Sometimes when you’re traveling, things don’t go exactly as planned. The timeline below is to give you a better idea of the circumstances that led to my friend Christine and I missing our flight. While leaving earlier would have been ideal, it doesn’t mean that it’s okay for others to scam you and it probably contributed to the panicky situation that led to us getting scammed and missing our flight. This post shows you what kind of scams can happen in foreign airports and how to avoid them. Keep reading to learn from my mistakes.
7:45 pm – We get into taxi for our TAME airlines flight from Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru to JFK in New York, USA. Distance to be traveled is 18.5 km, which is roughly 12 miles. Since our flight is at 9:20 pm, we figure that we’ll have about an hour to check in and head to the gate. Tight, but doable.
8:00 pm – We’re stuck in traffic. Moved 1 km in 15 minutes. Try not to panic.
8:10 pm – Our flight is in a little over an hour and we’re still 16 km from the airport. Panic.
After 8:10 pm, traffic started to ease up and we were finally moving at a speed greater than 5mph. The taxi driver told us that we would still be able to make our flight, which gave me a tiny bit more reassurance. This was the closest I’ve ever cut it to a flight before and as someone who’s never missed a flight, I wasn’t really looking forward to this being my first. So as soon as we arrived at the airport, I booked it to the check-in counter. The thing that’s weird about Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima though, is that the taxi driver said that he couldn’t drop us off directly in front of the departures area. Instead, he dropped us off at the main street and we had to walk to the airport entrance. This added a precious five minutes onto our arrival time and I was basically half-running with a suitcase in tow.
As we neared the airport entrance, a suited airport official stopped us and asked us if we were late for our flight. Now, pay attention because this will be important later.
Airport official: “Are you late for your flight?”
Me: “Yes, we’re looking for TAME airlines. Can you direct us to their counter?”
Airport official: “TAME airlines closed their counter. No one is there. I can take you to their office where you can print new boarding passes.”
He showed us his airport badge and motioned for us to follow him. As we headed towards the airline parking lot, I started wondering where exactly the office was. He pointed to a brightly lit office across the street and said we needed to go there. We needed to be quick because the office would close at 9:30 pm, he said. So we hurried across an overpass bridge and he led us to their doorsteps. The airport official said he had to go back to work and that the airline employees would take care of us. At this point, we only had 10 minutes until our plane was supposed to take-off. We told the bored-looking airline employees about this and they told us to take a seat and wait.
Confused, we sat down and I began stress eating all the snacks I had brought for the flight. Midway through my peach-o’s, I asked the employee if they were part of the TAME offices. The employee said no, that this was a ticketing office. This was even weirder. Why did this airport official lead us to a TICKETING agency that wouldn’t even be able to print out boarding passes for us? We think that he must have been able to get a commission for each person he brought in, or else why go through the hassle of dressing like airport security (white button down and red tie, all complete with a security badge) and bringing us to the ticketing office? By the time that the realization that we had gotten scammed dawned on us, it was too late. Our flight was gone. We waited until about 9:30 pm (and the office did not close as the fake airport official claimed) and then decided that it would be better to book flights directly at the airline counter.
I’ll spare you the logistical details, but after a lot of wi-fi scrambling, borrowing phones from nice Peruvians, and nervous waiting in lines to rebook tickets, we were able to book last-minute seats with Copa Airlines to JFK. After the relief of knowing we would make our connecting flight to SFO, Christine and I headed towards airport security to find out more information about what had happened. The airport security guard stated that airport officials are not supposed to take passengers off-site. This was later confirmed via email with Jorge Chavez International Airport’s Customer Service department, who stated that we were most likely approached by an informal travel agent.
I also reached out to TAME airlines regarding their ticketing email and asked them why they did not tell us that the counter closed 1 hour before departure. Our ticketing email only contained the time and location of our flight, it had nothing stating what time we had to get to the airport by. Their response was that this information was all available on their website. While this is true, I think that our overall experience would’ve been much improved if TAME had mentioned that international flights required passengers to be present 3 hours before travel. I know that this is pretty standard internationally, but traveling can be chaotic and having a reminder wouldn’t have hurt.
Overall, we were lucky because we were still able to rebook our flights and make it to JFK in time for our connecting Delta flight to SFO. But it came at a heavy price – the stress of missing our flight and the loss of a pretty decent sum of money, which was tough as a poor grad student.
I know that missing a flight isn’t such a huge problem when you compare it to not having a place to sleep at night or not enough food. It is a preventable problem though and I wanted to share this story so you can avoid getting scammed like us.
Have you ever gotten scammed at an airport? What did you do? Share with us in the comments below!