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Buffer Days - Why We Need Them!

Antarctica, the big white continent at the end of the world. Likely, the majority of travelers final continent. Once you have found that perfect ship and perfect itinerary with dates that fall nicely in line with your travel window, everything starts falling into place. Until your travel adviser says, “Okay, we will want to plan at least two days before embarkation for your arrival in Ushuaia.” But wait! This cruise was perfect and the flights line up great… why do I need additional days? My trip to the deep South really reinforced for me these crucial days in ensuring that anyone heading to Antarctica actually makes it to embarkation day stress-free.

The morning of our departure flights out of Montana started off like any other unsuspecting travel day: print boarding passes, go through the tiny regional airport security line, locate your gate and wait for the mad rush of all passengers to line up at the boarding door before their groups are called. But this day was different. We made it to our gate and sat down as usual, giddy about the adventure ahead and ready to get moving. But as the hours went by and no gate attendant arrived, the whole terminal started getting antsy. Questions were being asked and frustrations were erupting. Bad news was looming, I could tell. We were finally updated that due to high winds in North Dakota our plane was delayed and we would be late out of town. When I say late, I mean 4 hours after our scheduled departure to fly to Dallas to connect with our overnight flight to Buenos Aires. There was nothing else we could do but wait and hope the plane arrived in time for us to connect. 

I’ll fast forward here, we did not make it as scheduled. We arrived in Dallas five minutes after our connecting flight gate closed and we watched our plane depart out the terminal window without us on it. Not a pretty picture. We were told our next flight out would be 24 hours later and that due to delays from weather, we would need to find our own hotel for the night oh and also, we don’t get our luggage back. Now, I can roll with delays and changes and I had built in an extra day in Buenos Aires in the off chance this might happen, but spending a night in a Dallas airport hotel room with no change of clothes and my colleague was definitely not the night of tango dancing and eating empanadas in the most beautiful city in the world that I had planned.

The following day, we waited out our time in the airport combing through every corner. We tried new perfumes, found a yoga corner to stretch in and napped for hours in the few lounge chairs we could find that reclined. Our flight the next evening flew as scheduled and we arrived in Buenos Aires a day late - the same day we would be connecting to Ushuaia to get to our cruise. Our arrival time gave us the bare minimum amount of time needed to transfer from Ezeiza to Newbury (the domestic airport) and check-in for our next leg at a running pace. The rest of the flights went off without a hitch and still gave us one day in Ushuaia to relax and recover from jet lag before embarking on our trip aboard the Hebridean Sky.

My takeaway from this experience was the reality that any flight leg in this age of travel can be delayed, cancelled, rescheduled etc completely out of your control - regardless of where you are going or how important it is that you get there on time - it even happens to your travel planners. The last thing you want (and we want for you) is for you to miss your embarkation because there is no catching up to a ship that is mid-Drake Passage.
 
Sunset in Antarctica
Sunset in Antarctica (Kelly Boudreau)

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