Review: LAN Economy Class Santiago to Sao Paulo on the B787

I was scheduled to have about an hour and twenty minutes on the ground in Santiago between my incoming flight from New York-JFK and my connecting flight to Sao Paulo.  After a quick trip to freshen up in the LAN Mistral VIP Salon, I made my way to the gate, passing Dreamliner after Dreamliner.  Santiago is truly a B787 Dreamliner paradise, as LAN has taken delivery to quite a number of the new aircraft.  During the mid-morning hours, the LAN B787 fleet all seems to be back in Santiago before dispersing to other locales around the globe.

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My LAN B787-8 awaiting departure for Sao Paulo

I boarded my flight to Sao Paulo with the first group.  My visa was then verified and I made my way to the sparkling new Dreamliner. Continue Reading →

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. Continue Reading →

Review: China Eastern Economy Class Shanghai to Hong Kong to Shanghai

After our time in Shanghai, I wanted to get down to my favorite city in the World — Hong Kong!  This little jaunt south was not part of my award ticket, so I had to hop on the Interwebs to find a decent deal for a round trip from Shanghai to Hong Kong.  I heavily preferred flying Cathay Pacific, but they were pretty prohibitively priced.  The best deal with the best times for a weekend round trip to Hong Kong was with China Eastern.  I knew that China Eastern was certainly considered a major airline in China with a varied fleet.  At the end of the day, the price was right, so China Eastern would be our ticket down to the Kong!

Since these were simply economy flights, I won’t get into as much detail as I normally do with my flight reviews, but I do want to highlight the flights, since it was a new experience for me.  I’m also combining both of these flights since they don’t warrant separate posts, in my opinion.

We made our way from the Park Hyatt Shanghai to Pudong International Airport via cab, which cost about RMB 160.  After a brief check-in process, we filed through security and immigration before setting up shop in one of the business class lounges that we accessed with my buddy’s AMEX Platinum Card.  It was pretty bare bones, and I didn’t even bother taking a picture.  After about 45 minutes, we went to our downstairs gate and hopped a bus that took us to our A321, parked at a remote stand. Continue Reading →

Review: Virgin Australia Economy Class Sydney to Brisbane to Cairns

Fifteen Days in Australia

A Trip to Sydney, Cairns, Melbourne, and Diving the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea

We awoke after a long night out for New Year’s Eve in Sydney to finish packing for our flights to Cairns.  After checking out from the Sheraton on the Park, we took a cab through a sleepy downtown Sydney out to Sydney’s Kingsford Smith International Airport for about AUD $35.   Check-in was relatively uneventful despite the morning rush at the terminal.  The check-in agent advised that we check our bags since they were deemed to be a “borderline” size for a carry-on.  We used these bags as carry-ons for our entire trip over on United, but went ahead and followed the gate agent’s advice anyway since we were each allowed a free bag with our “saver” fare.

Virgin Australia:  SYD-BNE-CNS

Virgin Australia: SYD-BNE-CNS

We proceeded through security and grabbed a bite for breakfast in the food court of the domestic terminal T2.  I made a few phone calls to wish folks on the East Coast of the USA a Happy New Year, and by that time boarding had commenced.  Virgin Australia boards its planes from the front and rear.  Due to our seat assignments behind the wing, we boarded through the rear set of air stairs, while the front rows boarded through the front door using the jet bridge.  Our plane was in the “old” livery, as the side of the plane still read “Virgin Blue” — the former name of the Aussie incarnation of the Virgin brand.  The airline was re-branded in 2011, and it joined then “V Australia” and “Pacific Blue” to form what is now “Virgin Australia.”

Our ride from Sydney to Brisbane -- in the old Virgin Blue livery

Our ride from Sydney to Brisbane — in the old Virgin Blue livery

Boarding the SYD-BNE flight

Boarding the SYD-BNE flight

Virgin Australia (VA) 939
Sydney (SYD) – Brisbane (BNE)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  25A
Wednesday, January 1
12:00 PM – 12:30PM
Duration:  1:30

We settled into our seats – the window and aisle seats in row 25 (A and C), hoping that the middle seat did not fill up.  We got lucky, as the door closed shortly thereafter with a relatively light load.  The cabin was clean with hints of purple hues in the bulkhead partitions.  Unfortunately, I found the legroom to be lacking, as I had some very limited pitch to fit my 6’4″ frame.  Luckily, this would only be a short flight.

Legroom (or lack thereof) on a Virgin Australia B737-800

Legroom (or lack thereof) on a Virgin Australia B737-800

There was an in-flight entertainment (IFE) screen at each seat, but upon arriving to my seat, it indicated that the satellite was temporarily down.  I hoped that this was simply because we were still at the gate.  Unfortunately, the IFE was inoperable the entire flight with the exception of a moving map display.  That was pretty disappointing.

The IFE system was down for both flights

The IFE system was down for both flights

We taxied for quite some time before taking off from Sydney.  As we climbed out,  we were blessed with magnificent views of Sydney Harbour and downtown on a beautiful New Years Day.

Shortly after takeoff, a basic drink service commenced.  This was a very standard beverage service, similar to what you’d find on a domestic flight in the US.  I spent the majority of the time on the flight looking out the window at the foreign (to me) Australian coast.   Before I knew it, we were descending into Brisbane where we landed on-time.

We were set to have about a 70 minute connection in Brisbane, but when we went to our gate for the flight to Cairns, it was clear that things were not on-time.   This allowed for us to have a more relaxed lunch in the food court of the terminal.

The delay was extended four different times until we finally were called for boarding around 3pm – about 80 minutes behind schedule.

Virgin Australia (VA) 785
Brisbane (BNE) – Cairns (CNS)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  23A
Wednesday, January 1
1:40 PM – 4:00 PM
Duration:  2:20

Once again, we boarded the rear of the aircraft via air stairs.  This airplane; however, was in the new Virigin Australia livery — a much fresher look that’s constitutes the majority of the Virgin Australia fleet.

Our BNE-CNS ride -- another VA B737-800, but this time in the new livery

Our BNE-CNS ride — another VA B737-800, but this time in the new livery

This flight to Cairns was pretty much identical to the earlier flight to Brisbane – only an hour or so longer.  There were a couple of basic drink services from friendly flight attendants — again, nothing out of the ordinary.  The IFE screen was once again dysfunctional, which was again disappointing.  The pitch in the economy cabin was pretty bad — just as it was on the first flight.  Once again, the highlight of the flight was the view, as we had a great view of some portions of the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest as we flew into Cairns in Northeast Australia.  We made up some time from the delay, and arrived about an hour later than scheduled despite the initial 1:20 delay.

Overall, my experience on Virgin Australia was pretty comparable to a domestic flight on a legacy airline in the states.  There was nothing really special about the experience, to be honest.  The legroom was pretty bad, but that’s the case with most airlines in economy these days.  The price was right, as were the flight times, and those were the ultimate drivers in choosing these flights.  Though there was nothing really wrong with the flights, I do think the domestic Virgin Australia experience is a notch below that of the often raved about Virgin America in the US.

How I booked it…

As previously mentioned, I booked these flights with cash from the Virgin Australia website.