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Why Passengers Are Canceling Their Flights to Chile

Why Passengers Are Canceling Their Flights to Chile
Jeff Edwards

Major airlines are waiving change fees for passengers booked on flights to Santiago de Chile International Airport (SCL), but the unrest on the ground has largely been ignored by media outlets. Fortunately, the world’s largest expert flyer community has a number of firsthand accounts to give travelers a true sense of the situation.

On Monday, the world’s largest airline issued a waiver for passengers traveling through Santiago de Chile International Airport (SCL) between October 21st and October 27th due to “civil unrest” in the region. So far, flights are mostly running as scheduled, but within hours of American Airlines’ announcement, other major carriers around the globe, including Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and British Airways had issued travel waivers of their own allowing passengers to re-book most SCL itineraries without penalty.

How Bad Are Things?

Flyertalkers on the ground in Santiago describe a chaotic scene. For at least one Santiago resident and Flyertalk member, sheltering in place has been very much the order of the day.

“Will be living my fourth night under curfew,” Viajero Perpetuo wrote in a post-dated October 22nd. “Parts of the local city have been damaged and looted in the past three days. If it weren’t for the military and police yesterday when the anarchists took charge after a port worker march, they would have trashed the commercial center of the barrio where I live (a mix of poor, working, middle to upper-middle class).”

The U.S. State Department

On Monday, the U.S. State Department issued a Travel Alert urging Santiago visitors to “exercise increased caution in Chile due to civil unrest.” The agency also cautioned that both domestic and international flights departing SCL could be canceled as a result of an ongoing state of emergency declared by the Chilean government.

“The Chilean government declared a State of Emergency following civil unrest in multiple neighborhoods in Santiago,” the newly issued travel advisory warns. “The State of Emergency, which now covers the entire metropolitan region around Santiago, was subsequently expanded to include other regions of Chile, following similar protests in regional capitals. The Chilean government has implemented curfews in multiple cities, which are enforced by government security services. You should observe a curfew where it is in place, remain vigilant, monitor local media for updates and avoid protests and demonstrations.”

Is the Santiago de Chile Airport Affected?

According to firsthand accounts in the Flyertalk forums, demonstrations have not specifically targeted the airport (as has been the case during recent demonstrations in Hong Kong). As in Hong Kong, protesters have, however, reportedly disrupted public transit, including ground transportation serving airport facilities.

“Most Chileans are just as shocked,” Viajero Perpetuo wrote in a later update. “I believe the student fare evasion actually began about two weeks ago … there are rumors floating around of this being coordinated possibly in collaboration with foreigners. Regardless of the individuals and/or entities behind the trashing of the Santiago Metro system, it allowed the floodgates to open on all the grievances of the working and middle class and a situation where the government can’t just apply band-aids like normal and must now truly reform the system.”

Why Am I Just Hearing About This Now?

There is some debate as to whether or not media outlets outside of Chile have given protests and subsequent rioting in Santiago the attention they deserve. It seems, however, that the full scope of the civil unrest which began more than a week ago only became clear in recent days.

“I note this has barely registered on the news at all in the UK,” Flyertalker Ldnn1 writes. “I heard about it via a Chilean friend’s Instagram. Understandable lack of coverage here I suppose, what with [Brexit] plus the more proximate unrest in Catalonia, but still might have expected to see it mentioned somewhere. Hope it doesn’t last too long.”

Like the airlines, media outlets have started to take notice of the increasingly fraught political situation in Chile. Interestingly, both airline officials and reporters appear to have turned their attention to the civil unrest just as the order is finally, in many ways, being restored.

“To give the BBC their due, there have been at least 3 separate stories on the main front page of the BBC News app in the last several days,” Flyertalk member krispy84 countered. “I am seeing a ‘Reality Check’ piece at the moment ‘Is inequality becoming worse in Chile?’”

The Protesters

The current unrest in Chile has its roots in a student-led, mass transit fare evasion protest, which started nearly two weeks ago. The stated goal of the initial protest was to highlight growing income inequality and a lack of access to opportunity (including notoriously high tuition rates and middle-class taxes). There is some debate as to whether on not the initial movement was usurped by anti-government, anarchist and criminal influences, but the end result was an escalation in violence and massive destruction of both public and private property.

The Government

Government officials, meanwhile, have accused foreign actors and criminal elements of inciting riots that have very little to do with the stated issues of economic inequality. Leaders have rejected any notion that demonstrations and subsequent riots were anything but an organized attack on the nation as a whole.

“We are at war against a powerful enemy, who is willing to use violence without any limits,” President Sebastian Pinera said in a fiery press conference on Sunday. “Tomorrow we will have a difficult day. We are very aware that [demonstrators] have a degree of organization, logistics, typical of a criminal organization.”

Another Hong Kong?

Although protesters in Chile and Hong Kong share many of the same grievances and have, in some cases, employed similar tactics, there are key differences between the ongoing civil unrest in Hong Kong and more recent rioting in Chile. Not the least of these differences is the fact that the government in Chile seems to have been able to use the declared State of Emergency to at least partially restore order.

“I ventured out for the first time since Thursday and found the local Líder fully intact and operational,” Viajero Perpetuo wrote in the most optimistic post yet. “You could fell the sense of relief from everyone there. A lot more smiles, eye contact, and politeness than usual. All the basics with good stock and at normal prices. Soldiers were posted outside the entrances to prevent this order from being disrupted. I hope we are near to turning the corner on this. If not, the general and the admiral may be running things sooner than you think.”

Has your travel to or from Santiago de Chile been interrupted by civil unrest? Flyertalkers are sharing the latest news from the ground, discussing creative travel workarounds and offering solid advice on protecting your rights in the FlyerTalk Forums right now.


[Image: Flickr/C64-92]

View Comments (5)


  1. alexmyboy

    October 23, 2019 at 4:52 am


  2. Duesendrone

    October 23, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    The fare increase that triggered the protests has been described to me by Chilean friends as tip of the iceberg. It comes after years of growing discontent over government corruption, mismanagement, and broken promises. Dismissing the protesters as “anarchists” is not only wrong but lazy writing by someone who just relies on a few biased sources. Bad, naive reporting. Yes, neighborhoods like Santiago like Las Condes are lovely, shiny places and I don’t begrudge anyone their personal wealth–as long as it doesn’t come at a price for others. In Chile, class differences are stark, and growing. Beware of articles like this one that claim to tell you how things really are.

  3. bystander

    October 23, 2019 at 3:21 pm

    I am here on the ground. This is a perfect mix of genuine grievances, and a good deal of coordinated chaos. 24% of the supermarkets in Santiago looted or looted and burned. This cannot help anyone. The metro system has been damaged so badly that some stations will take years to repair. Right now I am watching the television and seeing a hotel (Principe de Asturias) which was looted and then a fire was set.

  4. johnwb

    October 23, 2019 at 5:19 pm

    I’ve spoken to dozens of people in the week I’ve been here in Santiago, Valparaíso and Coquimbo, from small business owners to taxi drivers, security guards to students. Every one of them is furious with the government. They say Pinera is completely out of touch with the country and the people and it seems the only way this will stop is for him to resign.

    The violence and destruction of property is deplorable but represents a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands who are protesting.

  5. bystander

    October 24, 2019 at 1:57 pm

    Very long term resident here, 30+ years.. There are several levels of things going on here. Peaceful protests, looting, coordinated destruction. Whether you like Piñera or not, and many don’t even if they like his policies, this isn’t the time to destabilise things more by changing government. I think a lot of the subtleties are lost in translation. The amount of fake news on social media is not helping. This has more the feel of the post 2010 earthquake and recovery, in every sense, is going to take time.

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