Boarding the plane for my trip home after hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Lisbon, Portugal, and Home: Part 2

In fall 2014, after hiking the Camino de Santiago trail, I had a bit of a problem taking my trekking poles on board at the International Airport in Portugal. Now I am ready to depart and head home. After going through security, I was running very late, so I quickly checked the boarding board above the walkway, and my flight said, “Boarding, go to gate.” I started running, but it was a long way to gate 45A. When I got there, people were lined up in the hall, being checked though security again. I was the last person checked and then the boarding began at random. There were no special boarding privileges for first class, handicapped, or families with children—it was all on a first-come, first-served basis.

We boarded buses and were taken out onto the tarmac to board. S.A.T.A Airlines didn’t even have a terminal! We waited on the hot, locked bus, where it was so crowded that many of us were standing. Finally, our bus pulled up to the airbus and we boarded. Some of the passengers were already seated, but when I boarded, chaos ensued.

The handicapped had been allowed to board at the back of the plane at the same time as the other 4 bus loads of passengers boarding from the front. Everything came to a standstill when I was halfway down the aisle. The stewardesses could not help, as they were too far away.

I knew I had to put my teaching experience to work. The woman in front of me had a big suitcase and she was determined to get to her seat. I gently tapped her and said, “Come back.” It took quite a bit of convincing and with me carrying her suitcase to slowly move back the way we had just come. At the same time I told people behind me to all back up we had a problem up ahead. Slowly the word was passed back and everyone moved back.

Then I went on alone and helped a handicapped woman to her seat. I still had my hand up, telling everyone to wait. Then I helped an elderly man carrying a woman’s walker. He was all worked up and did not want to be separated from the woman’s walker—perhaps it belonged to his wife. Finally he sat down, while I put the walker in the aisle. Three more handicapped came down the aisle and sat down.

Finally, the stewardess came down the aisle and took the walker for storage, and another stewardess helped the woman behind me with the large suitcase, and I went to the next to last row in the plane. As I walked down the aisle, the stewardess thanked me, and the passengers who had witnessed the scene all clapped and thanked me. One said, “The airlines should hire you.” By now, I only wanted a safe trip home. It had taken an extra half hour to board this plane.

It was a safe flight to Boston, and except for a crying baby directly behind me, I had no major concerns. When I arrived in Boston, I only needed to pick up my trekking poles in checked baggage. I went to the oversized cargo area and waited and waited. Finally, after there was no sign of my poles, I was told to go to another office. S.A.T.A. had no office but was sharing space with Swiss Air. When I found the office, a sign on the door said, “Closed. Open tomorrow.”

I now had to catch a shuttle bus to Portland, Maine. I followed up by calling the next day, and AAA also called several places, to no avail. My trekking poles and I had parted ways, but I was safely home. I hope my next trekking poles give me as much happiness and as many miles of trails as the last ones!

(posted August 11, 2015)