Welcome to Chile – Again!

7 Jun

You may recall our first foray into Chile on this trip when I spent time in the company of the charming SAG quarantine officers. As fascinating as that was, our most recent experience in Chile, the third of this trip, was even more remarkable courtesy of LAN Airlines.

Retracing our initial steps to return to Australia via New Zealand we travelled LAN from Buenos Aires to Santiago to connect with the LAN801 flight (code share with Qantas) to Auckland. We planned to have a relaxing couple of days before hopping across the pond home to Brisbane.

A twelve hour layover (11:30am to 11:30pm) in Santiago was unavoidable due to scheduling so we made the most of it by lolling about the Airport Holiday Inn, straight across the road from the international terminal. We ate well, drank and watched the French Open Tennis and the Pre-World Cup friendlies live on the big screens in the restaurant and bar. So far so good.

20140608-081628-29788882.jpgCome boarding time,10:30pm at the departure gate, staff advised us in Spanish (very few LAN ground staff on duty spoke English and those that did were excrutiatingly bad at it) that there would be a delay due to operational reasons and we would receive an update in an hour. The next update gave no more information and we were again told we would be updated in further hour. It was now 12:30am. At this point a staff member pointed us in the direction of a cafe and said ‘Show your boarding pass and you will get food’.

Stuart persisted with his inquiries in his most polite English manner as to the cause of the delay and we managed to compile a story from several different sources which ran something like this: one of the staff had fallen about three metres in the vicinity of the plane and had been injured. The site was therefore now a workplace health and safety accident scene and LAN had to comply with regulations requiring inspectors to investigate. The plane could not depart until that process was complete. At 12:30am the inspectors had still not arrived. We concluded that we would not be flying that night/morning so went to get food.

The queue for the cafetaria food was thirty metres long and incuded families of very young children and babes in arms standing in line. Two waiters were slowly toasting wraps on a two grill toaster and offering them to passengers. I went up to the woman who seemed to be in charge and told her in very plain Spanish that she should be helping the families of young children and the elderly first and please do something about it. She told me to calm down. I persisted until she agreed. I waited to see if she did anything and of course she did not.

We returned to the gate at 1am to find that LAN801 passengers were being directed back through immigration and told they needed to collect their baggage as were to be taken by bus to the Sheraton Hotel downtown for the night. No announcement in Spanish or English and still no official explanation of why our flight was delayed. The best we could get out of them was that our flight would leave at 4pm that day.

Now we had a planeload of people, including several from the previous day who had for various reasons not been able to get their flight and had already had a night at the aiport hotel, having to be reprocessed by Chilean Immigration, baggage rescreened by customs and quarantine, and waiting in disorderly lines outside on the curb in the cold morning air for buses to show up. LAN staff were thin on the ground and made no attempt to ensure people knew where they had to go. We’re sure some people ended up spending the night in the airport. There was no triaging of elderly, families with babies and toddlers, disabled….nada!

At 2:15am the first of several large buses pulled up. We managed to get on it and at 2:45am we were dropped at the Sheraton. Again it was every man for himself and one person at reception to check us in. This is the box of food they provided.

20140608-081834-29914093.jpgNote the can of Coca Cola and the flabby white bread cheese and ham sandwich. We had our strategy down pat by now so by 3am we were in bed and praying for sleep.

It’s now 3:30pm and it looks like our flight is going to depart around 4pm but we’ll believe it when we’re airborne. In the interim I’ve had more unpleasant encounters with incompetent and rude airport and LAN staff and determined that they will never again receive my business. Qantas needs to find a new airline partner in Latin America as far as I am concerned.

We’ve verified the original story and indeed a female baggage handler did fall three metres from the plane and broke her arm. That plane is still being investigated by three different aviation authorities. Why LAN could not have communicated that early, bilingually and clearly to all affected and put in place what must be a common protocol to efficiently and sensitively manage delays is beyond comprehension. And why we have received nothing approaching an apology for the delay is puzzling. Are you listening LAN?

As an aside the Chilean World Cup football team is two gates down awaiting their flight to Belo Horizonte. We watched them beat Northern Ireland convincingly last night and wish them well in the competition.

20140608-081930-29970419.jpgPost Script: Flight 801 departed at 4:30pm and all went smoothly. It was nowhere near full so we were able to stretch out and sleep when we wanted. Grateful for small mercies! Now we’re in Auckland relishing the warmth of the people and the beauty and ease of this place.

20140608-082112-30072954.jpg
Our last view of the Andes.

2 Responses to “Welcome to Chile – Again!”

  1. Michelle Noble June 9, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Oh Sharon ! What a time you’ve had.
    I have made a note never to fly with LAN airlines and will probably give Chile a wide berth too – particularly as I don’t speak spanish. By the way, did you know that the phrase in French to speak a language badly is to speak it like a spanish cow!!!!!! Now may be THEY talk sense after all!
    M&B.xxx

    • Sharon Tickle June 9, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

      Ha ha, very good Michelle. Please don’t write off Chile though, it’s a great country to visit. Hope you get lots of lovely sunshine in the mountains this summer! Sxx

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