Published on September 19th, 2013 | by Mark Chesnut
AIRLINE REVIEW: LAN Airlines Airbus A320, Quito to Cuenca, Ecuador
During a recent trip to Ecuador in conjunction with TravelMart Latin America, a big tourism conference, I flew LAN Ecuador — the LAN Airlines affiliate based in, you guessed it, Ecuador — on a quick side trip from Quito to Cuenca, the nation’s third-largest city. Here’s what I experienced, both on board and at Quito’s brand-new Mariscal Sucre International Airport.
THE ROUTE: Quito to Cuenca, Ecuador (35 minutes, economy class)
THE AIRPORT: Quito’s new Mariscal Sucre International Airport, which debuted in 2013 and replaced the old airport of the same name, is a significant improvement over the previous facility. The downside is that, unlike the old airport, it’s in the outskirts of the metropolis, rather than within city limits. As a result, our transfer by car from the Hilton Colón hotel downtown to the airport lasted about an hour and a half, since there is traffic, as well as traffic lights. Travel time to the airport should improve when a new, improved highway opens sometime within the next year or so, but for now, my most important Ecuador travel tip is to allow extra travel time.
The airport itself is attractive and spacious, with lots of natural light and high, sloping ceilings over the uncrowded check-in area (there’s even a Johnny Rockets in the ticketing area). Once we’d resolved an issue not related to the airline or the airport, our check-in process was swift, and the security line was equally fast (no need to remove shoes or liquid, since this was a domestic flight). The small domestic area has a VIP lounge, a casual restaurant/bar called Darwin’s (a nod to the Galápagos Islands), a food vendor and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows that are ideal for letting in the daylight and also plane spotting (which is a big thing for me). Free WiFi at the gate is another big plus, as was the charging station.
The airport design allowed passengers arriving on our inbound plane to move directly into a glass corridor leading to the baggage claim, which helps keep the departure gate from getting unnecessarily crowded with arriving passengers. Boarding was by row, from back to front, with two separate lines marked for the front and back.
THE AIRCRAFT: The LAN Airlines (LAN Ecuador) Airbus A320 had new-looking, dark-blue seats with wings on the headrests (something I love); the headrests also had doilies that, on the flap hanging behind, had a rather large ad encouraging passengers to use LAN’s internet and mobile check-in. The armrests had entertainment headphone plug-ins and controls, plus tiny ashtrays — although, of course, the “do not smoke” sign stayed illuminated throughout the flight.
THE SERVICE: After takeoff, a red-and-blue-garbed flight attendant made her way down the aisle with a basket of Arcor candy (I had the chocolate butter toffee, which was actually delicious). No beverage service was offered, and no headphones were either, but the overhead screens showed one of those comedy prank shows (along the lines of Candid Camera) that didn’t really require audio anyway.
THE ARRIVAL: The Cuenca airport has no jetways, so air stairs are used for deplaning. It was a short walk on the tarmac to the small baggage claim area, and we didn’t have to wait long for our bags (although the airport would do well to install a longer conveyor belt, as the area was a bit crowded). For airline enthusiasts, the Cuenca airport is a joy, and its compact size means that it’s just a few steps from plane to baggage claim to taxi.
MORE LATIN AMERICA TRAVEL TIPS & AIRLINE REVIEWS:
• AIRLINE REVIEW: JetBlue Airbus A320, Cartagena to New York
• The Best of Latin America’s Low-cost Airlines
• Class Conscious: Are All Airlines in Latin America Equal in Business Class?
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