Friday, November 2, 2007
Buenos Aires (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) (AEP/SABE) - Cataratas del Iguazú (IGR/SARI)
Duration: 1h45, 652mi
Departure: 07:30 (scheduled) 07:35 (actual)
Arrival: 09:15 (scheduled) 09:25 (actual)
Seats: 5K/L (economy class)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-233 LV-BFO
We left our hotel in central Buenos Aires around 06:00 and took a taxi to the centrally located Aeroparque, only around 10 minutes away in light traffic. I really like the concept of these centrally located domestic airports! On the way there we saw lots of people just going home from the night before - I guess Buenos Aires is just that sort of place. As we were getting out of the taxi, the driver told us how it is extremely hot in Iguazú, which worried us a bit but turned out to be completely wrong.
At the airport, check-in was slow with queue jumpers who found themselves in the wrong place, and others who were called forward to check-in for their earlier flight. Theoretically, my Qantas Silver status should mean that we can use business class check-in, but this option doesn't exist at Aeroparque. Anyway, once we got to the front we were quickly given boarding passes to our pre-selected seats, 5K and 5L.
We bought a snack in the food court area since we hadn't had breakfast and didn't know what to expect in terms of in-flight catering. Security was reasonably fast. There was a sign that said all passengers had to pay an airport tax, but the sign was apparently wrong because nobody else was paying, and there was no check for it.
Boarding was a few minutes late for no apparent reason. Once onboard we found our seats and sat through the LAN safety demonstration, which was already getting tedious after seeing it three times previously. It's an animated video in both Spanish and English, and it seems to drag on for a very long time.
Photo © Sebastian Fernandez Bielkiewicz - Iberian Spotters
After takeoff we found out that there was catering on this flight, but it was served in a box and was just some crispbread and two chocolate biscuit things. I didn't think it was very appropriate for this time of the day - surely they could serve something more breakfast-like?
They had some TV programs showing on the LCD screens that dropped down from the ceiling (like all LAN flights, the programming had been "specially selected for this flight"). There was Just for Laughs Gags (which was as bad as it sounds) and a home improvement show in Spanish.
It was very overcast in the north of Argentina, so it wasn't possible to see much from the window. As we descended into Iguazú we got occasional glimpses of the rainforest through the clouds. The landing was the first time I've ever noticed that we've landed with a crosswind, so that was a bit more interesting than normal.
The airport at Iguazú has a nice modern terminal with two aerobridges. After landing the bags came out pretty quickly but my wife's case was wet and a bit battered from rough handling. Outside, a driver was waiting for us to take us to our accommodation in the town of Puerto Iguazú.
Photos from Iguazú
Aerolineas Argentinas AR2725
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Cataratas del Iguazú (IGR/SARI) - Buenos Aires (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) (AEP/SABE)
Duration: 1h50, 652mi
Departure: 13:00 (scheduled) 13:08 (actual)
Arrival: 14:50 (scheduled) 15:00 (actual)
Seats: 5A/B (economy class)
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-83 LV-AYD
I have to admit that I was a little bit nervous about having connecting flights with Aerolineas Argentinas. Especially since there was only 50 minutes to connect, which didn't seem like a lot if things went wrong. We were talking about it over drinks with people we met in Puerto Iguazú, and they agreed that it was risky. The only reason I booked such a tight connection was that it was far cheaper, and Expertflyer showed the first flight was on average far less late than the second one.
We were dropped off at the airport at about 11:45 to find a slow, inefficient check-in process. There were between two and four check-in desks operational, varying every few minutes apparently at the discretion of the staff. It took half an hour before we were checked in, but thankfully we were given boarding passes for both flights and our bags were checked through to El Calafate. I noticed that our flight number had changed from AR1725 to AR2725, but I didn't think much of it at this point.
Before we could go through security, our boarding passes and identification were checked. This seemed a bit strange to me and was a different process to what we had experienced in Buenos Aires. At security, there were no trays for small items so people had to get coins, wallets, etc into their bags as they approached the xray.
The gate area had the usual plastic seats and a good view over the tarmac, where there were no aircraft and nothing happening. I would feel a lot more comfortable once our aircraft arrived! When it did, I realised the reason for the change of flight number - our 737 had been replaced with an MD-83. This was good because it's a type not operated in Australia, but bad because I would have the same type of aircraft on both flights. At least the aircraft had arrived at a reasonable hour so we would have a good chance of making our connection.
Photo © DAD - Baires Aviation Photography
On board, the seating is in a 2-3 configuration (which made me wonder about whether they have any balance issues) and we had luckily selected 5A/B without knowing the aircraft type. Our departure was only a few minutes late so our connection was looking good! The safety demonstration was conducted manually in Spanish only and then we were off! The aircraft seemed quite noisy compared with the A320, and even the 767s that had flown us across the Pacific Ocean. I wasn't expecting that because the engines are at the back.
On the way to Buenos Aires the weather was clear and we had great views - initially of the jungle and then later of the river that divided Argentina from Brazil and Uruguay. At this point of the trip I hadn't got over my reluctance to take photos on planes, so I apologise for the lack of photos. We were given a snack box with a few biscuits inside, and there was one drinks service on the flight.
We arrived at Aeroparque about 10 minutes late, and parked at a remote stand that further delayed us in getting to the terminal. But even so, we seemed to have made it in plenty of time for our connecting flight to El Calafate.
Aerolineas Argentinas AR2804
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Buenos Aires (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery) (AEP/SABE) - El Calafate (FTE/SAWA)
Duration: 3h13, 1285mi
Departure: 15:50 (scheduled) 16:06 (actual)
Arrival: 19:03 (scheduled) 19:30 (actual)
Seats: 5D/E (economy class)
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-83 LV-AYD
We had to go through security again at Aeroparque, but there were no queues at all so it was very quick. We still hadn't had lunch at this point, and didn't know what we were going to get on our next flight, so we bought overpriced sandwiches (25 pesos for both of us, which is only about US$8 - it doesn't seem so bad in hindsight).
We were watching the monitors as our scheduled departure time approached, and were quite concerned when they starting displaying "ask agent" next to our flight. But there was no cause for concern (and no need to ask an agent) so they were probably just trying to make sure everyone was awake.
Our aircraft for this flight was at a remote gate, so we had to take the bus out. Turns out it was the same aircraft that had carried us from Iguazú, so there was never any risk of a misconnect. Unfortunately we were sitting on the right hand side for this flight, so we had some next to us. I didn't realise when I allocated seats that the seating configuration was 2-3, and it seemed too hard to change it subsequently.
Photo © Baires Aviation Photography
Shortly after take-off we were offered food (a salami roll, coincidentally this was what I had at the airport), soft drinks and beer. The service was quite minimal after this, and there was no in-flight entertainment at all. Consequently the flight seemed pretty long, but as we approached El Calafate there were great views over desolate areas of Patagonia.
We landed at El Calafate about 25 minutes late, but we were pleased to have made it. The terminal is quite modern because the airport was only opened in 2001 - previously travellers would need to fly to Rio Gallegos and then drive the remaining 315 kilometres. There was one aerobridge, which we used.
Inside the terminal, it took ages for the bags to start coming out. When they did, my wife's bag was subjected to some sort of security check which they did by pulling it off the belt and holding it behind a desk until the owner came forward to open it. Very strange system and I have no idea what they were looking for. There was another check as we left the airport to make sure that we had taken our own bags. This really seems unnecessary at such a small airport, and this was the first time I had seen this anywhere.
The airport is located 20km outside the town of El Calafate. I don't know why they put it so far away. We took a transfer bus to our accommodation, which was a mistake. In hindsight we should have spent the extra few dollars on a taxi. We probably drove down every street in the town before we finally got to our hotel (we were the last to be dropped off) but on the way we saw an unusually wide and well-paved street which had runway markings on it. I would like to know the story behind this.
Photos from El Calafate
Having had the chance to compare the two major domestic airlines in Argentina, neither stood out as being significantly better than the other. Aerolineas Argentina has a reputation of being less reliable than LAN, but this was not evident on our two flights. The service on board both airlines was similarly minimalistic. If I had to choose between them I would say LAN was slightly better because of their newer aircraft.
After our short stay in El Calafate, we travelled by bus across the border into Chile (the Cootra Bus staff at El Calafate were excellent, so I recommend them over Turismo Zaahj!). We stayed over night in Puerto Natales, had two nights in Torres del Paine, and then one night in Punta Arenas before our next flight which will be featured in my next report. Coming up... LAN around South America - PUQ-PMC-SCL-GIG-SCL-LIM.