Your holiday disaster: Fiona Bacon arrived in Santiago four days late, thin, miserable and starving

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The Independent Travel
"WOULD PASSENGER Fiona Bacon, travelling to Santiago, please make herself known at the flight desk?" Deceptively good news awaited me; the airline had overbooked my flight - would I be prepared to switch to another slightly later, in return for an upgrade? I called my boyfriend in Chile and accepted the offer, looking forward to a better class of bench in the business class lounge. Stuffed full of dry roasted peanuts and Bloody Marys, I arrived at my newly designated gate. I was alarmed to find that the flight would be stopping twice en route - at Aruba and Guayaquil - but the wide seats and lavish toilet bags in business class quelled my fears.

At breezy, palm-strewn Aruba, the plane landed for re-fuelling, and we trooped off to the spacious Portakabin of a terminal. After several hours' wait, everyone was becoming irate. A formidable stewardess was despatched to pacify us with refreshment vouchers, and 300 people stampeded for one hastily opened hot-dog stand. After that came the announcement that we would be detained in Aruba for a further 24 hours because a new part for the 747 aircraft had to be flown in from Europe. Without luggage, we were all driven through the pearly dawn to cheap hotels, with no air- conditioning, some distance from the beach.

The sheen had fully worn off business class as I took my place again, wearing the same clothes I had set out in. Next stop, Ecuador's Guayaquil airport terminal, resting in what looked like a shallow bomb crater, was staffed by gun-toting militia, and had the welcoming appeal of an abattoir. Eight of us had been upgraded, and we'd been assured that airline reps would greet us on the ground. After some hours wandering around in sweltering 80 per cent humidity, completely abandoned, we were forced to jump over barriers and hammer on the airline's office doors.

Sensing impending violence, they sent out a visibly pregnant rep to deal with us. She gave us all $250 worth of miscellaneous cash orders (MCOs) - valid only for further flights, not much-needed beers - and told us that, since there was no connecting flight to Santiago that day, we would be spending a night in Guayaquil at the Hotel Colon. Another night, another toilet bag, but still no sight of our luggage. We were told too that we'd have to give back our MCOs. I went to my room and wept buckets.

Meanwhile, in Santiago, my boyfriend was going mad with worry - no one from the airline had been able to tell him where I was. With just five minutes' free phone time, I couldn't get through. Next day the airline reps left us at the mercy of customs staff. "Why are you spending only one day in Guayaquil? What's inside all these toilet bags?" I was singled out for special treatment, my luggage decanted on to the runway and every embarrassing item pored over in detail. Finally, I arrived in Santiago four days late, thin, exhausted, and feeling like a refugee, albeit one with an unparalleled collection of travel toothbrushes.

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