Chile’s economic success is lauded around the world and its (private) national airline has reaped the benefits of good management, a stable economy and easier access to foreign markets. Indeed South America is taking off and none too soon. Poor terrestrial infrastructure, huge distances and massive elevation changes makes flying a natural form of transportation – if not a requirement. And thus my long relationship with LAN – Línea Area Nacional – National Airline.
I first flew LAN from the United States in 2003 on my way to Southern Chile. I remember being happy with the flying experience and still treasure the time I spent working and living in Patagonia. Southern Chile is magnificent and flying there offers among the most spectacular views in the world. I returned last year for only the third time and kept my exhausted son awake just to see volcanoes!
Since my first trips outside of my home in Western Canada the real cost of flying has dropped significantly (with Canada lagging far behind) and travelling to and throughout South America is a relatively affordable and refreshingly on-time experience. As has happened elsewhere, airlines have matured, merged, been bailed out or failed.
LAN has chosen to become everyone´s National Airline. We now enjoy LAN Chile, LAN Peru, LAN Ecuador, LAN Argentina … and I´m sure a few others. The branding is exactly the same in every country, though pricing may vary distinctly between residents and tourists. One could say LAN has become the Coca-Cola of South American Airlines – somehow managing to attach itself to a country, yet selling entirely the same product. Or, more cynically, lobbying against governments from providing clean drinking water so as to sell bottled water with local names therefore giving the perception of something cultural, yet actually commoditizing the most essential, life-giving liquid on Earth. But I digress… QA.
The Quechua language has a wonderful linguistic suffix “QA” which can be added when changing the tack of a conversation. E.g. “José enjoys flying LAN.” “´PatrickQA´ has had a such a miserable experience with LAN´s frequent flyer program and to have laughed, cried, phoned, emailed and emailed and emailed to such an extent he has now chosen to rant about the experience in written form.”
In the grand scheme of all the poverty and misery one encounters, it does feel a little self-indulgent to go on about the lack of a free flight. So please indulge me. 10 years ago, as an enthusiastic young man, I secured a Chilean RUT – identity card – in order to work on a project in that country. Somehow that number – I suppose – became synonymous with my name in a troubling LAN context, but as I was already a “One World” member through another airline, I collected my kick-backs elsewhere. Then I moved on and flew back to South America on numerous other work and play occasions – even enduring an emergency landing in Buenos Aires with Areolineas Argentinas.
Fast-forwarding: my One-world number is gone. I retain some sort of Star Alliance status (and thus my new found relationship with Avianaca – Colombia´s now regionally competitive carrier), but thought I would sign up to LAN´s program as I would be flying reasonably often while living in Peru. Signing up has been a problem. Despite 11 LAN flights since arriving in Peru in September, the LAN system clearly tells me I already exist, but cannot give me a number. The LAN office in Cusco (yes, with real people) handed me the phone to LANPASS who told me I did not exist, but would give no details. The friendly LAN staff shunted me back to LANPASS who´s on-line question form offers a 15 day response.
I have been through all channels – and have received 12 or so e-mails. Most have assured me my concern will be addressed. THREE have assured me my old Hotmail account has been reset successfully to the same Hotmail account. Eventually, after pushing the subject ever so slightly more aggressively, I was given a number. Yeah!!! It did not work. I was again rejected. LAN doesn´t seem to like me.
And now I have stopped flying LAN. Of course if prices are much better or the airline is the only option – or if the other option is Areolineas Argentinas – I would consider buying a flight, but at this point I rather enjoy the rant and can wait in hope of a magic number and a free flight. Moreover, there are other options, and in that regard, market competition is a good thing!