Keen to escape the European winter, and enticed by the chance to celebrate the New Year in Brazil, I booked flights to Salvador, via Sao Paulo with LATAM. At approximately €1400 the fare seemed to offer fairly good value, even though I was aware I’d be on the Boeing 767 service, as opposed to the A350 service operated to Madrid. Whilst the service was good, both the hard and soft product fell short, not least when compared to rival services to Brazil, such as those offered by Iberia from Madrid with their new J product.
At the Aiport
I arrived in Barcelona the evening before I was due to fly, and stayed at the Mercure Barcelona Condor – a fairly good value option, albeit offering minimal services and lacking a bar. Getting to Barcelona airport from the city is a fairly easy task – I opted for the direct bus, which costs €5.90 from the city centre. Although I prefer Madrid Barajas, Barcelona is a fairly pleasant airport, with just two terminals – most flights leaving from Terminal 1, and some budget operators, such as Ryanair, operating out of Terminal 2.
Check-in was a painless affair – a member of staff was guarding the priority queue to ensure it was only being used by those entitled to access it – in this case Business Class passengers, as well as oneworld status members (Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald). If you’re connecting from GRU to another destination in Brazil, it is not possible to check your luggage through to your final destination – instead you are issued with boarding passes and bag receipts, but have to collect your baggage at GRU and re-check them in there, after going through customs. This was a straightforward process, however, with only one agent working at the time of my flight landing, this wasn’t as quick a process as it could have been.
There was no fast-track provision, which was rather disappointing for a business class product, however, the normal queue was fast, so it didn’t turn out to be a notable inconvenience.
Barcelona’s terminal 1 is segregated between Schengen and non-Schengen departures. If leaving the Schengen zone, you pass through passport control upon leaving the security area. This was again a quick process, with the queue being short. Once the formalities were over with, it was time to head to the lounge. Considering the notable oneworld presence in Barcelona, made up primarily from Iberia’s Madrid-Barcelona shuttle service, and BA’s regular services to LHR and LGW, it would seem a natural candidate for a dedicated oneworld lounge, however, because of the terminals division between Schengen and non-Schengen flights, this wouldn’t be possible. As such, oneworld’s American Airlines, BA, LATAM, Qatar and Royal Jordania use the AENA Miro Lounge, whilst Iberia, Air Berlin and Finnair use the AENA Pau Casals Lounge in the Shengen zone, or the AENA Colomer Lounge in the case of Iberia’s BCN-MAD shuttle flights.
The AENA Miro Lounge is perfectly acceptable, albeit more basic than you’d perhaps expect considering the volume of longhaul flighs it caters for. There is a good drinks choice, which includes soft drinks, spirits, wine and cava. There is, however, no hot food. Instead cheeses, meats, sandwiches and crisps are available. Whilst this was fine for me, it was far less impressive than the choice available if using Iberia and flying from Madrid. After a couple of hours relaxing in the lounge it was time to head to the gate.
As I knew prior to booking, LATAM’s 767 is configured in a 2-2-2 layout. Today I’d be seated in 2L. The cabin looked worn, and although the seat proved to be comfortable, it lacked the privacy of other business class products due to the seat configuration. Upon boarding, duvets, pillows and amenity packs were waiting on the seats. Pre-flight champagne or orange juice was served prior to our departure, along with mixed nuts, and we left Barcelona on time.
The amenity packs were very good indeed – they included the usuals such as lip balm, a dental kit, eyeshades and earplugs, as well as a pocket mirror, comb, moisturiser, flight socks and a wash bag. Earphones were also distributed, however, I preferred to use my own and so didn’t test these out during the flight.
The inflight entertainment was fine, albeit a little limited in terms of variety. As such, I used my laptop to watch films, whilst following the in-flight moving map. The quality of the screen was fine, and more than adequate for the flight.
Around one hour after departure, the meal was served. The quality of the onboard food turned out to be one of the major disappointments of the flight. Whilst I do not expect restaurant quality food when in the air, I do at least expect something which is warm and at least mildly palatable. On paper, this seemed to be the case. I chose the Spanish themed chicken and prawn rice, confident it’d be a good choice. Alas, it was not.
Either the meal hadn’t been heated up adequately, or it’d been left on the side for an extended period of time, but it was stone cold, albeit ever so slightly warm in the middle. It also lacked flavour. It was disappointing, because the raw ingredient quality was fine, but the dish itself had been very poorly executed and was thus lacking. The meal was served with soup, a side salad, and finished off with a choice of either fruit or Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Along with the dessert, I was given a breakfast menu order card, which was a nice addition. like dinner, however, breakfast was a somewhat disappointing affair, consisting of processed cheese and meat, with bread and pastries.
In contrast to the disappointing meal, the wine served was, quite possibly, the best I have had on any business product – and I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not photographing the wine list before it was collected by the flight attendant again. In particular, one of the white wines was superb. Usually I have a gin and tonic after dinner, but in this case I enjoyed another glass of the wine. Service was very good throughout – although the crew weren’t overly friendly, they were very efficient, and were quick to respond to requests for extra drinks or water.
I particularly enjoyed the fact LATAM provide a proper duvet, as opposed to a blanket, for sleeping. I found this to be far more comfortable, and although more bulky than a blanket, I found it preferable. In the end, I got at least five hours of sleep, which is good for me. The cabin was a perfect temperature for sleeping, and was lacking disturbances, allowing for a more sleep-conducive atmosphere.
Around 90 minutes prior to landing a light breakfast was served, which comprised of pastries, cereal, cold meats and cheese. The ham was of the cheap processed variety, and not particularly pleasant. The rest of the breakfast, however, was fine.
We landed on time in Sao Paulo. Just prior to landing the Cabin Manager came to my seat and acknowledged my oneworld Emerald status, and asked whether I had enjoyed the flight and thanked me for flying LATAM. Although such encounters can sometimes be awkward, it seemed like a very genuine exchange.
LATAM wouldn’t be my first choice for flights from Europe to Latin America. Ultimately I chose them due to the fairly good fare available, and because of their oneworld membership. Their business product is behind that of their European oneworld competitors, particularly Iberia who are a major player in this market. In future, I’d prioritise flying from Madrid with IB instead – this said, I wouldn’t be averse to trying LATAM’s A350 product, to see how it compares.
One minor annoyance to note – I inserted my BA Executive Club number into the booking and this showed on my boarding pass, however, no miles posted to my account after any of my flights with LATAM. Upon filling in a missing avios claim with BA, I was originally told my flights were ineligible as their was no proof I’d been on the flight (obviously I had). After much back-and-forth and upon scanning in my boarding card and e-tickets at BA’s request, the avios and tier points were eventually credited. This would appear to be a problem with LATAM as opposed to BA – indeed, when I spoke to BA on the phone they acknowledged this is a common problem with LATAM, and indeed I have heard of other instances of this occurring – so be prepared to have problems if crediting the flights to another oneworld programme.