I think the most common question people have about flying premium cabins on overnight flights is “can I sleep?” When recently flying from New York’s JFK to Santiago, Chile (SCL), in LAN’s business class on the 787-9 Dreamliner, I was hoping to check out the amenities, but I was also looking to sleep. This was to be my first 787-9 flight and it was CC-BGC, which was delivered to LAN on June 25, 2015, just 25 days before my flight.
Maybe it’s just me, but I generally find that for a true overnight flight, under twelve hours, I am concerned about exactly one thing: is the seat flat? Do I care about the service? Sure, but I rarely get a chance to partake, as I am typically asleep until 90 minutes before landing to get ready for the new day and eat breakfast.
This makes reviewing hard. I want to say so many amazing things about LAN because they are fantastic, but short overnight flights always make me feel like I missed out on something.
LAN is a tenant of Terminal 8 at JFK (American Airlines’ home) – because of this, the only premium lounges in Terminal 8 (save the Flagship First room) are regular Admiral’s Clubs. While LAN Premium Business customers are entitled to a free alcoholic beverage, that says nothing of the food.
In LAN’s beautiful Santiago lounge, this would not be a problem. In the Terminal 8 Admiral’s Club, the only food on offer are tiny cups of soup, some oddly rubbery cookies, and suspicious looking cheese. Could a LAN flyer purchase something more substantial? Yes, but the thing is, I have had too many of the $11 Admiral’s Club paninis. They are, to put it gently, not what you would expect from food in a seemingly premium environment.
But, when I was able to board my 787-9, things were completely different.
Before boarding, I made my way to gate B16 much hungrier than I would have liked. JFK never ceases to amaze me. Not only did my gate offer no windows to take an easy pre-departure shot, they had the air conditioning either off or on “let’s keep it at 80.” The heat and the sweaty passengers made the gate and terminal smell like a gym.
The Dreamliner smelled much better — it still smelled new. While the entryway might not be as spectacular as it will be on LATAM’s coming A350s, it is still inviting. I also liked the laminate flooring. There were quite a few nice little touches and great attention to detail.
Since this was my first time on an in-service 787-9, or any 787, I had no idea what to expect in terms of the actual aircraft experience.
Although I prefer every seat having aisle access, this is a 2-2-2 cabin layout done right.
Unlike some airlines, LAN has gone for the luxurious option of including overhead bins over the middle pair of seats. I know the theory is that removing overhead bins makes the cabin feel more spacious, but it also takes away a main perk of business class; no worries about your carry on fitting because the passenger across the aisle needs to stuff their rollaboard in sideways.
Baggage safely stowed, it was time to take my seat. I was in 1L — an aisle seat. Ordinarily, aisle seats in a pair concern me as I like to sleep and don’t want a stranger falling over me. Thankfully, I was seated next to my friend and Airways Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Enrique Perrella. After long twitter arguments about similar cabin-configurations, the conclusion was reached that it is better to have someone you know fall on you in the middle of the night than a complete stranger.
It was time for the fineries: Champagne and a bowl of warm seeds and nuts. Aviation writing is a hard gig, sometimes.
Shortly after the remainder of the cabin crew came by to introduce themselves to me, the doors were shut.
It was time for pushback, except the jet bridge got stuck. Not stuck close to the cabin door, but stuck at a precarious distance from the fuselage between doors L2 and L1. In all my thousands of segments, I’ve never seen that before.
Half an hour later, something or another (it was out of LAN’s hands so I have no idea what) was done and we were actually moving.
Startup was… I’m not sure. For a while I wasn’t actually sure the engines were starting. I was having a conversation and it sounded, at most, like someone had turned on the air conditioning. What a world!
The best way to describe the in-cabin sounds of a Trent 1000 equipped 787-9 is to imagine you are flying on a 777-200ER with Trent 894 engines, but not only do you have ear plugs in, you are also wearing noise canceling headphones. There are definitely Rolls Royce noises, just muted. Oddly, the A350 is even quieter.
What I found quite annoying (and what another author also recently found), is that LAN keeps the windows out of passenger control for taxi. Some have assumed that this is a safety issue — false. The regulations only state that you need to be able to see out the windows, they say nothing of level of translucence. I could, most definitely, see over my seatmate and out the windows adjacent to him. Would I have preferred the windows to be 100% translucent? Yes. It wouldn’t even have been my call anyway as I was not sitting in the window seat!
It would have been helpful to see better out the window, since JFK is a strange airport and for around half an hour, we navigated our way around the airport’s taxiways. Eventually, we lined up for takeoff.
Despite the fact that it sounded about as loud as a GE-90-115B at approach power, the 787-9 packs quite the punch on the roll. It does not feel sluggish like a 767, nor meandering like an A330. Combine it with the crazy aspect ratio and ultra-modern airfoil and you get 757-like rolls and climbs. Except, it’s not like a 757. I do not know how much of this is the brand-new 787 itself or LAN’s obsessive maintenance, but either way there are no odd bumps, no disconcerting rattles.
It’s like accelerating in a Tesla: nearly silent and extremely linear.
One thing a Tesla can’t do, nor any other passenger aircraft, is exhibit jaw-dropping wing-flex. My photo does not do it justice — it’s surreal. That’s not even extreme wing-flex because of how much fuel we were carrying. I’ve seen photos of light domestic flights in Japan and it’s insane.
Okay, so I was a bit in a state of awe. Guess what else? I never even felt the pressurization system kick on. Lower cabin altitude has its advantages, it would seem.
Shortly after we got to a safe altitude for the cabin crew to leave the crew seats, it was time to take dinner orders. Not only starving, but also very tired, I opted for the express option. In the LATAM universe, the express option is either one starter or one main as well as a salad and a dessert, all on one tray.
Not novel, I know, but what is novel is how they do it. Many airlines will do their express service in a manner that has your entire meal coming out sometime around when the other passenger’s mains show up. Not on LAN. Other airlines need to learn that express means express. I was done with my service before the passenger in 1H across the aisle had even got his appetizer.
I went with the beef tenderloin with asparagus and saffron couscous. Dessert was also an Italian cheesecake with some balsamic vinegar accompaniment.
I have been warned many times to distrust JFK catering. It is, or so I have been told by some airlines, not good for their brand. With that in mind, I actually found my steak to be quite tasty. Everything worked together and it was even plated nicely. The dessert was a little too savory, but it was the least ice-cream or fruit option. I think, including eating time, express dinner took about 45 minutes. This left me with eight hours before breakfast.
Tray gone, teeth brushed, and bed flattened. Time to sleep.
The bed itself is neither the softest nor the hardest business class bed I have flown on. Much like its width, it lies squarely in the middle of the pack. In terms of bed lengths, some of my traveling cohort thought that it needed to be about two inches longer. I disagree.
One thing that I dislike about this product is the lack of aisle access. I have to go into my carry on to get medications and things and I always feel so awkward if there is someone next to me and I need to thump my rollaboard on the seat to have a rummage around. Perish the thought it was dark and I had to turn on a light. Probably more of a “me thing” than an actual product issue, but even sitting next to two friends, I felt self-conscious. Either way, I was asleep ten minutes later. Exactly what I wanted.
Seven hours later, I woke up. Shocking, I know.
It was then I learned that in LAN’s world, an express dinner meant, most of the time, an express breakfast. However, my body knows all too well that you need to be up at least ninety minutes before landing to obtain more than a muffin.
The non-express breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, mushrooms, croissants, and tea. Nothing mind-blowing, but definitely better than what the competition offers on their flights into South America.
We landed in Santiago before sunrise. It is midwinter, yes, but because of daylight savings time, the sun did not rise until around nine — weird.
My fight home was quite similar in fashion, except for one important aspect: the security. To fly to the U.S. you must do additional screening of passengers to insure compliance with the 3-1-1 rule. Most countries with lax security choose to select random passengers off every U.S.-bound flight and screen their baggage. The Chilean PDI selects random flights — the whole flight. As you can imagine, completing extra security of all passengers take a lot of time.
If you have a tight connection, queue a heart attack. This is exactly what happened to me. Luckily, we made up most of the delay in the air. How did I miss my original flight, then? Short answer: the Air Train was broken. Turns out the only way for me to get to Terminal 4 was via endlessly waiting at Federal Circle. Not LAN’s fault, a combination of the Chilean PDI and JFK being JFK.
Overall, if I have business in South America, I will happily fly LAN. Not only are they in oneworld, but they have a great product, impressive service, the most comprehensive network, and a bed where I can get some real sleep.
I know I wasn’t really able to try much of the IFE, but being able to get a good night’s sleep on a short red-eye is about as good a review as one can possibly give!
Note: LAN provided flights and accommodations during this trip. Opinions are my own.