The Traveling Steve's

Bye to Mendoza: Heading home to Orlando!

Our trip back to Orlando was much easier than our two night journey getting down to Mendoza. Fortunately unlike our outbound trip (which left right before Hurricane Irma was to strike and we had overnight flight delays), going home, all three of our flights ran as scheduled.

We checked out of the Presidential Suite at the Park Hyatt Mendoza around 11am, and got assistance with our many bags of luggage; heavy with the nearly two cases of wine we were bringing home.

Our driver, Alejandro, whom we had toured with the last couple days on our Vendimia Wine Tours, and had picked us up initially at the airport, drove us again one last time to Mendoza Airport for our afternoon flight to Santiago. We said goodbye to Alejandro and as we always say, “until we meet again”!

At Mendoza Airport we were checked in promptly via the Priority Check-in lane. Mendoza (as well as most international airports except the United States) offers complimentary luggage trolleys which made it much easier going from the car to the check-in area.

After checking in, we went thru departure immigration and then security, leaving us with a leisurely hour and a half to wait for our flight. Mendoza is a small but nice and modern airport, but their one good restaurant is on the upper level above ticketing, and it’s before security so we skipped it this trip. While immigration and security were quick, you never know how long it will take, so we settled in the post security waiting area, and had a salad and soda at the Tienda De Cage snack shop (the only one past security) while we waited.

While the first flight on the Airbus 321 was all coach, we at least got Priority Seating up front, with a bit more legroom than regular coach. Our first flight was a short 45 minute flight to Santiago, Chile, which while bumpy, is always scenic flying over the snow-covered Andes Mountains.

Once at Santiago Airport, we left the terminal area (which required a fairly quick trip thru Customs) and headed over to the Airport Holiday Inn, where we had a “Day Room” reserved, as we had an 8 hour layover before our night flight to Miami. We didn’t have to reclaim our checked luggage as we were continuing on to Miami, so it made for a quick transit to the on-site airport hotel. Going down to Mendoza we stayed at this Holiday Inn overnight due to the 12 hour flight delays we experienced, but this was a scheduled layover, and the “Day Room” was perfect for a quick lunch, and a few hours of snooze before our 8:50pm flight. We also gained an hour as Santiago is on Eastern Time instead of Mendoza’s Atlantic time.

After checking in, I headed down to the restaurant and had a HUGE burger, while Steve (DOS) opted to rest right away. To save a few calories and carbs though, I didn’t eat the bun! LOL!

After lunch I headed up to the 6th floor room for a few hours shuteye as well. While the view out the window was nothing to brag about, the hotel is very soundproof and is a great place to stay for a night or day room due to its walkable location just across from the terminal.

After checking out of the hotel around 6:30pm, we walked back over to the Santiago airport to go to the Admiral’s Lounge and wait for our flight. We did NOT have to check-in again as we had our boarding passes already and our bags were checked to Orlando (although you still have to retrieve them in Miami for Customs clearance).

We have flown to and thru Santiago many times, and more or less know our way around the immigration lines, security, airport lounges etc. Normally a huge shortcut for ticketing/immigration and security is to go thru the LATAM Airlines express lines, which is also good for passengers such as ourselves flying a One World (American Airlines) carrier.) While you can’t take photos at immigration or security, this was the quiet LATAM Airlines checkin area which you go thru immediately before immigration, taken on our outbound trip thru Santiago.

On this return trip however, things were different. The LATAM express immigration area only had one agent working and the line was very long – it would have easily taken an hour to get thru that. Instead we went thru the regular immigration lines and security downstairs, which while long had many lanes open so it was actually much quicker.

We then proceeded to the American Airlines Lounge, but could not find it! We looked at one of the interactive airport information monitors and the American Airlines Lounge wasn’t even listed on there! Hint to Santiago Airport Administrators: please set this large interactive map up for multiple languages; it only showed in Spanish, and this is a very international airport.

To make a long story short, American Airlines recently moved to another terminal – the newer C terminal which had to be a mile away it seemed like from the check-in areas. And in one last minute bit of irritation, there were no Premium Lounges in the new International terminal wing – you had to walk all the way back to the main terminal which was a good 15 minute walk each way. I couldn’t believe the huge and modern Santiago Airport would not have a departure (or even restaurant) lounge in the new international terminal. I guess the terminal is still being developed, but there wasn’t even a place to have a beer or wine (or liquor) in the new terminal; there was a McDonald’s and a snack bar, but no lounge either paid, or premium in the new C terminal. One of the perks of flying international Business Class is admittance to the airline’s lounge which features complimentary food, drink, wifi, restrooms, showers etc, and they usually have pretty decent food to make a meal on if you like. Here at Santiago Airport, at least temporarily, there is no lounge to be had for Premium Class passengers in the new terminal.

Dos and I then walked all the way back to the main terminal where ironically the LATAM lounge is located adjacent to the security and immigration line we had avoided. The lines by the way were still very long at the LATAM immigration and security area as we saw when walking to the LATAM Lounge. Once inside the LATAM Lounge, sure enough we saw a check-in/flight information station for American Airlines, which is now temporarily housed inside the LATAM Lounge. American Airlines traditionally had their own Business Class Lounge we had used many times, but that has been closed due to the gate move to the new terminal. I must not have been the only person confused and a bit annoyed as the man in front of me said the same thing; basically “What happened?”

Normally you get an email from American about lounges available on your flight itinerary, the locations, temporarily closings etc, but not here. Anyway, we only had about 15 minutes in the lounge to eat and have a drink before walking all the way back to the new terminal for our flight. At least we got our exercise for the day!

Once at the gate, the flight was already pre-boarding passengers, and we walked right up shortly after they called zone 1. This plane was a Boeing 777 and DOS and I again had the Business Class single aisle/window ‘suite’ on the A-side, with him seated right in front of me.

The flight was uneventful and nice, and we each watched a movie with our meal before heading to sleep on this eight hour flight back to Miami.

Our arrival time at 4:30am was quite early, but as we only had a two hour layover it went by quickly; so quick in fact we didn’t think we would make our flight back to Orlando after waiting for our luggage and clearing Immigration and declaring our wine to Customs, and then going thru security again.

Anyway, going thru security, we then had to walk all the way to the E-concourse (of course there were no speedy carts when you needed them early in the morning) and got to our gate just barely in time – they were already boarding zone 7 when we got there, and we were in zone 1. I kid you not, we exited security at the D-gates and were literally at the very last gate in E; it could not have been any further away. Quite a few other passengers and families had the same problem making it to the flight, but fortunately American held the flight for a few minutes.

As DOS and I settled in our seats, we both napped, and were soon back in Orlando after the short 35 minute flight.

Fortunately all of our bags made it, and we took Uber home. Back home we had no damage from Hurricane Irma, as we (and Florida) were sparred from the Category 5 storm as it curved to the east and then out to sea after first striking the Bahamas.

As I had posted earlier, prior to leaving I set up the frozen ice and quarter trick. As a hurricane was pending and you will not be at home, by freezing a cup of water and then placing a quarter on top of the cup of ice in the freezer, you can easily tell if the power has been out for an extended period of time when returning home. If the quarter is on top of the ice, then the freezer hasn’t been without significant power loss; on the flip side if the quarter is on the bottom of the cup and in water, or perhaps frozen back, the power has been out a long time and the freezer contents should be thrown out. Our quarter was still on top of the ice and there was no damage to the house!

Safe and sound, we made it home, and another wonderful trip is history. Welcome Home!

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