This wasn’t supposed to happen. This was totally unexpected, truly disappointing, and amazingly exhausting. The simple fact is American Airlines can’t get you there. They can sell you a ticket, take your baggage, and issue you a boarding pass; but they can’t get you to your destination.
We have been flying back and forth to Santiago Chile for over thirty years. That’s quite a long time. Airlines flying to Chile have come and gone, Chile has transformed itself into a modern, global economy, and technology has made communication easy and affordable. Silicon Valley companies are opening research, development, and support centers there including my husband’s. In addition to our trips to Chile, we have traveled the world for business and pleasure and are not the worse for wear because of it. Of course, there have been delays, connections too close for comfort, and misdirected bags on occasion, but never ever anything like this.
The trip gets off to a slightly rocky start on Friday. Our flight from San Francisco to Dallas where we will connect with Flight 945 to Santiago is delayed. Poor visibility caused by smoke from the forest fires raging in northern California is slowing the landings of incoming planes. But since we have more than three hours and fifteen minutes between connections we are confident we will be OK. Sure enough, when our flight leaves the gate we still have more than an hour and a quarter to get to our next flight. We are good to go. And then, the maleficence starts.
As we taxi out for take off, the pilot unexpectedly comes over the intercom. “We have a water leak and will have to go back to check that no water has gotten into the avionics.” Just to be sure we understand, he reminds us, “Water and electricity don’t mix.” People start to tense. No one likes mechanical problems on planes and we are not the only ones with connections. Many passengers have been shifted to this flight to take a connection to St Louis, Missouri because the direct flight from San Francisco has been held up for several hours due to mechanical problems. Too many mechanical problems I think and then push the thought out of my head.
Back at the gate the mechanics start their check. The avionics are OK but a coffee maker in the forward galley has a leaky hose. A maintenance technician starts to change it. I’m thinking that making our connection is more important than coffee. Please let’s go I say to myself. The technician, a big burly guy, is being extremely solicitous of the flight attendants. I hear him saying, “I need to fix this and clean up to your satisfaction.” Then I hear the purser say, “They hadn’t even emptied the garbage here.” I register her discontent and feel my heart beat quicken. I look at my watch. The minutes are ticking away. I can’t quite believe what is happening. I look at my watch again but still ask Antun, “What time is it?” More than forty-five minutes have passed and we’re still at the gate. Finally, the mechanic leaves and the captain says, “Prepare for departure.” We’re off once more but now wait in line for take off. As we’re climbing to 32 thousand feet, I realize that there will be only 15 minutes to catch the Santiago flight. I tell myself that we’ll make it. I ask a flight attendant if they will be giving us connecting gate information. “We’re connecting to Flight 945, Santiago Chile.” She reassures me. “Oh yes, 30 minutes before landing we’ll have the gates. They know we are coming and that people have connections to make.” I am confident we’ll make it.
Thirty minutes before landing no gate information is available. At twenty minutes, then at ten minutes still no information. Finally just before landing a flight attendant gives six connecting gates. Santiago Chile is not one of them. My heart sinks. But, now everyone is strapped in for landing. The taxi to the gate seems to take forever. In fact we reach the gate at 9:30 PM, the same time as the scheduled departure of our Santiago flight. We strain to make our way out and run up to find the customer service agent. “Santiago Chile?” we call out to him.” It’s gone.” Disbelief is my first reaction. How many times has an airline held an international flight for ten minutes to get all the connecting passengers on board? How many times have airline personnel shepherded passengers to their connections? I recall so many times in the past I can’t count them. But not now. We are not the only ones from our flight. Many others have missed their domestic connections including those going to St Louis. They will have to continue their journey early in the morning. We and four others will have to wait a whole day, 24 hours, to get the next flight to Chile.
But now the customer service agent has good news. They are releasing our bags; we can collect them at baggage claim. Something is something. I am thankful that, at least, I’ll be able to put on my pajamas tonight and wear something more comfortable tomorrow in the humid, one hundred degree weather of Dallas other than the traveling clothes I am wearing meant to keep me warm in cold planes, overnight flights, and arrival to Santiago’s colder than normal winter.
By the time we get to our hotel, It is almost midnight. Tomorrow is another day.
To be continued…
All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum