Saturday, May 22, 2010

LAN - South America's Best Airline?

South America is about to get a little bit closer to North America - no, not from continental drift - but from a new nonstop service between San Francisco and Lima, Peru, aboard LAN Airlines. The four times weekly flights are set to start July 1.

This will make San Francisco the fourth United States gateway for Chile-based LAN, considered by many airline pundits to be South America's best airline. I haven't flown all of South America's many national and regional airlines, to be sure, but I share the high regard for LAN, an 80-year-old company that also flies to New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

My wife and I flew on LAN in 2007 during our first visit to South America and were impressed by the smart cabin crew, the toothsome food, the modern aircraft and a generally fine record of punctuality. (There was a one-hour delay in our departure from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina; it happens.) All told, our three short-haul flights between stylish Santiago, Mendoza with its high, dry wine country, and Buenos Aires with its hearty food and superb cafe life, were among the highlights of our trip. Of course, it would have been nice to fly Down Under from Up Over on LAN, too.

Come July 1, that will be possible. Nonstop San Francisco-Lima service, with connections to major South American cities such as Sao Paolo, Brazil, will run on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. LAN, a member of the oneworld alliance with British Airways, Qantas, American Airlines and others, plans to fly with business class (think 100 percent fully flat sleepers and individual 15.4-inch video screens) and economy class on the long-haul route (think complimentary wine and liquor and more than 350 music CDs). So, it shouldn't be too painful.

Despite the global recession, LAN is one of the few international carriers that seems to be doing alright. Aviation is continuing to grow in Latin America and LAN has a rep for being well-managed. LAN actually moved up requested delivery of Boeing's soon-to-launch B787 Dreamliner to 2011 from 2014, a rare move. Certainly, the airline's executives sound confident.

"This announcement represents LAN and its affiliates' continued commitment to growth in North America and expanding the travel options available to its passengers in this market,'' said Pablo Yunis, vice president of North America and the Caribbean, of the forthcoming San Francisco service.

LAN plans to fly the new route using Boeing B767-300s configured for 221 passengers.

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