather a luxury and felt a feeling of sadness knowing I was leaving those items behind to lighten the weight of my backpack. Our bags had been weighed by the airlines as we checked in, and I realized that 20 kilos (44ish pounds) was just way too heavy to carry on my back for any length of time,  and made the  commitment to lighten my pack before we returned to the airport by removing and leaving behind anything that just wasn’t necessary. My neck and shoulders were still killing me from the strain of my heavy pack and we hadn’t even gone anywhere other than walking down the long corridors of the the pseudo airport business resort the airline had deposited  all 32 passengers who didn’t make the flight yesterday to Pereira Colombia, as originally scheduled.

We had made two attempts to get the plane into the air, the first being at 12:18 as originally scheduled, the second time being just under four hours later. The plane was full, all eight rows of four seats across, booked by travelers who all had the general desire to get to Colombia for some reason or another, a common desire which created a  bond among this group which Miro and I belonged to.

I didn’t know any of them then, they all had faces I had never seen before that day, faces belonging to travelers, young and old,  some faces with genetic similarities through family linage and faces of innocent children. There were faces that were considered old in many societies, wearing deep lines as a badge of  experience, faces of enthusiastic backpackers and the faces of solo female travelers. We didn’t know each other and likely wouldn’t have studied each others faces, gotten to know each others eyes, expressions of frustrations, and in some cases, stories that revealed slices of their lives, snippets of their histories and morsels of their dreams.

But we did.

Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society.  The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute.  ~Gil Stern

I often think of life in terms of possibilities, continuous streams of every possibility already played out, unlimited versions of the same situation’s outcome, all happening at the same time…that is, until one time-stream possibility is chosen and experienced.  I’ve always liked the example of a video game to explain this, the idea that everything has already happened in an absolute world, all simultaneously playing in the realm of all possibilities, yet we can only experience a single possibility our outcome in the moment of “now”. How is this outcome chosen? Simple.  Each player has a role contributing  based on intention, expectations and focus.

On a personal level, I can choose the best outcome before a situation occurs and generally do experience the most positive experience through that expectation. (yep, always an optimist)

On a collective level, we rely on one another to create the experience we collectively have, so depending on the collective intention, the outcome or possibility can be swayed one way or another. In other words, I truly believe we are all connected, and have the responsibility to be our most positive for ourselves and one another.

Our scheduled flight was for 12:18 Thursday morning and at exactly 11:40 we lined up to start boarding. The routine consisted of lining up at the gate, showing our ticket and taking the stairs down one flight to the shuttle bus below. Then the shuttle bus drove across the air strip transporting us to the area where the airlines’ smaller planes were waiting  to welcome their passengers.  One by one we boarded the small twin engine plane, settled into our seats and waited for the flight attendants to initiate take off procedure.  We felt the engines start, the hum of the plane vibrated and then something we didn’t expect.

The engines shut off.

Soon thereafter, the captains emerged from the cockpit and released the lever for the side door and exited the plane. The abruptness of the cabin pressure release caused our ears to pop as we waited for instructions from the flight attendants.

We were ushered back into a shuttle and brought back to the gate for further instructions.

Ok, so the flight is delayed, we thought. No big deal. Frankly, would rather be safe than dead, I thought. We were told to wait at the gate as the engineers were going to fix the problem.  So  Miro and I set up my computer as a pseudo movie screen and watched the documentary Zeitgeist Addendum.

Love the conveniences of modern traveling…

The routine repeated a few hours later, as we passed through the gate, boarded the shuttle bus, drove out to the air strip once again, boarded the small twin propeller engine plane. We placed our carry on luggage in the overhead bins (yes, I’ve been programmed) and waited to take off. We were all quite alert this time, as we listened for the engines to fire up with anticipation. This time we noticed right away when the right propeller did not start spinning, presumably the engine did not fire. Once again, the routine repeated as the captain swung open the cabin door, lifted the lever release and exited the craft.

I was grateful.

I was grateful in that moment the engine failed. I knew they must have tested the engine, the propeller must have spun over the last few hours or they wouldn’t have re-boarded all of the passengers. I am grateful the engine failed before we left the ground and we were still alive.

I am grateful this was the collective time-stream we, the 32 passengers of Aires flight  101 experienced, not any of the other infinite possibilities.

The Wright Brothers created the single greatest cultural force since the invention of writing.  The airplane became the first World Wide Web, bringing people, languages, ideas, and values together.  ~Bill Gates

The bond between these 32 passengers just began. I now understand how a story like Lost works so well.  Formula: Place a diverse group of people in a common set of circumstances,  require focus, thus creating a strong unit that are co-creating a single experience.

I get it.

As we got back to the gate, everyone spoke to one another, shared their stories of inconvenience, one louder than the next.  There were a few English speaking travelers and we gravitated to one another. We discovered a German backpacker named Zena, who spoke and understood perfect Spanish and English, therefore she became our interpreter.

Aires sent a representative to handle the crowd as Miro and I sat back and observed. This reminded us a little of our 30 hour shuttle bus ride from Monterico back to Antigua, in May last year. We saw the opportunity in that situation to see the worst in people as they let their frustrations become their experience. It seems much of the same emotions were overcoming many of the passengers of flight 101.  Over and over we watched the man get yelled at, as he proceeded to answer each concern, and diffuse the excited passengers one by one. The airline representative told the crowd they were flying in a part from Bogota and the plane would be fixed by and ready to fly by 8:30 that night. Ok.. so it’s a delay, better safe than ending our travels in a crashed plane.

Eventually all of the passengers were all given vouchers for dinner and escorted to the airport restaurant selected to feed us.

Mmmmm food.

We were hungry and could see the  groups irritability was likely to be tempered through food.

This is where we got to know a group of English speaking travelers that became our “group”. We met Lizzy and Ben, a British / Australian couple who have been traveling around the world for the last 8 months. Ben blogs here. They are a wonderful couple to experience, their bond was so strong and they were so kind and gentle with each other.  The pair was heading of to Medillion after Periera.

We also met two



tall German travelers who’ve been traveling through Central America and will return home to Bavaria in the next few months. These boys were in their early 20s and were indeed a lot of fun. They loved drinking cans of beers for breakfast, chain smoked whenever they got the chance and told great stories. Miro, Fritzy and Wolf spent much time playing hacky-sack with a rolled up paper bag.

There’s Xena, the beautiful German with the glowing skin, who is traveling alone, after spending 6 months volunteering in Peru, traveled throughout all of Central America and is now returning to South America. She became our spokesperson, interpreter and voice for the group. She kept us apprised to what was actually happening.

And there is Robin, the beautiful Dutch girl, also traveling alone, has backpacked through Central America and is making her way to Argentina where she flies home from Buenes Aries in May.

Our 6:00 am flight to Periera was canceled. Now it looks like we’ll continue waiting on the cold floor tiles until 9:00 when the Aires Airline ticket counter is scheduled to open hoping we do get off the ground today.   By 9:00 am the rest of the passengers from our original flight had arrived at the check in counter with their luggage in tow. It seems half of the passengers were informed that the 6:00 am flight had been canceled the night before and had the luxury of sleeping in later.

Such is life…

Again, the group was give vouchers for breakfast and at 11:56 on Friday January 7th we once again boarded the   plane bound for  Periera.  The passengers from flight 101 lifted off into the air at precisely at 12:46 pm, bound for Colombia.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Upon take off, the passengers all broke into applause and we were finally on our way.

Hello Colombia. It’s so nice to finally meet you!


  1. Tour Absurd 13 years ago

    I’m so glad you had the chance to meet so many lovely people. It’s great that you chose to be positive about everything. One of my favorite things about your posts, really. *big hugs* 🙂

    • Author
      ilainie 13 years ago

      Thank you so much for the lovely comment. It’s so much easier to deal with challenging situations with a positive outlook.

  2. heathervescent 13 years ago

    That reminds me of a delayed bus trip I had in Brazil. Glad to see you made it to South America!

    • Author
      ilainie 13 years ago

      Delays are unavoidable, especially when you are traveling long term.. but we too are so glad we made it. Hope to catch up with you at some point! We miss you Heather!!!

  3. Dutchie 13 years ago

    Amazing they way you wrote the whole experience. I will definetely add this story to my own memories and in my own traveling journal. Hope you two will keep going on with having as much fun as possible. And Miro, learn as much card games as you can, when we meet again in the future you can teach me some new ones! nHugs Robin

    • Author
      ilainie 13 years ago

      Thanks Robin. I didn’t include all the details though, including our fabulous wait in Periera, or the post would have been as long as our delay 🙂 It was such a pleasure to meet you though, and your positive energy absolutely added to the experience. Happy travels!

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