Archive for June, 2012

Used: 2011

When booking my trip, since I had such little time but wanted some form of control to my travels, I mixed up my tours and went with two companies. Because of that, it meant having to book my own airfare from Puno/Juliaca back to Lima before coming home. Since I had never been to Peru before and don’t know anyone that has been lately (or travel there with time restrictions), Google was my buddy in finding ways to get back to the capital. At the time of my planning, there were three airlines in Peru that ran the Puno-Lima route. The official airline of Peru, LAN as well as two local airlines, Peruvian Airlines and Star Peru. In checking the prices, LAN was easily three times as much as the local carries. LAN was crossed out immediately. And the only reason I picked Star Peru over Peruvian was based on cost. And thank god I picked Star! A week before my trip, I got an email from GAP saying that Peruvian had ceased flying due to inadequate regulations or something like that. GAP didn’t fly with them (we flew with LAN) but they emailed me, just in case my other travel plans in Peru involved flying with them. Very helpful. And thankfully, I wasn’t flying with them! But because Star Peru flies within Peru only, they had some pretty strange ways of doing business. Granted, I flew last year and my mom and sister are flying on them this year, apparently things have changed already in the span of one year and I’ll note the differences.

Exiting the plane in Lima. Note the constant overcast sky!

Last year, I booked my ticket online, about 4 months before I was to fly. I got a what looked like a very basic confirmation email a few days later and apparently they only billed my credit card US$15 to hold the reservation. I emailed the office in Miami (their US office) to find out if my reservation was processed and within 2 days, I got a confirmation from the office in Peru, saying my reservation was confirmed and instructions to pay the balance of my ticket once I arrive in Peru. I wasn’t too worried about this as I gave myself plenty of extra time in Cusco and Lima to figure this out. I had read on their website that the office at the Lima airport was open 24 hours, so when I landed at the start of my trip in Lima, I found my name on a sign and the rep from GAP asked if I could wait until the next plane arrived, so we could share a taxi into town. I said it was fine. I sat down for a few minutes before I remembered that I had to pay my balance to Star Peru. I went to find the rep and tried to tell him what I wanted to do, but he didn’t understand what I was trying to say at all (you would think more tourists would have this issue) but I gave up, knowing I would have time in Cusco to deal with this. When my mom bought her ticket for this month, it took a few cycles, but she was billed in full so she won’t have to find a local office once she is in Peru to pay the balance.

In Cusco, I had a map to the office and thankfully the town is so tiny and the office is on a main street in between the center of town and the airport, that I saw it when we first arrived so I knew how to find it after my tour ended. After the Inca Trail hike, I had one day to essentially “run errands” which involved paying the balance of my ticket. It was very easy! Since I had my confirmation print outs, barely any language was needed to communicate and I quickly and easily paid my balance. The whole transaction was quaint. Thankfully, they took credit cards for this part in person!

The following week was my flight and it was easy peasy. I got to check my HUGE suitcase for free. What I didn’t know at the time, was that the flight wasn’t nonstop. We had about a 20 minute flight from Juliaca to Arequipa, which was probably the shortest flight I have ever been on in my life. Even though I was assigned an aisle seat, the plane was dead empty (seriously, maybe like 30 people on the Southwest-size jet) so I had the whole row to myself and moved to the window. But then in Arequipa, the plane filled and I moved back to the aisle. Thankfully, I shared my row with some English-speaking tourists who didn’t say a word (the only reason I know so, if their guide books were in English, but I don’t know what country they were from) but the person across the aisle from me, let her daughter run wild around the airplane after we had taken off and I was so scared that the kid was going to pull the door open. Seriously, shit like that would NEVER happen in the US, the attendants would scream at the person to hold on to their kid, but in Peru apparently, anything goes. The plane was full on the flight back to Lima and we got served a box of snacks! YUM!!!! There was no entertainment, but for slightly over an hour, who cares.

Star Peru’s “gate area” in Lima. On the runway!

When we landed in Lima, unlike when I left on LAN for Cusco, it was like Star Peru was too cheap to rent a gate, so we exited onto the runway, which I don’t mind at all. We then jammed on a bus for a quick ride to the gate and spilled out right in the baggage claim. I grabbed my bag and spotted the sign from the hotel I was staying at in Peru for my last few days. This was the only time on the entire trip (except in official capacities) that my name was spelled correctly. Very nice!

Exiting the plane in Lima.

Moral: Unless the airline has total shit reviews and track records, try the local flights! They’ll usually be way cheaper than the national and international carriers, plus you’ll interact with the locals more. Thankfully, all the employees on Star Peru spoke English, so it was a non-issue, but the customers were way local. Have you ever flown on a local carrier you were impressed or disappointed in?

Used: 2011

I love tiny airports! They are easy to navigate and you rarely have to worry about missing your flight. Puno was a perfect example of it. Trusting the collective to get me to the airport on time was a fine decision. Since I knew the airport was tiny, pretty much everyone in my collective was going to be on my flight. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. Check in was a breeze and even though I flew on Star Peru, a local internal airline, the agent spoke English. Not that there was much to say. I checked my bag and then was pointed to the next window to pay my s/9.50 exit fee. No communication was even needed there.

Outside the Puno/Juliaca airport

Security was easy and hey, if you wanted to enter and exit, you could do it as much as you wanted, just had to pass security every time. I was a bit nervous going through security, mainly because I didn’t know what was past it, anywhere to eat or buy stuff, just in case, so I waited until my plane was scheduled to about to leave to go through. Turns out, that wasn’t even an issue because we were delayed for about an hour. Ah, the Peruvian way! Thankfully, we got to wait in the terminal instead of on the plane, so that was nice. Another favorite thing about small airports (or airlines) are the jetways! There are none and you have to enter and exit the planes right on the runway. I totally love that. All the flights in Puno, even LAN, have entrances and exits on the runway.

Don’t you wish all airports could be this empty?

Moral: Small airports are great when traveling in a new place. The lack of flights means you’ll never miss yours and they might board in a different way, which is always fun. Thankfully, since most airports in less developed nations cater mainly to tourists, you can be guaranteed that someone will speak English and have good clean (English!) signage as well. And the bathrooms will be clean and stocked with toilet paper. What is your favorite small airport?