I'd like to tell you about my trip from Argentina to Spain with Aerolineas Argentinas, aboard their 747-200.
10th April 2003
Scheduled Departure: 1400
Scheduled Arrival: 0640
Time Elapsed: Just over 11 hours.
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!