Flight-report.com has modernized itself once in a while these years. Though this may set a good example for all of us, unfortunately the pictures of my first two reports didn't make it through the process.
However - as my abuelita used to say - hombre precavido vale por dos. That is, "a man who takes precautions is worth two." So I saved a backup!
And here it is. A walk down memory lane with my very first report from April 2016, which also happens to be the shortest flight I have taken so far.
The Andes run north to south along the east border of Chile, like a tall wall that separates this country from the rest of South America. But the farther you go south, the lower this wall becomes. Then, some 1,000 km south of Santiago, the mountains sink into the ocean giving place to a landscape of lakes, fjords, glaciers, snow-capped volcanoes, and many, many islands. One of the largest islands is called Chiloé (pronounced chee - loh - EH), and this is where I am heading to for the weekend.
Above: lake Huillinco, Chiloé
Chiloé is separated from the mainland by the Chacao strait. You can take a ferry to the island, but there are plans to build a 3km bridge in the short term. The largest town on Chiloé is Castro, with some 40,000 inhabitants, and it's served by Mocopulli airport (MHC), located in the nearby town of Dalcahue.
LAN has dirt cheap regular flights to Castro departing from Puerto Montt, some kilometers north of the Chacao strait. In the following image you can see the distance covered by these flights—roughly 130 kms.
I started planning my weekend escapada one month in advance. Interestingly, LAN assigns the WCA code to Mocopulli airport. I got in touch with them via Facebook pointing out what I think is a mistake, because that code belongs to another airport right in the suburbs of Castro. They replied that the correct code for Mocopulli airport is MHC, but they haven't made any changes to their website so far.
8,000 CLP (Chilean pesos) (less than 12 USD at the time of writing this report) plus a 7 USD boarding fee for a 35-minute round trip sounds like a good deal to me!
I can choose my seat right-away. I choose a window seat in the hope that the weather will be nice enough for taking pictures. Winter in the south of Chile is cold and rainy, and we are already having the first showers some weeks before the trip.
Once you buy your ticket, you get this email confirming your purchase and some pdf attachments with the details of your flight, the service contract, and your rights as a passenger. This time Mocopulli airport is given the correct code! ¯_(ツ)_/¯
I have no acquaintances where I can crash for a night in Castro. Airbnb comes to my rescue. I find what looks like a great private room for a very low price. I'm so excited when my reservation is confirmed…
… only to be cancelled by the host one week later. Ouch!
She argues health issues.
I immediately make a new reservation, this time at a hostel that is also a well-known restaurant in the city.
I'm all set for the flight now… provided my airbnb doesn't ditch me again!
In the meantime let's have a look at LAN's Android app. I wonder how functional it can be on the tiny 3.5" screen of my Acer Z130.
This is the app's main screen. Quite simple and easy to use.
I see under "Mis Viajes" (My Trips) that my flight is not open yet. Let's wait for one month.
ONE MONTH LATER…
ETD minus 48 hours. Time for online check-in!
Once the check-in process is completed, you are given the option to get a printable and/or an electronic boarding pass emailed to you. I choose both, but I'm planning to use the virtual version only.
Both versions of the boarding pass come with additional information about hand baggage allowances, passengers with special needs, and some other instructions. In economy class I'm allowed to carry a handbag of up to 8kg, and a "small personal item".
Printable boarding pass:
The electronic version can be accessed from your email account, or downloaded and stored on your cellphone as an image file via LAN's app. The text in the gray area reads "Show me at the airport. This document is valid for travelling and can be used instead of a standard printed paper boarding pass."
TWO DAYS LATER…
ETD minus 6 hours.
I start my three-hour bus ride from my city—Valdivia—to Puerto Montt early on Saturday morning at the local bus station. It's 6:30 a.m. but I'm not the only one traveling today.
Buses are by far the most popular means of transportation in Chile, with dozens of companies and good standards of service. Trains are not an option unless you're headed for some of the major cities closer to Santiago.
However, things have changed radically in the last few years with plummeting plane ticket prices, especially since we'd had our first low-cost airline, Sky. Nevertheless, I still prefer LAN, in particular after a series of incidents involving Sky aircraft. Subsequent investigation showed that some institutional fuel-saving policies had much to do with those events.
By the way, Sky Airlines aircraft will be completely absent from my pictures tis time, since their workers are on a strike!
8 a.m. I'm on the bus, going south along the 5 Sur. The new day is dawning, cold and cloudy, over the fields.
Half an hour before we reach Puerto Montt, the Osorno volcano rises beyond Lake Llanquihue like a menacing apparition, all wrapped in clouds, mist sliding down its slopes.
Toll booth. They pop up just like mushrooms all along the way. On this trip alone we passed at least three of them. But I can't complain. I've been to other South American countries and learned to love Chilean roads.
I arrive at Puerto Montt bus station (below) some minutes after 10 a.m. I have no idea how to get my transfer ticket. I ask a baggage handler and he kindly shows me where I must go. The ticket is 2,500 CLP (some 4 USD), and the transfer will leave in 20 minutes.
In the meantime, I go out of the bus station to see how the city has changed since the last time I was here—some 15 years ago—. It's really cloudy and dark outside, and the breeze from the sea is freezing. I take a snapshot of this lonely fishing boat in the Gulf of Reloncaví…
…and downtown Puerto Montt. I can't believe it's almost 11 a.m.! It's really dark.
We get to El Tepual airport (PMC) in less than 20 minutes. Here's the front and the parking lot.
There's a welcome sign at the entrance.
I like what I see. It looks spacious and well-lit. Well, things can change quickly in an airport. But not many people are here at the moment.
Only a few passengers are checking in.
Have a look at the PID. As I said before, Sky Airlines workers are on a strike at the moment, so all its flights are cancelados. This turns Chile into LanLand until next Tuesday! And I thought things couldn't get any worse for a plane spotter. :(
I go for a walk around the premises before going airside. From the top of the stairs/escalator you see the check-in area on the right…
…and the elevator and arrivals area on the left, with the car-rental stands welcoming the passengers. Any transfer stands? None to be seen. But I didn't notice this until I came back from my trip. And I regretted it.
On the second floor, right above the check-in area, are the restrooms and a restaurant.
Just like the rest of the premises, the restrooms seem to have been designed to be simple and practical. No excesses and no visible shortcomings.
Outside the restrooms there's this ground plan of the airport.
Not a busy day at the restaurant, it seems.
I turn around and walk towards the other end of the building. I go airside in no time, and as soon as I pick up my stuff from the tray I come across the entrance to the VIP lounge. I am told I can go in for a fee, but I prefer to stay out. The place is sort of crowded and, well… I'm shy… and poor. Besides, the place is not very big and I wouldn't have the chance to take photographs without bothering the other passengers.
Next to the VIP lounge there's a souvenir shop.
Some of the souvenirs for sale here are these copper ornaments. Chile is supposed to be the main copper producer in the world. Shouldn't that make copper cheap and abundant here? But these things are grossly overpriced!
Afterwards, I keep wandering around the second floor. These passengers are waiting for flight LA240 to Santiago.
And here it is!
I seem to be the only one waiting at gate 3.
By my gate, the lower screen is warning travellers about a kind of algae called didymo, which is wrecking havoc in Chilean rivers.
And there is CC-BAY coming!
Suddenly the other passengers to Castro come out of thin air. Were they at the restaurant? Who knows. We wait until the passengers coming from Santiago (SCL) finish deplaning. Then we take our place in the corresponding lines—Priority Boarding, Rows 15 - 29, Rows 1 - 14, and Special Needs.
The boarding process goes smoothly and we quickly get into the jetbrige. It's fantastic! It's obvious that we are going to depart on time. What could go wrong? But then…
…we get stuck in the jetbridge!
We all wonder what has happened. Apart from the two smoochies at the front of the queue, nobody else seems to be enjoying this extra time at the airport! Suddenly, the lady who had checked our boarding passes races along the jetbridge towards the plane, and one minute later she runs back towards the boarding room as she tries to communicate thru the walkie talkie. I start wondering "Should I run, too?"
Exactly ten minutes pass before a man I had not seen before tells us we can proceed and board the airplane. And that's how our plane departs 11 minutes late.
We never knew what happened, but the man asked something on the walkie talkie like "Did you find it/her?" The problem is that the Spanish pronoun la can refer to a female person or a female thing (yes, things are also male or female in Spanish) so we never knew if he was talking about a person or a thing.
We finally board the plane. That OneWorld sticker has sure seen better days, right?
I take my seat and feel uncomfortably trapped between my seat (6A) and seat 5A. I'm just 170cm tall, but my kness are poking against the back of the seat in front of me! Not recommendable for claustrophobics. You can see a little space between my knees and the back of the seat in this pic, but this is because I had to push myself against my own seat in order to gain some space and be able to focus my camera correctly. It was really narrow.
Also, the seats look old and frayed and the whole plane has a musty smell. Might that be due to the plane coming from Santiago and most passengers staying onboard while we boarded? Whatever the reason, it was disgusting.
The contents of the seat pocket.
The overhead panel.
I regret not being a contortionist in order to take pictures of the in-flight magazine and the safety card more easily. Besides, and this is the last straw, the tray table can not be set to a horizontal position! It is so inclined towards the front that you could hardly place a cup on it safely!
This number of the magazine comes with a cover flap advertising LAN's online IFE. Unfortunately, I am not carrying an adequate tablet or PC. And, besides, what kind of insane mind would require internet connection for such a short flight!? Well, my question will be answered later in my homebound flight.
While I'm taking these photos, the safety video is coming to an end. "Enjoy your flight". Yeah. Sure.
A strikingly handsome, solarium-tanned male FA (we have an all-male crew today) asks me to stow my tray table and I obey. I had been busy taking photos of the magazine and of what was happening outside.
The tug leaves…
…and so do these two ground handlers after waving at the pilot.
We reach the runway…
…and off we go!
I can see some suburbs of Puerto Montt…
…and Maillén island in the Gulf of Reloncaví. FYI, this gulf marks the geographical northern border of Patagonia.
With my camera at full zoom I get some photos of these distant mountains. I pray I'll get to see them more closely next October, when I fly to Balmaceda, further south.
This is the most detailed view I could get of them.
We keep flying south over the gulf. The beaches on this small island might look welcoming, but don't deceive yourselves. Water down there is freezing cold. Ever heard about the Humboldt current?
Ten minutes after take-off we are flying over the northern coast of Chiloé. By this time the captain has already ordered the crew to get the cabin ready for landing.
I'm happy to see there are still some dense forests on the island. Chile is a complete environmental disaster in itself, and primary forests are almost non-existent here nowadays.
Thanks to the initiative of some philanthropists like the late Douglas Thompkins (the founder of The North Face) vast extensions of forests are now protected in Patagonia. You can learn more by googling Pumalin Park.
We land at 4:26 p.m., exactly 16 minutes after take-off. I wonder if this is the record shortest commercial flight for an Airbus A320!? Here's the flight as registered by Flightradar24.com
Mocopulli airport (MHC) is tiny! It even fits in this single photo! Unfortunately, it's not possible to see it in all its tiny glory because of all that scaffolding. The front is being maintained.
No jetbridge. Stairs are installed. The stairs must have a cover here because the weather is terrible. In fact, I wonder when they will install proper jetbridges. A wheelchair is brought, as well.
I linger there, in my cramped seat, while the other passengers disembark.
As I eventually get off, the strikingly handome, solarium-tanned FA is holding a tray full of candy, and he is encouraging every passenger, quite emphatically, to take as much as we want. I take a fistful. As I come outside I take this photo of the fuselage.
When I get to the bottom of the stairs I see that a second wheelchair has been added. Wow! Is that the wheelchair version of the Army Surplus Special?? (Just kidding)
A last look at CC-BAY.
The MHC building could easily fit in your backyard. And, as I verified the day after on my trip back, it's quickly become too small for the amount of passengers it has to deal with. It has a rectangular ground plan, with the arrivals and baggage claim on one end, and the boarding room on the other.
This is the arrivals end…
…where I was surprised to find the only baggage carousel. I say surprised because I made some online research about MHC before my trip, and the most recent information I found was a piece of news stating that MHC was in urgent need of a carousel. And here it is!
I leave baggage claim (I'm carrying just a backpack) and turn around to take this photo of the transfer drivers waiting for customers or trying to catch them.
In the center of the rectangle is the check-in/baggage drop area. These passengers are checking/going through security to board CC-BAY back to PMC and SCL. It's not clear here, but there is a tiny café tucked in that corner between baggage drop and security check.
There are also some services, and the most important of all… a chewing-gum ball dispenser!
Also, two car-rental stands.
Now I approach the transfer driver that I contacted before the trip, and he asks me to wait a little until all his passengers come. He tells me I have to get my transfer ticket from the stand in the baggage claim area. I think that's a funny place for a transfer stand. I don't know many airports, but in those that I know the transfer stands are located right next to the airport exit, which makes much more sense to me.
So I had to go back inside the building and back into baggage claim and get my transfer ticket. Once I get it I go for a walk around the parking lot ad the front of the building.
A view of the main entrance.
A final look at CC-BAY before it leaves for PMC.
I am not the only plane spotter here, it seems. Or are they just watching their friends board the plane?
The front of the building from the parking lot…
…and a view of the parking lot from the main entrance.
Here and there I see some posters with information about some endangered native species. This is about the Pudú (pronounced poo - DOO), the smallest deer in the world.
The trip from MHC to Castro takes around 15 minutes. On the way, in a modest suburb, I am glad to see some black-necked swans. Once abundant in the south of Chile, they disappeared almost completely some years ago as consequence of, among others, chemical pollution from pulp plants. They are recovering now.
I get to my airbnb. This is the view from my room.
I haven't had luch, but I want to start sightseeing at once, so I go to a corner kiosk and buy a milcao. Milcaos are a traditional kind of food from Chiloé and the surrounding areas. They look like a round piece of bread, and are made of one portion of raw ground potatoes and two of boiled mashed potatoes, all mixed with animal fat. They are filled with minced fried meat, and then are baked or deep fried. Healthy? Not even a bit! That kind of food could explain the high levels of morbid obesity I observed among the locals, especially women. Anyways, a couple milcaos once in a while are a delicious treat! Here's my lunch in a plastic bag.
This is a view of the bay.
Castro is a fishing town. This is one of countless local fishing boats.
I visited Chiloé National Park, which is on the Pacific coast, in the middle of the island. Lake Huillinco is on the way to the park.
In the park there is a series of paths traversing a dense forest of arrayán trees (Luma apiculata), which are native to Chile and Argentina, and have characteristic orange trunks.
Other abundant species in the park are nalca (Gunnera tinctoria), which looks like giant rhubarb, and whose stems are edible, and a fern called costilla de vaca, meaning cow's rib (Blechnum cordatum), both depicted below along with arrayan trees.
Lake Cucao is a salt lake, and is connected to lake Huillinco. These are views of lake Cucao from the park.
The fruit of another tree called arrayán macho, meaning male arrayán (Rhaphithamnus spinosus)
As I'm leaving the park, this tiuque (Milvago chimango), lurks around me in case I drop a bit of food. Tiuques are a kind of falcon that's very abundant in Chile, especially in urban areas, where they find lots of food readily available,
The day is coming to an end, and it's time to take the bus back to Castro and get ready for the second (and last) day of my weekend getaway. I'll be taking the plane back to PMC on Sunday at 2:15 p.m.
Thanks for reading!
This was a trip with marked highs and lows. Unfortunately, the flight itself was not among the highs. Everything related to CC-BAY seemed wrong, from the stuffy atmosphere inside the plane, to the clautrophobia-inducing lack of space in my seat, the old-looking, frayed seats, and the weathered OneWorld sticker by the door... I had the feeling that this aircraft had been gathering dust and mold for ages in some godforsaken hangar before LAN decided to cover this route with it. There are cool, thin seats nowadays that let you have more legroom while keeping the number of seats. Why do they keep using these old ones?
I can't complain about the catering. What can you ask for in a 16-minute flight? Same thing about the IFE. In spite of this, a recorded announcement was played during the flight, advertising LAN's online IFE.
The only magazine onboard was LAN's In.
I loved PMC, but am seriously concerned about MHC. I don't want to be there during the high season.
All in all, I am amazed that LAN is flying to this little town, and for that little money. I heard many good comments from the locals about this. Before the flights it took no less than 4 hours to go from Castro to the mainland, and it was very expensive if you travelled by car because you had to pay for the ride on the ferry, too.
And I learned that MHC stands for more than Mile High Club! ;)