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12 February 2014 @ 03:00 pm
A cursed trip home from Easter Island  

Originally published at Scott Edelman. Please leave any comments there.

We’re back home from our trip to Easter Island and Santiago, and I’ve got a ton to tell you about the amazing sites we saw, the great food we ate, the wonderful people we met, and more. But rather than start at the beginning, I want to share with you the strange way our trip ended.

None of the four flights that took us home from Easter Island went the way it was supposed to, and though the first flight went awry in our favor, the others—hoo-boy!—did not.

We were scheduled to return to Santiago from Easter Island on Friday … but didn’t. Our flight was cancelled because the inbound plane intended to carry us back to mainland Chile had to turn back two hours in after a passenger reportedly had a heart attack. Which meant that we got another day in paradise thanks to LAN Airlines, which paid for our hotel room Friday night, transported us there and back, and gave us vouchers to cover our lunch and dinner.

Here’s the view we had into a caldera from the patio outside our hotel room.


We were thrilled. Stranded on Easter Island for another day? Bring it on!

Unfortunately, our luck did not hold when it later came time to leave Santiago …

After more fun in Santiago (which I’ll tell you all about later), we arrived at the airport early Sunday evening for our TAM Airlines flight to Sao Paolo, where we were to catch a U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte and then change for a plane to Dulles. Everything seemed to be going well in Santiago—we checked our bags and were given our boarding passes, hung out in the VIP lounge for an hour or so, which we could because our tickets were Business Class (thank you, frequent flyer miles!), and got to the gate on time.

But then, when we went to we board the plane, the TAM agent refused us entry. She pulled us aside, and said we wouldn’t be able to fly—we supposedly weren’t allowed to change planes in Sao Paulo without a Brazilian visa. I explained that we had no visa, and none was required, since we were merely going to walk from one gate to another, never entering the country, the same way we didn’t need to get a visa for Columbia when we changed planes in Bogota at the start of the trip. But the gate agent disagreed. And her supervisor disagreed as well.

We were told that they’d have to call Sao Paulo directly to see whether TAM could get permission for us to fly. At no point did any of the gate agents express sympathy for our situation. In fact, they acted annoyed whenever we tried to ask any questions. The gate emptied out until no one remained except the two of us and multiple agents. No one appeared concerned or to be taking any action. Instead, they seemed to pay more attention to neatening the kiosk and preparing to move on to another gate. We feared being abandoned.

As the clock ticked down, we grew more and more worried that TAM would let the plane take off without us. Finally, with only a minute or two to go, a phone call came through from Sao Paolo saying we were cleared to fly, and we ran down the ramp toward the plane. We collapsed in our seats, humiliated, angry, and afraid they’d change their minds and pull us off the plane before takeoff.

I guess there had to be some karmic balance restored after our wonderful extra day on Easter Island, but did the universe really need to have us feeling like characters from Argo?

Once in Sao Paolo, we thought our troubles were over, but after we were in our seats onboard the U.S. Airways flight to Charlotte, it was delayed for want of a functioning fire extinguisher. An inspection had discovered a leak, U.S. Airways had no backup, and we had to wait several hours for an extra to be found. Luckily, United Airlines was willing to lend one of theirs, but the delay still meant we wouldn’t land in Charlotte until after our flight for Dulles had taken off.

When I checked email upon landing, I saw we’d been rebooked for a flight to Dulles early the following morning, even though there was a flight later that night out of Charlotte. My guess is that the system automatically rebooked in that manner to keep us in Business Class, but since the flight was so short, and we were desperate to get home, we sacrificed that status and were able to get on the 8:00 p.m. flight and get to Dulles only a few hours later than planned.

Cosmic payback for the wonders we experienced the rest of our vacation, where things went so right for us every step of the way that something inevitably had to go way wrong? Perhaps.

You’ll be able to judge for yourself if you check back later to learn exactly how unbelievably wonderful our trip really was.