Introduction – Since the beginning of the year, my life’s been reduced to commuting between Buenos Aires and Córdoba, Argentina’s second-largest city, 700 km northwest from the capital. Two airlines link both cities, namely LAN Argentina and Aerolíneas Argentinas, the latter in co-operation with its sister airline Austral.
I usually fly 4M on this route. Its schedule suits me fine, fares are usually reasonable when paid in advance and you get to earn Oneworld miles. The last couple of times, however, I flew AR/AU. The reason behind was quite simple – it was the cheapest option.
Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR) is Argentina’s flag carrier. It was born in 1949 as the merger of all airlines flying across the country – LASO, LANE, Aeroposta and the “Flota Aérea Mercante Argentina” (Argentine Air Merchant Fleet). After its golden period between the 1960s and 1980s, full of Comets, 747s and world-class service, in 1990 it was sold by the Government to Spain’s Iberia. Dreadful mismanagement and appalling corruption by both the Spanish owners and the Argentine public administration caused the airline to file for the Argentine version of Chapter 11 (“concurso preventivo de acreedores”) in 2001. Also in 2001 it was sold by the Spanish Government (the owner at the time, after IB decided it didn’t want AR anymore) to Grupo Marsans, another Spanish conglomerate. Finally, this year, after Marsans not fulfilling its promises of fleet renewal and better service, and on an extremely criticized move, the Argentine Government nationalized the airline, which thus became a state-owned company.
Austral Líneas Aéreas (AU) was born in the 1970s as AR’s main competitor on the domestic market. In the late 1980s, both airlines merged, even though legally-speaking they still are two separate entities. AU does not sell any tickets, doesn’t have a website (austral.com.ar redirects to aerolineas.com) nor does it own offices, for everything is channeled through AR. Paint schemes and cabin crews are some of the few places where you can spot the difference between both carriers. Other than that, AR flights are always numbered 1xxx whilst AU’s are 2xxx.
Booking – Even though I usually buy my tickets online, this time my credit card was not working, so I went to AR’s main office in downtown Buenos Aires. The whole thing proved to be quite easy and fast, and in less than 20 minutes I was walking back to my workplace with my ticket. From Buenos Aires to Córdoba I would be flying an AR B735. On the way back, it would be an AU MD83.
Check-in – Not taking with me anything but a carry-on bag, the day before departure I checked myself in at AR’s user-friendly website.
Boarding – I got to AEP, Buenos Aires’ downtown airport, straight from work and only 10 minutes before boarding time. Check-in counters were full of people, and I was quite happy I had checked-in the day before. Boarding started whilst I was going through security, right on schedule. We took a bus to a remote position, and it stopped right next to AR’s brand new B73G, LV-BYY! Alas, the driver pointed towards LV-BBW, a B735. No luck this time! Doors were closed 10 minutes behind schedule due to the late arrival of some passengers. In the meantime, the crew handed out copies of “La Razón” newspaper. The flight was absolutely packed, which is quite usual when going to Córdoba on a Friday evening.
Crowded check-in hall.
LV-BYY, one of AR’s newest B73G.
A small 8R Saab waiting for its next flight to ROS.
Aerolíneas Argentinas AR 1534
Buenos Aires “Aeroparque Jorge Newbery” (AEP) – Córdoba “Ingeniero Ambrosio Taravella” (COR)
Boeing 737-5Y0 LV-BBW
We took off with a 15-minute delay from runway 13, and after a quick right turn in order to avoid the city’s noise restrictions, the captain started ATOVO2B procedure, a classic when going from Buenos Aires to anywhere in the North of the country. Our route today would be over the Paraná river until Rosario (ROS), then a straight line up to Marcos Juárez VOR (MJZ) and finally a last leg to Córdoba. Weather was perfect during the whole flight.
Right after take off, Colonia del Sacramento, a small town in Uruguay, can be perfectly spotted.
In-flight entertainment consisted of two quite interesting magazines (AR’s own and “Cielos Argentinos” (Argentine Skies), both written in Spanish and English) and the aforementioned newspaper.
AR’s in-flight magazine
“Cielos Argentinos” magazine
After reaching cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement regarding weather at destination and wishing us a nice flight. Soon after, service started. It consisted of a sandwich, a “milhojas” (“Napoleon” they call it in the US, “mille-feuille” in France) and a drink. Not bad for a one-hour, domestic flight. As for the crew, I should stay it’s been a while since I last saw such a cheerful crowd on any Argentine airline – they seemed genuinely happy to do their jobs.
It was tastier than it looks.
Somewhere over the Pampas.
Approach started in no time, and we landed with a 10-minute delay at Córdoba’s international airport.
Note how the fuselage reflects itself in the engine.
Córdoba’s International Airport (COR / SACO)
The good days are gone. These three former A4 B732 are now waiting to be scrapped.
An Andes Líneas Aéreas (OY) MD83 was parked next to our position, after arriving from Puerto Iguazú (IGR) via Salta (SLA). I wonder if OY makes any money out of such a bizarre route. Although, I must admit, everything regarding OY is bizarre – especially that flight from Buenos Aires to Jujuy (northwestern Argentina) which ended up landing at Ponta Porã, right on the boundary between Brazil and Paraguay.
OY M83 just arrived from Salta.
Córdoba – Founded by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera in 1573 as “Córdoba de la Nueva Andalucía” (Cordoba of the New Andalusia), Córdoba is Argentina’s second-largest city, and by far the most important capital in Argentina outside the La Plata – Buenos Aires – Rosario belt. With 1.5 million people, it is home to the country’s oldest university, the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (established 1613), which still plays an important role in its life. Thousands of young people from other provinces move there every year in order to accomplish a degree, and, because of its famous University, the city has earned the nickname of “La Docta”, an old Spanish term which means “The one with extraordinary knowledge.” Córdoba is also an industrial town. Car-manufacturing companies Fiat, Renault, Mercedes-Benz and Iveco-Scania all have plants in the city outskirts.
Córdoba’s International Airport, known as “Ingeniero Ambrosio Taravella” or “Pajas Blancas”, because of the suburb where it is located, is some 15 km north of the capital. An expressway, known as “Camino a Pajas Blancas” (Road to Pajas Blancas) connects COR with the rest of the city.
Besides some 10 to 15 daily flights from Buenos Aires by LAN Argentina and AR/AU (mainly from AEP, but also from EZE in order to catch international connections), Sol Líneas Aéreas (8R) flies its small Saabs to Rosario and Mendoza (MDZ), Andes links the city with Salta and Iguazú, and Aerochaco (VM) flies to Resistencia (RES) a couple of times per week. On the international sector, LA and 4M operate daily flights to SCL and thrice a week to LIM, GOL flies from Córdoba to GIG, Pluna (PU) links COR with Montevideo (MVD) on a daily basis, and Copa Airlines (CM) flies to Panamá City (PTY).
Córdoba’s Cathedral and old Spanish Town Hall (“Cabildo”) at San Martín Square
Paseo del Buen Pastor – an old prison turned into a promenade full of restaurants and bars
Suquía River and La Cañada Boulevard in downtown Córdoba
Córdoba by night
Faculty of Law of the National University of Córdoba – it is housed by the same building, at Obispo Trejo Street, since 1791.
Check-in – Once again, the night before departure I used the web check-in feature at Aerolíneas’ website.
Boarding – I got to COR some 20 minutes before boarding time. At the boarding area I managed to see all aircraft that spend the night there: an AU M83 that had just landed from AEP, an OY M83 and a Pluna CRJ-200. Nice little bird, the CRJ. Boarding for this half-empty, Sunday-night flight was called right on time. The light load meant doors were closed precisely at 10 pm.
The last flight of the day
Ready to go back home
Waiting for its next flight to Ponta Porã
Internet-issued Boarding Pass
Austral Líneas Aéreas AU 2539
Córdoba “Ingeniero Ambrosio Taravella” (COR) – Buenos Aires “Aeroparque Jorge Newbery” (AEP)
McDonnell-Douglas MD83 LV-B**
There’s nothing much to tell about this uneventful flight besides the fact that the food consisted of a sandwich and a delicious brownie. Cielos Argentinos magazine could once again be found on the seat pocket, together with a copy of AU’s in-flight magazine. Only the name differs from AR’s – the rest is all the same. Since most passengers decided to sleep, service was done very efficiently and even with a smile.
That brownie was delicious.
Landing was right on time and there was a bus waiting to take us to the terminal. Not having anything but carry-on luggage, I immediately took a taxi and in less than 15 minutes I was at home.
The Verdict - Overall, I should say I am both surprised and happy with AR and AU. Comparing with previous experiences, this one was very good. The crews were in high spirits, aircraft were clean, seat pitch was fine and the schedule was respected. This said, both airlines still lag behind any kind of world-class carriers, and, as much as I like them on domestic legs, I’d think twice before buying an AR international ticket. A serious frequent-flyer program is needed urgently, together with any kind of in-flight entertainment besides magazines and a newspaper, and the airplanes, well maintained as they were, are definitely showing their age.
Thank you very much for reading and please do not hesitate to leave a comment.
[Edited 2009-08-29 12:41:38]