He Said/She Said: the red-eye from hell.

She said:

We didn’t have a checking account in Ecuador. We had a safe. We went to the ATM and systematically withdrew money from our U.S. account until there was enough in the safe to pay for whatever was needed at the time: woodshed, landscaping, barbecue grill. Now I can admit to you, there were times that safe had a good bit of money stuffed inside.

The money dwindled as the house got finished and began to fill back up again as we sold off the car and furniture. We were allowed to carry cash on the plane back home… and, that we did.

My husband took about half in his pockets somewhere. I carried the rest inside the zippered section of my purse.

I had waited in the gate area for as long as possible…until they told me I absolutely had to board the plane. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving this country with my husband still in it. At the same time, I couldn’t think how I would get the dogs off the plane or find somewhere to go with all four of them in the middle of the night. There seemed to be two options and I didn’t like either one.

The flight was booked and, of course, I had a middle seat. Dakota was quiet inside her bag under the seat in front of me and I had stuffed my purse down beside her bag. I sat there with the phone in my lap hoping to hear something from my husband; anything. Nothing came. The situation felt hopeless. I put my head in my hands.

Our departure time had come and gone and I realized they could be holding the flight for my husband. That gave me hope but, as the minutes ticked on, I knew they wouldn’t hold it forever and I became discouraged again.

My mind was beginning to rush forward to landing in Atlanta. The rental agencies weren’t able to locate a van big enough for the kennels so we had no car reserved. I wouldn’t have a cell phone or internet. Then I heard my name being called at the front of the plane.

“Mrs. Boyle? Where is Mrs. Boyle?” It was a man moving very quickly down the center aisle of the plane. I almost didn’t raise my hand –

He stopped at my aisle and told me to get up and leave the plane. I asked why. He said he didn’t know, the police wanted to talk to me.

A million thoughts flashed through my head in a matter of seconds…the most frightening of which that I was about to be thrown in jail along with my husband. I told him no, I would not get off the plane.

The flight attendant heard the anxiety I suppose and came back. While she talked to this man in Spanish, I shot a text message off to my husband. Just as I hit Send, the man told me again I must leave the plane. This time he said, “It’s something about your luggage.”

Amid the sudden terror I was feeling, I didn’t think of reaching for my passport or my purse. The phone was in my hand, the only lifeline to my husband. I held onto that phone tightly and left Dakota and my purse under the seat on the plane.

As soon as my feet touched the Tarmac the man was 30 feet in front of me yelling for me to hurry, run! I did not run.

My eyes landed on a man standing in the distance with my bag on a table in front of him and I realized they were looking for drugs. I think I mumbled under my breath, “They have put drugs in my luggage.”

It was more acceptance than fear. I kept a steady pace to give myself time to think…..deciding what I would do when they arrested me.

The man behind the table explained to me that he needed my permission to open the bag. I just stood there. He asked me to identify myself. “Where is your passport?” The man that took me off the plane was standing just behind my right shoulder. I said, “It’s on the plane.” I didn’t notice the man leave from behind me but they asked me to please state my name. They proceeded to search my bag.

He turned that bag inside out. Clothes and shoes were tumbling out onto the table. He found the little bag with my iPod and running watch and his eyes lit up. He dumped everything out of it and, when it produced nothing, he just looked at me. Finally, in perfect English he said, “All you have are shoes?” I didn’t answer him. This had been ridiculous.

Suddenly, there was a tap on my right shoulder and as I turned, the man that took me off the plane was holding my passport. The realization overwhelmed me. I said to him, “You went into my purse?” He smiled.

We were stuffing things back into the bag when they told me they needed to inspect the dog. Good lord.

They had brought Dudley onto the Tarmac. Planes were taking off over our head, a plane taxied beside us. Dudley was shaking with fear. I realized they were afraid to put their hands inside his kennel and I had to reach inside and move him so they could see around him. I told Dudley I was so sorry.

Finally, they told me to go back to the plane. This time he said, “You have to run. RUN!

Just as I was passing the walkway back to the terminal, a lady stepped outside and said my name, “Mrs. Boyle!” Then my husband came through the door. He ran toward me and we hugged. I cried.

He said:

Things went ok at the ticket counter. The drive to the airport had left us running later than I liked, but we were checked in and on our way to immigration. One of the dogs had been associated with my ticket and the other two on Marci’s.

The customs agent looked at my passport, found my residency Visa and asked to see my national identity card. I didn’t have one.

Ecuador began revising the immigration rules after I had been issued a Visa and there were no identity cards available (sounds crazy, I know).  The government had run out of Censo paper, unbelievably, and that had delayed the process for me. A Censo was required before a Sedula could be issued, which was the national identity card.

I had brought a letter with me from immigration but this agent was having no part of it. The rule was, unless you have the national ID you don’t leave the country.

I explained the situation and told them I was leaving for good. He didn’t care.  “No ID, you can’t leave.” I asked for a supervisor.

I explained everything again. She apologized but said no.

By this time, it’s getting close to midnight. Reluctantly, I called our attorney back in Cuenca. She answered and I quickly told her the situation and handed the phone to the agent. She explained to him that immigration had approved everything – the delays were not my fault. They didn’t care – I would not be allowed to leave the country. I was aggravated and a little irate. They threatened to arrest me.

An airline representative had been paging me with a final boarding call. She came looking for me at immigration because the flight was in jeopardy. They pleaded with the immigration agent. I pleaded. The answer was no.

They moved me into a conference room inside the airport. Our attorney had called her contact from immigration and explained the dilemma. She had told me she would make the call but I held no hope that a beurocrat from the immigration department would intervene at midnight on a Tuesday night. I begged the airline agent to delay the flight. Amazingly, they did.

Airline reps, security people and an immigration executive who I recognized suddenly ran toward us. Joseph, the immigration official, was waving letters, speaking in very rapid Spanish to the immigration agent and his supervisor. Ten minutes later, they told me I could leave.

Still, they took their time clearing me through security but then I ran to the gate, escorted by airline personnel and security guards. Out the door to the Tarmac – there’s Marcia. Tears exposed, she told me how they pulled her off the plane.

The plane had been held for more than 30 minutes. Marci took her seat and I was led to an empty seat in the back. The attendant said to me, “This must be a hell of a story. After we take off, the pilot and I want to hear it.”

A lady in front of Marcia’s seat told her Dakota had cried every second she was off the plane. They had tried to console her to no avail. Everyone seemed curious what had happened to us – we were as well.

Marcia had fallen asleep when I walked up to speak to her. In the quiet darkness of the flight, I asked if she was ok. It would be another 18 hours before we heard each other’s side of these events.