Chile Trip Part 1: There and Back

We’re not long back from a family holiday to Chile. I plan to write several posts about it. I’m going to take a thematic approach, rather than a purely chronological or location-based one. Though some will be that kind, too. There will be pictures, but not so much in this post, as it’s about planes, airports, etc.

First, then, the whole business of travelling to another continent, and to the southern hemisphere of our amazing planet.

Getting There

We flew on Latin American Airlines, or LATAM. They were pretty good. I have no complaints. Maybe not as good as British Airways to New York a few years ago, but certainly much better than the budget airlines. The only thing was that we couldn’t get a direct flight. There just don’t seem to be any to Santiago. Though a taxi driver told us towards the end of our stay that BA have one direct flight a week. If so, then either we didn’t find it, or it was on an inconvenient day, it was really expensive. Or any combination of those.

So we had a multipart flight out: first to São Paulo, then on to Santiago via Rosario. That was just a stop at another airport, without leaving the plane. Though some confusion in the booking system meant that we had different seats for the second part. We were not alone: it was all a bit chaotic, as new people boarded and wanted to sit in already-occupied seats, as people who were staying on didn’t realise they had to move. Still, it got sorted out.

Also I didn’t realise till later that Rosario is actually in Argentina. It doesn’t count as visiting a country if you stay airside, but still, interesting to have touched down in two more countries than we planned to.

Above all, it’s a long journey. Around 6000 miles, and about 22 hours, if memory serves.

Jet Lag

We didn’t suffer too much from jet lag going out. Except… almost every day for the entire three weeks I woke up around 4 in the morning. Usually got back to sleep OK. Our clock-time confusion was confounded after about a week when the clocks in Chile went forward by an hour. It’s the tail end of winter there, so it’s the start of summer time. But it’s early than when clocks in Europe change, relatively. Also it was only Chile: in Bolivia and Brazil the time was unchanged.

Taxis Home and Abroad

While I’m on travel I’ll just touch on taxis. Chilean taxi drivers, in common with those all over Europe, get out of their car and help you load your bags into the boot. This happens everywhere; except Britain. Or at least, except London. When we were getting a cab when we were coming home I was struck by the fact that all these people were struggling into the stupidly-designed-for-luggage black cabs with no help from the driver.

And then I was ashamed when it was our turn, and the driver did get out and help us. But it’s uncommon.

Internal Flights

Chile is distinctive on the map for its length. It runs almost the entire length of the continent. So there are some long distances to travel if you want to see much of it. As it is, I couldn’t say that we saw much of it, but we did see some very distinctive areas. Notably the Atacama Desert and the Lakes region.

They’re quite far apart, though, so we took some internal flights. All by LATAM (we should have signed up for their frequent-flyer programme), and all fine. Security at the airports was generally less intrusive than it is here. We didn’t have to take iPads out of carry-ons, and I once went through security with my metal water bottle full! Radical.

Long(ish) Distance Buses

The only other trip we took was from Santiago to Valparaíso, which was by bus (coach). A couple of hours. Very comfortable, if you could avoid hitting your head on the badly-designed overhead screens.

Santiago Metro and Valparaíso Light Rail

Santiago has a decent Metro system. You get a contactless card like London’s Oyster cards, called Bip!. Which is a great name, in my humble opinion. It also has the advantage over Oyster that you can make multiple journeys simultaneously with one card. So far a family of four, for example, you just put enough money on the card for everyone, and tap in four times.

I don’t really know why Oyster doesn’t support this. My only guess would be that they thought it would cause too many complaints with people accidentally being charged twice.

Return

Coming back took even longer: 23 hours in airports and planes, but 27, 28, if you count getting to and from the airports.

The weird thing here was that we flew from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro; then, after a four or five hour stopover, to São Paulo. An hour and a half there, and finally on to Heathrow. I don’t understand why it was like that, but as I recall it was the only available option when we booked the flights.

The annoying part was that — seemingly because the Rio – São Paulo bit was a domestic flight — we had to collect our luggage in Rio, and then check it back in. We went landside, got Brazilian entry stamps in our passports, all that.

We took off for Heathrow at 22:10, which made it 02:10 in the UK. So I wanted to get to sleep, but first I wanted to eat. On these long flights, though, they don’t rush to serve food like they do on a short European flight. So it was, I think, around 4 am before I could close my eyes.

Adjusting back home wasn’t too bad, though. People always say it’s worse coming east, but, apart from sleeping late on Bank Holiday Monday, I didn’t have too much trouble.

Chile Trip Part 1: There and Back

A New Low For Cattle Class

I flew up to Scotland the other weekend, by RyanAir. On the way back the plane was a 737-800. It was the same kind of plane as on the flight up, but the inside was dramatically different.

Flying north we had standard velour-covered (or whatever you’d call it: fuzzy cloth) seats, and standard seat-back pockets made of criss-crossed bungee cord.

But southbound we had nasty vinyl-covered seats. Vinyl! Who’d have thought you could still cover seats in such a thing? It looked like the inside of a 1970s Vauxhall Viva!

Worse than that, though: there were no seat-back pockets at all! None!

This arrangement means that the little bits and pieces you want to have to hand — bottle of water, MP3 player, book or magazine, notebook — all have to go on the floor under the seat in front when you’re not holding them.

As well as being inconvenient, those things on the floor all now constitute an added safety risk: if there was some kind of problem before takeoff or after landing, they’d all be sliding about, just perfect for people to trip over or slip on.

So, reduced comfort, convenience and safety. Nice one, RyanAir.

A New Low For Cattle Class

On Security at Stansted

To Glasgow, then, and a weekend visit to my Mum. The kids and I caught the train to Stansted on Friday afternoon, to find the security theatre in full force. Although we made EasyJet’s last checkin time with a good ten minutes to spare, I really thought we would miss our flight when we joined the back of one of two or three giant, slow-moving queues. Especially so when, after a few minutes, we realised that we were in fact at the back of a queue for another checkin desk. We weren’t alone in this error, though: the queues mingled, and quite a few others had made the same mistake.

But in the end it wasn’t that bad. The queue began moving fairly quickly — or smoothly, at least — and while it was frustrating, it was bearable, as long as you didn’t let yourself get frustrated. The passport/boarding-pass-control desk looked a right mess, though, covered as it was by abandoned bottles, cosmetics containers and what have you.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure why the queues were so long. The only things that have changed in security terms compared with a few months ago are the prohibited items in hand baggage, and the enforcement of the “only one item” rule (I’m sure this has been the rule for decades, but it just wasn’t strictly enforced). Both of those issues should be dealt with at checkin, so when you get to the security gates you should be ready. Every bag and coat is x-rayed, as before: but there should be fewer bags; everyone goes through a metal detector, just as they always did. There was a “please take off your shoes” section after the metal detectors, but as we paused at it, one security guy called, “Not everybody, not everybody,” and waved us on. I suppose people were randomly chosen, and incidentally, everyone I saw taking their shoes off was white. This may, of course, just mean that people who look like terrorists (whatever that may mean) are not travelling, from fear of being hassled.

I conclude that the only reason for the giant queues must be stupidity: there must be people who, even though they are asked about prohibited items at checkin, and even though this stuff has been in the news for weeks, still have drinks in their hand luggage, and then have to stop to abandon them at security. Or who try to take more than one item on, even though they’ve been told not to. And yet, I didn’t see much of that happening. I really don’t understand why the queues got so big. There were plenty of security staff on duty, too.

Coming back, things were much less fraught at Glasgow Airport, as they generally are at smaller airports, in my experience.

Throughout, I have to say, all the security staff we encountered were cheerful, polite, and helpful, while doing a largely thankless, probably quite dull, job, filled with seemingly-arbitrary rule changes handed down from above. I can’t really fault them, no matter how daft some of the things they have to enforce may be.

A last thought: we are being conditioned to accept travelling with photo ID, even within the country. It was strange to see everyone queuing up to get onto a flight to Scotland, with their passports ready. Now I’d be quite happy to see EU passports issued by the Republic of Scotland (as long as it was a republic), but for now, it was still a journey within the UK.

And the strange thing is, it seems to be the airlines that are driving this, not the authorities. I have had to show photo ID on RyanAir and EasyJet, but a few months ago — this year, certainly — I flew to Scotland with BMI Baby, and not only did they not ask for ID, but I didn’t even have to see a human to check in: hand baggage, a credit card, and a self-checkin machine, and there I was. That was before all the recent fuss, true, but RyanAir (and possibly EasyJet) have been asking for ID for years. Are they secretly being used by the government to get us used to carrying ID cards? And if so, why is it only some airlines?

Or am I being unreasonably paranoid? ‘Cos I only want to be reasonably paranoid, you know.

On Security at Stansted