How Award Availablity Can Change Your LIfe - Ten Years of December in Chile and LAN

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by Bay Pisco Shark, Feb 13, 2011.  |  Print Topic

  1. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    In late 2001, two friends (brother and sister) whom I’ve known since I was 3, and their significant others, were planning to visit for New Year’s Eve. Time went by, no one would commit, and I finally decided “screw it, I don’t want to be the one home alone.” I had a bucket of Alaska Airlines miles and decided to see where they could take me. I called the Partner Award Desk, and decided I’d go where I’d always wanted to go, which was South Africa. I had booked an F award on BA from SFO to/from CPT and JNB and was all set. 3 segments in F, one in C. Confirmed. Oh wait, she said, as BA bounced back one of the segments as “unable” before the call ended. We tried some other days within the time frame, to no avail. From the highest high to the oh crap, now what do I do, all within a few minutes. So, I spent some more time with the agent, figuring out where to go, and on what airline. I had recently gotten a “tease” of Santiago on a short trip in the recent past (having gone on UA) and thought maybe I’d just get to taste more of Chile. Within another 30 minutes or less, I had a ticket to go to SCL and PUQ on a 10 day adventure, in first class, on Lan Chile (LA). Flying F on LA back then was really a fantastic experience. The hard product was so so, but with only 5 seats, and 2 flight attendants, with Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, the caviar cart, the austral king crab on the appetizer cart, the soup course, the salad course, the main course, the cheese course, the dessert course, and the wine and spirit selection, I was happy with a small video monitor. It even made having to connect down to LAX and use the craptastic TBIT which had the most marginal of lounges at the time, bearable. I went to three places on that trip. Santiago, Punta Arenas, and Viña del Mar. I rented cars @PUQ and back @SCL to drive to Viña. I met some interesting people, and flew home on New Year’s Eve, on just a wonderful flight. I was sad to leave, and knew I’d be back. After countless (maybe 60 to 75) trips to Western Europe, I knew that I belonged here more than any other place I’d been to. Or at least I knew I needed to explore more. Back then, LA flew a 767 down to PUQ, and had an opulent business class service, a light meal from SCL to PMC, and then a full dinner PMC/PUQ. I was the only passenger up front. When the FA learned that I had never been, she asked the captain if I could visit the cockpit over Torres del Paine. And so I did. Wow!

    A year later I took a similar trip, although I always wanted to explore new parts of the country, so I traveled north, and also, to Puerto Montt (PMC) in the mid part of the south. I believe it was on that trip that I made two friends with whom I still keep in touch. I’ve made several more acquaintances over the years, but they come and go. What was interesting, and telling, about where I was, and who I was meeting, is that the friends I’ve made are working class, don’t really have much, and didn’t want anything from me. In fact, both in Puerto Montt and in La Serena, I had invited (on subsequent trips) these two friends, respectively, to join me for out of town overnight trips. Both refused, and when I asked why, it was because they didn’t have any money to contribute. There are very few places one can travel where when the perceived rich gringo comes to town, that the aprovechadores aren’t swarming. Upon assuring them that I’m going anyway, I’ve already rented the car, and the lodging is the same, they agreed to go. If I recall correctly, I believe it was on that trip that on the way home (also New Year’s Eve), I was on an A340 SCL/LIM/LAX. I was the only F passenger. The captain asked if he could join me at dinner on the SCL/LIM segment. Sure. We had a pleasant chat for at least an hour. Then, he invited me to join them in the cockpit for LIM departure. And so I did. Wow!

    During the initial trips, my español was marginal. I was functional, but holding a meaningful conversation took a long time, and my head hurt. I had been to Mexico City many times, and to Buenos Aires a few times, but not spending quality time with people. And then, people who are drinking. And then trying to follow a conversation really makes your head hurt.

    After the second annual “New Year’s Eve On The Plane Home” trip, I decided that the next year would be with one of these friends, on the ground, in Puerto Montt. And that was how I rang in 2004, at his mom’s house, with family and friends, drinking Gato out of a box, having an evening that I can’t ever imagine having back home. The next day was a whole lamb cooked outside over wood. The taste and smell of that lamb lingered for years.

    We rang 2005 through 2010 in together in Santiago, where he had moved to. In the meantime, I continued to travel about Chile, brought family there, and I was no longer single in the meantime, so it meant finding award space for two, which while it was more difficult, always happened. There were side trips all over, including to that country on the other side of the Cordillera, where I hadn’t been since I first set foot in Chile. Fortunately, the demise of the F cabin on LA only happened a few years ago, so I got my fair share of service that I will never have again, but will remember fondly. I’ve also been to Chile during various other times of the year. But for 10 years, my year has ended in Chile (even if it was in the air, just after take off the first two times).

    During the late 2007 trip, we detoured to Buenos Aires, where I met my cousins’ friend and caretaker of their two apartments. After that trip, I began to investigate the ins and outs of buying an apartment in Buenos Aires. By late 2008, I became an international real estate magnate. Ok, not so much, but I do have a nice apartment in San Telmo. Why not in Chile you ask? There’s a good explanation for another day. And, I have become great friends with the caretaker friend, and also another FTer, who has an apartment on the snooty end of Buenos Aires.
    My friend that I spend each New Year’s Eve with said, a year ago, that he wanted to be in Puerto Montt with his family to ring in 2011. He thought it would be his father’s last New Year’s Eve. That was fine, and we planned on being there for the event. Those of you who may have read a trip report I wrote from my July trip know that his grandmother and his father passed away, a week apart, in July. So, I knew that this was going to be a difficult celebration for the family, and I was honored to be invited.

    So, the trip report actually begins here. That may take the prologue record for a trip report, but there you have it.

    The most recent trip began on a cold winter’s day in the Bay Area, having booked a room at the Holiday Inn South San Francisco, which included two weeks of parking, because it was cheaper than just parking the car. After a nice night’s sleep, it was off to the shuttle to go to SFO. LAN’s new service to LIM is great because I no longer have to awaken before dawn’s crack to fly to South America (if I want to fly LAN). The premium check in line was horrible. It wasn’t long, but there were complications. I don’t think any flights were going to/from the Northeast that day, and so there may have been a lot of reroutes, etc., who were being accommodated on LAN. Finally, we checked in , and were off to the BA lounge. It hasn’t changed from my prior reports. A nice space, crappy food selection, and then we were off.

    SFO/LIM - The crew was pleasant, but in a rush. Food was pretty good. Water bottles were not offered after the meal service. My pictures look like most all the other pictures I’ve posted, so there are no pretty pictures of food. I ate the food. They cleared the trays. The wine was very good. The IFE was good, as usual. The crew is Lan Peru on the SFO route, and I still think the Lan Chile crews are better. (My October trip was an exception.)

    LIM - There was time for a quick lounge snack and pisco sour, and then it was off to the next flight. The lounge snacks look like the ones in prior trip reports.

    LIM/SCL - LAN serves a full breakfast prior to arrival, but no real service right after departure. I picked at my breakfast, and then they cleared the tray.

    SCL - We spent 3 nights at the San Cristobal Tower. I love this hotel. Hanging out in Santiago, for 3 nights, with no real plans, was nice. The weather was good, and there isn’t much more to say, except that my other friend has moved back up north and I haven’t had a chance to see him in a couple of years.

    SCL/PMC - LAN’s domestic services for several years have all been one cabin. They all have a single snackbox, no matter the route. The good part is how they enforce boarding. Their airports in Chile have a sign for Rows 1-15 (or so) and 16 (or so) to the end. There is also a preferente line. One of the gate agents asks to see BPs before boarding even commences, to send you to the right line. (S)he also acts as carry-on police, scouring the floor for potential issues. The sizers by the door even have a built-in scale should it come to it.

    PMC - After a short wait for luggage, it was off in the taxi to the Hotel O’Grimm. This hotel has seen better days, but I still stay there. Not only is it good for the soul once in awhile staying somewhere where you can’t earn points, but they are just really nice there. Nicer than the beds or the bathrooms. Yet, I return, each time I am in town. Besides, the Holiday Inn Express in PMC just still looks out of place to me, and it is probably full of norteamericanos, kvetching about one thing or another.

    After an immediate post-check-in trip to the market to buy wine (as I am the self-designated wine supplier for all of our New Years celebrations), we went up to Angelmó for lunch - a traditional lunch of all things seafood, fresh out of the mar. It was then time to get a taxi up to my friend’s brother’s house, where the dinner would be. We got there at 8-something, on a lovely clear summer evening, with another 2-plus hours until it would be dark. Bit by bit, the family started showing up. I hadn’t seen his brother since before he was out of school. This time, I met his wife and two little kids. One of the sisters, and a neighbor, and of course, Mom, who really seemed to have a nice time. All in all, a lovely evening, in a humble little house, in Puerto Montt. The next afternoon we went to the campo for an asado of whole lamb. His brother’s father-in-law apparently provides the family a fresh lamb (already dead) for the annual tradition. The day was muy chileno - there were four of us packed in the back of a micro delivery truck on an old futon, with all the food supplies stacked about, for approximately 45 minutes of extreme discomfort. This was followed by carrying all the stuff out to a little campsite (some of them were already there), and then putting half the lamb on a skewer, and turning it by hand, until it was done. (Then the other half was similarly cooked.) Lamb and wine. Wine and lamb. Oh, and some salads. A beautiful clear summer day in the south (where it could have just as easily been raining). Probably 25% of the country spends its New Year’s Day in this manner. Before it got dark, it was time for abrazos fuertes and the realization that yet another year has passed, together, in Chile. It was the passing of a tough year for that family, and this year started out on a good note.

    After a light late dinner in town, it was time for bed, and then a trip back to PMC for the flights to SCL then EZE.

    PMC/SCL - Punctual, as usual, with the same snackbox as 2 days earlier.

    SCL - We had about 3 hours in the LAN Neruda lounge, where we had snackiecakes and wine, and champagne, and other assorted lounge items. The pictures, which you won’t find here, would look very similar to those in prior trip reports, had the new ones appeared here.

    SCL/EZE - The usual afternoon snack tray, basically a salad with a protein, and roasted vegetables, and a dessert. Service was pleasant, and the flight time was barely 1:30. The snack tray, had I posted a picture here, would look very similar to those in prior trip reports.

    EZE - A week at “home.” No real plans, just hung out, a dinner at Pura Tierra with an FT friend, a dinner at DesNivel with the FT friend and my caretaker/friend, a dinner at Sr. Telmo with my caretaker/friend, and all of us again, at my FT friend’s apartment. A new museum, walked around some different neighborhoods, all in all, a pleasant week. Finally, it was time to go, the taxi showed up early, there was no traffic, and we arrived EZE in less than 30 minutes, followed by horrendous lines for security and passport control. It is just one cluster&*%! of an airport, but if you expect it, it is what it is. But as compared to LIM and SCL, it is an embarrassment. The AA (AC) lounge snacks were the usual crap, and then it was time to board.

    EZE/LIM - The “cena express” service was eh - the crew was “eh.” This is a LP crew. Of the 3 or 4 times I’ve flown this sector, only one flight had really nice service.

    LIM - The same lounge, pisco sours, but then the barman was “out” of them when we wanted a second round. A bar in Lima being out of pisco sours is like McDs not having hamburgers. He was lazy and didn’t want to make more. He struggled to make my Piscola Light.

    LIM/SFO - The light post-take off snack, a movie, music, a snooze, then breakfast prior to SFO. This crew actually didn’t serve breakfast 2 hours before arrival (as some do). Hooray. The flight was pleasant enough, the Global Entry got me to the empty baggage carousel even faster, the bags didn’t take too long, nor did the shuttle back to the car, which was still there, and started, and then it was back home.

    Over the past ten years of flying Lan Chile (later, just LAN), I used to savor the flights, I couldn’t wait until I walked onboard, I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. It was always a great way to start and end a trip, and the airline was a great ambassador for its country. Of course, I only flew them in the F cabin (on awards) when they had that service. My first flights within Chile were in premium cabins, with excellent service. I thought I’d never see the inside of an inflight cockpit again, let alone be invited to visit for take off. While it will never happen again, no one can take that away from me. Now, flying LAN is rote, but it is acceptable, and I enjoy it most of the time. After having had a flight cancel last year and having been rerouted on AA, I know that my other alternatives to South America really are a bunch of poopoodoodookaka. Also, as I am flying down there more frequently and actually paying for a couple of the business class tickets a year, I know that if LAN still had 3 cabin service, I wouldn’t be sitting in the front one very often. So, all in all, the demise of the F cabin isn’t a tragedy. It is a fond memory.

    Over the past ten years of visiting Chile, I have seen a country really enter the first world. I’ve seen freeway systems built, and metro systems built, and a consumer economy grow (not always in a good way), and I have been from Lauca National Park (near the border of Bolivia) all the way to the Straits of Magellan, and many points in-between, many times. I’ve made (likely) lifetime friends and have met many decent and humble people in a true gem of a country that I fear isn’t going to remain quite the same way. Rarely do I leave the country without at least one tear, but there’s no sadness. Returning home means it is about time to try and grab some award space for the next year end’s trip. I don’t know when this ride will end. But 10 years is something. Also, my head doesn't hurt anymore during long conversations!

    And so, this all started because one day, my longtime friends flaked out on me, and then BA kicked back an award segment as unavailable. Because of this, look what happened. I spend every New Years in Chile, I own an apartment in Buenos Aires, I know and love people and places I’d never have known. Thank you British Airways. Thank you for denying me the trip I always thought I wanted to take. You have changed my life in ways I’d never have imagined.
     
    ossipago, Bonnie, k_malm and 13 others like this.
  2. kiwi
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    kiwi Gold Member

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    Nice story
     
  3. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Next December's trip is already booked!
     
  4. Casey Friday
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    Casey Friday Silver Member

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    Awesome story, great read!
     
  5. travelinmike33
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    travelinmike33 Silver Member

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    This just became my favorite trip report I've ever read. Very well-written and a great story. Hopefully bumping it with this comment will let more people read it.
     
  6. k_malm
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    k_malm Silver Member

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    Fantastic story/trip report! It makes me very excited for my visit to SCL in Feb!
     
  7. Bay Pisco Shark
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    Bay Pisco Shark Gold Member

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    Just over 3 weeks until Year 11.
     

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