1. Don't fly through the US if you can help it.
There are no direct flights from Canada to Quito, so you have to connect at least once, usually through the USA. The airlines currently flying from Canada to Quito include:
- American Airlines
We checked in at the United desk in Pearson, only to have them offer us a flight to Quito via Miami instead of Houston, which would give us a shorter layover. We said sure, why not?
What we didn't know is that apparently when you connect to anywhere via the US, you have to pick up your baggage, re-check in, check your bags again, and go through security again. Completely stupid and pointless waste of time, but no way around it, even with my Nexus card. A word to the wise--if you can avoid flying through the US, don't question it, just do it. What a ridiculous system.
So in Pearson, instead of dropping our checked bags at the counter, we have to carry all our luggage through customs, not just carry on. We don't go through security with it though, we just carry it to a conveyor belt that looks *exactly* like the belt behind the check-in counter, and drop it. Makes no sense, slows down the entire process, and I can't figure out the purpose.
Miami meant we had to pick up our bags & check in again, including boarding passes etc. Before security in Miami, the staff arbitrarily decided I had too many carry-on items & forced me to put my camera away before entering the security line (even though a camera is allowed as separate item)— & Andrea had at least 3 or 4 items (coat, camera bag, travel wallet, backpack). Nevermind the fact that I literally would have to remove it from said bag 5 paces later, when we went through the security checkpoint! It was so frustrating, because I had literally just come FROM ANOTHER PLANE, which meant I took all this through security and was fine a few hours ago...watch out!
2. Get an overnight flight time if you can.
We booked a flight that left at 8:30 am and had a daytime layover, arriving in Quito shortly before midnight. We thought it'd be better to travel when you're normally awake anyways, since we weren't switching time zones, we would arrive less tired. Complete bullshit. The layover tires you out because it's long and boring, and you just feel exhausted because you've had an extremely long day, which started at 3:30 am, not 8:30 when your first flight left. At least with an overnight flight, it might not be good sleep, but you can squeeze in a couple hours which makes a world of difference.
3. Get Nexus if you do have to go through the US.
Nexus will save your life if you have to go through US customs. I was through security and to my gate in under 10 minutes, whereas Andrea had to wait more than an hour and barely made the flight! It's a complete zoo and totally avoidable. Nexus also lets you skip the customs line when returning to Canada from anywhere--an amazing perk when all you want to do is get home after your trip!
4. Avoid American Airlines & United.
On our American Airlines flight from Miami to Quito, the flight attendants were incredibly rude. one ran the cart into my foot, spilled OJ all over me and my stuff & didn’t stop, apologize or offer to help clean up. I had to go to the back of the plane and ask for club soda & napkins! They also skipped us (deliberately) for drinks—the rows before and after us got them. The guy on my side wouldn’t take Andrea’s tray, claiming the other side had more room—even though they had the exact same amount of people to service. I guess we did something to piss them off, but to me that's completely disrespectful.
United had the most ridiculously cheap flight service I'd ever seen from a non-budget airline: no free food on a 6 hour flight, in-flight entertainment was NOT free, and it wasn't even on-demand! You had to pay & watch at the designated time or you missed the movie! And the arm-rests didn't move. I'm sure it was an older plane, but still. Not ok! Where are all the profits from the plummeting costs of fuel going?
Also, remember what I told you about picking up & re-checking your bags during your layover? In Houston on our way home, they had NO idea what was going on and were blatantly lying to travellers. When checking in at Quito, they told us to pick up the bags in Houston. The next desk over, told people they would be checked through to their final destination.
When we got to the carousel in Houston, staff told us our bags were checked through, but told others on the same flight to wait for the bags. What a disaster! Good thing we didn't listen to them & waited for our bags as well, as they came out a few minutes later! We would have lost our luggage if we went by what they said.
5. Laugh at life.
So many unexpected things happened, as per usual while travelling, and there's always two ways to look at it: either get stressed & upset, and try to chop someone's head off to make them pay for the inconvenience (just me?) OR learn to laugh & chalk it up to a great travel anecdote you can tell when you get back (case in point: this article).
Example 1: the amount of rude, indignant, impatient people in line at airports. There was the couple who sighed progressively louder until they found someone to complain that "why would you make us wait in line if you're just going to pull people out and put them in front? We've been waiting almost an hour you know!" ...it took everything in me not to burst out laughing. Do they KNOW what travelling even is?! Then there was the guy behind us who decided it was appropriate to ask a staff member what an older lady was doing at the specialty counter, if she was truly disabled, where was her wheelchair? (not kidding) People need to a) relax, b) manage expectations that travel takes a really long time, and c) be nicer!
Example 2: in Houston, the inability of staff to manage a lineup properly meant they sent hordes of people up an escalator to security when the landing was so full of people waiting to go through, there was no room once they got to the top--people started piling up on top of each other & it was terrifying. After my brush with death on an escalator at the age of 8 (yes I fell backwards wearing my backpack, what's it to you!?), my nightmare came to life! All you can do is laugh at other people's incompetence sometimes...after you're out of the mosh pit.
Example 3: when coming back from Galapagos, the internet wasn't working at the airport in Baltra, so they HANDWROTE our boarding passes. And it was a real, valid pass--really secure, obviously...but hey, they let us on the plane so it worked out! It was a fun experience & a really cool souvenir! During the layover, the flight attendants were on HIGH ALERT, which meant during our transfer in Guayaquil, we weren't allowed to use electronics at all. Normal, right? Nope. Couldn't even turn them on using airplane mode. This is while the plane is on the tarmac, waiting for other passengers to get on/off. No e-readers, no ipods, nothing. No bathroom breaks either. Like, WHY!?
There you have it, some observations & lessons from experience that will hopefully help make your next trip to Quito as painless as possible!