SUNDAY, OCTOBER 22
Fly to or from Argentine Patagonia and you fly Aerolineas Argentina. Fares have doubled over the past six months. Foreigners pay a premium. There are fewer flights. Tourism has taken a hit. I am booked on a 3.30 flight to Buenas Aires. My Japanese roommate has been to the airport. All flights from Ushuaia are cancelled. A transfer coach leaves for Rio Grande airport at 2.30. My roommate’s ticket has been stamped. We grab a cab. The young check-in clerk wears a two-day beard and arrogance familiar from the USSR. Ushuaia is closed. The transfer coaches are full. Come back tomorrow.
I find a young woman employee (I am better with women). I act panicked and physically feeble. I am traveling with a Japanese – a male nurse. He came earlier to confirm our flights. He left my ticket at the hotel. His seat on the coach and the flight from Rio Grande are confirmed. What am I to do?
The woman disappears to a back office with my ticket. I wait thirty minutes. Meanwhile I listen to the Soviet apartachic enjoy himself. The next flight? How would he know? Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps the next day. So he dismisses families desperate to get home to BA.
The woman returns. I am confirmed on the coach and a flight from Rio Grande to BA.
Two hours and thirty minutes to Rio Grande: the airport terminal is deserted; all representatives of Aerolineas Argentina are out to lunch. Rain squalls flee across the runway. We passengers wait forlorn and bewildered. The elderly sit on steps leading to a closed cafeteria. Mothers feed babies, placate toddlers, screech at teenagers. An hour passes. Tempers rise. Finally three check-in clerks appear. We queue while they chat and talk on the telephone and shift papers from one side of a desk to the other. I am first to crack. I call through the open door to the glass fronted office: “It would be good manners to tells us what is happening - or that you don’t know what is happening.”
Even as I speak, I fear that my fellow passengers will judge me one more arrogant Brit. My sally is greeted with applause.