Lima airport: The sneakiest scam ever?

There are two things that really piss travellers off: long lines, and wasting money. At Lima’s Jorge Chavez International Airport, you get both, compliments of what just might be the sneakiest airport scam I’ve ever witnessed. Here’s how it works.

Your international flight will likely depart very late at night, because you know, why make life easy for people? So you show up three hours ahead of departure not only because you have run out of ways to kill time, but because you’ve been warned to do this by savvy travellers like yours truly. The reason for this is that when you show up, there will already be about 100 people in line ahead of you and the queue basically winds out the door. So you bide your time listening to screaming babies, trying to lean on your bag to get comfortable, and basically hating your life because you are already exhausted and you haven’t even seen a plane yet.

READ MORE: What to do in Lima, Peru

An airport terminal. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

An airport terminal. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

Once you get closer to the ticket counter, a group of airport authority workers/teeny-boppers (OK to be fair they’re probably at least 17) will greet you, grab your passport, look at it and…yeah. They don’t actually do anything other than stand there and make you feel kind of awkward. At least, that’s what it seems like at the time…until… (building dramatic tension)…they turn up again at the gate!

Why is this a big deal, you ask? Well, here’s the kicker. Once you’ve finally got your boarding pass in hand, you’ll head through security like you would anywhere else, then get deposited on the other side where you’re greeted with bright duty-free shops, gleaming restaurants and a place to sit/curl-up-in-an-uncomfortable-ball-and-sleep. This is where you’ll learn that your flight is delayed (apparently this happens a lot), so you head over to buy a crazy expensive bottle of water at one of the shops—we’re talking $12 Evian, people.

Enjoy this seat- you'll be waiting a while!

Enjoy this seat- you’ll be waiting a while!

Anyhoo, when it’s finally time to board, guess who shows up? The teeny-boppers! And this time, they have gloves on. Meaning they’re ready to screen your carry-on luggage for liquids. Yes, the same carry-on luggage that you ALREADY GOT SCREENED when you went through security! Bye bye $12 Evian water bottle, farewell new perfume, so long expensive bottle of whiskey.

Why this is the case, I truly have no idea, but there is definitely no warning passed along to travellers. Even on the airport’s website it states:

“After passing through the security checkpoint, passengers must wait in the assigned boarding area until boarding their plane. Passengers must board through the gate indicated on their boarding passes. Food and duty free shops are available in the boarding area.”

Nowhere does it say anything about not being able to actually purchase duty-free, or the fact that you’ll have the liquids that you just bought taken away for no good reason.

An airport security screening area. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

An airport security screening area. Courtesy of Shutterstock.

For the sake of journalism I decided to reach out to airport officials to get their take on it, and a letter I got back from the general manager of Lima Airport Partners says in part:

“…each airline is responsible for the security control of its passengers before they board the plane. It is important to highlight that -as operator of Lima airport- we have no participation in such process of the airline.”

To me, that sounds like passing the buck as I’ve never heard of an airline being responsibility for security screening. 

Regardless, what do they do with these seized and unopened bottles of liquids? Well…I’ll let you decide that one, but let’s just say I have my theories. In the mean time, save your money and avoid shopping at the Lima airport. And be sure to show up ridiculously early.


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47 Responses

  1. Interesting that you had such a bad experience there! Which airline did you take? I’ve flown both domestically and internationally from Lima and didn’t really have any problems. I always empty water bottles before security, scrunch them up, and throw them in my carry on. Then when I get through without fluids, I can fill it up again at a water fountain. Some people might not like the idea of drinking that water, but I drank tap water for four months from Colombia to Peru and didn’t have any problems.

    • Hi David, I think we flew Delta? As I mentioned, security wasn’t the issue as it’s standard that you can’t take liquids through. It was that fact that AFTER we all went through security and were about to board the plane, they did another sweep for liquids and confiscated everyone’s drinks/purchases. So strange!

  2. Chuck Rose says:

    So, did you ask Delta? Seems like that would have been useful

  3. Juila+Landon says:

    Hello! My fiancé lives in Lima, so I have visited the city a few times. From my experience, screening liquids after security is not limited to Jorge Chavez or Delta. I flew a red-eye flight out of Lima my first time on United. Because the flight was to the US, they screened our things. However, the second time I visited Lima, I flew Copa Airlines, a Latin American airline based out of Panama. Since my layover was in Panama, when I left Lima, no additional screening was necessary. However, on my flight from Panama to the US, airport staff screened my things at the gate. They made me either drink my water or dump it out. I have not been to any other continents, so I cannot attest for incoming flights from Europe or Asia, but the screening seems to be a US security regulation, not a scam from airlines or airports.

    • Interesting! I’ve never had such an experience anywhere else in the world, so was quite surprised when it happened. I feel that if they’re going to deviate from the status quo the least they could do is warn passengers, as I feel a lot of people were caught off guard and wasted a lot of money.
      Thanks for the comment 🙂

    • Nelya says:

      I travelled thrlugh Panama too and I know what you mean, but it seems that only direct flights from Panama to US get the second screening for liquids at the gate, no other flights do. I flew too Canada and did not have that problem.

  4. Jake says:

    This isn’t a “scam” it’s U.S. government regulations.

    If you’re flying inside Peru from Lima, you can bring almost any amount of liquid through screening (saw one person with a five gallon jug of water take it through security in Lima the other day, they got it on the plane).

    If you’re flying to any other country, the 100ml rule applies at screening but then they’ll let you bring liquids you bought at the airport on the plan.

    That is unless you’re flying to the U.S.

    For some reason (probably not one that makes sense), the TSA has decided that no liquids larger than 100 ml can be brought onto flights flying into the U.S. from Peru.

    Of course, that’s not really a problem if you’re flying a quality airline where they give you enough water to drink but I guess that’s not the case with Delta.

    It can be a surprise but you’re really exaggerating the impact.

    I saw bottles of water for 10 soles at Lima airport, that’s expensive but it’s closer to US$3 than US$12. And they weren’t seizing any duty free items, which are delivered to passengers right after the second search, just bottles of water and things like that.

    It can be annoying, sure, but calling it a scam is nonsense and it’s your government who demands it.

    • Hi Jake,

      Thanks for your comment! First off I’m actually from Canada, so it’s not ‘my government’ demanding it. As such, I have travelled to the US extensively both to stay and in transfer, and have never been forced to abandon liquids once past security, so I’m quite sure it’s unique to Peru. You’re right- there probably are cheaper bottles of water to be found around the airport, but I can only speak to my experience which is that the bottles of water that people on our plane were buying were from the gift shop across from our gate, and all of the bottles of Evian were $12- definitely a shocking price, especially when they got taken away before people could even open them!
      I’m guessing your comment comes because you’ve flown to the US from Peru- is that the case? Just wondering if you had a similar experience to me, or it was a one-off. 🙂

      • Bree says:

        I’ve flown out of both lima and Panama multiple times (i work for an airline) and I can definitely say this is a US government policy. It also applies to, at least, direct flights to the US from Tel Aviv and the Philippines. it’s pretty annoying…. Especially because there’s no warning unless you’ve been through there before. US customs is highly critical of flights coming in from central and South America so that could have something to do with it. I was in Panama last month and now they don’t even let empty bottles onto the US flights :/. I assume something must’ve happened to change policy but who knows

  5. Heather Collison says:

    Imported goods in Peru can be very expensive. For instance, imported bottled water is quiet expensive in Peru. A small bottle of Evian water at a local supermarket will surely cost you about US $3.5 and Perrier will not be any cheaper (the same will cost about $1.00-$1.5 in the US, so it’s twice as expensive in Peru). Before anybody says that I am exaggerating or that I am criticizing and offending Peru (and Peruvians), I am simply writing about my (many) experiences in & out of Peru. I wanted to buy a package of “Una de Gato” – made in Peru – pills at the airport and the price was more than twice as much as in the local drugstores (it was actually 3 times more expensive). So I didn’t buy it. Having said the above, I do believe that you could have paid about $12 bucks for the bottle of Evian water at the airport, so you are not exaggerating. Yes, there are local brands (Agua San Luis for example) that in a local store will cost you $0.5 and that at the airport may be priced at $3.00 but the choice of brand is yours and this should not be argued. So I can perfectly understand your point, as you paid $12 bucks for a bottle that may have costed about $1.5 back at home and you had to leave it behind at the gate. From my personal experience, I can relate that not all US-bound flights from Peru have the must-check-all-bags-at-the-gate that you mention. And certainly, also from my experience, I can relate that many airports around the world (even if travelling with a US airline) do not have these checks for US-bound flights. Some may have random checks though. About the long waiting lines, I think one big problem with the Lima airport is that it is quiet small and has limited facilities. If you are a frequent user of this airport, you will notice that when your ride arrives to the airport, depending on the time of the day, the car entrance is quiet congested. There is a police check (is it used to search for stolen vehicles, drivers with suspended DLs, or what?- a local driver told me that this was implemented for security reasons due to past terrorists attacks with bombs during the 1980s, but I don’t see how they could detect explosives in a car in such a simple check if that was the case and we are in 2015!) that truly congests the car traffic at the entrance. This is followed by a bottleneck at the ONLY 2 electronic gates to enter the parking area (think of a major airport with only 2 gates, even local shopping centers have more electronic gates). If your driver will just drop you at the airport, you will bypass the 2 electronic gates but what follows next, is chaos. There are very limited designated spaces for cars to drop passengers. You may have to be dropped at any available space and walk through moving cars with your suitcases. You then enter the terminal through small doors after you produce your documents and/or boarding pass to the person commanding the entrance of your choice. If you were ever accompanied by someone not travelling with you to the airport, this person will not be able to accompany you through the check-in process, since this area is off-limits to non-travellers (he/she will have to stay outside the terminal, literally on the street). And Yes, you are completely right, lines inside the check-in area are very long, and this entire process could be very disorganized. I believe that this is due to the lack of space in the terminal (can you imagine if they’d let passengers and their non-travelling companions enter the check-in area, the airport will collapse. But also, and this I say with all due respect to everybody, I believe the cases of stolen/missing baggage would be quiet a problem with so many people in one small place). The main airline in Peru is LAN and thus, this airline occupies probably 1/3 of all check-in counters at the terminal, so the check-in process with this airline may be fast. Other airlines like Delta, American, United, Spirit, Bluejet, Air Canada have one/two flights a day, so they only get a few counters and thus they do not have the space to have effective zig-zag queue lines so you will see very long, scary single waiting lines. As for the flight schedule of these airlines, it is true most of the US airlines schedule their northbound flights late at night, so the airport is quiet congested (also they mostly arrive a couple hours before the departure flight). This saves them a lot of money since the same gate they may rent for their arrival will be used for their departure and the personnel working will be useful to handle the arrival and departure (Unlike what you see at other larger airports, you never (or seldom) see a major airliner sleeping in Peru). After you finish your check-in, you will go through the flight departures entrances. Here you will see an incredible amount of people standing by. Most of these people are there to say farewell to a traveller, but the result is that the area is quiet congested also (I bet that when you arrived to Lima, you had a difficult time trying to figure out which way was the exit and that you were quiet impressed – and maybe shocked – when you saw the very large crowd at the arrivals hallway – so large that I think it is very intimidating and very difficult at times to pass through since they do not clear the area for passengers passing by. Then all of sudden you find yourself outside the terminal on the street where you are literally attacked by people offering you a taxi ride. Talk about any organization, it is pure chaos!). But going back to departures, after passing through the security check and passport control (long queue lines too), you pass through the duty free shops and restaurants. Even though you are still in Lima, most prices at those restaurants and kiosks at the airport are quiet high or similar to those of developed or first world countries. If you go to the restrooms, you will notice one of the main problems of Peruvian public places (shopping centers, public buildings, universities, stadiums, airports): they smell bad. The ones at the airport are also, quiet small. During your trip to Peru, you probably also noticed the chaotic traffic (just going to the airport you pass through a demoniac traffic congestion, taxis, public vans stopping anywhere, crossing anybody that gets in front of them) so with all due respect, I don’t see how things could be any different at the airport. Sorry if anybody felt offended. My contribution. – Heather.

  6. Miguel says:

    Wonderful to see all the comments , it’s like reading a novel with chapters. Most of the data seems to be correct however that is the adventure of traveling abroad and you should pay extra for that kind of entertainment and exotic, unusual (for a type A personality) situation. Next time just enjoy a couple of “pisco sours” and be happy

  7. Amy says:

    I am reading this post because I had a similar infuriating episode flying from Buenos Aires to the US last week. After two weeks in Patagonia, where it is cold and windy, I had a cold and very dry sinuses. My throat was dry and painful. Even without a cold, the dry air on planes makes my nose bloody and sore. I really need water to get thru a flight without misery. I am a seasoned traveler and know the rules about taking water thru security, so I always bring my empty bottle thru and get water from the fountain near the gate. After waiting in line to board, I noticed a line of agents at the gate ready to paw thru everyone’s bag (everyone who had already passed the security screen). The agent grabbed my bottle and told me I had to dump it. What? In hundreds of flights, I have never been told to dump my water at the gate. In case I wasn’t infuriated enough, I asked the agent to please dump it for me in the trash can 6 inches away from her. BUT NO, apparently that is a new rule too. She made me get out of line and walk to the restroom to dump it. As usual, I was lucky to get a “glass” of water about six drops in size every 6 hours or so, so the flight was pure misery. Now I am much sicker than I was before the flight and just starting to recover. People need to hydrate. I am fairly well and young, but for those at risk of pulmonary emboli and with diabetes and heart issues, this ridiculous fear of water was a potential agent of terrorism is dangerous not to mention purely stupid.

  8. Vlad says:

    Had a same experience with a Spirit Airlines

  9. MJR says:

    Similar-ish experience in KUL a couple years ago – incoming flight from Tokyo, gate for onward flight was in same the terminal with Duty Free shopping all over the place. Security screening at the gate for the onward flight to MEL (literally the gate beside the gate I entered the terminal from NRT) and your Duty Free shopping is confiscated.

    Ya, bummed.

    1 liter bottle of Evian is $8 US at LIR in Costa Rica, so I believe you.

    • Eugh! Yes I’ve seen a similar thing in Asian airports where they’ll let you buy duty-free, but then confiscate it when you suddenly have to go through security again! Super frustrating.

  10. Michael says:

    Happened to us in Hong Kong before a Qantas flight to Sydney. Lots of people bought water for the flight, only to have to taken away on the jetway. Odd.

  11. John Dittemore says:

    It is up to the Airline if they search your carry on. Your $12.00 water could have been $0.00 if you would have said. “No thank you” I have been to lima at least 100 times in my life and I feel more safety concerns in there security than I do in the USA.If your experience was that bad then why is Lima Airport been voted as the best airport in Latin America?

  12. Sue says:

    Found this post as I was stuck in traffic in Lima to the airport…and this post kinda added to my infuriation to be honest. You’re mis-stating a lot of things. The airport is truly not in charge of the extra additional screening. It is in fact from the US government. We have had this happen even from places like Madrid. It depends on how your connection is set up, which airport and terminal you will land into in the US, etc. If you travel a lot you can predict where the additional screening will happen.

    Additionally, it is also true that airlines have a HUGE impact on your security screening experience. They pay for their terminal rights.

    The water i believe was probably a rip off…but that’s at every airport.

    None of what you mentioned has anything to do with scamming or Lima. It’s weird that this was a blog post for savvy travelers, and as someone who does enjoy frequent travel internationally, I’m a bit offended by the false information you’re willingly putting out under the guise of “savvy”ness.

  13. casey says:

    i just flew from lima to florida yesterday. they told me at the check in counter i could not bring liquids on plane, even after security. they said it is US law, flights from peru, columbia and Panama all apply. sorry, but not a scam, but still an annoyance.

  14. casey says:

    also, i don’t know about evian, but most of the water is about 3 dollars at lima airport. i believe the reason might be because in peru you can take bottled water through security.

  15. KR says:

    Buy a Berkey Sport water purifier bottle, fill it from the rest room tap on the airplane. It filters EVERYTHING. Voila! Free and guaranteed hydration.

  16. SBCT says:

    I think this is an unfair article. The problems you faced were due to US Government regulations. If anything you are free to take more through Peruvian airports(bottled water etc) without as much scrutiny.

    The problem is not Jorge Chavez airport(apart from the delays) it is your home countries draconian laws.

    To be honest this article makes you look like a clueless traveller.

    • Geoff says:

      Its funny when someone trys to insult someone and the insult fails because they don’t read carefully enough…he’s not from the US he’s from Canada so your rant on Draconian laws of his home country kinda fails badly…

      To be honest your comment makes you look like a clueless poster.

      • Irishwitchy says:

        I believe the OP is a female. Just flew home last night and the water was taken from me. Let me add there was a sticker in Spanish on my boarding pass that lead me to believe I couldn’t take the water on, but I was feeling lousy and thought I would try anyway.

  17. Mark says:

    You do have liquids confiscated immediately before boarding, and I believe it’s additional security measures required by the country tour flying too, nothing to do with the airport. And you can bring duty free liquids, you purchase them and they’re delivered directly to the plane and you pick them up there as opposed to carrying them on with you.

  18. Scott says:

    I flew out of there about 14 hours ago. At checkin it was clearly explained that there would be additional security at the gate and to make sure not to have any liquids at the gate for a US bound flight. I then was required to sign that I understood this before proceeding to ticketing. At the gate was a large sign explaining this again. In spite of this a fellow US citizen proceeded to yell and swear at the airport security that how was he supposed to know this. Embarrassing, his wife was mortified. Anyway it’s really a nice airport if you can read signs, follow directions and listen to people.

    • Hi Scott, thanks for sharing, that’s a similar experience to what I had in Panama City recently. It sounds like Lima airport is finally making some changes to ensure passengers are aware prior to queuing up to board- there were definitely no signs or forms when I was there a few years ago!

  19. Alvaro Aguayo says:

    Hi. I think I may know the reason for that on-gate security check. All flights with stop or final destination to an US airport MUST have that security check. That happens not only on Lima airport, but also on any other airport with flights that depart with connection or destination to a US airport.

    That said, the rest of your article may really be truth, even being a bit hard. But, I had to say this…. You have cheaper alternatives to the Evian water, which is anyway expensive all around the world. National bottled water(San Luis, Cielo, etc) costs about half than Evian. But, anyway, it’s true everything is many times more expensive at the airport compared to outside prices(USD 5 vs PEN 2 for a bottle of water)

  20. Katherine says:

    Which place at Lima Airport does the best pisco sour?

  21. Bruno says:

    Try a bottle of water at Chicago airport $$$$…… and really if you think this is a scam, you haven’t travel enough to the US and enjoy the nightmare of security screening , long queuing ….

  22. Jay says:

    Just travelled from Lima to Newark last month. They scanned us again prior to boarding the flight. All liquids were thrown out. A lady had bought a bottle of expensive liquor and literally began drinking it there so she could enjoy some use out of it before having it confiscated.

    The duty free shop should give you a heads up this may happen.

    • Hi Jay, yes that was my main frustration about the whole thing is that they don’t seem to give passengers a heads-up about it so it’s a big surprise when you go to board. I can’t imagine how much money is wasted every single year by flyers who purchase duty-free items only to have them taken away an hour later.

  23. Cam says:

    This is one of my pet peeves too! Airports/airlines that take duty free liquids after you purchased them without any indication from then that they know full well they’re going to do this. Total incompetence or corruption, You decide. It’s not limited to Lima as I’ve had the same problem at Santiago and Singapore airports. Not sure why they don’t tell you at check-in or with signs as they must know this is misleading.

    As for the Evian, I would just buy San Luis water which is US$2.90 for 1 liter (34 fl/oz) which I find is not expensive for an airport. No idea why Evian is so expensive.

    Worth noting that you can take liquids on domestic flights in Peru. I flew from Lima to Pucallpa and airport security told me I could keep the half bottle of water I had as I was about to bin it. They have different security checkpoints for domestic and international at Lima.

  24. Miguel says:

    I am perúvian and I travelled a lot due my work, inside my country (2-3 flights per month) and to foreign lands. I can say that the Lima airport is one of the worst airports I had flight throught. And that is because the corrupt corporativo that manage the airport and corrupt goverments. Its small, overcrowded, unclean, and it must not be that way.
    The airport was privatized in early 2000s with the promise to have a New runway and a New bigger terminal by 2005. We are 14 years past that date and nothing was build. The airport corporation soborn goverments in order not to have all the permits and facilities needed to build the aforementioned runway and terminal, and to continúe milking the old airport without investing a dime.

  25. Jord says:

    The prices in Lima Airport are a robbery . $7 for a shifty Nescafe cup of coffee? More expensive than EU Airports . Not just coffee is everything . Should be some regulation to that

  26. Mark says:

    Yep. I flew out of there last night and they took my coke and water. I made sure to open each and drink from them. Most ridiculous bs I have ever seen

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