February 20, 2013

LAN Flight 4027

We were scheduled to return home to BA on Saturday afternoon last. It was to be a short two hour flight, and then, another hair-raising taxi back to the apartment.

We arrived at the airport in good time and boarded the LAN Airbus for flight 4027 with about one hundred sixty others, mainly foreigners. The region had been plagued with weather during our brief stay, which  seemed the norm for the tropical summer. Huge, dark thunderstorm clouds surrounded the airport, just as we experienced when visiting the falls.

Upon take-off we immediately ran into turbulence. That can be expected especially in the heat of a rain forest, and normally I expect things to settle as the plane reaches its cruising altitude above the weather. On this day the turbulence became much worse and it was obvious we were flying into quite a storm cell.

The captain addressed us, calmly, once or twice about the turbulence and to advise us stay in our seats. No one needed much encouragement. About fifteen or twenty minutes into the flight, and still not out of the turbulence, the captain came on again to advise, again fairly calmly, that we were returning to Iguazu immediately. Ice had caused a crack in the cockpit's windshield. He apologised as we banked steeply for a bumpy return to the airport.

Cracks in cockpit windshields are not terribly common, though they do happen apparently. It doesn't take much imagination to think about what might occur at ten or twelve thousand metres, so we were grateful for the safety-first position of our pilot and his honesty in reporting to his passengers.

What happened on the ground in the airport was less attractive, as the LAN agents had difficulty coping with the situation. What we needed was direct and open communication about what might happen with rescheduling our flight. Instead there was general confusion and an inability to communicate much of anything. Effort was made to get some connecting passengers on flights out of Iguazu, but for most of us, it was a long afternoon that turned into an evening, in a small airport, waiting and waiting. The line-ups never seemed to end and never provided any answers. Sherry and I retreated to the restaurant upstairs, partly to get away from some of our fellow passengers. It's amazing how quickly people can move from being grateful for being safe and alive, to being frustrated and angry about an unfortunate, but truly unpredictable situation.

Finally, almost five hours after our flight returned to the airport we were told we would be taken to a hotel for the night, provided with a meal, and returned to the airport the next day for our flight to Buenos Aires.

Twenty-four hours after we were originally scheduled to return to BA, we arrived, this time with only minor turbulence in the air. The taxi ride home was, as expected, full of twists and turns, going through stop lights, and weaving around cars and pedestrians both. But we arrived, safe and sound, and grateful.

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