SFO International Terminal, Wikipedia by user Coolcaesar, CC3 license, fotoeins.com

10600 km and 47 consecutive hours of travel, door-to-door

A trip from North America to Chile typically takes 24 to 30 hours door-to-door, depending upon connections at a hub airport. The following is a tale of 47 hours of travel from San Francisco, California to La Serena, Chile.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1030h PST (GMT-8), East Bay : BART from El Cerrito Plaza to SFO.  There’s a lot to like about BART rapid-transit, especially when the train goes through the tunnel beyond San Bruno and comes out onto a thin cement viaduct which appears to hang gingerly over US-101/Bayshore Freeway.

1230h PST, SFO (San Francisco Airport) : plane is late; scheduled departure delayed by 30 min.  It’s raining and the ceiling or cloud-deck is low over San Francisco airport – no big surprise there.

1400h PST, SFO : after some problems which had nothing to do with the plane itself, flight leaves 45 min late.  No problem; I’ve a scheduled 2.5-hour layover in Dallas.

1600h PST, in the air over eastern California : plane descends below cruising altitude, we’re told we’ve got a problem with cabin pressure, and we’re landing in Las Vegas.  No oxygen masks were deployed, and everybody was calm and breathing normally.

1645h MST (GMT-8), LAS (Las Vegas McCarran Airport) : Checkmark one – plane lands safely at Las Vegas airport.  The pilot explains there was slow pressure leakage, but they couldn’t localize the origin; for safety reasons, the pilot decided to descend and land.  All pax are asked to leave the plane, as firemen/safety crew board the plane.  Checkmark two – we get to leave the plane, and everyone’s in the terminal.

1730h MST, LAS : I call American Airlines’ call center to find out if there are other options, but since I checked luggage, the agent advises best to stay put and see what happens.  Besides, the daily AA945 DFW to SCL flight, which usually leaves at 9pm from Dallas and I thought I was going to miss, has been delayed by 11 hours to 8am the following morning.   Someone comments that it’s a holiday weekend in the U.S. about which I had completely forgotten.  Swell.

1930h MST, LAS : after a couple of hours of increasingly cautious optimism, we’ve the green light to fly onto DFW. We’re asked to board the plane “quickly”, as the present crew is about to reach their time-limit.

2030h MST, somewhere between Arizona and Texas : … zzzzz …

2330h CST (GMT-6), DFW (Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport) : plane lands at Dallas Fort-Worth airport.  Pax are given hotel/meal vouchers, and the weary folks pile into shuttles, and pour out into the lobby of the Ramada (DFW North).  Oh look, there’s a Denny’s, but I’m too tired to even think about chicken-fried steak and a milkshake. I’ll be up at 0530h to catch the 0615h morning shuttle back to DFW to see if I can catch my delayed morning-flight to SCL …

Friday, January 14

0630h CST, DFW : Time to check in.  The nice agent says my DFW-SCL portion was canceled when I called American Airlines call center from Las Vegas last night.  Yikes.  “No worry”, she says.  She calls a couple of people to get the proper seating codes, and she calmly types away, trying to insert my two final flight segments ‘back’ into the itinerary.  After about 15 minutes, there’s an “aha!” from her side of the counter, and I sigh with relief.

0830h CST, DFW : Flight AA945 is on its way to Santiago de Chile.  It’s just another step forward, even if the “step” is 7800 kilometres in distance. Completely uneventful flight, and zzzzz …

2015h CLST (GMT-3), SCL (Santiago airport) : Usually, flight AA945 is an overnight flight which arrives in Santiago after sunrise. The 11.5-hour delay has flipped the script. With a beautiful orange-hue to the early-evening summer sky, the plane lands safely in Santiago airport. Border control is a breeze (with my Chilean work visa), and my luggage is already on the carousel. So far, so good. My work-colleague P was also on the Dallas-Santiago flight, and thanks to his vastly superior Spanish, we try to get the attention of an AA agent to see if we can get our hotel/meal vouchers, because there’s no way we’re flying to La Serena tonight.  An agent tells us his colleague will be on their way shortly.  We head on over to the AA counter near the luggage carousels.  Another agent comes by about 15 minutes later, and asks us to wait in the terminal land-side, outside customs control.  Customs is a breeze, because I declared my one jar of strawberry jam : no granola, seeds, or turtle-shells.  And then we wait, and we wait some more …

2145h CLST, SCL : The second AA agent finally appears with our hotel/meal/travel vouchers, and we find out we’re staying at the Sheraton San Cristobal on the southeastern flank of the hill at the edge of Bellavista in Santiago.  We get our shuttle-vouchers verified, and we get multiple slips of paper for our shuttles to and from the hotel.

2230h CLST, SCL : After the usual wait about what shuttle we’re taking and about how full our shuttle is going to be, our vehicle finally leaves the airport.  As there are three other pax in the shuttle, I tell P we’re probably going to be last.   I was so happy to be wrong as …

2250h CLST, Providencia, Santiago : … we’re dropped off first, and we arrive in the hotel to check-in.  I ask the gentleman at the hotel counter if we can use our meal voucher at one of the hotel restaurants. No, unfortunately, the restaurants are closing in 5 minutes, but the bar is available. OK, whatever : dump stuff in room, head to the bar, please give me a burger, fries, beer. Eat, drink, be merry … zzzzzz …

Saturday, January 15

1030h CLST, Providencia, Santiago : Up at 10am, pack what little I unpacked.  After check-out, I finally get to see how the hotel appears in daylight – not bad, very fancy – nice pool, too, and are … those … Argentinian/Brazilian pool-bunnies? Sadly, before I learn the answer to this very important question, the shuttle arrives to take me back to SCL airport.

1200h CLST, SCL : At Starbuck’s in the airport’s national terminal for their free WiFi, I’ve begun collecting notes to write this story of hilarity.

1400h CLST, LSC (La Serena Airport) : Flight LA312 arrives in LSC early. At the 47th hour of travel, I’m in the apartment at long last: unwrapping, unpacking. I head outside to my green front-lawn, looking up into that bright glowing ball high in the sky. The sky is clear and blue, there’s a slight breeze off the Pacific, and the air temperature on this summer afternoon is a very usable +22C/72F. With a beer in hand, I finally begin to unwind, over 48 hours after leaving my friends’ home in the East Bay.

Less than 24 hours later, I’m on a shuttle up to Cerro Pachon. The mountain is at an elevation of 2800 metres (9000 feet) in the lower Andes, and I’m at the telescope to begin my nighttime duty-function shift for a number of nights. Them’s the breaks, and time to get right back to work, and tackle the 500+ messages in my work mailbox …

LAN plane on tarmac, LSC airport, fotoeins.com

This post was originally posted 17 January 2011, and appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com as http://wp.me/p1BIdT-T.

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