2020 Eclipse Success Despite United Airlines/Air Canada

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2020 Eclipse Success Despite United Airlines/Air Canada

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Nov 22, 2020 6:19 pm

Liz and I are exceptionally grateful to Canadian eclipse chaser Stephen Bedingfield, without whose persistence we might have missed upcoming Dec. 14 eclipse. We knew he had originally planned an independent tour as we had, and had to give it up due to the uncertainty of Argentine COVID restrictions. We recommended the AstroTrails tour we had booked, and he replied that there were many impediments to his travel, including no direct flights from Canada to Argentina.

We were surprised as we had used United mileage and been routed on Dec. 10 to Buenos Aires via Air Canada flight 92 from Toronto. In further e-mail exchanges, Stephen said no, there are no flights on the Air Canada website and furthermore he knew about AC92 as he had used it for the 2017 annular eclipse.

After 4 warnings from Stephen over 18 hours, we finally checked the Air Canada website this morning, did not find flight AC92 on Dec. 10 and called Air Canada again. Air Canada confirmed there is no such flight but said since we booked with mileage via United, we would have to go through United to rebook flights for Dec. 10.

We called United. They looked up our confirmation code and told us that the Dec. 17 flights were reserved but that the Dec.10 flights had been cancelled by Air Canada on Nov. 5. I asked when were they going to inform us of the cancellation, perhaps when we showed up at LAX on Dec. 10? United said Air Canada should have informed us while of course Air Canada had said the opposite.

Air Canada had given us the flight numbers to get us to Buenos Aires on Dec. 11 via Sao Paulo. United naturally wanted us to use their flight from Houston to Buenos Aires that arrives a day earlier or later. I explained that AstroTrails and Argentina would not allow us to use the Houston flight and arrive a day early, which is why we had reserved Air Canada in the first place. So we needed to use an Aerolineas or LATAM flight for the final leg from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires. United capped their abysmal customer service by refusing to book either of those flights.

While I had been on hold waiting for United, Liz was researching alternatives and we were fortunate to get clean connections through Dallas on American. We do not have enough mileage with American, but the price was a dirt cheap $535pp round trip. So I told United to redeposit the mileage and refund taxes and fees.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jasoncapecod » Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:02 am

is it the smartest decision to travel 10k miles during a global pandemic, to watch it get dark during the day?

from reading all of your travel reports, you always seem to come down with some sort of a bug...just saying...
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:07 am

:popcorn:
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby EMSC » Mon Nov 23, 2020 10:49 am

jasoncapecod wrote:is it the smartest decision to travel 10k miles during a global pandemic, to watch it get dark during the day?


Interesting Question for the on-the-ground portion. Hotels should be OK, very low likelihood of catching anything in your room. Airplanes are about the best place you can be indoors with strangers due to the excellent ventilation system designs. But groups in buses/vans for long periods, eating potentially indoors a bunch, etc... those are far riskier. That's where it is a bit ironic that they are forcing the group into tight quarters with each other for example. One gets it, it kind of forces that a bunch of them will get it. Having personal cars or etc.. would actually be much safer for everyone for example.

I have had a gazillion miles with United over the years and they are definitely a mixed bag. Sometimes I get great service, other times terrible. On average I would say fairly good service, but the range is a very wide distribution. Which seems kind of predictable that it is so. You don't grow and stay one of the largest airlines in the world with consistently terrible service; but then United has enough horrific stories about it too that have played out in the national media. And as far as your question about who should have notified you: its the airline you booked with, not the airline running the flight.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jamesdeluxe » Mon Nov 23, 2020 12:17 pm

EMSC wrote:I have had a gazillion miles with United over the years and they are definitely a mixed bag. Sometimes I get great service, other times terrible. On average I would say fairly good service, but the range is a very wide distribution. Which seems kind of predictable that it is so. You don't grow and stay one of the largest airlines in the world with consistently terrible service; but then United has enough horrific stories about it too that have played out in the national media. And as far as your question about who should have notified you: its the airline you booked with, not the airline running the flight.

Agreed with everything above about United, although anecdotally my experience with them based out of Newark seems to be vastly better than those of people in other hub cities (Chicago, Denver, SF). Some say that's thanks to the leftover Continental culture. People in New Jersey loved Continental, considered it the hometown airline of sorts, and were not happy to learn that it was merging under the United brand.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby berkshireskier » Mon Nov 23, 2020 3:04 pm

jasoncapecod wrote:is it the smartest decision to travel 10k miles during a global pandemic, to watch it get dark during the day?

from reading all of your travel reports, you always seem to come down with some sort of a bug...just saying...


Yea, it's none of my business and, Tony, I admire and respect your passion and interest in eclipses, but I have to echo Jason above. I DEFINITELY would not be travelling in an enclosed metal tube for 10 to 15 hours (what is total round-trip time in airplanes from LA to South America, plus time in the airports and then time on the ground in South America in restaurants, hotels, buses, etc.?) with a bunch of other people that you don't know and have no clue what precautions they may be been taking with respect to Covid? I know there are the studies out there that CLAIM that travelling in airplanes is very safe (studies mostly promulgated by the airlines themselves) but I would not take that chance at this time just to see it get dark (maybe, depending on cloud cover) for few minutes during the daytime. Plus, if God forbid, you were to get sick, what are the protocols in place in South America for treatment of Covid-related illnesses and what are the chances they would let you back on a flight to the USA to be treated? Frankly, if I knew Jesus Christ were going to make an appearance on the ground in South America, I would NOT get on a plane to see it right now!
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Nov 24, 2020 5:51 am

jasoncapecod wrote:is it the smartest decision to travel 10k miles during a global pandemic, to watch it get dark during the day?
from reading all of your travel reports, you always seem to come down with some sort of a bug...just saying...

berkshireskier wrote:Yea, it's none of my business and, Tony, I admire and respect your passion and interest in eclipses, but I have to echo Jason above. I DEFINITELY would not be travelling in an enclosed metal tube for 10 to 15 hours

Pretty funny to see people trying to reason Tony out of something he really wants to do -- recall the extensive Alps offpiste discussion from a few years ago.

berkshireskier wrote:God forbid, you were to get sick, what are the protocols in place in South America for treatment of Covid-related illnesses and what are the chances they would let you back on a flight to the USA to be treated?

I've flown twice to Colorado in the past few months without repercussions. The South America angle ^^ is what would concern me.

Regardless, I will bet my mortgage that he follows through on this eclipse trip.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jasoncapecod » Tue Nov 24, 2020 7:12 am

I'm sure Argentina has a ample supply of Remdesivir and other therapeutics to treat rich Americans and foreigners.. :stir:
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby jamesdeluxe » Tue Nov 24, 2020 7:53 am

jasoncapecod wrote:I'm sure Argentina has an ample supply of Remdesivir and other therapeutics to treat rich Americans and foreigners.

In a recent MASH rerun, Hawkeye said to Frank Burns: "Frank, you'll never be known as the Ugly American. YOU'RE OVERQUALIFIED!!"
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby Tony Crocker » Tue Nov 24, 2020 7:30 pm

Answers to some questions:

We have Amex emergency medical and evacuation insurance of 100K. I was required to send the policy to Ice Axe for the 2011 Antarctic ski cruise and to AstroTrails for this trip. Both companies accepted the Amex policy. AstroTrails clearly wants to send home fast anyone who gets sick.

AstroTrails is trying to be stringent about COVID. They and Argentina require a negative PCR test upon arrival in Buenos Aires Dec.11. AstroTrails requires that result be sent to them Nov.10 before we leave.
AstroTrails wrote:Within the first 12 hours of arrival into Argentina, all passengers and staff must undergo a second COVID-19 PCR test arranged in conjunction with a private clinic in Buenos Aires The cost of this is included in the tour price.
FYI it's not easy in the US to turn around a PCR test in less than 3-5 days. We found a clinic in Santa Monica and reserved Dec. 8, the exact day we need to take the test.

For air travel we are following the same protocols Al Solish did when he returned home from his daughter's wedding in D.C. in August. We wear both KN95 masks and plastic face shields from home to destination. We already did this Nov. 16 on the way to Florida. That was on Delta, which is the last airline still not selling middle seats. We return Dec. 1. I'm inclined to agree that the actual time on the plane is not that high risk unless somebody seated very close to you is infected. The waiting area at LAX was a different story. Mask compliance was excellent but it was definitely congested close to gates. So we tried to be a bit farther away.

Travel to South America will be different. We reserved aisle and window seats and hope that the single middle seats in between won't sell. But there are 2 flights each way and we'll be lucky if get away with no one next to us on any of them. The plane changes are at DFW.

berkshireskier wrote:...time on the ground in South America in restaurants, hotels, buses, etc.?) with a bunch of other people that you don't know and have no clue what precautions they may be been taking with respect to Covid?

I suspect COVID in the USA in December (winter) is far more prevalent than in Argentina (summer).

EMSC wrote:But groups in buses/vans for long periods, eating potentially indoors a bunch, etc... those are far riskier. That's where it is a bit ironic that they are forcing the group into tight quarters with each other for example. One gets it, it kind of forces that a bunch of them will get it. Having personal cars or etc.. would actually be much safer for everyone for example.

These are excellent questions. AstroTrails has not provided day to day details (other than where we are located) and plans to tell us on Dec. 7. They did say they will provide a pre-eclipse briefing by video, which implies they don't want the entire group collected in one place indoors. The testing before and upon arrival is intended to create a "travel bubble." I'm sure that's what convinced Argentina to allow the AstroTrails tours after 5 months of lobbying and negotiations. We expect we are not going to be allowed to wander around on our own in Buenos Aires and Bariloche.

As all of you know, Liz and I are always biased toward independent travel: better value, flexibility, choose our own pre and post eclipse tourism options. Before COVID we had a group of 14 (including tseeb and spouse) set up with Argentine guide Jorge Kojulz whom we met on the Antarctic ski cruise. But Argentina keeps kicking the can forward every 3 weeks on when private tourists will be admitted. So we cancelled those plans recently and got a partial refund of our deposits.

2020's COVID era swings the bias toward an established tour operator. AstroTrails have been working with an Argentine tour agency in business for 65 years, and in Chile they were trying to work with the same company they did for the 1994 eclipse. This cuts down the odds of last minute bureaucratic hang-up.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby berkshireskier » Tue Nov 24, 2020 8:34 pm

Thanks for your explanation, Tony. It certainly sounds like you have taken every precaution possible to avoid infection from Covid on the plane, airport, etc. and on the trip itself. I hope it goes well and you avoid getting sick and you have clear skies for the eclipse!

Interesting story today on Bloomberg.com about the risks of flying on a commercial airline:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles ... nd=premium" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Personally, unless it were absolutely necessary, I would NOT fly commercial (especially on a long flight) until we have an effective vaccine that has been widely taken by a large percentage of the population. I think there is still quite a bit about the virus that the medical professionals and scientists don't understand, including how it transmits so easily from person to person.

Another interesting link about the early mutation of the virus that made it much harder to contain:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/24/worl ... ation.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby ChrisC » Thu Nov 26, 2020 12:56 pm

What area/town in Argentina are you viewing the eclipse from?
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:48 pm

ChrisC wrote:What area/town in Argentina are you viewing the eclipse from?

Piedra del Aguila, about halfway between Neuquen and Bailoche on Route 237.
TSE2020.jpg

The path in Argentina is through mostly unpopulated empty areas but weather odds are good. The path in Chile is over Pucon/Villarica, very scenic but weather odds are iffy. We were there over New Year's 2018, beautiful but it poured rain the whole day when we were leaving Jan. 2.

Argentina will open to foreign tourists Dec. 15, day after the eclipse. Chile is opening Nov. 29, also requires the 72 hour PCR test. Chile will have tourists carry a tracking app. Chile has provincial parameters about what can be open similar to counties in California. Skier CaseyE lives in Santiago and posts on TGR. He went to Pucon for backcountry skiing in spring and that province got locked down after he got there. He saw the 2019 eclipse to the north in La Serena and will definitely be heading south for this one.

The Chile provincial rules are another indication that this eclipse is best done with an organized group that has secured advance government approval.
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby Marc_C » Mon Nov 30, 2020 11:47 am

berkshireskier wrote:Thanks for your explanation, Tony. It certainly sounds like you have taken every precaution possible to avoid infection from Covid on the plane, airport, etc. and on the trip itself.

Not really as there is a huge problem with the negative PCR test requirement:
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Re: A New Low in Customer Service by United Airlines/Air Can

Postby Tony Crocker » Wed Dec 02, 2020 11:34 pm

Our Dec. 8 PCR test in Santa Monica will be turned around in 12 hours and I suspect the one in Buenos Aires on Dec. 11 will also. AstroTrails will not accept a first test taken any earlier than Dec. 8 and demands its result be sent to them by Dec. 10. While we know that many positive people are completely asymptomatic, the rule of thumb is that positive test results start showing up around 5 days after exposure.

As my upcoming TR will show, my last two days have been quite active, but now we are home for good until we leave Dec. 10.

One valid question might concern someone getting exposed on the travel day Dec. 10. That person is very unlikely to show symptoms or test positive until after the eclipse Dec. 14 and possibly not until everyone leaves Argentina Dec. 17.

Overall this is something like what was done for sports teams; usually it was effective but there were exceptions. We will receive more details Dec. 7, which may include procedures within hotels and when we relocate.
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