My first trip report...
About this trip
I'd been planning to visit South America for a while. Timing at work meant I was able to book 2.5 weeks off just before Easter 2005, thus getting two "free" days (Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays in the UK). I had four places I wanted to visit: Cusco (Machu Picchu), Buenos Aires, Iguassu Falls, and Rio de Janerio.
The trouble with this itinerary was that there were a limited number of airlines serving both Lima and Rio from the UK. Also, being a BA
Executive Club member and a Continental OnePass member, I wanted to stick to those airlines or their codeshare partners. In the end, Continental worked out best in terms of price and itinerary.
All flights were booked either: on the airline's website; on Expedia.co.uk; or on Opodo.co.uk. All flights were on time unless mentioned otherwise.
I have included registrations where known, but some are not complete. For example, 114 might be N99114. If anybody can help complete the full registrations, I'd be grateful!
Flight summary: LGW
CO19 LGW-EWR 11-Mar 3483mi dep 1030 arr 1250 seat 40A gate 13 equipment B772 reg N27015
I'd stayed overnight at a local hotel in order to arrive at the airport early - nearly 4 hours early in fact. I thought I might beat most of the crowds, but no such luck! However, check-in didn't take long and Continental honoured my seat requests. The flight was actually a little oversold but they weren't expecting to need any volunteers for bumping. They packed my large backpack into a clear plastic bag to prevent the straps snagging on baggage equipment, which was a nice idea. The bag was checked through to Lima.
Push back was right on time, with take off from 26L at 1050. We flew pretty much straight up to FL300, barely pausing on the way. Departure was via the Poole and Barnstaple areas.
The handset for the IFE was pretty knackered. The direction arrow pad just kept wanting to go "right", so games were out. Using the channel up/down buttons worked for the movies and the skymap though.
Arrival into Newark involved an inland route some distance to the west of EWR
. We then turned east towards NYC before turning right and landing on the southerly, left hand runway at 1256.
Immigration had changed since I was last at EWR
. It took about 20 minutes, with my luggage arriving on the belt as I approached. I threw my checked bags onto the connecting flights line, which was hectic, and headed into New York City via the new airport railway station.
CO1952 EWR-LIM 11-Mar 3631mi dep 2200 arr 0600 seat 26F equipment B752 reg N__114
After an embarrassing trip via deepest New Jersey courtesy of an ignorant New Jersey Transit conductor who didn't appear to know his train didn't stop at EWR
, I arrived back at EWR
with plenty of time to spare. I bought one of those travel pillows to help sleep, which amused a couple of passengers as I inflated it on the plane!
I'd heard on a.net that flying a B752 long haul was not good - or at least that was the perception of people who'd never tried it. I can honestly say that there was no problem whatsoever. No claustraphobia and no problem with trolleys - they kept their usage to a minimum, carrying trays and drinks from the trolley parked at a passing point to the passengers.
During the night we passed Cuba were, 37,000ft below us, was a work colleague of mine!
Arrival into Lima was slightly delayed as they tried to get the new jet bridges to work! Immigration was straightforward, as was baggage claim. The next interesting point was customs. Some people had said that all baggage was x-rayed before leaving the area for no apparent reason. In reality only some
luggage is x-rayed, other luggage is searched manually. It's all for customs, to prevent the importation of illegal items. Whether you get x-rayed or searched is down to a random button press - you are directed to hit a button and an arrow points which way you go!
Outside were the expected taxi hustlers. As I was connecting to another flight, all I said was "domestic terminal". Several people escorted me there although I could have found the way myself. I don't know whether they wanted paying - but they certainly weren't!
LP027 LIM-CUZ 12-Mar dep 0910 seat 8A equipment A320
We got bussed out to the plane, as it appeared most domestic arrivals/departures were parked away from the terminal.
A snack lunch was served. This consisted of something akin to a hot spring roll (ie like Chinese spring rolls) and a lemoney dessert.
Arrival into Cusco was an interesting affair. First of all, bear in mind Lima is near sea level, but Cusco is some 11,000ft up. So initial ascent to 27,000ft took maybe 15-20 minutes, level flight another 15 minutes, but descent only 10 minutes before we were in the landing configuration. Along the way we passed the end of the runway at an angle, turned left to fly parallel to the runway in the next valley with the wingtips close to the trees and hillside, then did a 180 degree turn to land. Landing was fast and the pilots really stood on the brakes in order to slow down to taxi speed by the end of the runway! Thin air at that altitude.
The next few days were spent in Cusco and on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. Well worth the visit.
LP026 CUZ-LIM 18-Mar dep 1205 seat 9L equipment A320
The flight was listed as "sold out". In fact there were several seats available, but there may have been weight restrictions.
Again, because of the thin air, the take off roll was long. Apparently some pilots request a routing over Machu Picchu but this didn't happen today. I'm not sure we would have seen much because it was a little hazy anyway.
Food was similar to the outbound trip.
We parked at Lima right next to the terminal. Still we had to board a bus for the 50m journey! While on the bus I met two people who had been on the Inca trail with me. They were supposed to have been on a later flight but LAN re-sold their seats despite them confirming the day before! They were accommodated on this earlier flight instead.
LP5563 (LA563) LIM-SCL 18-Mar dep 1510 arr 1930 seat 30A equipment B763 reg CC-C20
This flight was advertised as over an hour late. This meant I was in risk of missing my connection in SCL
. I tried to explain this to the check-in staff but they weren't concerned. All I could do was wait and see.
As it happened, the flight rolled in at about 1430. Strangely there were only about 12 passengers waiting at the gate. I thought this was going to be one empty flight! Alas, it was not to be. In fact, I think we were lucky to board at all. The plane had originated in Miami and done a couple of stops before Lima, and was thus nowhere near empty!
I found that somebody was sitting in my seat. I tried to explain to her that she was in the wrong seat, but my lack of Spanish and her (alleged) lack of English meant she was determined to stay put. A flight attendant was called, he asked for her boarding pass, but she had "lost" it. Yeah right. The FA
was not amused as he didn't believe her either. He offered me a drink while he sorted out a seat for me. So I hung out in the galley at the back with this friendly FA
and even wandered out onto the rear stairs without any comments from the FAs.
Eventually, after more brandishing of my boarding pass by various FAs and gate agents, I pointed to a seat that appeared to be unoccupied and suggested I sit there. This they readily agreed to and I took my place. Unfortunately, that seat was in the rear row in the centre block of seats. At least it was an aisle seat, but I had no view outside the plane. Oh well, lucky to be even on the plane!
To my pleasant surprise, this aircraft was fitted with AVOD - video on demand! So I had the pleasure of watching, pausing, and rewinding a movie! There were about a dozen movie choices IIRC, including REM in concert which was an unusual but pleasant addition.
Dinner was good. I can't remember what it was, but I had some Chilean white wine with it, which was rather nice. Especially nice as there's no extra charge unlike Continental.
The girl sitting next to me was somewhat pretty. She kept pointing things out on the AVOD system to me and the bloke sitting on her other side. I didn't really need the help but who is to turn down attention from a beauty?!?!
Upon arrival into SCL
about 20 minutes late, with a wink goodbye from the girl, it appeared there were several people connecting to EZE
. Agents waiting at the gate directed us through security and up into the departure lounge. No passport check, which was a shame as I wanted another stamp!
was probably the most interesting airport I'd been to in South America so far. Plenty of shops, bars, and snack bars.
LA491 SCL-EZE 18-Mar dep 2120 arr 0015 seat 7J equipment A320
I'd wanted a window seat but none were available, despite receiving my boarding pass at LIM
several hours earlier. It was dark anyway, so I doubt I would have seen much.
Nothing much to say about this flight really!
AR2734 AEP-IGR 21-Mar dep 1255 arr 1440 equipment MD80 reg LV-ZSD
The scene upon arrival into this downtown airport was chaotic. Huge queues for all the desks. I wasn't sure which one to use so I picked the one listed on the monitor. Again, I don't speak Spanish and "Puerto" (gate) wasn't mentioned next to the number. So I assumed it was the check-in desk number. I wasn't convinced but it didn't harm to join that queue. It turned out, of course, that it was indeed the gate number, and any Aerolineas Argentinas or Austral desk could have been used.
A good view of the apron and runway could be had from airside. I got several photos although lighting wasn't great.
Once in Iguassu, I was hoping to use taxis to get from the airport to the Argentinian side of the falls, from there to the hotel on the Brazilian side, and from there to the Brazillian side of the falls the next day, and then on to the airport. But there was no taxi to be had at the airport - and, luckily for me, none at the falls either. Two tour organisers in the airport offered me complete trips. One started at 500 pesos (about £100 or US$180), the other quoted 350 pesos for exactly the same thing. I eventually settled for the third option, unmetered taxis for 180 pesos but that didn't include the next day's travels (which cost 35 pesos). So the moral of this story is: have everything booked BEFORE you go to Iguassu, else you'll get ripped off or stranded!
RG2163 IGU-GIG 22-Mar dep 1240 arr 1430 equipment MD11 reg PP-VRA
I'd booked this flight for two reasons: firstly to fly on an MD
-11, something which I haven't done before, and secondly because it was one of the few (only?) direct flights to GIG
-11 was huge but something was wrong. I didn't figure it out until I got close to the plane where the words "Boeing 777" were painted on the fuselage... the "wrong" thing was the lack of a third engine! Slight disappointment there.
There was an IFE system but it was never activated during the flight.
Food was a kind of hot chicken and cheese sandwich. Two triangular halves, one white and one brown, had their crusts delicately cut off. The white one was nice; the brown had some kind of sweet pickle or chutney and was foul. I'm not so sure it was chicken really as it didn't taste like it!
I waited at GIG
for the CO
customer help desk to open, with the intention of applying for an upgrade with OnePass miles on my return to Newark. Alas, the agent had no customer relations experience and practically yelled at me for daring to even ask such a stupid question. Of COURSE the airport can't do upgrades! I have to call the OnePass centre, how dumb of me. Sinking way down to her level, I called her a useless b-h and walked off. The people behind me laughed, whether with me or at me I don't know, and didn't particularly care at that point!
CO94 GIG-GRU 26-Mar dep 1945 arr 2105 500mi (rounded) equipment B764 seat 40A
I have to say that GIG
is quite possibly the most depressingly boring international airport I've ever been to. There is virtually nothing airside! I should have stayed landside but, of course, by the time I discovered that, I couldn't go back.
This was a short flight, just 45 minutes flying time to GRU
. One plane leaves GIG
every night for GRU
, from where some passengers like me disembark and catch the adjacent GRU
flight. The ex-GIG
flight carries on to IAH
I had seat B next to me available, as the flight was nowhere near full. I guess it filled up more at GRU
Arrival was confusing as the FAs told us to go straight to gate 12. Gate 12 was to our right - we could see the plane. But somebody pointed us the other
way - down towards gate 6. It turned out that we had to go through security again before walking back up to gate 12. A better explanation on-board CO94 would have saved the 40-something connecting passengers a lot of confusion.
CO30 GRU-EWR 26-Mar dep 2205 arr 0600 equipment B762 reg N68155 seat 35B
A day earlier, I had gone online to change my overnight seat reservations from a window to an aisle seat. I noticed that this and my next flight weren't fully booked, so I found a pair of seats together that hadn't been booked. Alas, by the time the flight was boarded, I had a travel companion. There were other open seats on the plane though. Still, he was no bother and didn't even get up during the entire 10 hour flight.
The rearmost A/B/C block of seats, maybe 8-10 rows, completely lost IFE halfway through the movie. This was rectified within a few minutes, although it judderred repeatedly with frozen screens and lost dialogue.
The IFE wasn't the only thing juddering. We had mild to medium turbulence pretty much all the way, with the seatbelt sign on most of the night. I nearly lost my drink during the meal as well, with the FA
splashing me while she poured my companion's drink! I was talking to the captain while walking to immigration the next day and he said that route is usually pretty rough, particularly over the Amazon basin.
Both of us had sleeping pills to help with the night. Talking about it the next morning, we both slept like babies! Still, 5 hours on a plane in an upright position is no substitute for a proper bed so I was somewhat groggy as I ate breakfast in New York. I had 12 hours between flights (by design - I wanted a break). I wandered around Central Park and went to see the Easter Sunday "parade" which turned out to be rather pathetic. Even my local town's carnival is better (it doesn't have one).
Back to the airport again, this time on the right
CO18 EWR-LGW 27-Mar dep 1840 arr 0740 equipment B772 seat 42C reg N__015
Boarding started 50 minutes before departure, the earliest I've ever boarded a plane. Added to that, they'd done pre-boarding collection of immigration departure cards and ID
checks, so boarding was fast.
I thought I'd got all 3 seats to myself when, at the last moment, another bloke came along. Grrr! But he took one look at the empty row behind where a woman had earlier been sitting, and declared he was taking that one instead! I did comment on the fact that somebody had been sitting there but he was unconcerned. She never appeared again anyway.
I heard somebody mention that there were 60 seats open on this flight. Indeed there appeared to be. Somebody in the aisle seat opposite, seat 42D with companions in 42E and F, glared at me from time to time as if to say "why don't you share those seats?". Sure - just ask. He didn't, and so I didn't. Call me greedy but it's every man for himself!
The IFE on this plane was also problematic with sound only out of the left speaker. I tried all three sets of headphones in all three seats, all with the same problem. As the only movie I wanted to watch was Ray, the lack of right headphone meant the music was all wrong (try listening to Beatles songs with one earpiece - half the instruments are missing!). What little sound came out the left ear was fuzzy and distorted so I gave up and read a book instead.
With this only being a 6 hour flight, and the fact I was at the rear of the aircraft, meant I didn't get dinner until about 2.5 hours into the flight. I needed to eat, but also wanted to sleep.
In the end, with the gaggle of noisy schoolgirls in the rows in front, I managed to get about 2 hours, laid horizontally across all 3 seats. I used the seat belts from the B and C seats to create a loop big enough to wrap around me (they're not designed to fit somebody laying across
the seats!) although the anchor point dug in a little. I declined the breakfast offer, preferring instead to sleep more - which failed as I was awake by then.
Arrival into Gatwick was a few minutes late due to the normal tail winds being weaker than usual.
And that ended 2.5 weeks of travel. A whistlestop tour of part of South America, but it has at least set me up for future travel to the region. Peru I'd love to visit again. Argentina was okay. Brazil I found reasonable but the dangers and annoyances tended to spoil it a little. Some Brazilian women are incredibly beautiful though!
All the airlines used were of decent quality with no significant delays. All flights offered drinks and most offered a snack or meal service. Continental's IFE was distinctly poor though, something which I have written to CO
about. It's as if it's never been maintained since the plane entered service. I never had these problems in years gone past on CO
. To have poor IFE on one flight out of four is one thing, but to have problems on three
out of four long haul flights is rather poor.
Hope you enjoyed reading!