When I was on my first international return trip through the Mexico City airport, I didn’t know my way around very well and was afraid I’d miss my connecting flight. I was returning from Cuba by myself. The international section reminded me very much of the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport with a very long walkway from where you get off the plane to where you pick up your luggage for customs and immigration. I didn’t realize how far it was. I thought I had missed where I was supposed to go and there was no turning back so I kept walking and walking.
By the time I came to the place where you pick up your luggage so they can inspect or not, I really needed to use the restroom but I only had an hour and a half before my next flight left, and I was worried I wouldn’t make it. My Spanish is terrible, but I walked up to a man who was standing near an official-looking desk and asked him if he spoke English. He said no. Well, I couldn’t wait any longer so I hurried into the restroom, took care of business, and when I came out, the man asked me to wait and went off, returning with another man who did speak English.
All I could think of was how a few months earlier, when I was in the international part of DFW Airport with what I thought was two hours to spare, I just made it to the gate as they were boarding the plane. I was afraid the same thing would happen, or worse, I’d miss my connection–the last flight to the regional airport I needed to go to in order to get a shuttle back home.
So, anyway, the second man listened to my concerns, that I had to pick up my bag, take it through customs, pass through immigration, go to a separate part of the airport for domestic flights, re-check my bag, go back through security, and make it to the gate before my flight departed. He looked at my flight schedule and said he understood my concern. He directed me to baggage claim.
A few minutes after I arrived at the baggage claim area for my flight from Cuba, a third man came over to me and explained that he’d been sent to help me so I would not miss my flight. He ran and got me a wheelchair and told me to sit. After more than a few minutes of standing (they had no way of knowing I have back problems and can’t stand for very long without my left leg going numb) I sat down.
We waited and waited for the luggage–everyone waited and waited for their luggage. The man continued to reassure me that I would make my flight–while peeking through the flaps over the hole where the luggage comes out on the conveyor belt. At one point, he actually stuck his head in to see what was going on. I could see then that there were a number of dogs and dog handlers walking up and down next to the luggage.
Finally, the first load of bags came out. Mine was not among them. Don’t worry, he said. The second load eventually came out, and mine was there. I pointed it out, and he grabbed it. He stacked my two carry-ons on the wheelchair platform between my feet and I held on to them. With one hand on the back of the wheelchair and the other on my suitcase handle, he pushed me and pulled my suitcase behind us as he ran to customs where I pushed the button and got a green light. A green light means they won’t search your bags. From there, he ran me to immigration where the man took the government form I’d filled out, looked at my visa, and passed us on.
Once we’d cleared those two hurdles, the young man ran and ran all the way to the domestic flight check in. I ended up with an hour in which to check my suitcase, clear security, and walk down to the gate. Of course I tipped him very generously. “Gracias. Adios. Hasta luego,” he said, grinning, and rolled the wheelchair back the way we’d come.
People disparage the Mexican people. Yes, there are problems here in Mexico, but there are problems all over the world. Domestic violence in Mexico is blown all out of proportion by the media–it’s on a par with many other countries, yes, including the U.S., but that’s not the whole story.
Mexican people, as a rule, are a welcoming and friendly bunch of folks. Those men in the Mexico City airport could have left me to fend for myself, but they didn’t. I didn’t ask to be assigned someone to help me. They sent him to help me. He didn’t ask to be paid. He didn’t know he’d be paid. It’s certainly the custom to tip here in Mexico, but he didn’t know if I did tip him how much he would receive. And yet, he did his utmost to make sure I made my flight and was constantly reassuring me the whole time that everything would be all right.
This is the other side of Mexico. The side the journalists–the media don’t tell you about