Our daughter is a high school sophomore, and she wanted to see Peru over Spring Break: Lima, Cusco, and Machu Picchu. My wife and I agreed, and I chose Latam Airlines for our air carrier. Now that it’s over, I regret that decision and would not fly Latam again in coach.
Looking at air travel alternatives between Raleigh (RDU airport) and Lima as I planned our trip, I quickly discovered that flying Delta or American on actual DL or AA flights was a good deal more expensive (by $200 or more per person) compared to a code share fare RDU/LIM using oneworld partner Latam Airlines.
No coach fare to Peru was cheap, but okay, we were going over Holy Week (Easter) to a predominately Catholic country. The Latam routing was RDU/MIA/LIM, with the Miami connection flight legs on American Airlines going and returning.
Latam looked doable, with a short five and a half hour flight Miami to Lima that landed us in Peru at 10:15 PM. I had never flown on Latam and didn’t know what to expect, but heck, I thought, five hours is a piece of cake compared to 19 hours nonstop Newark to Singapore. So I booked the Latam code share to save us hundreds of dollars.
Both Latam flights were 767 airplanes, which seatguru.com reported were 32” pitch and 18” width in economy. Minimal comfort, but better than the other Latam aircraft configurations with seat width a confining 17.3”. Even so, I decided we needed seats as far forward as possible.
When I contacted the airline, I was told that seat assignments right behind business class cost extra, even though those chairs are no different from the endless rows of sardine class seats behind them. I eventually agreed to pony up over a hundred bucks (altogether) for the three of us to get seats in the first three rows behind business. I thought seats there would give us a leg up on boarding and finding overhead space for our bags (we never check luggage), and we would also be able to deplane sooner on arrival. Turned out I was half right: We did get off ahead of most coach passengers.
I also contacted American and obtained seat assignments on the domestic connection flights (RDU/MIA/RDU) right behind first class. As a Lifetime AAdvantage Gold Million Miler, I was not charged for those seat assignments.
When the day arrived, our first flight was a new 737-800 (no, not a MAX!), Once seated, first thing I noticed was that it was not equipped with screens. Instead, AA now expects that we will bring our own smartphone or tablet and use their wifi or our downloaded content to watch at your own expense, not the airline’s. The two pictures below are of the nifty little seatback cradles American now provides to hold our devices.
Personally, I think it’s a cheap cop-out to eliminate the screens, but I seem to be in the minority, as usual these days.
CONNECTING IN MIAMI FROM AMERICAN TO LATAM
On arrival at the sprawling AA complex at Miami, we had very little connection time. An American gate agent said that Latam left from the distant H concourse. Further, we were required, she said, to leave security, hoof it way down to that concourse, and then re-enter security.
A strike against Latam, I thought. And American for not caring to make oneworld connections easy at a very busy international airport.
We took off as fast as we could, with less than an hour to connect.
It was indeed a long hike to the Latam H concourse. On arrival to the security screen, I realized that Latam does not participate in the TSA Pre-Check program as does AA. We therefore had to take off our shoes and belts and remove liquids and so on from our bags, which took some time since we had not anticipated that requirement by making the items easy to reach.
One more black mark against Latam.
Finally clear, we rush down to the gate, where boarding was just commencing. There I noticed that Latam has installed columns with row number groups and asked passengers to line up behind the one that corresponded to their seat assignments. We dutifully queued at the boarding stanchion that included our row, as shown below.
Business Class and Latam elite passengers were first to board, naturally. Then rows were called by stanchion starting at the rear of the plane. That meant we were going to board dead last despite the extra money I had spent on the seat assignments.
Latam was accumulating mental black marks faster than I could keep track of them.
I grumbled to my wife that I hoped the onboard flight attendants were monitoring the overhead bins to make sure that those over our most forward coach rows were remaining open for us when we were finally called.
On entering the aircraft, I was relieved to find enough—though barely sufficient—overhead bin space for us to stow our bags. Those passengers who had preceded us had indeed taken much of the bins in the forward cabin with, apparently, no complaint from the cabin staff monitoring the boarding process.
Another strike against Latam.
Though we were among the last folks to find our seats, the plane sat at the gate for another half hour with no explanation. And no air conditioning. It was Miami in April, and hot. The 767 cabin soon began to roast, with nary a whiff of air, let alone cool air, coming from the overhead vents.
We had not even left the gate, and already I was starting to loathe Latam Airlines.
The Latam Airlines flight experience in coach from Miami to Lima was predictably claustrophobic. The guy in front of my seat reclined into my space, leaving me insufficient room even to hold up my hardback book to read. Was it really 32″ of pitch? Didn’t feel like it.
To calm myself, I made feeble attempts at zen meditation and dreamed of the relative luxury and roominess of the previous week’s business class flight from Rome to JFK on Delta.
My meal of cold salmon and salad with yogurt dressing was tasty, to my happy surprise, and the young flight attendants handing out the prepackaged food trays were all smiles and enthusiasm. Alcoholic beverage service in coach was limited to lukewarm beer, cheap white wine, and really bad red wine, so I didn’t get the ice-cold Pisco Sour I had yearned for while enduring the sweltering sauna at the gate (Pisco Sour is the national drink of Peru).
I’ve rarely been so happy to leave an airplane as when we reached Lima at 10:15 PM. The uncomfortable ride in Latam’s coach cabin did not make me want to book the airline again.
Nor did the truly ancient, museum-ready seatback screens. Mine had continuous video and audio dropouts throughout the flight and was depressingly dim even at the highest brightness setting. I dreaded the idea of the return flight, but put it out of my mind to enjoy Peru, which we did, very much.
LIMA AIRPORT ON LEAVING PERU
Checked in to our Latam flight the night before online, a very tedious process requiring me to re-enter all our birth dates and passport numbers and our home address, even though I had entered all that online the previous week when we flew to Peru. Thank goodness for a strong wifi signal at our hotel, but yet another strike against Latam.
Still had to stop by the Latam counter to pick up our boarding passes. After a long wait while the nice counter agent repeatedly tried, Latam’s computer system was unable to print our AA boarding passes Miami to Raleigh. This despite Latam being a oneworld partner with AA and the tickets being Latam/AA code share.
First time that’s ever happened to me. I knew that would mean having to exit security at Miami, find the AA ticket counter, have our MIA/RDU boarding passes issued, and then re-enter security. Very inconvenient and avoidable. Another Latam demerit.
Lima Airport was not a terrible experience going through the various security and immigration screens. Faster than most International airports, really.
Stopped by the Hanaq VIP lounge—access thanks to my Priority Pass card—adjacent to gate 17. I’ve been to a lot of Priority Pass lounges worldwide, and they are all unique. Some are naturally better than others.
The Hanaq VIP lounge was exceptionally good (see photos below), and I highly recommend it. It is gigantic (3 levels), modern, sparkling clean, has a bar as well as at least three different eating areas (all well-stocked with a good variety of tasty hot and cold food), and shower rooms adjoin the clean and spacious lavatories. Plenty of plugs for recharging phones, tablets, and laptops, too.
One cautionary note: We apparently arrived just before a rush. Despite its enormous size, the Hanaq VIP had a long queue waiting to get in as we departed, and there was no place to sit anywhere.
Latam was at least consistent: Not much worked on the plane, and the trip was uncomfortable. Just like flying to Lima the previous week.
No A/C on board the airplane while at gate or in the air. No idea why not, and requests to make it cooler yielded no joy until three hours into the flight.
No seat controls worked for lights or to call flight attendants or to control video in the front coach cabin of the 767-300 airplane. When I asked the unsmiling flight crew, they just shrugged, mumbled “not work”, and moved on. So much for bilingual training, I guess.
Indifferent service throughout by a crew that looked like they hated their work and could hardly wait for the flight to end. Well, I could empathize.
Unlike the cold salmon plate going to Peru, the box lunch type meal was not good.
Just as on our outbound flight, the red wine was undrinkable, and my flimsy plastic cup only half filled. Turned out that the low pour was a good thing, as I didn’t finish even that much. I should have known better than to order it, but hope springs eternal.
FAs hesitated to give us even a second glass of water. I had to beg, and again only received a half glass.
No toilet paper in the forward starboard coach lav, and no water from faucet. In both regards, very much like most Peruvian public toilets, but I didn’t expect that on an airplane.
On the positive side, the flight was on time.
Overall, I would give Latam a “D+” grade simply because we made it safely both ways and on time. That said, I will try hard to avoid booking the airline ever again in coach.
American Airlines dropped my carefully pre-selected seat assignments (made seven months in advance) in the forward part of coach. The Miami elite counter agent could not explain why, though she hunted the history in the computer record and saw that our mighty good seats had once existed but had vanished. Her forensic analysis revealed only that we would have to plead for seats at the gate. She gave me seat request cards to get us through security. At least the seat requests said “TSA Pre” so we could zip through.
I chatted up the gate agent and briefed her on our quandary. She smiled and gave us three seats together in Main Cabin Extra. The seats were one row behind what I had originally selected many months before the AA system dumped them, but I thanked her graciously and did not say what I was thinking about the failure of AA and the needless anxiety and frustration.
We touched down in Raleigh just before midnight.
A sample of one airline (Latam) is not enough to draw definitive conclusions. I can only say that stories from consulting colleagues who have recently flown to South America confirm that the level of service from Latin American carriers in general, Latam included, is inferior to that of Delta and American (I do not know of United’s rep to S.A). I would definitely not book Latam again except in Business.