Don't freak out because we paid over $300 for what's supposed to be a relatively affordable flight (it's only 1.5 hours each way, anyway). One-ways typically start from $75, but remember we're dealing with a last-minute booking.
Anyway, here's what we ended up flying:
TACA 7 from Lima to Cusco -- Business Class -- on an A320
TACA 14 from Cusco to Arequipa -- Business Class -- on an E-190
TACA 95 from Arequipa to Lima -- Economy Class -- on an E-190 (the same as flight 14)
What we liked:
· Complimentary refreshments were served in all classes, with the exception of the 30-minute CUZ-AQP flight. Freebies consisted of a meat & cheese tray and drinks in Business from LIM to CUZ, and a hot croissant sandwich and one drink in Economy from AQP to LIM.
· Orderly boarding. Look, we just don't expect this of countries known for hot weather/hot tempers/hot libidos. TACA surprised us by keeping order with actual lines, even with division for Business and Economy classes.
· Personal seatback TVs and touchscreen in-flight entertainment. We know, right? That's crazy. To have our own TV with a selection of movies, TV shows and games on flights that max out at an hour and a half, in both classes, is pretty spectacular. If it wasn't for the Andean mountain ranges below, we could have mistaken the E-190 for a JetBlue flight. (Note: BYO-headphones in economy)
· The approach to Cusco. Pro tip: sit on the left side of the plane for the best view of the hills the airplane must navigate around before touching the blessed runway. Adrenaline!
· On the return, the E-190 had a smaller business class seat, but it was no less comfortable than the A320's.
· Instead of switching planes in Arequipa (AQP), our aircraft just switched flight numbers and we stayed onboard as a few passengers got on or off.
· TACA is a relatively new member of the Star Alliance, together with their associate airline, Avianca, but they totally get it. We didn't have a problem adding our frequent flyer details nor being credited the miles.
What we didn't like:
· Really early flight times out of Lima. This cannot be helped, because the weather in Cusco is best for morning arrivals, but it really sucked to sleep in Lima Airport overnight in order to be at our gate for a 5am flight.
· Cusco Airport in general. It's meh, and the guidebooks really do their job to freak you out about lurking con men. Just have common sense, but don't expect a beautiful or large terminal with lots of food and shopping, despite the fact that foreign travelers on vacation come through here constantly with waistsafes full of credit cards.
· Having to switch from Business to Economy between CUZ-AQP and AQP-LIM, despite the flight being nearly empty. No idea why our itinerary wasn't just Business all the way.
· The hot croissant snack in economy from AQP-LIM was filled with cream cheese? and ham? It tasted weird served hot, but we were hungry and it was free and we'd already had "traveler tummy" twice on the trip and we feared nothing.
Okay, so we kinda liked a lot of stuff on these flights. With little idea what was in store for us, we were impressed by the aircraft, air crew and in-flight extras on TACA while disappointed in the airports. We'd absolutely fly TACA again and recommend it to all our friends, especially Star Alliance flyers, even if the flights to CUZ depart LIM too early to make a lounge visit feasible.
TACA Business Class on an A320 at 5:30am at LIM
[Photos and video: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]