Most passengers arrive at Santiago’s Aeropuerto Internacional Arturo Merino Benitez (SCL, tel. 02/6901753, www.aeropuertosantiago.cl), one of the world’s most modern and well-monitored facilities; according to Chile’s Dirección General de Aeronáutica Civil (DGAC, Civil Aeronautics Commission), it’s so secure that it may become a regional security checkpoint for U.S.-bound flights.
More than six million passengers used SCL in 2004, and early 2005 figures indicated a 6 percent increase; its infrastructure can support up to nine million. New technology will allow increased traffic without disrupting flight activity.
Most major international airlines fly out of the capital, while regional airports at Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta, La Serena, Temuco, Puerto Montt, and Punta Arenas have occasional flights to neighboring countries only.
For the cheapest fares, avoid the Christmas–New Year’s period, when flights fill with Chileans returning home for the holidays. Chilean patriotic holidays in mid-September are also busy. Going and returning just before or after holiday periods will produce much better deals, as will shoulder-season travel in the southern spring or autumn.
From North America
From North America, the main gateways to Santiago are Miami, Washington, D.C. (Dulles), Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles. Canadian passengers may also use Toronto.
Aerolíneas Argentinas and Chile’s LAN are traditional flag carriers. Other options include American Airlines, Copa, Grupo Taca, Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB), Mexicana, Transportes Aéreos Mercosur (TAM), United Airlines, and Varig. American, Delta, LAN, and United have the only nonstop or direct services; others require changing planes either in Central or South America. Non-Canadians can avoid the hassle of getting a U.S. transit visa by taking Air Canada’s triangle route from Toronto to Buenos Aires and Santiago.
From Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
Services from Mexico usually require changing planes in Central America or elsewhere in South America; the main exception is LAN, which flies nonstop from Mexico City.
Other carriers from Mexico City include Copa (via Panama); Grupo Taca (via Lima, Peru); and Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, which also flies from Cancún. Colombia’s Avianca has connections via Bogotá from the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico.
Copa flies daily from Panama, with connections throughout the region.
Within South America
Santiago has connections to neighboring countries of Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, and elsewhere on the continent.
LAN and TACA compete on the Lima–Santiago route. Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB) flies from La Paz or Cochambamba via Santa Cruz de la Sierra to Santiago five times weekly. LAN flies four times weekly from La Paz to Santiago via Arica and/or Iquique.
LAN flies several times daily from Buenos Aires, less frequently from Mendoza, Córdoba, and Rosario, and occasionally from Bariloche via Puerto Montt. Aerolíneas Argentinas also flies several times daily from Buenos Aires. The Buenos Aires–Santiago route is highly competitive because many European carriers lose most passengers at Buenos Aires and, consequently, sell the empty seats at bargain prices.
Except for the Guianas, Santiago has service from all other South American capitals, including the Falkland Islands. LAN serves all of these, often continuing to North America or Europe. Other carriers include Avianca from Bogotá, Colombia; TACA from Caracas, Venezuela, via Lima; TAME from Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador; TAM Mercosur from Asunción, Paraguay, and from the Brazilian cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro; Varig and Gol from Brazil; and Pluna from Montevideo, Uruguay. There is only one flight weekly (Saturday) from the Falklands to Punta Arenas, continuing to Santiago.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition