Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The South American Altiplano March 2013 - LAN Airlines 2609/2115 Economy Class (SFO-LIM-JUL)

***This post is part 2 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

I couldn't find a ride to SFO in the morning, so instead, I had my roommate drop me off at the Caltrain station in Mountain View. It's a bit of a pain to transfer to BART at Millbrae, and then transfer again at the San Bruno station to get to SFO, but I think it still beats the Super Shuttle or paying for a taxi. I made sure to arrive approximately two hours ahead of departure since LAN's ground service can be a little iffy. The wait at check-in turned out to be very short, and after dropping off my large backpack, I was on my way through security. Despite the long line, I find that security at SFO is typically quick and efficient.


International Terminal

LAN check-in counters

This was my second time taking LAN 2609 direct to LIM in five months, but I was still excited since I'd only had positive experiences with LAN's in-flight service and food. Announcements for boarding began approximately 45 minutes before departure, and the process went smoothly. Business passengers were called along with elite members, then boarding by rows commenced.

LAN Airlines 2609
Boeing 767-300ER
San Francisco (SFO) - Lima (LIM)
Friday March 22, 2013
Departure: 12:45 PM (scheduled) / 12:47 PM (actual)
Arrival: 12:05 AM (scheduled) / 11:38 PM (actual)
Duration: 9h 20m (scheduled) / 8h 51m (actual)
Seat: 26C (Economy)

When I entered the aircraft, I was disappointed to see the older-style seats in both business and economy class. It wasn't a huge deal though since I did get to try out the refreshed configuration on a previous flight from Easter Island. Also of note is that while LAN is slowly incorporating new 787s into its schedule, the economy seats are actually more narrow and the pitch has been reduced to 31". So while the cabin pressure and air quality might be better, the seats may end up being less comfortable.

I located my aisle seat at 26C, and put away my carry-on backpack into the overhead bin. Blankets and pillows were provided, along with headphones for the AVOD system. Speaking of which, I've complained many times in the past about its slow response and washed out colors, and although my experience this time was no different, I realized I've probably become desensitized to it after so many LAN flights in the past few months. On the other hand, I do have to compliment them for offering a consistent selection of current movies as well as informative travelogues covering South America.

I've never had a bad experience with LAN's on-board service, and this trip just reconfirmed that fact. The flight attendants may not always be smiling or particularly polished, but they are usually warm, helpful, and efficient. A late lunch service began soon after reaching cruising altitude. The choices were chicken or beef, and I went with the chicken. Strangely enough, I think I'm starting to develop an unhealthy craving for LAN's catering. I'm not sure what they put in their food, but it's delicious every single time.

Typically, the meat selection is a stew-like concoction with rice. A small salad and dessert cake are served alongside, with cheese and crackers thrown in for good measure. Perhaps this is a bit of a hyperbole, but I think LAN's catering in economy is my favorite out of all the airlines I've ever flown. The presentation could probably use some improvement, but the food sure does taste good. White or red wine was offered with the meal, and flight attendants even came around for a second round a bit later. A small Twix bar finished off the service along with water, tea, or coffee.

I spent the next few hours playing around with the AVOD system and watching a few movies, including Wreck-It Ralph, which was surprisingly good. I also caught most of Skyfall, but unfortunately missed the ending because we were already landing. In between, I slept for a good two hours, and caught up on some trip planning for the portion of my excursion through Chile. About an hour and a half prior to landing, a snack service commenced with a half sandwich of turkey, cheese, and tomatoes, along with some fruit. This was not nearly enough for dinner, but since it was already somewhat late according to local time, the portion size was forgivable.

Soon after, we began our descent into Jorge Chávez International Airport. In all of my travels into and out of Lima, I don't think I've ever flown over the city during daylight hours. Still, approaching in darkness, with the lightscape coming into view, is a beautiful sight. We landed smoothly and almost half an hour early. Once we arrived at the gate, seat belt lights were turned off and we filed into the jet bridge.

With Peru as our final destination for this itinerary, we had to go through immigration and customs, which was an absolute nightmare. I had never seen such a massive line before. Luckily, there were many officers working the booths that evening, helping to shorten the wait slightly. After about an hour, we finally made it through to the baggage claim area, where my large backpack was already waiting.

Long lines at immigration

One of the more nonsensical rules about the Lima airport is that if you are arriving on an international flight and connecting to a domestic departure, you must physically leave the airport before coming back inside to check in your bag and go through security. Literally, you are forced to walk out of the arrivals hall, down the sidewalk along the terminal building, then show your passport at the entrance to the departures hall before being allowed to enter the same building again. I can't think of a logical reason for doing this, but rules are rules.

Luckily the check-in counters were completely empty at this hour, and our bags were quickly tagged and boarding passes printed out. With a good four hours until our flight to Juliaca, we passed the time in the second level food court, napping on and off until about 3:00 am, when we were allowed to go through security. The process was fast, and we were soon airside. Unfortunately, many domestic departures were squeezed into the crowded downstairs holding areas, and buses were used to ferry passengers to the parked aircraft.

Empty check-in counters

Crowded gate area

Once boarding began, it was chaos as multiple lines formed, weaving around seats and merging in different places. Even worse, another flight was leaving at the exact same time, so people were confused as to which line was which. Eventually, we made our way onto the shuttle bus and headed towards the aircraft. There didn't seem to be any regulations prohibiting photos on the tarmac, so I snapped away before entering our Airbus A319.

LAN Airlines 2115
Airbus A319
Lima (LIM) - Arequipa (AQP)
Saturday March 23, 2013
Departure: 5:00 AM (scheduled) / 5:05 AM (actual)
Arrival: 6:25 AM (scheduled) / 6:31 AM (actual)
Duration: 1h 25m (scheduled) / 1h 26m (actual)
Seat: 5A → 5C (Economy)

Although sold as a direct flight to Juliaca, we actually had one stop at Arequipa along the way. I preferred non-stop, but the earliest option would have gotten us into Juliaca more than three hours later. After boarding, I walked over to 5A and noticed an older couple already occupying my seat as well as the middle seat. Instead of asking them to move, however, I just took the aisle seat instead, thinking it wouldn't make much of a difference. 

Unfortunately, during the flight, I realized I was missing a spectacular sunrise from my original window seat. The sky looked like it was on fire, and I was really bummed I couldn't take any photos since the lady at the window was blocking the entire view. But you win some, you lose some, and not every amazing photo opportunity can be captured every single time.

This was a typical all-economy domestic flight on LAN. The great thing about some international airlines, however, is that even on short flights like these, decent service can be expected. Flight attendants came around handing out snack boxes containing crackers and candy and offering a full beverage service. After cruising for less than an hour, we quickly descended into Arequipa. Turnaround was super quick, with a large majority of the passengers deplaning, and a small group boarding afterwards. In just 35 minutes, we were on our way to Juliaca.

Snack box

View outside Arequipa airport

LAN Airlines 2115
Airbus A319
Arequipa (AQP) - Juliaca (JUL)
Saturday March 23, 2013
Departure: 7:00 AM (scheduled) / 7:06 AM (actual)
Arrival: 7:50 AM (scheduled) / 7:50 AM (actual)
Duration: 0h 50m (scheduled) / 0h 44m (actual)
Seat: 5A → 6A (Economy)

I think this was maybe one of the shortest flights I'd ever taken on a jet aircraft. Gate to gate in less than 45 minutes. Service was kept to a bare minimum since there was no time anyways. Upon landing, we got our first taste of the high-altitude environment. Just walking from the plane to the terminal made me a little out of breath, but going from sea level to 12,500 feet within three hours will do that to you. Over the next week or so, we slowly ascended to a maximum of about 16,000 feet in the middle of the Bolivian Altiplano.

Juliaca airport

The sun was blinding and very intense at this altitude, even around 7:00 am. Sunscreen and sunglasses are definitely recommended. At the baggage carousel, there were a group of locals playing their native instruments for donations, which made for a very unique welcome to the Lake Titicaca region. After locating our backpacks, we were greeted at the airport exit by our hotel driver. From there, we began our 45-minute car ride to Puno.

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