GREETINGS FROM SANTIAGO, CHILE

GREETINGS FROM SANTIAGO, CHILE

On Monday October 5, 2009 Lita and I left Seattle on American Airlines on our way to Dallas and there to switch planes to go to Santiago, Chile. We were to catch a 9:00 pm flight from Dallas to Santiago. Our plans called for us to spend three days in lovely Santiago and then fly to Argentina for several days in the wine country. From there we were to go on to Buenos Aires for a plaintiff trial lawyers meeting where I am to speak and then home again.

Things went smoothly after taking off from Seattle on our way to Dallas until we were somewhere near Salt Lake when a very loud  banging sound, like a plane door slaming, was heard all over the airplane and the plane lurched. We were seated in the bulkhead seats and it  was quite loud, but it originated from somewhere in the rear of the aircraft where it was even louder. In a short time the pilot announced that they were investigating, but that none of the instruments showed any problem nor was there any control problem. Most of us were in white knuckle mode when he then announced we were making an emergency landing in Salt Lake to check the aircraft.

As we made a somewhat sharp descent the flight attendant told Lita and me that since we were in the front seat we would have to Santiago assist her with the emergency evacuation chute should it be necessary. Let me say, that did not help calm us. It took less then half an hour for us to come in for landing in Salt Lake. Fire trucks with lights flashing and other emergency vehicles were waiting. We made a normal landing and stopped on the runway. Vehicles circled the plane looking for damage and after another wait we taxied to the gate. At  the gate we waited in the airplane for forty five minutes while American figured out what to do with us. Airlines and maintenance people came aboard to talk to the captain. The door to the cockpit was open and I could hear the captain describe the loud bang and jolt to the plane. He was clearly not taking it lightly and made it clear the plane was not going to fly on, at least with him on it. I heard them say they also had no idea what caused it and speculated it was perhaps an internal freight elevator that fell.

After that wait, it was announced we could de-board and American representatives would help us while they figured out what to do. We were first off so I went directly to the two American representatives at the desk for assistance since we were going to miss our Dallas connection. Without changing an expression of total disinterest, one of two American representative women ripped off a small printed form from a pad of forms. She handed it to me with a 1 800 number and said "Here, call this number. I can´t help you." So, Lita began calling to see about changing our Santiago leg since it was clear we were not going to make the 9:00 pm flight out of Dallas. People were milling around after an announcement this plane wasn´t going to fly and they were deciding whether to arrange another plane or have everyone spend the night on American.

After another long wait it was announced another plane would be brought in with estimated departure at 11:00 pm for Dallas. Soon a long line began forming in front of the two American Airlines women to make various arrangements. There were only two people from American to accommodate a sold out airplane with some people wanting to cancel, others making other arrangements etc. That line was not moving and there were no other American representatives anywhere at that gate area. When one of the airlines representative left the desk to go to the plane I caught her as she returned and said we would not be flying out and wanted our luggage. She directed me to a down stairs baggage area where she said we would find the baggage. Lita and took off for the one she indicated had our luggage. There was no luggage there when we arrived, but we saw several of our bags being pulled away with other bags from the flight and told them we needed our bags. We followed them to where bags were being readied for loading on the later flight and a nice man went into the baggage area to look for the one missing bag of ours which he found. From there we caught a cab to a nearby hotel, had several stiff drinks, dinner and went to bed. At the airport the next day, we learned that the flight didn´t get out  at 11:00 pm but rather it left around 1:00 am in the morning which would have put people in Dallas at 4:00 am. We were very glad we chose to spend the night and were fortunate to have located our luggage on our own. We were also glad we had been able to all the changes in our schedule without any help from American. Lita was wonderful in doing this on the phone while I watched the long line not move. With the help of our travel agent Inger we made all the changes, but we did lose one day in Santiago. 

We spent the next morning in Salt Lake with a car and driver. We enjoyed the visitor´s center at the Mormon Temple with its large scale model of Jerusalem and displays. We also went to Park City to walk around. It was a ghost town without tourist´s. Then  we went to the airport for our 3:00 pm flight to Dallas. We arrived in Dallas on American without any problem, but with another delay due to weather. We Caught our next leg on American to Santiago leaving at 9:00 pm and arrived in Santiago at 8:00 am the next morning. After paying $126 each as an entry fee to Chile, we got our luggage and stood in a long line waiting to run it through an Xray machine and then found the hotel driver. A thirty minute ride later we were at the Ritz Carltonin down town Santiago. The weather was warm and pleasant. It is their Spring now. We checked in and unpacked for the two days we will be here and walked around. We had lunch at a good Italian cafe and then napped after the all night flight from Texas. Tonight we eat here in the hotel and will do our sightseeing tomorrow.

In the meantime, I feel the situation was very badly handled by American. The should not have kept us on the airplane when the captain made it clear the plane, at least with him, wasn´t flying any further. They should have had adequate representatives to assist and it should not have been a rather surly person who just handed people a 1 800 number. They should have made more announcements as to what was going on and given the seriousness of what caused us to make an emergency landing have been far more accommodating. I am glad to be alive and in Santiago today

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