Sabbatical [Day 6] Bankrupt Airline

Go directly to Buenos Aires. Do not pass Montevideo. Lose $500

Alex and I couldn’t seem to find the check-in station for Pluna Airlines at the Santiago airport. Finally, we decided we should ask at the information booth. We were told “I’m sorry, Pluna doesn’t exist anymore”.

What? Our airline doesn’t exist? No puede ser! I asked again – she again said something to the same effect. The airline went bankrupt two weeks ago, and there are no longer flights to be taken. They were supposed to be calling passengers to arrange alternate travel arrangements, but we were certainly never given any notice. No e-mail, no phone call, nothing. So much for basic customer service.

So here we are, at the airport with a phone number of a now-defunct, employee-less airline. I bought travel insurance, but Alex didn’t. We have different credit card travel insurance coverage. So, now what? I don’t want to spend another day in Santiago trying to figure stuff out or wandering around a smoggy city. We went to a random (TAM) airline and asked how much it was to go to Montevideo or Buenos Aires. They directed us to LAN, where a very friendly lady explained the Pluna situation in a bit more detail, and offered us a round-trip flight to Buenos Aires for about $400/person. Considering the circumstances, we weren’t in a huge position to complain about that price or availability, and made the reservation which we had until 12am to decide whether or not we actually wanted to pay for.

Off to a cafe with wifi. Cortado y té caliente, por favor. What does one do without internet in a situation like this?
Alex called the Buenos Aires hotel to re-book it to today via Skype. I called the Montevideo hotel to cancel it for today via T-mobile’s wifi calling. For this change, we may still be charged a night penalty. I called the credit card company to see about cancelling the charges to Pluna airlines, which they seemed to suggest would be no problem. We’ll see whether or not my travel insurance or credit card covers the price difference for the plane, or cancelled hotel reservation costs or anything.

So, travel disaster was mostly averted. We’re out some extra cash (thanks, Argentine reciprocity fee!) Our Montevideo/Buenos Aires itinerary seems to be reversed. We don’t yet know how we’ll be getting to Rio de Janeiro since that, too, was supposed to be on Pluna airlines. Here’s hoping we find something fairly inexpensive last-minute.

This was all a very eye-opening experience. Several years ago, I was baffled when I heard that Mexicana Airlines failed, and suddenly completely stopped service. No flights were in operation, employees went jobless, and brand new airplanes sat unused, essentially seized by the government. In the US, our airlines seem to go bankrupt every 15 years or so. You could probably set your calendar year by it. However, when our airlines fail, we provide a safety net called Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which allows the company to continue to operate under a highly regulated and monitored mode. This way, people don’t lose their jobs, passengers don’t lose their transportation, and the repercussions aren’t felt throughout the hotels, airports, taxi services, and entire tourism industry.

As costly, awful, frustrating and annoying as it is when companies go bankrupt, I’m now convinced that letting large companies like that fail is absolutely the worse way to go for both the social being and economic welfare of a state. Perhaps that little piece of law is part of what makes the US such a strong nation. Way to go, lawmakers & economists!

So long, Santiago. And so long, Pluna. You inconsiderate and incompetent cabrones.

A reason to not be excited for the Continental – United merger.

AA Flight - $285. United flight - $568Recently pricing nonstop flights to Chicago – I found this somewhat surprising. What makes United think they can charge 2x the price for nearly exactly the same flight between Austin and Chicago? I’ve seen this pretty frequently from United lately. I’m not excited to see what they’re going to be doing to Continental’s prices or quality of service. I guess I can pretty much give up hopes of ever being able to fly nonstop to Cleveland again – despite Continental’s hub there.

National Bike Bill

After my message to Senator Hutchinson regarding offshore drilling (which I received a very generic who-cares lets lower gas prices e-mail from), I thought I’d try again with another bill that is set to move through the Senate tomorrow. This one is a bit less controversial. I can’t imagine why somebody would not support it, unless they feel that perhaps it doesn’t go far enough. Or unless they simply hate any bill created by somebody outside of their party.

Dear Senator Hutchinson,

I would like to request that you please vote in favor of the National Bike Bill that is being presented tomorrow morning before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. I apologize for not putting in this request with more advanced notice, but I was unaware that such a bill existed until this afternoon.

As somebody who bikes to work now on a near weekly basis, I can see the direct benefits of doing so. It does sadden me to see how much more improvement there could be in bicycle safety, awareness, and infrastructure, and how little emphasis is placed on making bicycling an enjoying and accessible method of transportation, while so much money is poured into massive multi-lane highways for automobiles to sit in congested, polluting traffic.

Yes, I also drive a car. Unfortunately, bicycles cannot completely replace the automobile, but for many small-trip purposes, they can. However, as long as local governments cannot afford to nor are given incentives to make bicycling more friendly, many Americans will choose the automobile for a 1/2 mile trip rather than a bicycle.

The small cost of enacting this bill is certainly worth it. It helps with our nations health issues, energy issues, climate issues, and creates more pleasant communities and recreation.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

-Brian Saghy