A Day at the SCL International Cargo Terminal

Raven and Shadow, our dog and cat, arrived safely to their new home in Santiago today after a lengthy trip from Minneapolis, and thanks to a lot of generous help from friends back in the United States. The last few miles from Pudahuel to Las Condes, however, turned into quite the adventure, courtesy of everyone’s favorite monopolist in the Twin Cities, Delta Airlines.

I woke up this morning, had a cup of Nescafé (it’s not really accurate to call it coffee), got some cash from a nearby ATM and hailed a taxicab along Avenida Apoqindo. My driver’s name was Juan. Juan and I our way through the morning congestion along Avenida Kennedy and soon were making good time on our way to the airport.

The animals were on board Delta flight 147 from Atlanta, which was scheduled to arrive in Santiago around 9:20am. This was the second leg of the animals’ journey—the first being an earlier flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta—so I was anxious to retrieve our pets as soon as possible. Juan and I arrived at the international cargo terminal right on time and made our way over to the warehouse where the Delta cargo agent was located. Within a short time, I was able to go see Raven and Shadow as I awaited the necessary paperwork to take to the Servicio Agrícola y Ganadero (SAG).

A little background on shipping animals internationally is in order here. Before our dog and cat could travel, we needed to make sure that they saw their regular veterinarian in the U.S. within a narrow window before their departure date, and that we were given appropriate paperwork in Spanish. Each animal also needed to obtain a health certificate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Our friends in the U.S. made sure that the animals arrived with the necessary paperwork (otherwise, the animals would not be permitted to travel).

When I received the paperwork that had arrived with the animals, Juan and I headed over to the SAG building to get whatever approvals were necessary there. At this point, it was around 10:15am or so (and Raven and Shadow had not been waiting on the ground too long). I went to the counter where a friendly SAG employee informed me that everything was in order EXCEPT the U.S.D.A. health certificate for the cat seemed to be absent. And sure enough, it was not there. Raven’s certificate was there, the letters from the vet for both animals were there, as were the other necessary documents. Everything was there other than Shadow’s certificate.

Juan and I headed back to the warehouse to look for the missing paperwork. But the folks there confirmed that I had everything that had arrived with the animals. So we headed back to the SAG, where I was informed again that I really needed that missing health certificate for the cat before the animals would be released—even though the SAG employee readily agreed with me that the animals could not have been sent in the first place without the necessary paperwork. So we headed back to the warehouse, where I was informed that they had given me everything they had, and that they had tried to contact Delta back in the U.S., but to no avail. That would become a regular theme of the day.

By this time, it was now around noon and getting rather hot outside (it is summer here, after all). Juan was still waiting with me, keeping things light with his sense of humor and offering suggestions as to our next steps. We decided that the folks at the warehouse were not about to do anything more and that it was time to escalate matters and head over to the offices of Delta Cargo at the airport to find out what had happened to the missing paperwork. Fortunately the offices were within walking distance. (We were driving back and forth between the warehouse and the SAG.)

During this time, I was calling my wife at home, sending emails and checking the web to see if there was anyone at Delta in the U.S. we could contact to find the missing paperwork. My wife contacted someone at the Minneapolis cargo call center who sent a “high priority tracing notice” to Delta’s “performance leaders at the stations involved” regarding the missing paperwork. No one ever followed up. When I arrived at the Delta Cargo offices in Santiago, the employees there had no greater success contacting anyone in the U.S.

By around 1pm, Juan and I were still in the Delta Cargo offices. My cell phone battery was about to run out of juice—which would have been a problem, except that I ran out of pre-paid minutes about the same time. Fortunately, before running out of minutes, enough information had been exchanged so that one of our U.S. friends (you know who you are!) could send a scanned copy of Shadow’s health certificate. With that, Juan and I (along with our new friend from the Delta Cargo office) went to the SAG offices, got the necessary approvals and returned to warehouse ready to retrieve the animals. By this time, it was already after 2pm and the animals had been on the ground in their crates for almost five hours.

When we returned to the warehouse, however, we were informed that we still needed to go through customs.  But because the customs office was closed for lunch until 3pm, we would need to wait another hour, so Juan and I went to check on the animals, where we discovered that no one had bothered to give them water in the past several hours despite the heat. When I asked why not (okay, “asked” is probably not a very accurate description), I was told they needed authorization to give them water—which I authorized (and then some). Except that Shadow’s water dish had come loose from the crate door and no one could get the required permission to open the door. Thus, Juan and I (with the assistance of a sympathetic security guard) found a stick and eventually worked the dish to a place where it could finally be attached to the door for water.

At 3pm, Juan and I were first in line at the customs office. We received a couple of stamps, the customs official left to make some photocopies, and finally around 3:45pm, after paying some additional fees at the warehouse (I was no longer asking what they were for, but I do have plenty of receipts from the day) Raven and Shadow were released from the warehouse. By 4:30pm—about 7 ½ hours and 75.000 pesos after Juan stopped along Avenida Apoquindo earlier in the day—Raven and Shadow were home.

To Delta Airlines, which lost Shadow’s health certificate and never responded to any requests for assistance from the U.S. throughout the day, let me end with this: YOU SUCK!

That said, we would not all be together without the invaluable assistance from our friends—both our old friends in the U.S., and new friends like Juan in Chile.  To everyone who helped throughout the process, MUCHAS GRACIAS

UPDATE 1: As my wife has pointed out, the Delta representative with whom she spoke acknowledged that they had to have been responsible for the loss of the health certificate, probably in Atlanta during the layover. Without the health certificates, the animals would not have been allowed to travel in Minneapolis.

UPDATE 2: I sent an follow up email today to the person in the Minneapolis cargo center who had sent the “high priority tracing notice” regarding the missing paperwork. Because Shadow entered Chile on a photocopy of the health certificate, we still need to locate the original. As was the case yesterday, there was no response from Delta to today’s email. Heckuvajob, Delta!

UPDATE 3: In case anyone was wondering, Delta still sucks!

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