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Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 2:18 am

Hi there

I'd like to tell you about my trip from Argentina to Spain with Aerolineas Argentinas, aboard their 747-200.

10th April 2003

AR 1135



Scheduled Departure: 1400
Actual: 1400

Scheduled Arrival: 0640
Actual: 0620

Time Elapsed: Just over 11 hours.

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Photo © Javier F. Bobadilla - IBERIAN SPOTTERS

I arrived at Ezeiza Int'l airport at about 1300. Unlike most others here, I hate waiting around at airports - Ezeiza has reasonable viewing windows once airside, but since the Aerolineas Terminal is segregated from the International Terminal (which caters to all other airlines), it is difficult to spot other traffic coming and going.

Surprisingly few people were milling around the AR check-in desks; I was expecting a huge mass of pple with big boxes and lots of luggage, as is usual for flights between Madrid and Buenos Aires. I walked straight up to the check-in desk. It must be noted that check-in desks in the Aerolineas Argentinas terminal do not have any signs with flights or destinations at all, so presumably one just walks up to any desk he or she likes.

It was a full 5 minutes before the three check-in agents, huddled around a mobile phone, bothered to attend to me. Not a great start. There were plenty of other check-in agents doing absolutely nothing at all except staring into space, with vacant expressions.

However, once he finally finished his urgent text-message to his mother, the agent was friendly enough. I asked whether he might tag my luggage through to LHR - my final destination, with BMI. No problem, although he wouldn't be able to issue my boarding card for the MD), Spain">MAD-LHR sector with BMI. I don't know how these computers work, so I accept he was being truthful about that.

Having turned up late, I didn't expect a window seat, and didn't get one. The agent did show me the computer screen, and indeed, all window rows were already taken (except in Club Condor, AR's Business Class - AR does not have a First Class section).

After checking-in for an Aerolineas Argentinas international flight, you must proceed to the tax desk, and pay a tax on departure. I thought my ticket included taxes, but apparently in Buenos Aires we have to pay separately, which is inconvenient (very long queues) and smacks of disorganization - on someone's part. Apart from that, the tax is extremely expensive -$18!!! I honestly think someone should look into this - it is a scandal, especially when one considers the taxes that are already included in the original ticket price, and the state of the Aerolineas terminal - poor. I can't help but say this is typical of the sort of thing that happens in this country.

Went quickly through immigration and security - no random checks, just the usual x-ray of hand-luggage. Reached the boarding area, and watched an AR A340 pull in, fresh from Auckland and Sydney; a large number of young Oz and Nz travellers started piling out, smelling of aircraft cabin (strange how that smell sticks to you, like cigarette smoke).

Boarding commenced at about 1315, although I had to grab a copy of the Economist to read (it's like a weekly newspaper, except much easier to read - especially in an Economy class seat...)

Other aircraft on the ground were few at this time...2 AR A340s, 2 MD-88s and 1 or 2 AR 737-200s. Most of the international terminal was hidden from view, although I saw a LAB 767-300ER and a Copa Airlines 737-700 (winglets) taxying out - it flies nonstop to Panama City - quite a long sector for the 737. Other airlines of course fly into EZE - I usually always see a Lufthansa 747-400 and an Air France 777, although both would probably be at Santiago, at the time I was present (they fly CDG-EZE-SCL and FRA-EZE-SCL respectively).

Occasionally a British Airways 777, and the Swiss MD-11, but only in the early morning. (Of course we get Varig, TAM, Lanchile, Mexicana, Alitalia and quite a few other visitors).

But anyway, I digress.

Boarding was orderly, and in a single file. I usually wait for most of the passengers to board first, and then join the back of the queue. I'm never really in a rush, especially when you consider the fact that I was about to sit in that 747 for the next 11 hours or so...

There was a hand-luggage check just before boarding - except it was not random - everyone had to zip open their luggage for inspection; thankfully, it didn't take long.

The cabin crew were there to greet us at the door - they all looked nice and in good spirits, which is a refreshing start to any long flight, I'm sure you agree. My parents recently travelled to Europe with Swiss, and expressed disappointment with the crew, who they thought were bordering on the rude.

All of the crew were very much of European stock. Although Argentina has an indigenous population (referred to as 'Indians'), it is very small indeed in comparison to other countries in the region. Regrettably, the Conquistadors killed off many of Argentina's native peoples, so that it is very rare to see them nowadays. I mention this because many of my European friends who visit Argentina comment on the European appearence of Argentines, as if it were a surprise.

Cabin Crew on Aerolineas wear a predominantly dark blue uniform - ladies sometimes wear a white shirt with blue polka dots which I find very attractive. Men wear a burgundy jacket with black tie, which I find a bit pretentious - as with some Asian carriers. I just think it looks a bit too formal. But anyway.

Seats are darkish-blue in colour, with a pattern of segregated gold stripes - identical in fact, to those found on Iberia. Some of you will know that this is no coincidence....

Push-back was at 1400 sharp. The autumn weather was sunny and warm. Two of the ladies that were sat next to me asked if I would care for the window seat, so that they could sit together (I had been placed between them). Well, that was a rhetorical question in my opinion. I obliged of course; turning up late at the airport isn't so bad after all....

As we taxied out, I saw an AR MD-88 follow behind us, and behind that, an Alitalia MD-11 was also preparing to taxi out to the runway. The taxying was rather bumpy, it is clear that some resurfacing work is needed at EZE. Our aircraft was not yet painted in AR's newest colours.

AR presents its safety information on a video, on the main screen at the front. Unfortunately, TV monitors are not fitted throughout the cabin, so it is difficult to see anything if you are seated near the middle, or just towards the end of the cabin section. PTVs are not installed in Economy Class. I am unsure of the seat pitch, but I am guessing at 32". It certainly wasn't 34", as some airlines provide.

The take-off was slow, and the climb out, towards the North-East was in fact quite scary. For a start, it was evident we were very heavy, as you could feel the 747 was really struggling to gain altitude. Secondly, there was initially some quite severe turbulence, god knows why. At the same time, we were banking left at quite a steep angle (or so it seemed), and there was a misty formation near the leading edge. For a moment, I really thought the old plane was about to break up in mid-air. You can laugh, but I wasn't - I don't usually get nervous at all on planes, but there are times when you do wonder what on earth is going on outside....

Well, I'm still here, so obviously we survived. The rough air was soon left behind, and we continued our climb over Buenos Aires, and then the River Plate. Initially, the moving-map display was screened, but it must have been very old, because it looked quite amateurish, with hardly any detail. The map displays used by British Airways and Air France are much clearer, and more concise, with respect to the geography of the places passing below the aircraft. But anyway, it was soon turned off.

The two movies on show were "Catch me if you Can" and "Two Weeks notice". I am a fan of Independent Cinema, so Hollywood movies are not really my cup of tea, and I ended up sleeping, eating and reading (and looking out of the window), for most of the flight.

The longhaul flight passed as many others do - nothing much was happening outside, except the monotonous landscape of southern Brazil - flat, and relatively featureless. Sunset was very beautiful though, and by that time, we were flying over the central highlands of Brazil - the long shadows cast by the hills were a pretty sight, and every now and then you would catch sight of some smoke rising from the ground in the distance. Even after darkness, the moon lit up the sky (I think we still had a full moon last night), and the wing area.

The meal service was the same as always - Chicken or Pasta. This doesn't seem to vary, except with a few airlines (unless you pay to travel in something better). The food was ok really, nothing spectacular. The crew were courteous though, and much better than their counterparts on the ground. However, once the meal service was complete, no regular drinks rounds were offered. So far, British Airways and Air France are the only airlines (Argentina-Europe flights) that seem to know how to keep their passengers hydrated (in my experience). That was a shame, because otherwise the service from the crew was good.

Sometime in the middle of the night, the turbulence started again. Most of it was harmless stuff, nothing dramatic. There was one point though, where it did get very exciting; the pilots must have seen something ahead, because at one point, the seat belt sign flicked on, and almost as if it were a sixth sense, I braced myself for something.....and it happened. Barely 5 seconds later we plunged into the dark abyss of the Equatorial sky.......I don't know how long I had the sensation that we were literally dropping like a meteorite, but it seemed quite long. There were some squeels of course, everyone was woken up, loud crashes from the galley, babies crying again (argghhh).........inevitably in such situtations, one starts to wonder whether the pilots are still in control of the plane, because it certainly didn't feel like it. For the first time, I actually felt myself lifting off the seat.

It was a very unpleasant experience, and it happened twice in a row. There was some cloud outside, and above us (because the moon's light faded) but nothing obvious that would cause such severe turbulence, such as a storm (unless it was covered by a layer of cloud below).

Apart from that, the rest of the flight proceeded fairly smoothly, and people eventually got back to sleep (including the babies). The cabin lights were switched back on somewhere over south-western Spain. There was no breakfast as such, merely some juice. That was fine by me, as I was not hungry. I nevertheless found it a bit strange that there was no proper breakfast service.

Again, as we approached the Madrid area, we hit yet more turbulence which meant the seat belt sign came on even before we had started our descent. It was still night outside, although the lights of Madrid illuminated the clouds from below.

The Captain came on to announce that we had begun our descent, and to apologise for the bumpiness earlier on, although he made clear that flying across the Equatorial regions always entailed flying in rough air. The descent into Madrid was quite bumpy too, although it was clear that there was a lot of cloud about the area. As we flew through some thick cloud on our way down, the approach lights reflected much rainwater.

The final approach was a bit "unstable" - by that I mean we were still rocking sideways quite a bit - the final landing was very bumpy. I waited for the roar of the reverse thrust, but it never came. Instead, there was some harsh braking towards the end. Perhaps there are some noise abatement procedures for Madrid early-morning arrivals?

The taxi from the runway to our remote gate was very short, and we parked up against an Iberia A340 named "Maria Guerrera". I have flown this aircraft to Argentina too.

The flight was described as flying to Madrid and Paris CDG. In fact, passengers in transfer to Paris must change planes, as the 747 itself is not flown to Paris. Aerolineas Argentinas base an MD-88 at Madrid, and this is used to fly those passengers on to Paris CDG. On other days, the same arrangement occurs, but with a final destination of London LGW. That aircraft is LV-VGB.

What is the final verdict? Well, the cabin crew were generally very nice, and the flight itself was very cheap (MD), Spain">MAD-EZE-MD), Spain">MAD Euros 418 total). But that is really all that can be said in favour of this airline. The groundcrew were a disgrace. There is no excuse for ignoring passengers who are waiting to check-in for a flight. The AR groundstaff should walk over to the international terminal and see how their friends at the other airlines do it - especially the excellent attention by the staff of some of the European carriers at Ezeiza.

The seats were uncomfortable, the entertainment was fairly basic. Business Class did not look good either.

They are cheap, and their flight crew are a good bunch of people, but apart from that, I can't really recommend this airline to anyone flying to Argentina. The overall service and attention is below-average. Iberia are better, but not by much. My advice would be to stick to a foreign airline (especially the better European ones).

You may not agree with my opinions, but that is my honest view from this experience. They were by no means terrible, and I would certainly fly them again, but not by choice.


Hopefully, if I have time, I will write a trip report aboard BMI from Madrid to Heathrow (much better!!)

Gracias por su attencion!

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 2:53 am

Nice report DoorsToManual - I was in Buenos Aires last week - flew there by Swiss MD11 (good - but not as good as I was expecting - look out for my trip report). Anyway, on the 8th, I flew to Rosario (my parents were married and lived there for three years in the sixties so wanted to check out the church, house, etc) by Aerolineas 737-200 from Jorge Newbury and thought it quite good. The aircraft, whilst rather elderly, was spotlessly clean and the crew were fine. Was very impressed with the two airports in BA, I have to say that everyone I came across was polite and courteous - rarely the case in Europe and the US.
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 3:03 am

Thanks for posting this,we don't get too many AR trip reports so its nice to get one now and again.From the reports we have had,it seems service is quiet consistant - not too good!

Thanks again.


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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 3:10 am

Hi Jansmuts,

The AR service inside the aircraft is fine - I just found the ground staff in this instance to be lacking in customer service skills.

You are lucky to have flown the 737 - I flew to El Calafate and Ushuaia and back (from EZE), got the very same aircraft on all flights - MD-88 LV-VGC!!

Nevertheless nice to hear you found the service to your liking. The International terminal at EZE and the Aeroparque in downtown BA have been rebuilt. Unfortunately, it seems AR doesn't care much for its own terminal at the International airport though!

Look forward to reading your report on Swiss - I heard the old Swissair was great, but I hear different things about this new "Swiss".

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 12:59 pm

Excelente Trip report- muy descriptivo y entretenido.
Aca no son muy comunes los trip reports de Aerolineas Argentias o de cualquier aerolinea de Latino America.
Y bienvenidos a
Fly the Flag!!!!
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sat Apr 19, 2003 11:30 pm

Gracias por tu informe!

Last time I flew Aerolíneas it was Madrid-Sao Paulo for two or three years ago. And it was more or less as you put it: friendly crew, punctuality and a rather old aircraft.

But I am surprised about this "chicken or pasta" choice. I think Aerolíneas could improve its image by offering a bit of Argentinian beef (and a good red wine). It was on the menu last time and it was a great treat.

Best regards
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sun Apr 20, 2003 6:05 am

Thank you for the report.

I took the same flight two years ago and I recall exactly the same experience. When flying near Sao Paulo, after dinner a very severe turbulence started including what it felt like a free fall. I was shocked and many passengers too.

Do you think because is an old aircraft, with older technology it doesn't have the navigation equipment of the aircraft used by competitors that may help to predict a zone of heavy turbulence?

Do you remember the reg. of the 747 you flew?

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sun Apr 20, 2003 6:14 am

Hello Erico,

A shame there was no beef, that is one thing Argentina has always been good at! But I'm not sure what it would taste like on a plane, it might not be that good.

Hola Lima,

I have no expert knowledge of airplane navigation systems or anything remotely technical, although I agree it is an interesting question. I have heard of this "clear air turbulence" and that it is quite difficult to predict, even with advanced technologies. I think maybe it was this form of turbulence which we encountered, and it was a shock for everyone. I have heard of passengers even being killed by this, I think it was a United 747 flying across the Pacific that hit this, and someone filmed it, part of the ceiling and other cabin panels had actually broken loose and there was much screaming.

From a point of view of passenger safety it would probably be good to develope detective systems, I agree. I don't know what the 747-200 has, but the crew seemed to have detected something, because they switched the seat belt sign on, but we only had 5 seconds warning, which was too short!!

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Mon Apr 21, 2003 10:25 am

I agree, the smell of aircraft cabin is doesnt leave your clothes until they are laundered!  Laugh out loud
America's chickens are coming home to rooooost!
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Tue Apr 22, 2003 5:33 am

Nice report, I did the same flight in 1998, but MAD - EZE and it was pretty much the same as you described.
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 7:17 am

Interesting reading, finally a very detailed trip report on Aerolineas Argentinas. Most of the people I know who fllew on AR from/to Mexico City really hated the airline, the aircraft and the service. I guess I will take almost any airline as long as it is cheap and I like the airplane flying the route...

In which school are you studying in England??? Are you getting a BS or MS???

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 7:21 am

Great trip report. You have to give Aerolineas credit, the plane is old and it will probably get new upholstery when it gets its D check, and it receives Aerolineas' new brand product. Like all classic 747s used now days, they have a lot of wear and tear noticeable - on any airline still using them.

"All of the crew were very much of European stock. Although Argentina has an indigenous population (referred to as 'Indians'), it is very small indeed in comparison to other countries in the region. Regrettably, the Conquistadors killed off many of Argentina's native peoples, so that it is very rare to see them nowadays. I mention this because many of my European friends who visit Argentina comment on the European appearance of Argentines, as if it were a surprise."

I would assume that most people knew that the somatic norm in Argentina and Uruguay is primarily Caucasian, but I guess that's not the case. Back when Aerolineas flew to LAX, I remember seeing AR's F/A's, which definitely looked typically Argentinian (Spanish/Italian/French mix) of course, but I was surprised when I saw some of Argentinian Mestizo stock, which was strange to me, at the time, because I believed that all Argentinians where European. Of course, like in any country in Latin America, people vary according to the region of the country they originate from. And now that we see more and more Argentinians emigrating out of the country, you see more and more Argentinians that look mestizo and/or mestizo with predominantly Indian blood.

It is very interesting to note that I've never seen an African Brazilian F/A for Varig. I don't know if its just me, but that has been my experience. I know of Brazil's shameful racist policies, but it surprises me when Brazil has the second largest population of blacks after Nigeria, but you don't see any of them working for Varig. If I'm wrong, please correct me.

 Smile LatinPlane

Pan Am - The World's Most Experienced Airline.
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 10:26 am

I really doubt that there are many black Varig f/a's - in Brasil being a f/a is considered a job for the elite. Black Brsilians are absent from positions of power - from levels of governent,congress,senate and from the high ranks of the armed forces.
This is not unique to Brazil - latin American countries in general suffer from a great deal of racism towards the indigenous Indians and towards those of African ancestry.
Then again look at the very "intelligent" remark Colombian "actres" Sofia Vergara said on the Howard Stern show "Colombian women are white and pretty Mexican women are all (prietonas) black."- Not at all correct but nonetheless a very stupid comment.

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 3:52 pm


She actually said that on national radio? She's been known to be a little two face from what I understand. I've met many Colombians (and all of them have been very nice people) and most of them look exactly like Mexicans. In fact, from my point of view sometimes Colombians look more like Mexicans than they do to their next door neighbors in Venezuela. But wouldn't she know a thing or two about Mexicans since she was sleeping with the son of the most wealthy Mexican, (i.e. most wealthy person in Latin American for that matter) maybe she's upset, but anyway that's has her opinion...

I think you're totally correct. Airlines from third world countries (especially in Latin America!!!) tend to hire F/A for their looks, and of course, that means that most come from the elite groups of the country. I've noticed this while flying around the region throughout my life.

Back in the 80s and up till the early 90s, most of AeroMexico and Mexicana's F/A's looked like the people you see on Mexican soap operas - that seems to have changed these days. In Peru, I've noticed the same thing, most of the F/A's looked like they were from the creme de la creme of society. Venezuelan women have the prestige of being some of the most beautiful, and it wasn't a coincidence that the last Miss Venezuela (2002 ) was a F/A for a Venezuelan carrier before she won the crown. I'm pretty sure LAN must have a certain requirement for their F/A's cause up till now I have never seen one that is more than 27 years old, slim, and not photogenic (maybe its just my luck). Its definitely a cultural thing, cause even on Philippine Airlines (the most Latin country in Asia) the Filipino F/As are definitely descendants of Filipinos/Spanish or American stock.

But its definitely been the case for many years. Even in countries where it is now against the law to discriminate based on gender, age, and race, at one time it was also the case. Who cannot forget Pan Am's beautiful F/A's. They had to be beautiful and white (and they hired Europeans sometimes over Americans) until Pan Am hired African Americans in the early 70s.

The airline that certainly does not hire on such standards is probably Cubana de Aviacion, as Cuba does not have an elite group. American's Puerto Rican F/A's (when American had a crew base in San Juan) instituted U.S. labor hiring practices.

By the way Chepos, speaking of which... You know the Puerto Rican actress on that movie that's out now. Yeah, you know who! She has a house near my pad. I found out cause my friend took me out for lunch on my b-day to a local restaurant near my house, and guess who we bumped into... Apparently, that's her favorite restaurant. Just though I'd let you know, I know you're probably proud of her.  Smile
Boricua in the house...

Sorry, I got distracted from the subject.

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 5:20 pm

A lot of information.

Well, here is my thoughts.

Rojo, I study at the University of London, Institute of Latin American studies; a friend of mine who was on the trip is a member of this website and told me about it, you may know the name "Captain Picard"?? an Anglo-Argentine, he is studying in Cambridge.

Anyways, yes, racism is I think present in all countries which are multi-ethnic, and I have heard it happens here in Britain too; i have to say from my time here, that the British manage very well with a large diversity of peoples from all over the world, including many Latinos. My British friends are all very comfortable, so it's good, although I hear racism is a problem here.

In Argentina there has been racism "under the blanket", towards indians and even towards Bolivians, Peruvians, Paraguayans anyone considered to come from these countries. Not very much, but it definitely exists for some people.

With Brazil, I always knew that, as I lived there a few years back. When looking for jobs they always put "boa aparencia" which means "good appearence" but everyone really know it means "no black people please". I guess this happens for Varig jobs too. Only if you're rich and Black, then no problem.

That's sad, but it is also here in Europe, although much less from what have experienced.

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Wed Apr 23, 2003 10:47 pm


Interesting, so you are attending ILAS... A friend of my brother went to ILAS; if I remember correctly he got an MSc in Latin American Politics. In november I will start my MSc at the University of London (London School of Economics). It is good to know people from Latin America living in England!!!

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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Thu Apr 24, 2003 12:12 am

Sorry for going off tangent on the topic here.
Yes I know who you are refering to that is Rosalyn Sanchez she co-stars with Eduardo Verasegui, Jaci Velasquez, and Sofia Vergara in Chasing Papi. The movie seems terrible and with that title who will ever want to see that.
Fly the Flag!!!!
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RE: Buenos Aires - Madrid (Aerolineas Argentinas)

Sun Apr 27, 2003 1:31 am

Very interesting trip report. Pity AR brings just a standard product service wise, just bring people where they have to go. I admire their creative plans to start satellite operations elsewhere in Latin America and Madrid but reading in between the lines, and also the report on justplanes that one of their Airbus 340s is seized by the owners worries me a bit.
Hey LatinPlane  Smile/happy/getting dizzy long time no see.
About the Brazilians... In Amsterdam bars I regularly bump into (former) Varig male F/A's of which some are "pretty black " (hope I describe it in a way not offending anyone) so they might not be as prejudical as you think. But any airline in the world, like any service and appearance oriented company like hotel hosts, TV presentators etc, tends to hire people with looks that match what is liked, admired and considered attractive in that country. On seeing a cabin crew, you can see if a certain country has a preference for slim line, blond, young, certain races etc. But for sure, you can never proove if the hiring policy (or bouncers refusing people in a club or so) is discrimatory, they can always claim "not qualified" "not fitting in our team" , "general appearance" etc.
nobody has ever died from hard work, but why take the risk?

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