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American Airlines passengers stranded in Peru for three days after plane suffers mechanical issues

“I knew it was going to be bad,” passenger Andrew Perez told NBC News.
Passengers and crew disembark American Airlines flight 988 after it was canceled multiple times due to mechanical issues.
Passengers and crew disembark American Airlines Flight 988 after it was canceled multiple times due to mechanical issues.Andrew Perez

One passenger was visiting Machu Picchu for the first time. Another was traveling for work. Neither knew that what should have been a 7-hour flight would turn into a multiday journey.

Andrew Perez, 47, from McAllen, Texas, told NBC News that he was initially scheduled to travel from Lima, Peru, to Dallas aboard American Airlines Flight 988 on Sept. 9.

After boarding the plane and taxiing away from the gate, he said the flight crew informed passengers there was an issue with the pilot’s communication system.

“I knew it was going to be bad,” Perez said about this first of many issues.

American Airlines spokesperson Martha Pantin told NBC News this first cancellation was due to an issue with the intercom between the cockpit and the flight attendants.

Passengers took shuttle buses back to the airport, had their exit stamps canceled and were provided with vouchers for meals and hotels.

Brennan Mulligan, 24, from Austin, Texas, was not scheduled for the original flight, but joined the other passengers on their second attempted departure Sept. 10.

Mulligan arrived at Jorge Chavez International Airport and boarded the flight, not knowing about the previous cancellation.

After boarding the flight, Mulligan said the pilot announced over the intercom that there was a mechanical issue with the plane, but that it would be fixed shortly. An hour later, the pilot told the passengers that while the mechanical issue had been resolved, they could not take off due to a crew illegality issue.

Flight crew regulations, specifically regarding the amount of hours a crew can work without rest, had also come into effect, Pantin said. The plane was officially grounded for the second night in a row.

Again, passengers boarded shuttle buses, returned to the airport, had their exit stamps canceled and were provided with vouchers for meals and hotels.

Passengers wait in line for food and hotel vouchers in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2019 after their plane waited at the gate for over two hours.Brennan Mulligan / @mulligan.madness

The next day, Perez, Mulligan and their fellow passengers returned to Lima’s airport.

“We were delirious from lack of sleep and happy to see each other,” Mulligan said. “It was a really weird mix of emotions.”

After boarding and taxiing once again, in what felt like déjà vu to passengers, they were told there was yet another mechanical issue preventing them from taking off.

However, Mulligan said he and other passengers noticed strange sounds coming from one of the plane’s engines.

"The mood was getting really tense," Mulligan said. "We all knew there was a problem [with the engine] and we were praying we wouldn't take off."

Despite this, Mulligan said the pilot seemed determined to take off, announcing that they would still be leaving later that evening. This made Mulligan, Perez and other passengers extremely uncomfortable.

"At that point, we were done," Mulligan said. "We knew that if we took off on that plane, we were going to die."

Perez had similar thoughts regarding taking off in what seemed like a dangerous and disastrous situation.

“Why would we even taxi if there were engine problems?" he said.

After a conversation with the head flight attendant, who brought the passengers’ concerns to the pilot, it was decided that, again, they would not be taking off that evening.

In a repeat of the previous evenings, passengers boarded shuttle buses to return to the airport and had their exit stamps canceled.

This time, though, Mulligan said he noticed a more hasty response from American Airlines employees. He was immediately booked on an Aeromexico flight that took off a few hours later. His travel time totaled 52 hours, he said.

“We apologize to our customers. We have reached out to them to apologize for this unfortunate situation. Our team is also investigating to ensure a delay like this does not occur again,” American Airlines said in a statement.

While Mulligan said he feels lucky to have not suffered any financial toll from the multiday ordeal, he has felt other lasting effects.

"I'm still exhausted. All last week, I was barely human with the level of exhaustion," Mulligan explained.

Passengers bonded over the stressful situation, evening dubbings themselves the "Dallas No Flyers Club".Andrew Perez

But the experience wasn’t all negative, he elaborated.

Mulligan said he made a few close friends during the ordeal, with the group even calling themselves the “Dallas No Flyers Club.”

"There's just a bond there now that's strange," Mulligan said. "It was cool to watch how we came together."

Jay Blackman contributed.