Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Honduras: The Airport

We flew into the Tegucigalpa airport on the Continental flight of the day. When we left, the departure and arrival board behind the counter listed exactly 2 flights. One incoming, and one outgoing. What we weren't told until after we had landed, was that the Tegucigalpa airport is considered the most dangerous airport in the world to land at.

I knew something was up when the flight attendants began taking their seats long before you could even see the ground below us. Then the turbulence kicked in. I'm not a big fan of turbulence, but I can handle it better than others. I was seated on the aisle, and noticed that the plane was see-sawing back and forth. I'd look out the window on the left and I could see land at wing level. Then it would disappear, and I'd look out the right window and see that we were barely clearing the mountains on that side. Honduras is a very hilly/mountainous country, and the wind whipping around the landscape bumps the jet all over the place. I finally stopped looking out the window and tried to block out the sights and sounds of people all over the plane utilizing their vomit bags. It was quite a trip.

We then landed on the sole runway at the airport, taxied to one of the 4 gates, and deplaned from both ends of the 737. We took the stairs from the plane down to the ground and then walked across the "parking lot" into a long, bare room that was their immigration. There were 2 men sitting at one end, and we were lined up waiting to go through them. The room looked like it was straight out of a 1950s movie, and I had to look back through the door to make sure the plane we landed wasn't a prop plane.

But we cleared through immigration, walked through the door at the end of the room, and we were in the luggage claim room. The conveyor belt was coming in from the side of the building, and the luggage would go around this 20 foot conveyor, and one guy would take the luggage off before it went back out the side of the building. He stacked it neatly in the corner, about 15 suitcases deep and 15 wide, so you had no way of getting to it or figuring out what was yours. Once we collected our luggage, we walked 15 steps to customs where they stood at tables and went through luggage. Once we stepped outside, it finally hit me that this airport was in total the size of the atrium at our law school.

When we left, we found out that it was slightly bigger, but not by much. They had individual airline counters inside and a Wendy's and some souvenir shops. But still, quite small scale. The ticket agents didn't have to ask where you were flying since each airline only flew one flight out a day. All flights arrive and leave between 10 and 2, and if it's raining that day, they shut down the airport. Afterall, this airport is named for a pilot who failed to successfully land the plane and crashed into a barrier at the end of the runway so they don't take any chances.

Takeoff is almost as eventful, and sometimes scarier. My mom pointed out as we were taxi-ing that there was a sign at the end of the runway that said "ALTO", or stop in Spanish. Funny. They taxi the plane to the end of the 1 runway, rev the engines on full blast, and then release the break. Once in the air, the plane ascends quicker than any other flight because you have to clear the mountains that surround the city. And the flight attendants talk throughout the whole takeoff, I'm assuming so that you're listening to them and not thinking that your life is coming to an end.