The 787-9 Dreamliner is commonly referred to as one of the best aircrafts possible for consumer travel right now, and luckily enough it features on the service LAN offers between Sydney and Santiago, with a stop in between for Auckland. I took a recent trip to Auckland to give this service a spin, made possible because LAN haven’t quite ditched the Auckland stopover yet, as was being considered after the 787-9 replaced the 787-8 on the route within the past few months. Even if LAN decide to cut out Auckland on this route and just fly direct between Sydney and Santiago (something made viable because of the adaptable range of the 787-9) then this was a nice way to introduce myself to LAN, having never flown the airline before.
Route: Sydney to Auckland (which then goes through to Santiago)
Seat: 32D (aisle seat in a 3-3-3 configuration)
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Check-In: Check-in on ground at Sydney International Airport was at Counter H, right next to a traveltex so you can easily exchange any last minute dollars before heading off to the gates, and it’s right in front of the brand new Mach2, a recently opened Italian restaurant which we have reviewed HERE. Web check-in is available but going via the counter doesn’t take too long; LAN’s ground-staff aren’t overly friendly but they sure are efficient.
Departure time was 10:55am with a scheduled arrival in Auckland (adjusted for time difference) of 4:10pm. It’s a fairly late-in-the-afternoon arrival if you don’t have long to explore Auckland but luckily Auckland International Airport is so well organised and efficient, with regular SkyBus rides to the city, that it doesn’t at all take that long to get into the heart of the city – which is Queen Street.
Having only one flight a day on this route does limit your choices (especially with the ridiculously early return flight from Auckland) but LAN offset this slight inconvenience with value. This is one of the most affordable routes to Auckland, especially if you’re a business class traveler (you can grab a business return flight, for example, on a Thursday to Auckland from around $780, around the same price as Premium Economy; Standard Economy would be from around $450). These fares are based on flights booked less than a month out.
Schedule Flight Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes.
On Schedule: Yes but departing 15 minutes late (a reasonable time considering it’s an international flight and there are so many passengers to deal with).
Frequent Flyer Program: Being a Oneworld partner with Qantas means that those flying from Sydney on LAN can make use of their Qantas frequent flyer points, but they must book their flights through Qantas as a QF codeshare. As I myself don’t have any points – at least nothing substantial – accrued this was irrelevant for me. You also have the option of joining LAN’s LANPASS Frequent Flyer Programme where you can earn points towards your tier status every time you travel on any eligible oneworld flights.
Meal Service: As it’s an afternoon flight I was given a lunch that consisted of a sizable ham and cheese sandwich along with a coconut slice and cheese & crackers. The ham and cheese sandwich doesn’t look too appetising but it’s fairly decent in-line with the improvement standard economy airline food has seen in previous years. The coconut slice is nice and tart, soft on the palate with a fine, crunchy texture. The creamy cheese and cheese-flavoured crackers are enjoyable too, the crackers not being excessively salty or tough (they are Arnotts branded). There are a few drink services throughout the flight, but the crew are very accommodating with any requests of the food/drink nature.
In-Flight Entertainment: I’ve always been on Air New Zealand when I’ve flown to Australia’s Oceanic neighbour so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this necessary feature. The selection is smaller than that of similar airlines, but the impression I got was that it’s curated to a higher standard. There is a fine selection of films here (I chose Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl) and television shows are near complete with full recent seasons of Game of Thrones, Friends, and Gotham for example. Classic films are lacking here, but there’s no issue with modern films – the featured film was Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
There are some tourist guides for Peru, Ecuador, and Argentina alongside some in-flight yoga and breathing exercise videos, a nice touch even if they aren’t too comprehensive.
The interface is modern and much similar to a tablet, offering smooth and seamless navigation without any frustrating lag which can often be found on in-flight entertainment systems. There’s the standard and necessary USB port to charge any device right below the screen.
Comfort: Most things are larger here, but they are mainly other features like larger overhead storage bins and bigger windows (meaning that you can get in on the outside portrait action even if you are sitting in the middle); there are also arched, high entryways throughout the cabin so moving about freely is comfortable and doesn’t feel like a squeeze; the 787-9 is 27% larger than the 787-8, and the space of the aircraft is obviously designed to suit this increased capacity. The air is much cleaner due to the improved circulation, higher humidity, and lower cabin altitude. These features have also been shown to fight the effect of jet-lag for longer flights.
Leg room could be better when seated but the seats are comfortable enough, with an adjustable headrest that you can curve around your head, beneficial for the next with a slightly foamy texture.
There is a sturdy drink holder in front of you when the tray table is down, which holds any cup steady even if there is turbulence, a welcome change from just placing a full cup in the small indent of your tray table.
Bathrooms are LED-lit and look nice enough, a bit dim but still bright enough so you can actually see what you’re doing. It’s still a tight squeeze – we are a long way from improving on that, with economy class at least – but you do notice a fairly substantial increase in space.
Customer Service: The crew on board are warm and friendly on arrival but can seem a bit mechanical once in the air, this could be due to the fact that they need to save their wider smiles for those in business or it could just be fatigue. Although, there are no real issues with what is an average service, nothing exceptional but nothing to complain about. Like their on-ground staff, they aren’t overly friendly but they are efficient.
Extra: There’s not much mind paid to the smaller details other airlines seem to offer (hot towels for example) but this could be because it was such a short flight. It would be nice to introduce Wi-Fi on board eventually for this airline, especially for the longer flights, but we’re still somewhat far away from reliable internet access to be available across all airlines.
Final Thoughts: As mentioned before, I had never previously flown LAN before this but now knowing that it’s a decently comfortable, efficient, and safe airline to fly with I wouldn’t hesitate taking advantage of their relatively inexpensive fares to New Zealand. As mentioned above, only having one flight a day does limit options here but the 10:55am flight from Sydney is more than do-able to any late-risers. The return may present a problem seeing as it’s at an ungodly hour of the morning (meaning you’ll need to be the airport even earlier) but if you’re willing to work with what then an LAN flight to Auckland is more than worth it.
Trans-Tasman passengers have been pushing up demand for this route and alighting at the Auckland stopover since LAN introduced the 787-8 early last year. Since bringing in the 787-9 aircraft this route has gone up in value, but no really seen any significant increase in price which is a testament to how necessary a good flight, with a balance between cost and value, is to Sydney. I hope that they don’t end up scrapping the Auckland stopover but even if they do, it’s well worth being on the lookout for LAN next time you seek overseas travel from Australia now that their presence in the market down here is looking up.
The writer flew at the expense of AU Abroad. Photos by the author, except for the headline image, from Dipankar Bhakta of Planespotters.net