# Which country did my sister visit?

My sister is always talking about pilots. And her passengers. And planes in general. She's a flight attendant, see, and she is OBSESSED with all things aeronautical (always has been). On the rare occasions that she's back in the country long enough to come round for dinner, conversation invariably turns to her travels and I have to feign interest, when all I really want to do is crawl under the table and go to sleep.

Yesterday was one of those occasions. In an attempt at being a supportive sibling I took a deep breath and inquired about how her job was going, asking her where she'd gone on her latest trip.

To my surprise, my sister passed me an envelope. "Thank you for asking," she said, with a smile. "I do realise it takes a great deal of effort to cope with all my chatter - ah, I'll start waffling if I'm not careful. In short, I appreciate the attempt, brother. And so here's a little gift for you - I know you like puzzles..." - my eyes lit up - "...If you can solve this, you'll find out where I went on my last trip. And I promise I shan't talk about work any more this dinnertime."

She'd made me a puzzle! And as for conversation she was true to her word! I put the envelope to one side, unopened, for the duration of our meal and we had a really lovely evening together, just like old times. As soon as she'd gone I tore into it eagerly and soon cracked the puzzle (naturally), but here's the question - can you? There were just two items inside the envelope:

1. A seating diagram headed "My designated section on the flight"

Click image to enlarge detail (extraneous content removed). Text version of seating plan available in source.

2. A handwritten note, which read...

This particular flight was genuinely lovely - I got to know all of my passengers really well. I even remembered to take their in-flight meal orders at the right point of the journey (not always a given)! We flew through the airspace of five different countries (each of which shared the same specific connection with the country of my final destination), and just before we landed I even got time to practise a little of my Spanish (even though they don't speak it there).

Of course, the details of her puzzle were fictitious (you'd have a hard job flying through just the five countries she was referring to, for one thing!). But it all fell into place in the end, with everything pointing towards one particular country.

Which was it?

TASK: Solve my sister's puzzle to identify the country to which she most recently travelled. Show me your working!

• Having worked out the first part, I have no idea where to go and these tags are confusing me :P Nice so far though! – Beastly Gerbil Jul 31 at 16:58
• @BeastlyGerbil Ha! Take a closer look at what you've produced so far... – Stiv Jul 31 at 18:06
• I had a few questions with regarding to your post. Iḿ probably overthinking it but here they are in rot13: 1) Ner jr nffhzvat gung gur cynar vf fgnegvat naq raqvat ng na vagreangvbany nvecbeg? 2) Nffhzvat gung gur nvecynar vf tbvat va n "qverpg" (fubegrfg qvfgnapr orgjrra fgneg naq raq) cngu, vf guvf cngu qverpg ba n Rhpyvqrna fhesnpr (yvxr n tybor) be n Pnegrfvna fhesnpr (yvxr n syng 2Q znc)? 3) Qbrf gur 5 pbhagevrf nvefcnpr vapyhqr gung bs gur fgneg naq raq? 4) Ner jr pbhagvat ure svany qrfgvangvba nf ure ubzr pbhagel? Phm grpuavpnyyl gung vf ure svany vagraqrq qrfgvangvba. – Ankit Jul 31 at 19:41
• @Ankit I'm afraid that none of your questions will lead you to the answer, sorry! Re 1 and 2: There is no need to plot the route; the identity of a country is concealed within the puzzle. Re 3: Note the sentence, "you'd have a hard job flying through just the five countries she was referring to" - it's more a 'mechanism' for the puzzle (which will become clear later) rather than an aid to plotting the route (which, again, is irrelevant). Re 4: No lateral thinking - you're looking for 'the country to which she most recently travelled' in the colloquial sense (don't count home). – Stiv Jul 31 at 20:13
• @stiv lol ok. I have a bad habit of overthinking things lol. – Ankit Jul 31 at 20:42

The country your sister most recently visited is:

NEPAL

The reasoning:

The first thing to notice is that each "passenger" is actually the name of an airport. Many are actual names, while several are geographic names which can be split to look like plausible names, e.g., Nanwalek becomes Nan Walek. Since they are airports, it is natural to look up the three letter IATA codes for them, and substituting gives you the following grid:

 A N M N A S P E W
C E W T L V T S R
H T V S J U O S R
G E O P A N A M A
D T I B H D P V D
M L L E B A N O N
E S L U N A O P S
F N G O U A P V E
B I K O T P P S O
I H R M W C C U C
L I M T I U N E U
J C K V C E W D H
K E B S O L D G F  

What's next:

This looks like a word search, and the fact that "PANAMA" and "LEBANON" pop out seem to confirm that. So you spend a half-hour looking at the grid and find no other country names. Then you spend another half hour cursing the day Stiv was born. Then you look at the first column, and notice that each of the first 13 letters appears only once, so you do the natural thing and sort the rows to get the grid:

 A N M N A S P E W
B I K O T P P S O
C E W T L V T S R
D T I B H D P V D
E S L U N A O P S
F N G O U A P V E
G E O P A N A M A
H T V S J U O S R
I H R M W C C U C
J C K V C E W D H
K E B S O L D G F
L I M T I U N E U
M L L E B A N O N 

Moving on:

Clearly you're onto something, because the right column reads WORD SEARCH FUN. A little word search fun later, you obtain the list of countries: LEBANON (last row L->R), LIECHTENSTEIN (second column B->T), MOLDOVA (starts top row, third column, diagonally down right), PANAMA (fourth row L->R), SWEDEN (starts 8th row, fourth column, diagonally down right).

The last step:

Note that we haven't used the "flags" tag yet. So spend about half an hour poring over the flags of the five countries identified, to discover that they have nothing in common, and then look at all the other flags to discover that they do not each have something in common with yet another flag. (Though Haiti seemed really close: its background is identical with Liechtenstein's, it also has a tree like Lebanon's, but that's about the limit.) So you look at the grid for additional clues, and if you look at it too long, you notice something...

The countries that you've found are laid out in a shape that looks like the flag of NEPAL!

Some final notes:

Per OP below, a couple more things to find. In the text, there are two "Cryptic Family Reunion"-style clues to how to get started. First, in the description is the phrase "In short, I appreciate the attempt, brother", which clues IATA=I (A)ppreciate (T)he (A)ttempt. Second, in the description is the line "My sister is always talking about pilots.". I'm fairly sure this clues AIRPORTS, since "always" could be e'er, so "always talking" could be AIR and pilots may clue PORTS (as in "port your helm"). Per OP's comment, the wordplay is actually much smarter: IATA = (I)s (A)lways (T)alking (A)bout (pilots cluing the first letters).

Regarding the handwritten note:

Per OP, the note is an obscured version of how to solve the puzzle. In particular:

This particular flight was genuinely lovely - I got to know all of my passengers really well. - The first step in solving was to identify the airport associated with each name, which (for me) involved searching for the name, sometimes with variant spacings, to identify the IATA codes needed.

I even remembered to take their in-flight meal orders at the right point of the journey (not always a given)! - "in-flight" and "orders" definitely describe the need to reorder the rows to create the word search.

We flew through the airspace of five different countries (each of which shared the same specific connection with the country of my final destination), - @AndrewSavinykh noted that all of the countries found have exactly two neighbors (LEBANON - Israel and Syria; LIECHTENSTEIN - Austria and Switzerland; MOLDOVA - Romania and Ukraine; PANAMA - Colombia and Costa Rica; SWEDEN - Norway and Finland; NEPAL - China and India)

and just before we landed I even got time to practise a little of my Spanish (even though they don't speak it there). - @Tjeerd noted that there are several Spanish words in the word find as well, particularly including LUNA (moon) and SOL (sun). The sun and the moon are the emblems on Nepal's flag, and in fact the words are placed in roughly the correct places where the emblems appear in the flag.

A final easter egg:

The OP most likely picked NEPAL as the answer because it is an anagram of PLANE.

I absolutely loved this puzzle! It hit the exact blend of "curse you" and "a-ha!" moments to make for a really enjoyable time. I sincerely admire the craft that goes into all of your puzzles, Internet friend! Thanks again, @Stiv!

• rot13(Znlor vs lbh ant n enz?) – S.S. Anne Aug 1 at 4:34
• Thanks @Stiv. Now that I've slept I've got some ideas. And I didn't really curse the day you were born...this is a great puzzle :-) – Jeremy Dover Aug 1 at 11:29
• @Stiv rot13(gjb ynaq obeqref)? – Andrew Savinykh Aug 1 at 23:08
• Not sure what you mean by that. It says We flew through the airspace of five different countries (each of which shared the same specific connection with the country of my final destination) - this looks like a direct question/answer type of thing, what other tie are you looking for? – Andrew Savinykh Aug 1 at 23:42
• "Since they are airports, it is natural to look up the three letter IATA codes for them" - not to mention the "In short, I appreciate the attempt" in the converstaion. – Vicky Aug 2 at 12:54