Aviation in every continent has its edge, and there's bound to be something unique out there. Looking at the big picture, Australasia's offering may seem rather average, if not typical to flag carriers that pretty much dominate the hubs. Looking deeper however, and you may find little quirks that are rather charming.
Sydney for one, is the Heathrow of the region; everyone wants it. Thankfully though, the selection out there is far from your typical KLM, Lufthansa, Air France type, but something far more exotic which includes carriers from those neighboring islands that would probably not fly much farther than Australia. Add Auckland to this mix, and a purpose-built 5th Freedom Route is created that that could otherwise not make this region a worthy operation for some airlines.
On a typical view of the world map, Australasia is placed far away from everything and right at the end of the world. But in reality, and with the correct economics, it has a special niche to be ideally located to connect traffic between South America and most of Asia. Auckland for one, is perfectly mapped to be an ideal transit stop for traffic between these two regions. Thanks to that, LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas both compete almost identically on this route, and I was able to try them both on a 5th Freedom flight between Sydney and Auckland.
Bienvenidos a LAN contra Aerolineas Argentinas!
LÍNEA AÉREA NACIONAL
Commonly known as LAN Airlines, and is perhaps the most progressive airline in the Latin Americas. LAN is part of a consolidated entity that also includes LAN Express, LAN Peru, LAN Ecuador, and LAN Argentina, and together, the LAN Alliance spans a network of over 75 destinations reaching the Americas, Caribbean, Europe, and the South Pacific. LAN is also a key member of the Oneworld Alliance which naturally gives the airline immense access to a much wider network.
The airline also seems to be sitting on a bed of money, as it has been on a major shopping spree of late. With the recent formation of LATAM airlines -the largest proposed airline in Latin America- as a result of LAN's intentions on merging with Brazil's TAM, and the more recent acquisition of Columbia's Aires, this new mega-carrier can easily be considered a Latina Emirates. Something every airline needs to keep an eye out for!
The South Pacific is an important market for LAN, as 2010 year-to-date figures show a 35% share on the Australia-South America route, and a 59% share on New Zealand-South America. Alternatively, the 5th Freedom Traffic right between Sydney and Auckland is only a backburner added bonus for the airline, with only a 5% share in the market during the same period.
As far as the facts released to the media go, this airline is more or less of a subpar standard in the region. While far less significant than its Chilean counterpart, Aerolineas Argentinas is the Argentine flag-carrier that also offers a significant network of over 50 domestic as well as international destinations that span across Europe, the Americas, and Australasia.
Given the airline's notorious history, I still wouldn’t let its struggles fool me. A five-year restructuring plan is already in place, and we already got a more modern corporate brand out of it, let alone the intention to join the SkyTeam Alliance. A very smart move on both the alliance as well as the airline, given the drama that must be undergoing on which of the other two alliances will snag LATAM.
Similar to LAN, the South Pacific has its significance to Aerolineas Argentinas, and 2010 year-to-date figures show a smaller 18% market share on the Australia-South America route, and 34% for New Zealand-South America. Similarly, the airline also has a 5% share on the 5th Freedom route between Sydney and Auckland over the same period.
Today, these two airlines will compete identically across the Tasman, and only one shall win my positive review!
WELCOME TO MY 29th TRIP REPORT
This TR will cover the following flights across the Tasman:
A) Sydney - Auckland on LAN Airlines in Premium Business (A340-300)
B) Auckland - Sydney on Aerolineas Argentinas in Club Condor (A340-200)
B A C K G R O U N D
A Business trip on the last Singapore Airlines A380 flight before the grounding brings me to Melbourne in November 2010. Luckily, an Islamic holiday is looming right after the end of my work duty and since I am already in the region, why not come out and play for a while afterwards?
LAN -due to its Oneworld membership- was a decision already made however, it was whether the total itinerary should include a return flight on the same airline that would grant me additional tier credit with my FFP, or whether I should think outside the box and tick a second new airline off my must-fly list.
To my advantage -thanks to the cheaper fares of point-of-sale New Zealand- two one-way trips on LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas are significantly cheaper than a roundtrip on LAN with point-of-sale Australia.
The first task was the easiest and my ticket was purchased on LAN's online booking facility within a few moments. It was the Aerolineas Argentinas task however, that was a little more off-beat.
The airline had recently introduced a facility on its website that allows the 'direct' purchase of tickets, as opposed to the bureaucratic 'reserve-online-buy-at-the-office' one that preceded. With this transition ongoing within the airline, I was prompted to first select my flight and make a non-guaranteed reservation that had an expiry date typical to such bookings. Once I received the booking conformation by email, I then had the option to select 'purchase now' where I was taken to an offline credit card website in Uruguay in order to make the final purchase. A final confirmation was flicked to my email within moments, and eventually, my credit card statement had reflected this transaction. I should have been all set to go by then!
Several weeks later -on a Friday- I had randomly thought of checking on this particular booking (when I normally just take something like this for granted). Strangely -but subconsciously expected- I discovered that there had been no linkage between my 'booking' which had already expired, and my purchase confirmation. By
then I was faced with a transaction that Aerolineas Argentinas had already collected payment for, and a booking that the airline failed to guarantee for me in return.
However, in the airline's defense, a quick phone call - albeit ultra-long-distance- to Señora Alejandra at Aerolineas Argentinas' office in Auckland proved so very helpful. She had attended to my situation with such high standards that could perhaps have outdone those of more reputable airlines.
She had requested to communicate with me by email as soon as she received a response from Buenos Aires. Naturally, I was hesitant about this and had assumed that I would never hear from her again. But to my surprise, moments after our brief phone conversation, I had received an email from her saying that my money will be refunded by Monday and it was suggested that once that happens, we could proceed and re-issue my ticket.
Come Monday morning my money was in fact refunded back to me, and another phone call to the airline's office revealed that Alejandra was not on duty that day. However, her colleague had been fully briefed on my situation, immediately took action, and my ticket was FINALLY confirmed!
With my Tasman flights already in place, my domestic hop between Melbourne and Sydney had Qantas/Oneworld written all over it as many of you had seen on Facebook!