It is the flight that none of them wanted to be boarding today. The destination? Home.
But as eight teams bade a reluctant farewell to the FIFA U-20 World Cup, there was no secret as to why some left with long faces and others with philosophical shrugs. Status and expectations differed greatly within the eliminated octet, after all, with humble debutants suffering the same fate as the tournament's record champions.
Argentina were certainly the most high-profile team to bow out at this early stage. La Albiceleste not only had the history of a record six U-20 titles, but arrived as favourites to claim a seventh, having become South American champions with a stylish and star-studded side. Yet despite beginning promisingly - with one of those stars, Angel Correa, opening the tournament with a brace - they headed for home having been unable to beat Panama, Ghana or Austria.
Coach Humberto Grondona was nonetheless defiant in the face of this disappointment, stating unequivocally: "We don’t deserve to be out of the World Cup at this stage."
In taking this approach, the Argentina coach found himself in a minority of one. Among the other eliminated teams, even those who arrived with similarly grand ambitions, there was an acceptance that group tables tend not to lie. Leonardo Pipino, coach of the Panama side who helped oust the Argentinians, was among many who offered a candid assessment of his players. "They are good enough to play in the CONCACAF region, but internationally they lack the necessary experience," he acknowledged after a 1-0 defeat to Ghana sealed their fate.
Midfielder Francisco Narbon, meanwhile, expressed the hope that, while exposing this particular problem, New Zealand 2015 might also produce the solution. As he told FIFA.com: "Thanks to this tournament hopefully a lot of our players, including myself, will move somewhere outside of Panama. That would help us a lot. When you look at Argentina, they have players at Atletico Madrid and Manchester City, whereas I play for my university team."
I told them that that's a good thing, being disappointed at not going further. It shows that they are hungry and competitive.
Like Narbon, most of the homeward-bound players and coaches were able to draw positives from the tournament, and to reflect on a worthwhile education. "This tournament is all about learning lessons," said Honduras coach Jorge Jimenez. "My players have learned what it means to play under pressure - and to handle that pressure. That experience will be priceless for their future careers."
Jimenez's Qatar counterpart, Felix Sanchez, while disappointed not to build on his team's title-winning campaign in Asia, was similarly stoical. "It has been useful to judge ourselves against the best, experiencing games against top-level teams from Africa, Europe and South America. Some of our players will now join Qatar's Olympic team and they will be better for this experience."
Others drew more specific lessons. Sergio Almaguer, coach of Mexico - one of four continental champions to be eliminated - pinpointed areas for improvement at both ends of the park. "This has been a tournament of set plays, and we’ve conceded four goals [from dead ball situations]," he said. "In attack, we just weren't clinical enough."
An Ye-Gun, the man in charge of Korea DPR, also had no hesitation in pinpointing his side's key weaknesses. "What's still missing compared to the top teams? Individual skills. We will work hard on that in the future, and on our defence too."
For some, merely participating in New Zealand 2015 represented a stunning achievement. Who would have expected Myanmar, for example, to succeed in a continental competition in which the likes of Japan, Australia and Korea Republic all failed? But their German coach, Gerd Zeise, is already eyeing the next stage in their development. He said. "I think we have to look to some European teams and see what they are doing better than us. We have a lot of homework to do. This tournament was very helpful but it also hurt us because we learned that we are just at the start of our development."
The same might be said of Myanmar's only fellow debutants, Fiji, who nonetheless departed having won their first-ever match at a FIFA tournament. Goalkeeper Misiwane Nairube spoke of that 3-0 victory over Honduras as "extraordinary" and "the realisation of an amazing dream". But it was the fact that Nairube and his team-mates were crestfallen at not following that up with another win yesterday that most pleased coach Frank Farina.
"The players are very disappointed," he said, "but I told them that that's a good thing, being disappointed at not going further. It shows that they are hungry and competitive. Plus, they are young men. They'll get over it and they'll be back - bigger and better."
It is said that more is learned in defeat than in victory in any case, and all of the eight eliminated teams will be aiming to bear that out.