Welcome to my 7th tripreport!
This report features the first two flights taken on my journey from Bolivia to Germany in December 2011: TACA Perú on LPB-LIM and TAM on LIM-GRU. Both flights were on A320s.
The complete itinerary:
Map generated by the awesome Great Circle Mapper: http://www.gcmap.com
The flights covered in this report:
Map generated by the awesome Great Circle Mapper: http://www.gcmap.com
So after almost three months in beautiful and exciting Bolivia my time there has come to an end. Life had some interesting turns ahead, so I am leaving Bolivia behind with mixed feelings.
My journey down to Bolivia in early October (see links to the TRs at the end of the report) has been a great one in an enthusiast point of view. Next to the rare A340-500 luck had it that I got to fly AeroSur’s most rare B727-200 and B727-200. With the trouble AeroSur is in, those planes will probably never break through the clouds again.
I booked the journey down to Bolivia on the same ticket as the flights I cover in this and the upcoming report already in May 2011, so a couple of months ahead. The objective, next to getting me down to Bolivia and back to Germany again, was, of course to sample as many carriers and different aircrafts possible. While the flights down fulfilled my objective to the fullest, the itinerary back was not quite so special. But thanks to the many interline agreements of TAM, the airline forming the backbone of my ticket, I was at least able to book myself on a new carrier which I will feature in this report: TACA Perú.
Goodbye, La Paz!
Two days before my departure from La Paz I definitely had the impression Bolivia did not want me to leave. As it happens so often to Europeans in South America, a couple of very little minute beings somehow made it into my intestines. Now, the problem is, that those folks were somehow seen as foreigners down there and, what adds to that, my belly does not hold much of multiculturalism. So out they had to go again, no matter the cost. I spare you graphic descriptions of my last days in Bolivia but I was quite pissed off I wasn’t able to have some final tasty Anticuchos before my departure. Luckily I recovered a little on the day before my flights after eating nothing but bananas and toasted bread for half a week. On the evening before my departure I bought myself a couple of imodium to stop my intestines from working and fixed up a taxi to take me to the airport the next morning.
Thankfully, I felt much better the next morning and took my first dose of Imodium which thankfully did the trick. Well, it did it for 4 whole days.. but that is another story. I left the house at 5:45am for my 8:55am departure, seeing that I did not want to risk anything with my flights. My driver showed up and we did our 20 minute run to the airport. The last view of the city in the morning dim was exceptionally spectacular, but I was too tired to bother with a photo. In the end, we arrived at the airport almost three hours before my flight, but better safe than sorry.
La Paz-El Alto International Airport
The first view of the departure area was pretty shocking for me. It was the first time for me at LPB in the morning hours when it is the airport’s major departure wave. It has the AA 757 leaving as well as many BoA and AeroSur flights with one-stop international connections at CBB or VVI, respectively. And of course, also my TACA Perú flight. So I got to see LPB crowded for the first time. And as the AA flight was delayed and as the TACA/Avianca and AA desks are located right next to each other, there was a lot of confusion.
I joined the TACA queue and pulled out my OLCI boarding pass (getting this was a seamless process on TACA’s very functional website). This immediately sparked the interest of a TACA employee handing out luggage tags to waiting passengers to write their name and address on. She immediately directed me to the business class check in counter (there was no dedicated line for OLCI pax) where she told me to wait for an agent. After five minutes of waiting an agent showed up and proceeded to check me in. Great for me as I was able to save myself of waiting about half an hour in the economy lane behind many inexperienced travellers with 2 suitacases each. Not so great however to see the business class counter unstaffed.
The friendly agent welcomed me, confirmed my seating preference and the existence of my M&M number in the system. She checked my luggage directly to MAD, the end of my ticket. I asked her to send it directly to MUC (I had a selfmade connection with LH from MAD to MUC) but her supervisor told her not to do that. Well in a case of misconnection TACA is screwed, so I kind of understand that. Not too much of a problem for me, either, so I saved my energy and did not try to argue with her.
After I got rid of my luggage I explored airside area one last time and settled down for my last bananas-and-toasted-bread-breakfast. Yuck.
Plane exists. Good.
Overview of the check-in area.
AA and TACA check-in chaos.
As soon as most of the AA passengers cleared security and immigration I also cleared the checkpoints to avoid longer waiting times. LPB’s international concourse is very, very, very tiny. In fact, it only consists of one gate, its waiting area, an (uninspiring) Duty Free store and a small souvenir and café outlet. With two flights leaving with about 120 pax each (AA also picks up passengers at VVI before going to MIA) the area was packed to the brim with mostly backpackers and expats heading home for the holidays. Tarmac views are just as impossible as entertaining oneself with reading or some music when there are hordes of screaming little children around you. To make things worse, I was stopped from taking pictures by a security staff employee.
LPB’s only international gate. Both the TACA and the AA flight show as “boarding” which, in fact, they weren’t. The confused passengers provide at least some form of entertainment.
Boarding then finally started right after the AA flight had finally boarded. Despite all the confusion and slightly delayed boarding call the whole affair was still very civilized. Business and status passengers were allowed first on board and then rows were called up. The whole process was very strictly enforced. Way to go TACA! As a bonus we were boarding by stairs and not the jetbridge as the finger was still occupied by the 757. My attempt of taking a picture of the shiny pencil was immediately stopped by one of the many security guards on the tarmac offguarding the American plane. I have never seen this before in Bolivia, so AA seems to get a very special treatment here.
I was able to take a picture of our Airbus without a problem though.
20 December 2011
Flight TA 038
08:52-09:40 (on time)
A friendly welcome when I enter the plane. How I had missed that! As this plane featured the old TACA livery I somehow was prepared to find an older interior here, but the cabin was very new and modern and had a fresh and airy feel. The A320 featured a 3-row business class section. Economy seats were those slimline Recaro seats known from a couple of other airlines, which I find quite comfortable.
My row of seats. A couple of stains on the floor, but other than that, the cabin was clean and left a good impression
Plenty of legroom.
Seat pocket contents.
No under-wing shots in this report, so I dedicate this to Markus instead.
Back of the safety card
Boarding still underway.
AA pushing back next to us.
The load in Economy turns out to be at around 80%. Before pushback, the captain welcomed us onboard and announced the flight time as 1 hour and 45 minutes with an expected on-time arrival into LIM. During pushback, a safety demo is played on the overhead screens. We take off and leave La Paz behind.
Must have a 727 in a report . Although I admit this will be hard to keep up.
El Alto lies below us.
After takeoff, headsets are distributed. The entertainment system consists of sitcoms (Friends, The Middle) played on the overhead screens. Due to rough air, however, seatbelt signs remain on a little longer and it takes a while until service is started. More time to peek outside. Sadly, there are more and more clouds outside.
In-flight service consisted of snack boxes which were quickly handed out by the crew. The snack tray consisted of a ham and butter sandwich, a fruit salad and a sweet pastry. A decent offer for a flight of that length. Also, a full beverage service was conducted. Despite the early morning hour, the crew also had whiskey, wine and vodka on their trolley. My request for two drinks (tea, OJ) was gladly fulfilled by the all-male crew. I did not interact much with the crew, but they left a good impression. Their English skills were also quite good which is not something that should be generally expected in South America.
The rest of the flight remained uneventful and it was mainly overcast, so views of Peru were limited.
Reaching the Pacific.
Descending into foggy LIM.
The big dog @ LIM.
TACA hub operation in full swing.
An example with the newer livery is also present.
The 763 got so much sexier with its huge winglets.
As we stop before we turn into your gate half of the passengers jump up and start fetching their things from the overhead bins. So after the orderly boarding process the passengers at least fulfilled some of the prejudices I hold about air travel in Latin America .
TACA Business class seats.
I knew that I had to re-clear security at Lima. But with all the TACA and LAN passengers having international connections at this morning hour this process turned out to be quite unnerving. There were much more people waiting for to pass the checkpoint than would fit into the waiting area. So the queue extended quite far into the transit corridor. Of course many pax in transit (like me) just passed right by the end of the queue as it was unclear for what all those people were waiting for. It could also have been the line for immigration. Only when I turned around the corner twice I saw that this was actually the queue for pax in connection. I really hate to jump queues but due to the continuous stream of passengers behind me it would have been impossible to flight my way back. So I saved myself maybe 20 minutes waiting time. In the end I needed to wait over half an hour until I was able to pass the checkpoint. If I had joined the queue at the end, I would have lost 50 minutes of my connection time. For the airlines operating a hub at LIM this situation must be unacceptable.
Tiny connection corridor. The queue for security started about 20m down.
Thankfully, I was in no big rush, so I made my way to the VIP Club Lounge, one of the two independent lounges at Lima. The lounge was very spacious but almost totally deserted. There was a staffed bar with a very friendly waiter, a large section with PCs for business work and iMacs for games. The self-service bar had a large selection of sandwiches, cut fruits, freshly squeezed juices, cakes and cereals available. Internet was a bit slow but it was nevertheless a nice place to hang out. Internet was a bit slow and it took me over 15 minutes to check in for my Lufthansa flight on the next day. Also, I was stopped of taking pictures.
Airside at LIM.
Inside the lounge.
Some Cava to celebrate the day. Notice the Holland Herald -- KLM apparently uses this lounge.
A small outside area – either for those who crave oxygen or a quick fix of nicotine.
Disregarding the security re-clearance experience, LIM seemed to be a very modern and clean airport.
45 minutes before STD of my TAM flight I went to the gate to check whether my luggage made it and also to enquire to ask about the load on the GRU-MAD sector. I was met with a smile from both of the agents at the counter and they immediately handed me my boarding passes for the next two legs on TAM. They confirmed that the GRU-MAD flight would be full, so I asked them to change my seat assignment. I had pre-reserved a window seat in a row with a vacant seat next to it. I asked them to give me an aisle seat instead, which I find much more comfortable on longer flights. They quickly fulfilled my request. Very good first impression here. Boarding for my second flight was called only a couple of minutes later. Boarding by groups was also strictly enforced here.
Our A320. Those double glasses are not that good for spotting.
On the way to our plane. I wonder how long we’ll see the Star Alliance logo on this bird…
20 December 2011
TAM Linhas Aéreas
Flight JJ 8067
11:55-19:30 (20 minute ATC delay)
Again, a friendly welcome here by one of the flight attendants. Again, “real” business class here onboard. Pillows and blankets were placed on the seats in Economy. I settled down in the second last row (impossible to pre-select a seat in the last row) and watched the boarding process.
Business class seats.
My row of seats.
Very tight legroom. I am sitting as upright as I can here.
I was joined by two seatmates in my row which were about as tall as me. I knew that this was never going to work. As the last row stayed empty I moved there after asking a flight attendant. After I started getting comfortable I was approached by the same flight attendant again asking me if I could move over to the aisle seat in the neighboring row as there was a man travelling with his toddler in a row of three pax. Of course I complied with this request. So I had to give up the window but at least I had an aisle seat and a free seat next to me. The man with his toddler profoundly thanked me and as I later watched the toddler spotting planes as we taxi out to the runway I know I had done the right thing .
After boarding, the flight attendants started with their pre-departure service and distributed candies. I also asked for a glass of water which was promptly delivered to me.
Next to the tight legroom TAM cram quite a few magazines in their seat pockets:
TAM fleet from its on-board magazine.
Cover of its in-flight magazine.
The captain announced an ATC delay of about 40 minutes but gladly (for my connection at GRU) it did not take quite so long. The crew distributed headphones right after takeoff and some animated movie is played on the overhead screens. As with TACA, no airshow was featured on-board. To entertain myself, I started to kick some pig’s ass.
As on the TACA flight, the seatbelt sign stayed on for quite a while so it took some time for service to start and a little longer until the cart reached the last row. Before the carts were rolled out, hot towels were distributed. Meanwhile the captain came on the speakers and gave us some route details. He also announced that we are currently cruising over Lago Titicaca which is visible to the right. As I had of course visited this impressive place I wanted to take a look of it myself. Luckily the lake was visible from the small window in the galley.
It took a couple more minutes until I got my food. Pasta or beef were the choices. I opted for the vegetarian option: Cheese ravioli with mushrooms, salad and a cake. A tasty, but not overwhelming meal. All was washed down with a cold beer (Heineken…). After that, the cabin got quiet and most of the passengers either dozed or watched the movie.
I could neither sleep nor did I find the movie interesting nor was my seat comfortable. So I decided to move to the galley to stretch out. The flight attendant who asked me to move seats (and also noticed me taking pictures) was also present there and we quickly started a very long and nice conversation about many topics from developmental sociology, the Munich Hofbräuhaus to (of course) air travel, airlines and the LATAM-merger. Time really flew by on this flight. As we started talking about beers he offered me a can of a Brazilian dark beer they also cater on board (First time having dark beer on an aircraft!) and another lager. He also offered me a leftover meal, which I declined. Great guy, great service, thumbs up, TAM! This all made me quickly forget the uncomfortable seat and the missing window.
During the last 90 minutes of the flight, the crew distributed cups with water from a tray.
Duty free sale.
Oh the horror! Oh the blasphemy! (Didn’t taste too bad though)
BTW: here are my boarding passes
And the legroom shot of the new seat (I’m 6’ 2’’).
I hear many of you are interested in TAM’s F/As .
We then descended into the Mega-polis that is Sao Paulo and arrived on stand with a 20-minute delay, thus cutting significantly down my connection time at GRU.
I managed to peek over the shoulder of my seat neighbor during approach.
Far from home...
Beautiful evening scenery after a rain shower.
TACA Perú offered a decent product on this sector of less than two hours. Breakfast service was very adequate, the cabin was well maintained (disregarding a couple of stains at the floor) and seats were comfortable. Interaction with airport staff and crew was minimal, but they all left a professional and positive impression.
On the longer transcontinental flight with TAM the cabin failed to impress. Seat pitch was tight and to make things worse TAM stuffs many (uninteresting) magazines in their seat pockets. What did impress, though, were the staff and the service concept. The hot towel service and the pre-departure candy was a very nice touch. The friendly and interactive crew offering seconds on food and drinks and being genuinely interested in the customer left a great impression. Thumbs down on the hard product, thumbs up on TAM’s people.
The journey home with TAM (GRU-MAD) on an A330-200 and the Euro-hop on LH (MAD-MUC) will be featured in an upcoming report.
Thank you for reading!
Feedback is greatly appreciated.
Bolivian Top Gun? Transporte Aéreo Militar (B462) (by volvair Mar 18 2012 in Trip Reports)
Andes, Jungles, Metroliners: Prop-Hops In Bolivia (by volvair Dec 10 2011 in Trip Reports)
Democracy Aloft? Boliviana De Aviación 733/CBB-LPB (by volvair Nov 19 2011 in Trip Reports)
Of Buckets & 3-Holed Workhorses:5L 732, 722 To LPB (by volvair Nov 8 2011 in Trip Reports)
The Withering Ultra-Longhauler: TAM A345/MXP-GRU (by volvair Oct 22 2011 in Trip Reports)
A Failed Escape From The Drunkards: EN/Y/MUC-MXP (by volvair Oct 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
[Edited 2012-04-06 10:11:07]
[Edited 2012-04-06 10:14:33]