As you will notice, there are other trip reports regarding flying in & out of Argentina at the moment. It seems to be the 'in' place in this forum at the moment
This was an internal flights aboard Aerolineas Argentinas (AR) flight 1892. The craft was an MD-88, LV-VGC ('very good craft'), and was named "Parque Nacional Calilegua".
EZE - FTE ("El Calafate") El Calafate is a small town in south-west Argentina. It is important because it is the gateway to our famous glaciers, one of the prime tourist attractions of Argentina. Many visitors from Europe & North America come to see the spectacular scenery and the lakes formed of "glacial milk", a special colour of green-blue.
Scheduled & Actual departure: 0830
Scheduled arrival: 1140 Actual: 1100
We checked-in at the Aerolineas Argentinas terminal at Ezeiza international airport at 0730, and received our boarding passes promptly. We had some small bags, but the agent said we could just take these on-board instead of checking them in. Fine by us! (We were a party of 4 friends, 2 French, 1 British and myself).
Now here is the interesting bit; although you are required to check-in at the AR terminal for all AR flights, the gate for our flight was actually situated in the international terminal (which caters to all other airlines that fly into EZE). This means exiting the AR terminal, and walking over to the International terminal (no drama, it takes less than 5 minutes), and it's all a bit illogical.
My guess is that the flight 'boards' at the international terminal because this is a prime 'tourist' route, and perhaps there are a lot of passengers transferring from international airlines, which of course park at the international terminal.
Boarding started at 0800; it was all a bit rustic; there was no announcement on the speaker, an AR staff member just walked up to the doors and shouted out the announcement "manually"! (don't you just love it)
Here's the silly twist; of course, there was no aircraft waiting for us at the gate - we had to be bussed over, across the apron, to the AR terminal, because that was where our MD-88 was parked! Jeeze, all this hassle, walking between terminals, all for nothing!
Still, as we were bussed across, I caught fabulous views of aircraft in the early morning sun: an Iberia 747-300 was being towed away to a remoted parking facility, an Air France 777 was doing its visual base-leg approach not very far above us, the Lufthansa 747-400 was coming to a stop at its gate, fresh from Frankfurt.
We all clambered off the bus. LV-VGC was in the newest AR livery. I decided that we would board from the back; walking in to the MD-88 from the rear stairs (between the engines) is a bit like walking into a spaceship really.
The cabin inside was clean and smelled fresh. The crew were of course there to say 'hi' and help us with our bags. The flight was more or less full, but there were some seats vacant. There was also a small business class section at the front - the seats are of dark-blue leather and look very comfortable; the seat pitch is however rather small.
Once everyone was on, it was not long before we started our short taxy to the runway, where we held short for 2 arrivals; one was a Swiss MD-11 on finals, and it was thrilling to watch the moment its tyres hit the ground - what a close view, it was great! The second aircraft eventually came into sight, and it was a British Airways 777, which landed like butter, also thrilling to watch. Both aircraft would have been flying from Sao Paulo.
It was then our turn to line up, wait for the BA 777 to vacate, and then we were off, accelerating into the sun. As we climbed out, I saw the British and Swiss machines taxying towards the international terminal, to join the airlines of France, Germany and Spain.
The flight to FTE is in fact long and quite "boring". I would imagine it would be like flying over a barren landscape - because that is what a lot of southern Argentina is like - barren, and very dry and rocky. It was of course marvellous to have a window seat, but the landscape changed very little.
We flew down the south coast for a while, and passed Peninsula Valdes, a well-known haunt of whale-spotters, although of course I couldn't see any whales at 37,000 ft. We also passed a small town called Rawson, where quite a few people of Welsh descent live. I have no idea why they would want to move to Patagonia, it must be so boring to live in the middle of nowhere, but oh well....
Inland wasn't much more interesting really. Fortunately, food and drink were served on this long route. It was a breakfast meal - bread, tea, coffee, juice, croissant and fruit salad. I should explain to some of you that Argentines in general do not have big breakfasts - we take our lessons from the French, so it's mainly coffee and maybe some toast and croissant but not the "British breakfast" style - at least not in the morning!
I soon caught site of the snow-capped mountains to the West - this was my first view of the Andes! They were quite spectacular, although we wouldn't be flying over them - FTE is situated just short of their foothills. If you looked closely you could even see the famous glaciers - Perito Moreno, Spegazzini and Uppsala, which in turn fed the Lago Argentino, or "Lake Argentina" (I suppose they could have called it something more imaginative...)
The approach to El Calafate (FTE) is through a dry valley, heading first west, then north on finals. It really looks very dry and barren (the area around the airport), although it isn't far by road before you approach much greener, and lusher vegetation as you get closer the foothills of the Andes.
FTE airport is tiny really. The airport itself looks quite Nordic - if you have been to Scandinavia or Iceland you will know the type of architecture I mean - predominatly wooden, with steeply sloping roof. Quite odd, but attractive. There is also one airbridge, but it looks a bit like a token gesture - we docked at this spot, and clambered off here.
The airport is new, and very attractive from the inside; it looks to me very similar to that Reykjavic airport in Iceland.
The glaciers were amazing, and we had 2 great days sailing around these glacial lakes and admiring nature's awesome power and beauty.
It was time to fly on to the southernmost city in the world : "Ushuaia", USH.
One of my friends was an avid plane spotter, and expressed disappointment that our aircraft today was LV-VGC (I expected it would also be the same plane that would eventually take us back to EZE, Buenos Aires, in 3 days time).
Perhaps I should hurry the report up, you may be getting bored.
Time of Departure : 1300
Arrival, USH: 1400
Ok, so check-in as normal in this beautiful Nordic-style airport, and we get back aboard good-old LV-VGC. Take-off was nice, it required a taxy along to one end of the runway, a 180 turn, and then zoom!, no waiting around.
We shot out of this weird, Martian-like place, and headed south to Ushuaia, famous for being - yes, the southernmost city (not settlement), on the Beagle channel where Darwin came along and made some notes on the animals - Tierra del Fuego etc. etc.
It's a 1 hour hop across to Ushuaia, although unfortunately cloud obscured a good portion of the flight south. Drinks were offered, although no meals were. Fortunately, as we descended below the clouds, a beautiful sight emerged: the very tail part of the Andes chain, the straits of Magellan and what a surprise!
So beautiful, this was what flying was about. Incredible landacapes passed down below the wing.
The final approach is over the Beagle channel, and we banked hard right, and swooped over a flock of birds below. Just cannot put the beauty of the scenery into words - spectacular! I wish you could all see it! Ushuaia airport is again very Nordic in appearence, and here we have hey presto, 2 airbridges!
The French Concorde has been to Ushuaia, as I saw the photos in the arrival hall. Well, Ushuaia is very nice, and I think you should all make an effort to fly down here one day!
The AR domestic service was quite good, and I have no complaints, although the procedure in Buenos Aires is strange, and surely not the most efficient way of processing pax.
Thank you for reading, and visit Ushuaia and the Glaciers region one day! You won't regret it - the flying is spectacular!
Incredibly, here is the place I was at only a few weeks before; El Calafate, gateway to the magnificent Glaciers!
Photo © Sam Chui
And here is the star of the show:
Photo © Juan Pablo Marini
Photo © Jorge Albanese
And unusual visitors:
Photo © Juan Pablo Marini
Photo © Juan Pablo Marini