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Traveling through the Puerto Rico Airport During the Holidays

I fly through the San Juan, Puerto Rico airport fairly often, and it’s always a hilarious, albeit frustrating, adventure. However, flying through a Puerto Rico airport during the holidays takes it to an entirely different level.

Traveling through a Puerto Rican Airport During the Holidays

Why is this Puerto Rico airport so crazy?

There are 3.5 million people on the tiny island of Puerto Rico. There are close to 5 million Puerto Ricans living in the mainland US. That means there is a whole lot of shuffling of relatives during the holidays. Puerto Ricans coming home to the island for the holidays and older relatives flying to the mainland to see their children who have established their lives in the US swarm to the airport. This is common in lots of major airports in the world during the holidays, but Puerto Ricans always have a very unique way of approaching things.

I flew out of San Juan on December 3rd and flew back into San Juan on December 16th. The experience inspired me to write my own version of 12 Days of Christmas

12 Days of Christmas in a Puerto Rico Airport

Puerto Ricans will surely get the references, but for everyone else, I’ve explained them after the video.

12 lines not moving

Three and a half million people, guys. The San Juan airport isn’t particularly large or efficient, so lines get pretty insane. Also, no one comes to the airport alone, so lengthy farewells tend to clog up foot traffic, and absurd amounts of luggage create even more issues (more on that in #6…)

11 wheelchairs rolling

You know how airports will provide wheelchairs for older passengers who can’t handle all the walking? You usually see one, maybe two wheelchairs waiting outside the gate before and after boarding. Well in Puerto Rico, it’s like a freaking fleet of wheelchairs. Children on the mainland are always sending for their elderly parents and grandparents, shuttling them back and forth. These poor, exhausted old people sit in little groups of wheelchairs outside of every gate.

Honestly, this isn't even that many. Some gates have 7-12 chairs!

Honestly, this isn’t even that many. Some gates have 7-12 chairs!

10 heels a clackin’

Most people I know choose sensible footwear for the airport. Something easy to slip on and off and comfortable enough to allow you to run between gates. Not Puerto Ricans. Boricua women show up in every variety of heel imaginable. Little girls in plastic wedges, 20 somethings in 4-inch strappy heels, even grandmas put on at least a 2 inch heel. The airport is alive with the sound of clacking heels.

9 Playstation screenings

This one is weird, I know. But you know what’s weirder? That so many people in Puerto Rico travel with their Playstation that they have to make special announcements to remind people to remove Playstations from their bags. The TSA agents rattle off the usual instructions and then add “Playstations in a separate bin!” This inevitably leads to people digging out a mess of cables from beneath a knot of clothing, attributing to the “12 lines not moving” situation.

8 People who don’t understand boarding

Puerto Ricans simply cannot with this boarding situation. I usually fly Southwest, which gives its passengers an A, B, or C boarding pass with a number and asks people to line up in order. Puerto Ricans holding C boarding passes will continually get in line with As and Bs, asking the customer service agents the same questions each time they are turned away. It’s yet another line that simply isn’t moving.

7 unplanned family reunions

My Puerto Rican friend, Maria, once told me “I think most Puerto Ricans just assume you might be related to them.” This is an understandable assumption, because the likelihood is very high. I can’t really go anywhere without witnessing some distant cousins bumping into each other in the grocery store, so you can only imagine what it’s like in an airport around the holidays. Everyone is related and has to catch up on all the other vague relations they share.

6 carry-ons per person

I know the rule is 2 carry-ons per person, and honestly, Puerto Ricans probably know this too – but they have 0 fucks to give. I have never seen such shameless overpacking in my life. Boricuas will carry a backpack, a beach bag, a rolly bag, a briefcase, and a shopping bag  and look you straight in the eye while telling you “it will definitely fit.”

I actually spoke to a Puerto Rican flight attendant about this and she sighed heavily and said “I love my people, I do, but no one brings more crap or weirder crap onto the plane.” As she said this, she went off to help someone attempt to shove a giant lamp into the overhead bin. This leads into my next portion of the song…

5 frying pans in the overhead bins

Yep. On several occasions I have seen Puerto Ricans traveling with their own pots and pans in their hands. Usually they are just wrapped in a used plastic bag and then shoved overhead like a perfectly normal piece of luggage. I attribute this oddity to the fact that most Puerto Rican women will not cook with another woman’s pots and pans. They will claim “no conozco la olla” which roughly translates to “I don’t know/I’m not familiar with that pot.” So these people are off to make a holiday dinner in another state, and they are not about to travel without their trusty frying pan.

4 shuffling grandparents

So. many. old people. Again, youngsters on the mainland send for their elderly for visits, and these poor old souls just shuffle slowly through the airport until a younger Puerto Rican comes and helps them with their bags. Luckily, because everyone can picture their own abuela, young people are always quick to lift each old lady’s 7 bags into the overhead bin and carry them off the plane for her.

3 bottles of Duty Free rum

This one is legitimate. Who wants to show up to a family gathering without a few bottles of Don Q?

2 strong coffees

Deliciously strong coffee is necessary to deal with all of the above, at 6am, which is pretty much when every flight out of San Juan seems to be leaving.

And a completely full and overpacked flight

I have literally never been on a flight leaving San Juan or traveling to San Juan that wasn’t 100% booked. Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans everywhere.

 

I hope you enjoyed my description of a Puerto Rico airport during the holidays. To be honest, it’s my favorite place to people watch. I think I might make my own Puerto Rico Airport bingo for the next time I fly. This place is hysterical. And for the days when it’s more frustrating than funny, I guess there is always rum.

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