Recently, LAN Airlines invited me down to their headquarters in Santiago de Chile, Chile, to check out their new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. While LAN was the first carrier in the Americas to operate the 787-8, the new stretched 787-9 offers an all-new Premium Business hard product. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the special event was called off due to “operational issues.”
Since flights to Santiago had already been arranged I decided to still make the trip, which would give me a chance to experience LAN’s 787-8 Premium Business class, check out Santiago briefly, and also take a look at the airport experience on both ends. All-in, I’d only be gone from home in Denver for 55 hours – not too shabby for 13,000 miles of travel.
Once arriving at LAX from Denver, I made my way to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) – quite a haul from Terminal 8 – past smokers, idling taxis, and construction sites outside. After entering the terminal (which is beautiful, by the way) I met up with LAN’s Station Manager at LAX, who offered early access to the plane so I could check it out without disturbing others. I agreed to meet up with her again about 15 minutes prior to general boarding.
Since I had a few hours to kill before boarding, I made my way to the new oneworld Business Class lounge, which LAN uses along with major partners like British Airways, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, etc. However, when I got to the front door of the lounge, I kept on walking; I had arranged to tour the brand-new Qantas First Lounge, which shares back-of-house space but is a separate facility. Look for that review in an upcoming post.
While the Qantas First Lounge was exceptional, I found the recently-opened Business Class Lounge extremely nice when touring it later. It was slightly dark, which allowed for the feeling of privacy in a lounge that seats hundreds of people. The food selection was top-notch, but set out buffet-style, unlike the dining-on-demand service in the Qantas lounge. There was also a variety of seating options, from lounge/rest areas to galley-style business tables (think of what you see at your local Starbucks, packed with laptops).
At about 75 minutes prior to departure, I headed down to my gate to meet the Station Manager. She whisked me on board the plane, allowing me to stow my luggage at my seat (1H – an aisle seat in the middle pair, as LAN’s Premium Business Class is set up 2/2/2 across the 788).
It was an odd experience being on the plane that early. All of the cabin crew were working pretty frantically to get ready for the flight, talking frequently over the intercom in Spanish. I was given free reign of the aircraft, including checking out the crew rest area and flight deck.
The captain was really excited to show me some of the Dreamliner’s features. He had me sit in the left seat (yep!) and flip down the heads-up display panel. The number of screens and buttons in the flight deck is pretty overwhelming.
Once boarding started, I was able to check out my seat. The -8 version of LAN’s Dreamliner uses the Weber seat, a very comfortable perch that’s fully lie-flat. That said, the seats didn’t seem to be holding up very well. My seat had some obvious wear and was tattered in a few areas, even though they were still relatively new.
On the return flight, I was on a 788 that was less than four months old, and a part fell off of the seat. This isn’t LAN’s fault, but may explain why they’ve changed cabin equipment with the introduction of the 787-9.
The new product won’t be exclusive to the stretched Dreamliner, they’ll also be streamlining their premium cabin hard product across LAN and TAM with the A350 and 787-9.
As I had a glass of champagne (LAN serves Louis Roederer), I browsed through the in-flight entertainment system (IFE). It’s fantastic, with quick responses and a wide variety of movies and shows. Flying alone is my chance to catch up on movies that don’t feature Elsa, Baymax, or Emmet (parents will know what I’m talking about).
We pushed from the gate on-time, with business class about 90% full. Sitting next to me was an “off-duty” flight attendant who was supposed to be working the flight, but instead was seriously under the weather. I guess I had never thought about the fact that crew end up having “sick days” too, and that’s especially tough when you are stuck in another country.
I’ve only flown a Dreamliner once before, from San Jose to Tokyo as part of a whirlwind 77-hour trip to Singapore. For that flight, I was in the back of the plane and was very impressed by how quiet it was. Well, sitting in row 1, takeoff was hardly noticeable.
Once in-flight, the service kicked in. I found LAN’s cabin crew to be warm and friendly, with consistent service. They were not as attentive as, say, crew on an Asian carrier, but a ring of the call button rendered a quick response, with zero sign of any irritation.
For dinner, the starter was beautifully-presented smoked salmon, with a side salad, some cheeses, and dried apricots. LAN prides itself on its wine program (hey, they’re Chilean) and I followed the master sommelier’s recommended pairings throughout the meal.
For the main course, I chose a nicely cooked filet, although they had a variety of entrees to choose from. For dessert, I had a fantastic flan, which was paired with the 2007 Croft Port. The only real disappointment from the meal service was the coffee; the menu describes it as “Juan Valdez Instant Coffee.” Enough said.
LAN’s Premium Business amenity kit is very nice. It is Salvatore Ferragamo-branded and has lots of fancy lotions and creams (I brought them all home for my wife). There are no pajamas offered, but I brought a pair of old Qatar business class pjs with me to change in to.
About an hour northwest of Lima, Peru, AirlineReporter marked a milestone: surpassing 1,000,000 miles of flying to cover stories. As LAN’s long-haul fleet does not have WiFi connectivity (and although they plan to offer it someday, there are no short-term plans to do so), I wasn’t able to share the moment “live” with everyone.
That said, our founder and editor-in-chief, David Parker Brown, had been tracking the flight and marked the moment on twitter – I’m sure it was bittersweet for him, given that I was the one flying! I’m glad we hit the milestone in LAN’s business class on a 787, versus coach on a regional jet.
The Los Angeles to Santiago route is not a non-stop flight, but rather a “direct” one, with a stop in Lima. Unlike when AirlineReporter traveled this route before, you do not have to get off the plane at LIM (in fact, you’re not allowed to get off). This was one of our major complaints the last time we flew the route, as deplaning in the middle of the night was hectic.
My only complaint about the time on the ground in Lima was that the IFE was not active – it was in sort of a boarding/”screen saver” mode. On the flight down to Santiago, we were on the ground in Lima for over two hours, until about 2:00 AM local time (we arrived early, and then waited past departure time for some connecting passengers). While two hours wasn’t bad in business class (I slept), I can’t imagine it was much fun in economy.
The leg from Lima to Santiago was uneventful; given that it was the middle of the night, most people chose to sleep. One interesting note, though: if you want LAN’s signature drink (Pisco Sour), it only seems to be catered ex-Lima. I’d never had one, so I made the sacrifice of having a drink at 2:00 am.
For breakfast, I had been given a card to fill out during the dinner service. I had the option of no breakfast, an “express” option with only cold items (to be served about 45 minutes before landing), and a full hot breakfast. While I chose the full breakfast on the way down, heading home I skipped everything in order to get more sleep. I liked that LAN gave me flexibility.
We arrived in to Santiago at about 7:00 am. Clearing customs was easy, and I caught a cab in to the city; I had booked myself a day room at the Grand Hyatt in order to grab a nap and shower.
I have to say that the cab ride to the hotel may have been the most terrifying one of my life, and I’ve traveled all over the world.
After getting cleaned up at the hotel, I took the chance to see just a few sites in Santiago. I rode the funicular up to Cerro San Cristóbal, enjoying the amazing view point (despite the smog that day). I also walked about a mall/market area and grabbed a local beer, which allowed me to sit and people-watch.
After way too short of a visit, I headed back to the airport at 7:00 pm. This gave me the chance to experience LATAM’s new premier check-in area. I knew the area existed (it is accessed through the very last set of curbside doors) but I didn’t see any signage directing folks there. There was a line, so in the end I don’t think the actual check-in functioned any quicker than the main terminal. That said, the real bonus was dedicated private security, which I breezed through. Right after security, there was a construction wall over the new premium lounge that is supposed to open soon. I really hope to get to to check this area out again once it is all open, especially since the lounge I used felt very crowded and a little dated.
My return flights were pretty similar to the ride down, except I was in seat 1A so I got to enjoy the extra-large Dreamliner windows (well, all three of them next to my seat). On the shorter leg from Santiago to Lima, I dined on another delicious meal and watched a movie. Once we landed in Lima for the layover, though, I threw in the earplugs, turned my seat in to a bed, and caught some sleep. The flight attendant woke me up right before we pushed for takeoff; once we were airborne again, back to bed I went.
I woke on my own about an hour from Los Angeles. The morning views were amazing – both of the landscape (Baja California and San Diego) and the amazing Dreamliner wing. I could sit there all day and look at that wing.
We were soon on the ground at LAX, where I had to bid the LAN 787-8 Dreamliner adieu. I got to use my new Global Entry access for the first time, and it was one of those “why the hell didn’t you do this sooner!?” moments.
Overall, I found LAN’s Premium Business experience to be very competitive. The crew was polished and friendly, food and IFE was excellent, and hopefully the few issues I noted with the seat will be rectified with the new product being rolled out on the 787-9 — which LAN does not have a current timeline for when that new product will be seen on the 787-8. I hope I get the chance in the future to experience that newest Dreamliner, along with the new lounge at Santiago sometime soon.
Note: LAN Airlines provided the flights for this review, but the opinions are my own. I provided my own accommodations.