Review: LAN Economy Class New York – JFK to Santiago on the B787

I recently attempted a weekend trip to Iguazu Falls, Argentina and failed miserably.  So many things went wrong that ultimately led me to ditching the itinerary in Sao Paulo and returning to New York.  But what let up to that point?

A comedy of errors on this itinerary resulted in me getting pretty much no sleep, which led to exhaustion and my eventual decision to fly home before making it to my intended destination.

It all started Thursday morning as I attempted to check-in for my flight with LAN.  The problem first arose when the LAN website indicated that my confirmation number was not valid.  As such, I called LAN to see what was wrong.  The agent with LAN told me that my SCL-GRU segment of my itinerary was showing a significant delay, and I would mis-connect in Sao Paulo for my flight to Foz do Iguazu.

He offered me two options — to overnight in Sao Paulo and get to Iguazu on Saturday afternoon.  I declined this option, as it would only leave me a day in Iguazu.  The second option was to take an earlier flight from JFK to Santiago and on to Sao Paulo on the LAN 787 Dreamliner, then have a ten-hour layover in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Iguazu on the same flight.  In order to do this, I had to leave work three hours earlier and confirm standby space on an earlier flight from DCA-JFK.  After speaking to American about changing my DCA-JFK flight, I decided on this option.

I figured that I could ultimately deal with this undesirable itinerary as long as I was able to sleep on my flight to Santiago.  I didn’t think this would be much of a problem since I’d been assured a bulkhead seat by the phone agent (I had a bulkhead seat on my original flight booked for six months).

Again, when he changed my flights, the LAN agent assured me that I had confirmed a bulkhead, window seat on the 787, seat 12L.  At 6’4″, an exit row or a bulkhead seat is a necessity for me traveling long-haul in economy — I just need the extra leg room, otherwise I’m miserable.


A 36-hour Trip to Nowhere:  An Iguazu Fail


When I got to JFK to check-in for my LAN flight to Santiago, I’d been switched to a non-bulkheadmiddle seat.  The check-in agent assured me that there were no more bulkhead seats, and all that they had left on this full flight were middles.  I protested, and eventually he found a “normal” aisle seat.

I was not happy, but decided that I’d just try to make it work.

After this less than positive check-in experience with LAN, I spent about 45 minutes in the American Flagship First Class Lounge at JFK before heading to my gate for boarding.  Boarding was moved to an adjacent gate without announcement, which led to general confusion.  Luckily, I was able to board with the first boarding group (by virtue of my oneworld Emerald status) and bypass the insanity that was the LAN boarding process.

LAN Chile (LA) 533
New York (JFK) to Santiago (SCL)
Aircraft:  Boeing 787-8
Seat:  19C (Economy)
Thursday, November 6, 2014
8:00PM – 8:35AM (+1 day)
Duration:  10:35

One of the main reasons that I decided to give this messed up itinerary a go was the opportunity to fly a brand new, B787 Dreamliner on the route.  I’d previously flown the B787 on five other flights, all of which were on United, so I was really looking forward to trying another airline on the Dreamliner.

After boarding, I made my way back to the cheap seats in an empty economy cabin that was going all Dreamliner on me with its famous mood lighting.

LAN B787-8 Economy Cabin

LAN B787-8 Economy Cabin

LAN Economy Cabin on the B787 Dreamliner

LAN Economy Cabin on the B787 Dreamliner

The LAN B787 is fitted in a tight 3-3-3 configuration in economy, and I was assigned to 19C — an aisle seat on the A-B-C grouping of seats.  LAN provides a small, basic amenity kit for passengers in economy, which includes a travel toothbrush and tooth paste, along with ear plugs and an eye mask — all nice touches for economy.  I situated myself in my seat and as the plane eventually filled up.

Nice setback IFE on the LAN B787-8

Nice setback IFE on the LAN B787-8

The first thing I noticed as I took my seat was how incredibly tight these seats seemed.  My knees were digging into the seat in front of me no matter how I was situated in the seat — I started getting concerned — this could be a LONG 10-11 hours.

Once boarding was complete, pretty much every seat was occupied on the aircraft — luckily every seat except for the middle seat directly next to me.  Yet still, that didn’t matter.  An overly cramped seat is still an overly cramped seat.

Terrible Leg Room in LAN Economy

Terrible Leg Room in LAN Economy

After a somewhat slow boarding process, we eventually pushed backed and made a relatively short taxi to takeoff.  I really enjoy taking off in the B787-8 due to the impressive wing flex that you can see upon takeoff, but since I wasn’t in the window seat, I missed out.  The first 60 to 90 minutes of the flight were moderately turbulent.  Though I’ve experienced worse turbulence, it was certainly some of the more violent, sustained turbulence I’ve experienced.  It was  choppy enough to delay cabin service until we were almost as far south as Georgia.

LAN B787-8 Economy seat IFE

LAN B787-8 Economy seat IFE

The flightpath:  JFK-SCL -- going almost due South!

The flightpath: JFK-SCL — going almost due South!

Finally, the pleasant flight attendants started their cabin service, first offering beverages and then an option of fish or pasta.  I chose what I deemed to be the safer option — the pasta.  It was served with a  small, side salad, a pre-packaged dinner roll and a flan-typed desert.  The pasta… was interesting.  It was tasty enough, but was quite strange-looking.  Thinking back, this was very similar to the pasta that was served on previous flights to South America on TAM, which has since began a merger with LAN.  It tasted decent enough and was certainly filling, so there’s that.

Dinner in LAN Economy

Dinner in LAN Economy

After dinner, I decided to try to get some sleep to prepare myself for my full day of traveling the next day.

Fail.

I struggled on-and-off for over two hours to get comfortable in the extremely cramped seat.  I gave up after a couple of hours and watched a movie — I don’t recall which movie it was, as I was pretty much in a daze.  After the movie, I decided to try to sleep again, but again failed to get comfortable.

Now, I’ve flown many, many international flights in economy class, and I’ve usually managed at least some sleep.  But on this flight?  On the brand new Dreamliner?  Nada.

The pitch on these seats seemed so restricted that I just could never extend my legs or contort my body in such a way that I could be comfortable.  This was specifically the reason why I’d gone out of my way to assign a bulkhead seat with extra leg room before my trip.  It was specifically the reason why I insisted that the phone agent confirm me in a bulkhead seat when I had to change my flights.  I simply need a little more leg room in order to get comfortable enough to sleep on long-haul, economy flights.

Row 19 on the LAN 787... small pitch

Row 19 on the LAN 787… small pitch

As my attempts at sleep failed, I became seething with anger at LAN for moving me out of the promised bulkhead seat.  I was pretty livid.  I knew that my already short trip to Iguazu Falls would suffer greatly as a result of me getting literally zero sleep on this almost 11-hour, overnight flight.

Eventually, the cabin mood lighting changed to a reddish-orange color, and the flight crew started milling around to begin the breakfast service.  Breakfast consisted of a very bland a basic breakfast sandwich (with ham and cheese), fruit, yogurt and another pre-packaged dinner roll.  This was a pretty poor breakfast attempt by really any standard.

Breakfast in LAN Economy

Breakfast in LAN Economy

As breakfast concluded, we were still about an hour out of Santiago, but the view from my seat mate’s window was fantastic as we hugged the west coast of Chile on our approach, so that helped pass the last hour of the flight.  Finally, we arrived into Santiago on a crisp, somewhat smoggy, early Summer morning and quickly taxied to our gate, parking between two other B787 Dreamliners.

I disembarked, proceeded to the transfer passenger lines, re-cleared security, and headed to the LAN Mistral VIP Salon to freshen up real quick.  I only had about an hour to catch my flight to Sao Paulo, so it was a quick, uneventful layover in Santiago.

The Verdict…

I was heated and pretty pissed off when I got off this flight.  Sure, the airplane is beautiful.  The in flight entertainment was adequate.  The food was edible.  And the service was actually quite good.

But the seat was downright terrible.  It’s just too tight for a long haul economy product, in my opinion.  Width was restrictive, but passable.  However, the pitch — it was just bad.

And I knew it would be, so the fact that I was involuntarily moved to a non-bulkhead seat just really set me off.  The LAN customer service on the phone and at the airport was pretty atrocious, and frankly, it ruined my entire trip.  The customer service lapses here directly caused me to sit in a seat that I’d tried to avoid for the previous six months.  This seat resulted in no sleep for me, which in turn created a set of circumstances that ultimately led me to ditch the trip when I got to Sao Paulo.

I was really peeved about this flight, so I decided to wait a few months before finishing the review to cool off.  But as I recall this flight, I just get upset again.

Bottom line — though the plane is beautiful, the seating in economy is just too tight if you’re over 6-feet tall.  One really needs to book an exit row or bulkhead if flying this plane for any long duration.   And apparently, one needs to constantly ensure that their seat isn’t changed.  And if it is, one needs to be more assertive than I was to get said seat assignment back.

While I’m extremely disappointed in the LAN pre-flight and airport customer service, I want to emphasize that the customer service on the actual flight was really quite good.

How I booked it…

I booked the flights from JFK to Foz do Iguazu on an ultra low-fare (perhaps a mistake fare?) for around $400, roundtrip.  This was a fantastic value for a quick trip to see one of the seven natural wonders of the World — Iguazu Falls.  Unfortunately, I never made it there.  Luckily, I still got a nice chunk of American Advantage miles for the flights that I did take.

 

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