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.

3 responses to “Sabbatical [Day 6] Bankrupt Airline”

  1. fathergod Avatar

    That’s too bad about Pluna – we used their services to get from Santiago to BsAs via Montevideo (thus saving us the Argentinian reciprocal visa charge), and it seemed fine enough (which is about as good of a compliment as I can give to airlines these days). Pluna seemed like a real mom and pop shop, only flying to 4 cities I think (Santiago, Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paolo). I have a little theory for their demise, which is that they were forced out of by larger competitors in an uncompetitive market. On the one hand, LAN in Chile and TAM in Brazil merged to have a quasi-monopoly in those markets. On the other hand, it might have been difficult to compete with the deep pockets of Aerolíneas Argentinas, Ms. Fernandez’s state-run carrier. It’s possible that Pluna was simply incompetent, but, it is also possible that they just could not find the space to operate between an oligopolistic private carrier and a state-owned company capable of absorbing huge losses. That’s Latin America for you, though. Anyway, it totally sucks that you were soaked for a flight on a non-existent carrier. Too bad the workaround was so damn expensive. Fortunately the wine in Argentina is cheap enough to drink away the things you want to forget. Furthermore, the great food will make you very happy you’re out of Santiago, however high the cost of fleeing was.

  2. Brian Saghy Avatar

    It is too bad. All it would have taken to appease me would have been an e-mail to the same account that they had sent my transaction information, but I guess they couldn’t do that. Finding out the day you arrive in the airport is not the way to go.

  3. Kevin S. Avatar
    Kevin S.

    Love reading these updates, Brian, but sorry to hear about this travel disaster. Let’s hope the travel insurance pays off. As someone who typically doesn’t buy the insurance, I’ll be curious to hear the outcome.

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