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The good news is that I arrived at New York’s JFK Terminal 4 for my 5:40 PM Saturday flight well in advance (nearly four hours in advance!) hoping I would have plenty of time to finish my first blog and read up on the articles about Brazil that I had put aside, get some water for the flight, and visit the United/Continental or some ‘Star alliance’ Lounge to relax. (TAM, the Brazilian airline our 26-member SHRM delegation was scheduled to travel on is a Star Alliance partner.)I had previously determined from my e-ticket that we would be traveling direct to Rio from an airport one hour from home in NJ and, although I couldn’t use my mileage on Continental to upgrade, I chose to go with the official delegation rather than a separate flight on United routing through Houston and then to Rio. I also learned that if you checked in early enough, there might be low cost ($60) upgrade to a roomier seat.Fingers crossed.The bad news is that when I spotted the TAM airlines check-in area, it was filled to overflowing with two poorly policed lines snaking outside the roped-in area. No signage. No smiling customer assistants. Beyond the ‘designated’ line, people seemed tense, wary of their position and casting evil eyes at all who considered jumping ahead.I chose the left line (it’s supposed to move faster according to some silly article I once read). Good choice, wrong reason as I discovered ten minutes later from the young Brazilian couple in front of me. Apparently the left line is for RIO – the right hand line is for a Sao Paulo flight. Good, I’m going to Rio.I wonder if specializing in a specific flight is that productive. (A little foreshadowing here). Note to self: Engage the people in front of you over casual conversation sooner rather than later.So what was the bad news if I got in the correct line? Well, it seems TAM has few automated methods for checking passengers in. As far as I could tell nothing much was happening very fast. Given the speed the line moved I could have sworn the agents were writing each ticket out longhand…and checking it twice. Both lines were about a one hour wait. Still, making the best of the situation I passed the time in idle conversation. The friendly couple one step ahead had so much luggage they couldn’t move it all at once.Several times I just grabbed one of their cases and moved with them as the line inched forward (this ostensibly helpful gesture also served to ensure a gap large enough for someone to jump into it didn’t appear). In addition to various handbags and backpacks my new Brazilian friends had three ‘humongus’ pieces of luggage almost as tall and wide as themselves (Ok, they were both about 5’ 7’ and slim, but the luggage seemed even bigger). Obviously in their 20s and well off from the looks of their designer-wear I saw no children and asked how long they had been visiting in the US (since it seemed they had enough stuff for months). “No, no”, they laughed, “we come here every Thanksgiving to shop.” “We have a large family and buy appliances and presents for everyone.”That’s when I noticed just how much of the ‘line’ was luggage…not people. More than half. I’m guessing I was booked on Brazil’s Infamous Black Friday Return Flight. (And now I’m beginning to think about the weight on this plane.)The good news is that when I finally traversed the room and reached my friendly helpful ticket agent, Mauricio, he immediately looked at my e-ticket to Rio, smiled a secret smile, and got to work producing boarding tickets but not before I asked in my most courteous tone, “Mauricio, sorry to bother you but, I heard that there might be an inexpensive upgrade to seats with a little more legroom. Would there be anything you could do for a grandparent?”“Absolutely”, he replied. “In fact, from your passport, I can see you are old enough to qualify for our upgraded ‘comfort’ seat free of charge.”I thought I had won the lottery. I had visions of plush reclining seats and plenty of room to manueverThe bad news is that as Mauricio leaned over to give me my tickets, he informed me, quietly, that what I thought was the 5:40 PM to Rio was, in fact, the 5:40 PM to Sao Paulo where after a brief layover we would continue on to Rio. The actual direct Rio flight was at 4:15PM and, technically he did me a favor by not making me go back to the end of the other line. Good choice on Mauricio’s part and I thanked Mauricio with my own secret smile and continued on to a fairly routine security check-point while thinking that the Continental Business Class through Houston I failed to book was looking up. (I later learned another member of the delegation made the same error and was sent to the back of the ‘right’ line.) The good news is that the bulk of the SHRM delegates were easy to find milling near the gate. Clearly we were all excited to get started on our adventure coming in from all over the country. Most were CHROs (see Howard Wallach’s blog with demographics).Let the networking begin.The bad news is that when I boarded the plane and found my ‘comfort’ seat, someone else was sitting in it. She was old. Much older than I. Even whiter hair. She pointed plaintively to the seat behind her (which I took, correctly, to be her proper seat) and pantomimed (I’m guessing English wasn’t what she wanted to use in this instance) that it pained her to sit in the ‘normal’ seat one row behind MY ‘comfort’ seat. I agree. It is more uncomfortable. I’m not sure if I was just scammed or whether I’m a sucker for little old ladies. I do know however, that if this plane goes down, I will be in the first row of survivors.We arrived in Sao Paulo by 6:30 am (about 3 hours ahead of Eastern Time and managed to get to Rio by 9am with only one more challenge (lost luggage) but hey, no problem goes without a solution and, who can complain when your view out the JW Marriott located right on Copacabana beach looks like this.The rest of the day is nap, walk on the beach, orientation, walk on the beach, dinner, walk on the beach. Business can wait til Monday.(A shout out to Mike Hard and Bounty Jobs for their support in underwriting my trip)
Original source article: CareerXroads