The alarm woke us early, and we headed by taxi for Cusco airport, for our first flight of the day to Lima, where we would have a few hours to wait for our onward flight to Buenos Aires. However, today, things were not going to go to plan!
The weather in Cusco didn’t seem too bad, but the airport was closed for incoming flights. Nobody had any idea when flights might arrive from Lima, and what had seemed to be a long four hour wait in Lima eventually looked like it would no longer enough time to make our Buenos Aires connection.
Our first flight was booked with local carrier Star Peru, and our connection in Lima was with LAN. We talked with representatives of both airlines, and the staff at the LAN counter told us that we would be able to push our LAN flight back at no charge, but this would mean a delay of over 12 hours in Lima.
As time ticked on, Star Peru couldn’t give us a departure time, and suggested that LAN may be able to fly earlier, as they had larger planes. We asked Star Peru about a refund, but they wouldn’t or couldn’t do that. “Ees no possible!”
We discussed the price at the LAN desk of buying a Cusco to Lima flight with them, and found that it would cost an extra US $140, but staff there said that their flight wouldn’t make our connection either, so there was no point paying the extra money.
We decided that our best option was to delay our Lima to Buenos Aires flight by the suggested 12 hours, and returned to the LAN desk to do this. We were told that they would try to arrange this, and to come back in half an hour. Half an hour later we were on our way back to the LAN desk, when both LAN and Star Peru started calling for passengers for departure.
We rushed to the desk, but were told that arrangements to change our flight times hadn’t yet been made, but that they had been talking to representatives in Lima, and we would be able to finalise details when we arrived there.
On our plane, which was boarded quickly as there weren’t many passangers, it looked like we might actually beat the LAN plane next to us to depart, and sure enough we pushed back and headed for the runway first. If all went well we would be in Lima before the departure of our onward flight, but with bags to collect, airport taxes to pay, customs to clear, and a new gate to find, our connection was practically impossible. But we should have no problem changing times, as promised by LAN staff as we departed.
On the runway we powered up and accelerated down the runway, almost reaching lift off speed when the plane lurched violently to the right. I was sat in the right hand window seat, with Val on my left. I heard myself in an amazingly calm voice giving a running commentary of what was happening: “Something’s wrong, were well over to the right, were on the grass now, now back on tarmac again. That was close!” In my head my thoughts were quicker than my calm-sounding words had been able to come out, and as I had felt the right wheel go into the rough, bumpy grass, I had had visions of the plane being dragged round to the right and the right wing hitting the ground with potentially disastrous consequences – we really had been travelling fast at the time.
But the pilots had reacted quickly, and we had made it safely back onto the tarmac, and coasted back into the terminal. We asked a couple of staff what had happened, and between my poor Spanish and their poor English, I am pretty sure that the fuel had shut down to the right engine, causing us to slew to the right. Fuel cart operators swarmed around the right hand side of the plane, and we watched the LAN plane depart without incident.
Forty minutes later we pushed back again, and I think all aboard breathed a quiet sigh of relief as we took off without further issues.
In Lima we had missed our flight by quite a while by the time we recovered our bags, and in initial enquiries at the LAN counter, we were told that they could not change our flight times, as our original flight had already departed. “Ees no possible.” We soon asked to speak to a supervisor!
For over three hours we argued our case, and the supervisor tried many phone calls to resolve our situation, but kept coming up against the same brick wall. The supervisor’s duty manager would not authorise a change to the later flight. Before long there were no seats left on the later flight, and the only option was a flight the next morning. We kept getting the same answer, “Ees no possible,” and continued requests to speak directly to the duty manager were met with promises to make this happen, but the duty manager never materialised.
We checked the price of tickets on the morning flight, and were shocked to find that they were over US $1,100. As I continued to argue our case as calmly as possible with our supervisor, Val checked out alternate options on the internet via his iPhone. Maybe if we flew to Santiago first? What about if we bought an extra ticket to Iguassu Falls? I put this to the LAN staff. “Ees no possible!”
What about if we paid the $140 that it would have cost us to change to the LAN flight from Cusco? “Eef you had done that, your follow-on flight could have been changed. But because you were on Star Peru, ees no possible to change!” But if we paid the $140 now? “Ees no possible after flight has left!”
What is possible then? “You buy another teeket.” Hmmm.
Eventually our supervisor’s shift came to and end, and she talked with her colleague who was coming on duty. Our departing supervisor had been as helpful as possible, but had been unable to produce a solution. The new supervisor was simply stone-wall unhelpful. “There ees nothing we can do here at airport – you must try customer services in city.”
We rang the customer services number, and tried to explain the whole complicated situation. The best option they could offer was to email in a complaint, but told us that that would take weeks to process. We needed to be in Buenos Aires in the next day or two, as after visiting Iguazu Falls we have an onward flight to Rio, and Carnival there.
It was slowly becoming crystal clear that our only option for now was going to be to buy a new ticket. On the web, Val had come up with the best case option, which was through Santiago, to Buenos Aires, and on to Iguassu in Argentina. And this option was with LAN, with whom we had been arguing for several hours.
We both felt reluctant to spend any more money with them, but practicality won the day. As I was on the phone to customer services at the time, I went ahead and booked, and used Val’s credit card. The flights were costing us $778 each!
For me it was a horrendous financial blow, as funds for the South America leg of my journey had been quite tight. I had already had to spend over $1,500, with LAN again, to get to Easter Island and back!!
I was told that we would get an email in an hour or so to confirm our booking, the first leg of which departed in about four hours. We did not receive this, but Val got a call from his wife in Colorado, whose number we had given as a contact. LAN could not process our tickets, as their representative had forgotten to add on $30 per ticket admin fee, and we had to call them again to authorise this. By now we were both pretty-much at the end of our patience with LAN, and I was particularly furious about the extra charge.
We went to the LAN counter again, and they confirmed that a $30 fee was necessary. Would it be possible to waive the fee if we paid here at the desk? “Waive fee ees no possible!” Of course!
However, we discovered that if we had booked online, there wouldn’t have been a fee. Could we book online now to avoid the extra $60, we asked. “Ees no possible, online booking has to be made four hours before departure.” It was now 3 hours 55 minutes until our flight left! Perhaps if the customer service rep on the phone had thought to mention this?
Val got back on the phone to argue the case about the fee. Could they possibly waive this, as their rep had forgotten to mention it, had forgotten to add it to the original price, and had not mentioned an hour earlier that we could book online. “Ees no possible!” Val exploded. “What is possible with your airline. I wonder how it is even possible for you to get a plane of the ground!” Eventually he had to authorise the payment of the extra $60.
Just before we boarded the plane, I saw Val stomping around at the departure gate, growling and cursing into his phone. Before he had even sat down to tell me what had happened, I was laughing, as I already had my suspicions.
Val had got another message from his wife Brenda, and to add insult to injury, LAN had debited his card twice, once for $1,556 for the two tickets, and then again for $1,616, for the two tickets again, plus the $60 admin fee for the ‘convenience’ of having booked via an ‘efficient’ customer services agent!
On the flights we travelled on from Lima to Santiago and Santiago to Buenos Aires, there were several empty seats, and LAN Airlines could have easily transferred us to those flights at no cost at all. But one obstructive, and unobtainable duty manager had refused to help us out.
Obviously both Val and I are submitting complaints, but will have to do so separately, as our tickets were booked separately. I will, of course, be referencing this website and blog. As in all complaints, I think it is constructive to offer a solution that will satisfy the disgruntled customer. In this case I have suggested in my email that any one of three possible solutions will satisfy me, two of which would probably be zero cost to LAN:-
1). Refund the $808 that I feel I shouldn’t have had to spend, or
2). Provide a flight from Rio back to South Africa for me sometime around the 20th February, or
3). Provide a free return from Colorado to Cusco in July or August, so Val and I can go to see Machu Picchu properly.
Up until this incident, I have had nothing but pleasant experiences with LAN. Any of the above options would restore my faith in LAN’s committment to their customers. I would hate to have to classify my experience with LAN as the worst flying experience of my whole 100 weeks.
I will keep you updated as I hear from LAN Customer Services in due course!