Monday, July 06, 2009

Voyage to Chile

Entry for 21 June 2009: [Continuing my out of order Blog catch-up]

After a blow-out of a week, I had a hard time getting myself ready to leave for our trip to Chile on Saturday morning. Fortunately, out flight was at midday on Saturday, which enabled us to get ready without too much additional sleep deprivation. The flights from Glasgow to London and from London to Madrid weren’t too bad, but the Santiago flight eventually ended up being delayed overnight until Sunday afternoon, almost 18 hours late. At 2 am Sunday morning we were made to get off the plane and after being herded through the enormous, virtually empty airport in the middle of the night, we were taken to a very nice hotel near the airport for 5 hours of sleep.

We return to the airport around noon on Sunday. Iberia airlines were not very transparent about what was going on, and rumors abounded: e.g., the aircraft was unsafe and the crew were refusing to fly it. While we sat on the plane for several hours, first on Saturday night and then again on Sunday afternoon, we were forced to listen to the same annoying jazz pieces (e.g., “Your feet’s too big”; Norah Jones, etc) again and again, until many of us wanted to cry or scream or both. The Madrid airport is huge, monumental really, a kind of Euro-giganticism, with high, sweeping roofs reminiscent of the Barcelona style of Gaudi, but bigger and without the charm, mostly glass and steel girders, and very little concrete. (Diane said it looked like someone had been let lose with a giant erector set.) The 300+ passengers became more restive as the delay continued and rumors circulated that we might be delayed for yet another day. Somewhat sinisterly, three armed police showed up at the gate on Sunday afternoon, apparently to deal with potential passenger unrest. A few people angrily demanded their luggage and money back. Others burst into tears, like one young Scottish violinist on her way to perform a Shostakovich opera with the Santiago Philharmonic. Over the hours, however, a comraderie developed among many of the passengers, and when we were herded back onto the plane on Sunday afternoon about 4pm, it was a strange experience to recognize the faces of so many people. Eventually, they finished completely replacing the computer system in the aging Airbus, and we were able to take off.

I was going to say that after all that, the flight to Santiago was an anti-climax, but actually there were a couple of bad moments: First, it took forever for our old, heavily-loaded plane to lift off the runway and finally reach cruising altitude. Then, as we approached the coast of Brazil, where another, newer Airbus had gone down 3 weeks earlier, we hit severe turbulence, and another anxious time.

[Footnote, July 6: Together with the difficulty they gave us rebooking to go home, we both vowed never the fly on Iberia again. “Next time, take LAN Chile,” our Chilean friends told us.]

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