(Warning: text heavy, photo light)
The thing about 5am alarms is that they're useless if you wake up at 2.30am and don't get back to sleep. Ordinarily I'd have been annoyed but since that meant 8.30am UK time, I figured what the hell: I'm already back in my home timezone.
I had some podcasts downloaded so listened to Doug Stanhope's latest, a swapcast with Matt Becker where they spent most of the time discussing their previous times in Costa Rica and how terrifying it is to fly Sansa and etc. Huh, whaddya know.
Come 4.45am and Helen's awake. We shower, pack, and say goodbye to our single night villa. Through the garden and up to the breakfast area, Berni is there to meet us as soon as we arrive and he calls a cab, which takes literally under a minute to turn up. It's the quickest and cheapest journey yet and we're at the airport by 6am.
We find somewhere to sit and eat the packed breakfast Pura Vida had provided us. It's fruit, yoghurt, granola bars, and some grape juice. While Helen tucks in I go change our remaining colones into US Dollars, then I eat mine and we go to a kiosk.
I've already checked us in to the next two flights, and have boarding passes on my phone for the first one, but really I want paper passes. The kiosk accepts my passport but doesn't like Helen's at all, even when we manually enter all the details, so we head up to a desk. We have to fill out what looks suspiciously like another arrivals form first, and once at the front the woman tells us we should be providing her with a receipt for the departure tax.
This is a bit surprising/confusing. I thought most big airlines included departure taxes in the ticket price, but apparently not for us. At the departure tax desk the man says that if we're flying with American we don't need to pay and should go to the AA desks... where we've just come from. After some discussion it transpires that because we're merely connecting in the USA rather than finishing our trip there, that's why the tax isn't included. So we pony up the 60 dollars and go back to the AA desk, where we're finally issued with boarding passes all the way to Madrid (yes, yes, I know).
At the entrance to the gates there's a fast track sign, but everything's blocked off. The normal track queue is lightning fast though, for boarding pass check at least - security looks much busier and slower, but the guy says "oh, you're fast track" and lets us duck under the closed barriers to a much faster gate.
No-one bats an eyelid at my selfie-holster thing here, but they don't like the 24 AAA batteries much. Whatever. Finally, after like 90 minutes or so, we're through and airside. Let's go to the lounge!
Wait. Hang on. There's no lounge. I mean, there is a lounge, but not one where you can go if you're flying with American Airlines. You can go if you're flying Iberia or BA, members of the same alliance, but not AA. Bloody hell. And anyway it's at the opposite end of the terminal to our flight, which will be boarding in around 40 minutes anyway, so we go plonk ourselves down there.
Priority boarding is announced promptly and Helen and I are the first two people on the plane, soon ensconced in row 4, the confusingly-second row. She has the window seat, I'm in the aisle. Our bags go up top. We get a pre-departure orange juice. Later, when an attendant plays tetris to help others, Helen's coat is moved from one side of the aisle to another and I realise SHIT, I've left my own damn jacket in the terminal somewhere. God damn it. My Wrestlemania 32 hoodie! I love that hoodie. Ah bloody hell.
People are still boarding. Hmm. It is still half an hour until scheduled departure time. I stand up and sheepishly ask a member of cabin crew if I can go look, or someone can look for me, and she rolls her eyes, rips my boarding pass in two, and gets someone to escort me. Up the airbridge, to the seat, pick up the jacket, phew! Back down the airbridge and back on. A member of cabin crew says "OK sir, I think you're the last one" to which I reply "Yeah, I was first on as well, but had to go get my jacket". She laughs at me, asks where we're from, tells us her parents are from Bristol and the Midlands respectively. Then she never speaks to us again.
I'm relieved as fuck, but still annoyed at how frequently I am leaving things on planes or in airports these days. But anyway. This is a modern 737-800 with fancy in-flight entertainment and stuff. I plug my headphones in and search for something to watch. What I'm really in the mood for is a cheesy as all fuck action movie, perhaps a Statham thing, ideally with a phenomenally nonsensical strapline.
Perfect! And it really is. I struggle not to laugh out loud at various points throughout this piece of cinematic cheddar, this edam entertainment, this silver screen stilton, this film du fromage, this ... you get the idea. I heartily recommend everyone on earth watches it. In fact I might watch it again when I get home.
We're told that all devices have to be completely off, not even flight mode, for take-off, which is a real shame because Helen gets an amazing clear view of Volcan Poas from above.
Sparkling wine arrives. It is fairly unpleasant and barely sparkling. We've pre-ordered food, from the choice of two items, and indeed went for one each. Helen has the French toast, I have the omelette, which is surprisingly delicious. As is the warm croissant and fruit it comes with.
Mechanic: Resurrection finishes, which is a shame, and I move onto another staple of my inflight entertainment specialities: Brooklyn Nine Nine. Two episodes of that, accompanied with a Sam Adams beer, about which the crew member apologises for the temperature. He says he's put another on ice "just in case", but I never need it.
We pass over Nicaragua, then head out across the sea, over Cuba, the Florida Keys and mainland Florida, which looks every bit as marshy and swampy as I expected. We land about 5-10 minutes ahead of schedule: welcome to Miami.
I've flown through Miami once before, in 2013, and it was a hellish connection experience. It's always had a deserved bad rep, due (as I understand it) to a combination of the USA's insistence of making every passenger collect and re-check their luggage if connecting directly to another flight (i.e. as soon as you hit US tarmac), and the sheer number of flights/connecting passengers Miami gets. That said, I'd also read that things had improved a lot recently. Fingers crossed.
Actually more like legs crossed first. I was desperate for a loo and announced my intention to dive straight into the first one. After 5 minutes of walking there's a loo... women only. Damn it. It's another 5 minutes frmo the gate until there's a gents. WTF, Miami!
Lots of signs for lots of options. Visa holders, ESTA holders, Global Entry folk, US citizens, crew, etc etc. We queue, very briefly, for one of the many Automated Passport Control kiosks which asks each of us in turn the type of questions you used to have to fill out on a paper form onboard the plane. We're both accepted and given printed receipts, which lets us join the short and quick queue further up the way. Friendly guy asks us what we're doing in the USA - just transit - and where we've come from. "You guys speak Spanish?" "Pequeño" <huge laughter> and we're through.
Now, signs to the exit and signs to connection flights. I think they're just for AA, but Helen spots smaller IB and BA logos so through we go. It's a longer queue, there's no fast track, but it's quick enough. I'm worried we're in entirely the wrong terminal but no, it's OK. Miami is a "shoes off" security regime but otherwise there's nothing to really slow us down. We're back airside about 40 minutes after we touched down. It wasn't pleasant, but it was way better than plenty of other places. Hurrah Miami!
Well, hang on, not hugely hurrah. It's still not a very nice airport. We know we're leaving from gate E23, and we're currently in concourse D. The premium lounge is also in concourse E, which we now discover is a 15-20 minute walk through mostly deserted hospital-esque corridors. Eventually we're where we want to be: time to get on the bubbly.
I'm all happy and hyper, as usual. I've got champagne - prosecco is also available - and cake. The wifi is blazing fast and seems to have solved all my blogging issues, so I upload the entries for Friday-Sunday, then write and upload Monday. I have half a Cuban sandwich, some different bubbly, a Belgian beer, and time flies. I'm in my element, really the only downside to our time there, for me, is that I lost my in-play £20 bet that AFC Wimbledon would beat Gillingham (placed after we equalised for 2-2, which is how the game ended).
Boarding is announced during stoppage time so I'm clutching my phone staring at the Sky Bet website while we make our confusing way to the gate. The only way to exit the lounge is by a single lift, the other one being closed for refurbishment. Lounge is on level 5, the lift stops on level 2, where we then get an escalator up to level 3 and a surprising monorail.
The E gates are split in two. E23, at the other end of this short ride, is busy but moving and there's a priority lane and away we go. For this ride, back on Iberia, we're in the "honeymoon" seats: centre aisle seats, close together. Even with the privacy divider these are really not seats you'd like to travel next to most strangers in, but for a couple they are excellent.
God, I am terrible at smiling for photographs. Anyway, we're in 3E and 3G. Pre-departure drinks are served, sadly just orange juice or water. Where's our damn cava? We have amenity kits, this time in different colours but with the same contents. Taxi and take-off is prompt and away we go.
It's a shorter flight than on the way out, and overnight. 8.5 hours should give us the chance to eat as well as sleep. Helen's annoyed they don't have Snowden, the film she was watching but didn't quite finish on the AA flight this morning; I finish off the last 40 minutes of The Magnificent Seven (2016), then move onto the Accountant. Spoiler alert: starts well, finishes weak as fuck.
Ignacio introduces himself, welcomes us on board, recommends we sleep, etc. I'm jealous of his name. We get menus and order our food. Apparently every type of tea they serve has some kind of amazing power. Pre-main-meal cava arrives, as do nuts in a little paper cup.
I opt for the pasta, Helen goes for the duck. I think she made the better choice. It's not that mine isn't nice, it's just a bit dry, and not as nice. The starter, as on the way out, is fantastic though. Veal consomme for the win.