Why I Won’t Fly With LAN Again

We arrived at the LAN counter right on time, handed the check-in clerk our passports and smiled politely as we said “Ecuador” when asked our destination. She asked for our onward travel documents and my face dropped. Not again…

“We’ll be taking a bus from Ecuador to Peru,” I explained.

She wasn’t having it. She called over her manager and they both repeated over again, “How do we know you are going to leave the country without proof of onward travel?”

“Well, I don’t know… people fly one-way all the time, how else are you supposed to go on an open-ended backpacking trip?” I said. There’s not much fun in knowing your final destination…

They told us we would not get through customs without an onward ticket, and pointed us over to the ticket counter where we could purchase one. Annoyed, we waited in the long line only to be quoted $600 to fly from Ecuador to Peru. That bus ride would cost us $20. Max.

Seriously? Is this just a scheme for them to sell overpriced tickets?

LAN Source

We passed and went in search of WIFI, we’d figure it out without putting money in their pockets. We only had an hour until our scheduled takeoff.

Of course, John F. Kennedy airport, only one of the busiest airports in the world, doesn’t have WIFI.

That’s right, I can connect to free WIFI in a developing country’s airport —and not the main airport of the Big Apple, what should be the biggest airport in the United States of America.

So, I used the hotspot on my iPhone and swallowed up the ridiculous roaming charges I would incur. I searched flights, but we seriously had no idea where we wanted to go and really didn’t want to pay hundreds of dollars when we could bus it for only a few.

Shaz at JFK

I found a site selling bus tickets, but South America is in serious need of a website overhaul, so of course, it didn’t work. 

I tried and tried, until we noticed the lineup at the check-in counter was gone and Rory went to ask them how long we had until we’d miss our flight. They told us we had to check-in within the next five minutes or we couldn’t board.

Panic set in. I kept searching, trying, hoping for something to come up.

They got distracted by all of our stuff when Rory said we were carrying on and didn’t need to check our bags. Rory was carrying a guitar which he always gets air-checked when boarding, less chance of it getting damaged, but they insisted he couldn’t do that. The lady stuck a sticker on it and we watched a man come pick it up and walk away.

Guitar gone, they then started going on about our backpacks. I explained that one was my personal item and fit under the seat in front of me and one went in the overhead compartment. They have an 8 kilo limit and mine weighed in at 7.8, while Rory’s hit the 10kg mark. He had no choice but to check it. He quickly retrieved his valuables from the bag and let them push it down the bag shoot, nervous he was about to lose all his possessions.

Carry on backpacksRory’s ‘carry-ons’ didn’t quite fit on our short-haul flight, luckily the seats beside us were empty.

This is where it gets bizarre. The lady then handed us our boarding passes and told us we had to hurry because the flight was already boarded and waiting for us.

Did she forget the whole ‘no onward ticket’ ordeal? I guess so. 

Confused, we jetted through security, down the escalator to our gate at the end of the building only to be greeted by a room FULL of passengers, patiently waiting. 

We headed straight for the desk and showed our boarding passes, heaving a sigh of relief. The staff told us that the flight had not yet begun boarding and we should have a seat until our seat numbers are called.

… what? Why did they lie to us like that? I’m pretty sure they were just having a lolly-gag at the stupid gringos and were now laughing about it over coffee.

A good half hour later, we boarded our red-eye flight to Ecuador, which just happened to be at about half capacity with massive overhead storage compartments big enough to fit a guitar case, Rory’s backpack, and an entire school of children, teachers included.

But, we were just happy to be on the plane. 

The flight itself was rather pleasant; ample legroom in economy class, built-in entertainment systems, friendly staff, an edible meal of chicken and rice and even free wine and whiskey to drown Rory’s worries away. Sleeping was even possible thanks to the empty clusters of seats in the middle section.

Sunset from the plane - LAN

Arriving in Ecuador, we weren’t sure what would happen, it was possible they would send us home for trying to immigrate and no plane ticket home. But, approaching the customs counter, we got a very friendly officer who asked if we’d been here before, stamped our passports, and wished us a happy holiday in his beautiful country.

Thank you :).

Then… we waited for the luggage. Minutes passed and people started collecting their belongings, the crowd slowly dissipating. Rory’s backpack was one of the last to come out with only a few people left at that point.

The guitar never came.

We went to the empty lost luggage counter and waited. Nobody seemed to be working there, so we went and asked some of the staff around the airport until we were led to the right person who could help us. She finally went back to her post and began helping anybody but us, despite us being the first to arrive and wait for her.

The only people left in the arrival wing, we got the paperwork filled out and that was it. We were off to the coast with no guitar, the guitar I bought him for his 21st birthday that was made in Canada and dear to his heart. While we knew the risks of bringing it along, we didn’t think it would disappear this quickly.

All hope gone, we received an email the next day. They had found it!

A week later, the guitar was delivered to our Spanish School. Surprisingly, it was fully intact despite the hole they managed to crush in the case. They must have slammed the plane door on it or something because it was really unreasonably f*cked. But, I guess that’s what hard cases are for…

Damaged guitar case - LAN airlines

He sent a letter of complaint to the airline with detailed photos of the damage and without protest, they agreed to compensate him $100 for it. Considering he bought the case for $50 off Craigslist, he accepted and waited the month that it took for them to deposit the money into his account.

The bright side — we made it to Ecuador, so did our stuff, and we even made $50 profit out of the deal.

The downside — LAN airlines has terrible customer service (apart from their in-flight attendants who are lovely) and I’ll now be going out of my way to never fly with them again. There’s too many other airlines offering cheap airfare.

Also, as a side note, if you’re flying on a one-way ticket, do what you can to get your hands on an onward travel itinerary. Be it an actual booking, a bus ticket, or a not-so-real, but not-so-fake printout of a could-be ticket (it can be done). You don’t want to get ripped off by airlines forcing you to buy their tickets when the check-in lady is dangling the proverbial carrot in front of your nose.

Happy travels :).

 

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