That looks like an airline reservation confirmation code, doesn’t it? But it isn’t. It is, however, one of my favorite vanity plates. It was on an expensive car, the make I’ve forgotten, the kind that wealthy country club folk drive. People with names like Thurston Howell III. It took several minutes of deciphering, but I figured the license plate out. It reads “Tennis anyone?”

This is a tale of how an airline confirmation code and tennis collide. It is a tale that goes from woe to glow.

I have long been a tennis fan and watch a lot of tennis on TV. I don’t play, though, because, well, it involves stupid things like running, exertion, hand-eye-coordination, and sweat. Plus, I believe breathing hard should be limited to the bedroom. But when I learned the relatively new Mexican Open, an ATP Men’s tournament, is held in late February each year, I decided I would go.

I ordered a ticket that cost as much as Thurston Howell III’s car and began researching non-stop flights from Puerto Vallarta to Acapulco. There were none. All flights went through Mexico City and no airlines had timely connections to their own Acapulco flights. No matter how I adjusted dates and times, I could not find one Mexican airline that could get me from PV to Acapulco in one day.

I would have to use two airlines. One to take me from PV to CDMX and back six days later and another to provide the round trip between the nation’s capital and Acapulco. I booked the flights perhaps eight months prior to the trip, anticipating changes and updates.

Within weeks, the CDMX-ACA airlines made changes. Twice. This necessitated making a change to my other reservation to coordinate the flights. I was charged, of course, for making the change. But at least I would arrive in Acapulco at 9:30 p.m. After a nearly six-hour layover in Mexico City.

I printed the boarding passes for both flights the day before departure. We left PV half an hour late the next day. No big deal. I had six hours to kill. But as we approached Mexico City, I realized I would be arriving at Terminal 1 and the second leg of the trip would depart from Terminal 2, a good distance away. Again, no big deal. I had six hours to kill. What could go wrong? We landed. I deplaned. And then…and then…

Terminal 1 is an old terminal. The ceilings are low, creating a sense of claustrophobia. The ancient aisles are crowded, not designed to accommodate the hordes that would come years after being built. Signage is small and, often, hard to find. I’ve gotten lost in Terminal 1 before.

I found a sign directing passengers to the train to Terminal 2. But I couldn’t find a second sign. So, I asked an airport employee working nearby where I would find the train. I was holding my boarding pass for the next flight in my hand. She looked at it and went pale. “Nada mas,” she said. “You need see—” and she named an alternative domestic airline. “Maybe they help to you.”

“Nada mas?” I repeated. My heart began racing.

“Sí. Desde una semana.”

“That airline shut down a week ago?” I asked in disbelief. “But they allowed me to print my boarding pass yesterday. And what about my money?”

The woman smiled an apologetic smile, as if it were her fault, and gave me directions to the train to Terminal 2. Perhaps because of language issues, but more likely my panic-driven brain muddle, I got lost again.

I understand that smaller domestic airlines struggle to survive. That is why I use them when I can. But why, I thought as I ran helter-skelter through endless concourses, was the airline’s website up if the company had folded and why did it allow me to print my boarding pass? I took another wrong turn. Why didn’t I know about this airline’s shutdown?

The answers to my questions, I realized, didn’t matter. Time was of the essence. I had to get to the other terminal and find the suggested alternate airline ASAP. If they have a flight to Acapulco today, it may be departing shortly, I thought. But will it have available seats?

I eventually did find the train and made my way to Terminal 2. Finally, I thought, a modern, well-lit terminal, one with high ceilings and visible signage.

I dashed to the alternate airlines check-in counter to find no one in line. Thus, the entrance to the maze was closed off. There were personnel at the counter helping the last passengers, but there was no way to get to the counter. I ducked under the barrier, to be met by a concerned agent. I need to get booked now! my eyes screamed. He heard them and saw the faux boarding pass in my hand.

“You need to go to our office,” he said with aloe in his voice, and pointed across the terminal.

Long story short—or is it already too late for that—within minutes, I was booked on a flight to Acapulco departing in less than two hours. I, of course, was charged for this. But my six-hour layover had been cut in half. Albeit, one hour of that time was spent in panic mode, running through never-ending concourses that surely led to the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. border.

After all that commotion, I arrived at my Acapulco hotel nearly two hours earlier than originally planned. All’s well that ends well, said some writer guy.

Oh, as for the tennis tournament? Well, that story must be told at another time. Some would call it a love story.

For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com

Tom Nussbaum
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