Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Dreamliner

South America 1 – Chile

Monday 27, Tuesday 28 & Wednesday 29 November 2017

It has been a long time since that last holiday jaunt to Europe – but here we go again and much further afield.  I am hopeful that this blog will now be much closer to real time as we head off to far flung shores – this trip includes very small portions each of Chile (one night), Argentina and Brazil.  I also hope that the quality of the photographs might improve, but not sure that either of these hopes will be sustained!

What has changed is that I now have decent working apps on both iPad and phone for WordPress and so hope that if time permits something can be published as progress is made.

We shall only be in Chile for the one night – so no great insights can be expected.  Formally the Chilean capital is Santiago de Chile simply to avoid confusion with the one in Spain.  Our taxi is due at 6:15pm and the plane is due to depart at 22:00.

British Airways are now flying direct to Santiago – the flights commenced on 3 January 2017 and at 14 hours 40 minutes they are the longest flights that the airline makes.  The new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners are allocated to the operation – panic commences given our experience on the return trip from Mexico earlier this year!

A huge plate of cheese and biscuits each and then settle down to sleep.  Get about 6 – 7 hours sleep with a decent breakfast and the flight is slightly early into Santiago on Tuesday, late morning.  Apparently the Chileans are keen on queues as the passport line takes an hour for us and much longer for the people behind us as it overflows the theme park style queues and is backed up, up the stairs.  Not helped by those at the front of the queue not actually watching the display for the next free border officer!  It is a bit mad as we reach the exit with huge numbers of waiting drivers.  We miss our guide on a first pass but a wander back along the line gets us heading into the town centre with guide and driver.

Hotel Plaza San Francisco is almost in the centre of town with a beautiful church next door – internally it looks like this:

Earlier we had been advised by our guide to go to Lastarria which is walking distance and he particularly recommends Bocanariz.  First we do a wine flight each to taste some different wines and then have a bottle of Carmenere to go with our steaks.

Photos of the first views of Santiago are here.

The following (Wednesday) morning we are met by our guide and are driven to the Presidential Palace and then taken on a walking tour through the City to the main markets which are huge – we see the fish and the farmers’ markets, the latter is mainly fruit and vegetables.  The Chilean garlic looks very strong!

In the background Santiago is largely surrounded by hills – on one side the Andes which we have to cross again shortly.  There are no trains across the border apparently.

We are then driven to the lower end of the cable car which takes us up to the top of the hill for San Cristobal and the view over the City.  I see the funicular which is on the other side of the hill but we do not have time to return that way.

Photographs of the morning tour are here.

The final part of the tour is a drive around the new expensive modern suburbs before returning to the airport for our flight to Mendoza.  Once on our way I establish that at some point my small Canon camera has not made its way to its normal place in my bum bag and appears to have been left at the hotel.  Subsequent attempts to contact them have not been successful!

It all went technical!

Sunday 15 / Monday 16 / Tuesday 17 January 2017

The holiday may not have been a huge success – but we had come, we had seen and now we wanted to go home please.

Off to the airport, we all get checked in (and that is a lot of people on a Thomson Dreamliner), go through security and join the many other people waiting for flights somewhere in the terminal.  Except in our area people go through gates and depart.

Worryingly we see no sign of anyone to commence loading onto our plane.  Eventually an announcement is made that the plane had some error lights showing on the displays when the flight arrived and so they need to sort this out before we can load and fly away.

So someone pulls the master switch and the plane is turned off and then turned on again – it later becomes clear that the computer is the problem in some way.  It seems that did not work (and apparently rebooting a Dreamliner takes an hour or so and I thought my PC was slow!).  So they are now on the phone to technical support in Luton (Luton?).  The conversation was probably along the lines that “no-one has ever seen anything like that before – have you tried turning it off and on again?  Hmm, that should not happen, I think I had better get Seattle on the other line”.  Seattle of course is the place where Dreamliners are assembled.

After a few hours we are informed that even if it was fixed now we could not go anywhere as the crew are out of hours before we could land and so there will be no flight tonight.  We are told they will find hotels and get us all into rooms for the night.  And some of us are also checking what the compensation arrangements are as we are bound to be more than three hours late!  Turns out that the EU compensation works (at least whilst we are in the EU).

We have to go through arrivals and collect our luggage as we will need it for our overnight stay.  Luckily as usual slight over packing means that we have clean clothes.

By the time we get to the new hotel there is virtually no food available but something is better than nothing.  Whilst the hotel was not as great as Azul, being older and therefore a little worn, I am amazed that Thomson actually managed to find enough rooms.  Check in took quite a while – which was another reason we were late eating as we could not do that until we had checked in.

When we gather in the morning it is fair to say that staff used by Thomson are probably worse than useless.  When communicating with a large number of inevitably disgruntled customers some discipline needs to be applied – then make a clear and entirely certain announcement, do not be woolly and do not part reveal the outcome to some in advance of the meeting.  Similarly the previous evening passengers were seeking to contact Thomson in the UK who seemed unaware of the problem and where the website was showing revised departure times for later in the evening.

Later we assemble again to go to the airport and through check in and security.  Thomson (or their agents) give us a packed lunch as we get off the coaches.  Which would be nice except it includes both a bottle of water (which we spot and dump) but also a fruit juice (which we do not spot until the scanner machines do – which means all bags are rescanned after the juice is removed).  That really slows down progress through the security checks.  Everyone knows that you cannot take liquids through security these days – so why was this not even thought about?

No news Thomson is frankly bad news.  And there is no-one on hand to keep us informed.  Many hours pass.  At no time do we see any crew.  Anyone at the gate refuses to make an announcement – why is not clear.  Some information is extracted but the absolute refusal to make a proper announcement is baffling.

Information is hard to come by but piecing the bits together later it seems two engineers flew into Cancun with a complete computer rack and the relevant boards (not sure but I assume from somewhere in the USA rather than UK).  They replaced board by board, turning the Dreamliner off and on and off for each board replacement but were still getting faults.  Eventually the expensive solution was adopted – the entire rack was pulled out.  The new rack with new boards were all inserted and the plane turned on.  Apparently then it worked and the error lights did not come on.  Given that they had the whole lot there they should have replaced the entire kit at one go – it was presumably new and worked.  Piecemeal replacement is often a pain in the neck.

However we had been at the airport many hours.  Why were we brought into the airport so early at a stage when no-one knew when we might depart?  For the mother with no nappies and the others with no funds available being in an airport terminal is not helpful.  It would have made more sense to make the transfer back to the airport later as the hotels were meeting food and refreshment needs.

Then they summoned the crew.  To give the captain his due when he did arrive he did make a couple of announcements and talk to us all – but it was by now very late and we were now well over 24 hours late departing.  And even with a crew we did not board for ages as the flight crew had to go through all of their normal checks and load up stores and equipment.  Passenger patience was in short supply.  I believe it was close to 10 hours between arriving at the airport and boarding the Dreamliner.

Finally we board and take off not long before midnight on the Monday night arriving back at Gatwick well into Tuesday morning.

The next major faux pas from Thomson was that they delivered a written apology at the arrival gate which advised claiming from our insurers and did not mention their legal liability to compensate us under EU legislation.  Come on lads – if you screw up then at least admit you are forced to cough up, provide the right form and tell us what else you might need.  Leaving out such information and pointing us at insurers is simply the wrong approach to take.  In fact it is insulting in this day and age.

This was not the first time that a Dreamliner had gone technical in Cancun for Thomson – there were one or two press reports about it happening previously.  On the outward journey water had dripped on Jackie as we headed towards the ground.  So if water can get into the passenger space it seems likely it can reach the computers as well.

We claimed and compensation was eventually paid – but Thomson took their time.  Their crisis management was appalling, on the ground, in the terminal and on our return – I have no doubt that someone knew what was going on – but 300 plus passengers need looking after and talking to them should happen.

A really sour end to the holiday.

Mileage – 4959 air miles for a single journey so adding something on for the coach journeys the total trip adds up to over 10,000 miles which is not a bad start for the year.

Thailand Days 9 onwards

Thursday 17 December 2015 to Wednesday 24 December 2015

We move to another hotel and location on 17 December – Khao Lak in a very prestigious upmarket hotel – so much so that we have a small private plunge pool for our own use.

Most of our days here are spent on sun loungers which are essentially in the main pool.  If there are other people in the hotel we may only see them at dinner.  None of them seem to want to use the pool.

There are sunloungers on the front and it is easy enough to descend steps from them into the sea.  The sunloungers are on top of a sea wall which was constructed after the tsunami as that caused immense damage in this area and everything along the front has been reconstructed since that event.

The “apartment” is split level with a sitting area downstairs and a bedroom upstairs with an adjacent bathroom with both a shower and a double sized bath.  All with glass doors so that you can see into the toilet – I am not sure I like that!

During the week Jackie is less than well – she thinks her stomach disorder is probably food poisoning – may be the buffet dinner on the theatre show – and is sufficiently bad that we send for a doctor.

The doctor arrives with an assistant, about three bags and a drip stand – which cheers her up as she knows she is not that ill.  She does effectively spend a couple of says in bed and this does reduce the amount of browning time available – but she is in a bad state.

The day before departure we ask if we can have a late book out but we are told this is not possible.  I also report that I have broken the steps into the plunge pool (it came away in my hand and I could have fallen).  Anyway they know they have to repair it so we get another upgrade – I should have broken it sooner.

We eat in every evening bar one when we walk into the market as I need a new bum bag.  Once secured we eat at an Italian.  None of the places look special – very much thrown up after the tsunami so nothing special.  The food in our own hotel is actually good and possibly the best locally, so why eat elsewhere.  We have eaten most of the menu by the end of the week.  And we have some great lobster on one evening.

The upgrade apartment is larger with three levels – two at the front as before but a much larger bathroom on the intermediate level.

Eventually our week here comes to an end and a taxi whisks back far too quickly to the airport.  Here we are guided through immigration to the waiting lounge and before too long we are on our way to Abu Dhabi.

A few hours in the lounge in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night is less than fun – it is busy and noisy and our body clocks do not feel like eating.  A DumTeeDum podcast arrives via wifi!

Our final leg is our first on a Dreamliner – definitely more room, the berth is longer than on the 777 – and we both get some more sleep.  Finally we arrive at Heathrow on Christmas Day.  An absolute bevy of waiting drivers to take the travellers home and from plane to our front door is an absolute record – one that will never be equalled.  And Jackie is going to cook a turkey!