After a quick and easy transfer by taxi from Ezeiza-Ministro Pistarini Airport to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, which, in mid-morning traffic took about 45 minutes, we arrived at AEP. I was surprised at how crowded the terminal was. This was a Wednesday morning, in mid-October.
Check in for Aerolineas Argentinas-Austral was quick and efficient. The ticket agent spoke excellent English and handed us our boarding passes, all in less than 4 minutes. We headed upstairs, to the departure gates. The terminal is airy, clean, modern, and lovely. There is a superb view of the field, runway, and so many parked AR, Lan Argentina, and the occasional PLUNA aircraft all over the place! 737-500's, 737-200's, MD80's, MD87's, and a few very old 737-200's parked across the field, with their engines missing belong to AR in IB blue color scheme and a Dinar F100.
Aerolineas Argentinas Flight AR 1416
Scheduled Departure: 12:40PM
Actual Departure: 1:55PM
Scheduled Arrival: 2:30PM
Actual Arrival: 3:25PM
At 12:30, there was still no sign of any AR staff to board our flight, which was completely full. At the gate, stood a Lan Argentina flight, scheduled to depart to Bariloche, so we knew this was not our plane. At 12:45pm, we were hurried into a Manuel Tienda Leon bus and taken to a 737-200 parked at the far south end of the field. We boarded using the front stairs. The plane was clearly very old. The outer skin had cracks everywhere. The first class cabin was vintage early 1980's, with big, blue seats. The walls were yellow and cracked, with panels pealing and some wiring showing. The coach class cabin was cramped, but at least had new seat coverings in the cobalt blue that is AR's new color scheme. I noticed the seats on my side had very little legroom, but across the aisle, there was more.
The plane was stiflingly hot as we stood on the tarmac. The door was closed and then we sat there....and sat some more, until about 1:15 when the pilot finally announced we would be waiting a while longer for a tug to move us. The audio difficult to hear. The flight attendants realized that all of the passengers were very uncomfortable as the cabin was very warm. The engines had not been started. People started to stand up and demanded the front cabin door be opened. The flight attendants, three females in their late 20's, dressed in those cute blue uniforms but looking positively unsure as to how to deal with this, or any major "situation" complied and handed out warm water, while the first class cabin was served cold beverages.
The captain ordered the cabin door closed and finally at about 1:40pm, an our late, we pushed back and headed off. Taxi was short, climb was very steep up over the Rio de la Plata, and a sharp bank to the left, and we were on our way to Mendoza's "El Plumerillo" Airport. Flight time was timed as 1 hour 31 minutes. The flight was smooth, the cabin cooled quite considerably as we became airborne.
We were served a snack tray consisting of two types of sandwiches and a sweet, dulce de leche cake, with multiple refills on beverages, including free and delicious vino tinto or blanco. I was surprised that on such a short flight, we would be given a full tray snack like that. While it was not delicious, it was more than adequate and many, many times better than the crap American Airlines served on the overnight 11 hour flight from JFK.
Descent into Mendoza was smooth and fast. Landing was smooth on a dry, desert like runway that reminds you of Las Vegas-McCarran in color. We taxied to the only jetway in operation and parked next to a company MD80.
Mendoza Airport is small but very nicely done. It has been renovated and bears the signage Aeropuertos Argentinas 2000 everywhere. Baggage claim was a sinch and within 10 minutes of stepping off the plane, we were in a taxi and on our way to our hotel in Mendoza.
Despite the delay, tatty old aircraft, indifferent and ineffective flight crew who really made you wonder if they knew how to handle any type of emergency or where just there to look "pretty", the flight was fine and I enjoyed this experience. I was also glad to get off the plane as I generally do not like to fly older 737's as they do not have a very good safety record.
We flew back to AEP two days later on the very same 737-200 with much better in flight service. However, we also flew LAN Argentina to Iguazu toward the end of our trip, and back to AEP and this is a MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better airline, product, etc...More on that later.