Welcome to my 3rd tripreport!
This report covers my journey from São Paulo-Guarulhos (GRU) to La Paz-El Alto (LPB) via Santa Cruz-Viru Viru (VVI) on AeroSur’s classic Boeing 737-200 and 727-200.
In my last tripreport,
The Withering Ultra-Longhauler: TAM A345/MXP-GRU (by volvair Oct 22 2011 in Trip Reports)
I have elaborated a bit on the itinerary of which the flights covered in this tripreport form a part. To recap, I am off to Bolivia and I have composed a nice assortment of three airlines to get me down there from Munich. While the experience of the first course, Antipasto all’Air Dolomiti, was impaired by improper behavior of some of the present fellow men,
A Failed Escape From The Drunkards: EN/Y/MUC-MXP (by volvair Oct 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
I savored the second course, an impressive, but rare Brazilian specialty, all night long. The third course and a quick dessert would be going to be the finishing touch. When I placed the order I thought that the main ingredients for the finale (of the 733/734-nature) were nothing special. However, the kitchen surprised me with an exotic medley of vintage flavors which almost no one dishes up anymore.
If my memory serves me right (what it probably does not), in the recent years there have been two reports about AeroSur here on A.net:
DUB-CBB In J Via EWR, MIA, LPB, VVI (by LatinAviation Oct 31 2008 in Trip Reports)
Latin American Trip Report (Peru & Bolivia JUL 09) (by aloges Jul 11 2010 in Trip Reports)
São Paulo-Guarulhos Airport
After I killed about eight hours at the airport in several lounges I went to the Terminal 2 departure area in order to check in for my flight with AeroSur. Neither online check-in nor advanced seat selection were possible. The check-in desks were manned by two ladies.
There was only a small queue and after five minutes I was served by one of the agents. I asked for window seats in the rear of both planes. She also informed me that I still needed to pay the departure tax of 63 Reais (25€/36$). When you are on a connecting flight, you only have to pay the tax when you leave the sterile area. Having some time on my hands I started to argue with her that I don’t see why I should be paying the tax, as I had to leave the sterile area in order to reclaim my luggage and that it is not my fault that JJ and 5L do not interline. So that got too complicated too quickly for the check-in lady and she asked if I could repeat this in Castellano. Well, so I did and she said I could try and argue with the airport staff. She suggested I show them my e-ticket printout and my luggage tag with the destination “GRU”. So I went off, my boarding pass in hand, to a grumpy airport staff lady checking whether you have paid the departure tax (which is indicated by a sticker on your boarding pass). I started making my case but I was quickly interrupted by the agent “You need stamp! Stamp you need!” Well, it was worth a shot. Now, back to the AeroSur counter to inquire if I could pay with credit card. Of course not. So down to the arrival floor, retrieve some Reais, back up to the AeroSur desks to pay the tax. From time to time the queue at the check-in desks grew and grew, but the check-in agent always invited me to come up to the front. Nice gesture. Interesting sidenote: The bag they used as a wallet to collect the cash from the passengers was the TAM amenity kit packaging.
Terminal 2 FIDS. Flight shows up as on time. Also notice the other flight to Bolivia, BoA to Cochabamba.
Being a little frustrated now (although I never really thought I would get around of paying the tax), I decided to head airside immediately to balance the budget with some lounge booze. Quickly past the departure tax checkpoint and through security in no time (no need to put my laptop out of my carry on, no special interests in my liquids) and up the escalators to the Smiles VIP lounge. This is a Varig lounge, but also used by Lufthansa’s business passengers for example, if I am not mistaken. No windows, just pre-packed sandwiches and some heated appetizers, so nothing to write home about. Luckily for me, they had some hard liquor (Smirnoff, Tanqueray,…) available, unlike as in the landside lounge. So I settled down with a Vodka Tonic and made myself comfortable. When I took a closer look at my boarding passes, I got a little excited:
Not because of what was written on that one. But seriously, 1430 boarding time for a 1600 departure!?! Notice also the departure tax sticker and the handwritten “G3”, meaning I was in the third boarding group.
Now, this made me excited: CHG EQUIP
CHG EQUIP… in AeroSur's case this can (almost) only mean a good thing. Originally scheduled for the hop from VVI to LPB was a 737-300. Their other aircraft flying to LPB are a 737-200, 737-400 and 727-200. Great, seeing as they operate only one of each the chances were not too bad to catch a rare classic. A quick search on AeroSur’s website produced a big grin on my face:
This was big for me. Having started flying a little more frequently only a couple of years ago (the odd holiday charter flight with my parents aside), there was absolutely no way for me to get on a 727 so far. It was clear for me that while I am in Bolivia that I will try my best to get on AeroSur’s last remaining example. But it being handed to me on a silver platter just like that… Awesome! Little did I know this would only be the first of two surprises waiting for me.
This calls for a toast! Note the Varig branded glass.
After some quick Skype calls to Germany I made my way to the gate about one hour before departure. One hour you say? Well, I wanted to see why AeroSur needs about 75 minutes to board a 737. Needless to say, when I reached the gate the desk was unmanned. Hence, ye shall spot!
Hard working men, a concrete mixer, a Passaredo ERJ-145, Webjets and further bound jets in the back
Not the shiniest plane around
AZ 772 bound for FCO
And a first glimpse of my plane
BAM! Surprise number two!
Yes! It’s CP-2561, “Bufeo”, AeroSur’s last 737-200 in operation. I actually planned on catching the type while in Bolivia. I was leaning towards a weekend sidetrip on SkyAirline’s 732 on their La Paz-Arica route, but the high prices (compared to a Bus journey) and the obligation to buy a return ticket have so far put me off of doing so.
Boarding then started about thirty minutes before scheduled time of departure. The several boarding groups were called up and the whole boarding process was, surprisingly, very orderly. No “ILBST” whatsoever!
04 October 2011
Flight 5L 301
1600-1745 (arrival 15 minutes late)
Pictures of CP-2561 from the database:
Photo © Rodrigo Bertoli Rocha
Photo © AirSpeed
Now, it’s time for a little history lesson (Info taken from airfleets.net). The bird was first delivered in November 1978 to the government of the United Arab Emirates and flew or it as A6-HHK and A6-AAA until 1995.
Photo © Gerard Helmer
Photo © JetPix
Then, the bird was registered in the US as N1PC and started flying for Frontier. Between 1996 and 1998 there was a brief AirTran intermezzo. In 2003 the aircraft was stored at Mojave.
Photo © Matt Cawley
Photo © Frank C. Duarte Jr.
Photo © Colin T. Ebert
Photo © Tim Samples
In 2006, it was reactivated and spent a couple of years at Aloha Airlines, flying as N835AL until they ceased operations in August 2008. Then it was back to Mojave until April 2009, when the frame was taken up by AeroSur.
Photo © Gary Chambers
Photo © Thomas Posch - VAP
Excited, I made my way down the jetway.
Catching a glimpse of the JT8D
Shiny power plant
At the aircraft door I was greeted by one of the flight attendants: ”buenas tardes”. I then made my way down the aisle. The load in Economy was light, at a little over 50%.
My row of seats
Oh my, hello there!
Seat pocket contents: Safety card, the third edition of AeroSur’s magazine “Aire” (with an incredible smart design, imho) and “air sickness”
Safety card closeup
The necessary legroom shot. Definitely bearable.
View towards the front. A flight attendant is catering to the needs of a business class passenger.
My row stayed empty at first, but before pushback a nice American gentleman moved to the aisle seat. Before pushback, the captain came onboard and announced a flight time of 2 hours and thirty minutes. We left the gate on time. Before our departure we had to queue up a bit for our departure. On our way to the runway I could observe the interesting mix of airlines and aircraft present at GRU.
El Al, Delta, BA and Air Canada. Sorry for the blurriness of the pictures, the window was smeary.
Speedbird following us
United, LH, AA, AeroMexico and Swiss among some TAM birds
Entering the runway.
You can watch the takeoff video here:
Some screenshots from the video:
Braking through the clouds
About half an hour after takeoff, inflight service started. I opted for a red wine which turned out to be Kohlberg, which is an omnipresent wine in Bolivia. The bottle comes in at around 5€/7$. And, unsurprisingsly, too tasty it wasn’t. After drink service I was handed what is certainly the most peculiar sandwich I ever got on a plane.
It starts out with the wrapping. Simple paper, no plastic for the bread. And what lovely wrapped little chocolate dessert!
And then the sandwich itself!
Although the bread was too soft and too dry for my taste, the meat, sauce and veggies made for a great eat.
Overhead panel. Notice the three differently colored call buttons.
In-flight entertainment on this flight consisted only of the Airline’s magazine, which was an interesting read.
The magazine contained a full overview of all the aircrafts flying for AeroSur. Interestingly, it lists two 727s, but I only know of one active one.
At the time of my flight, every AeroSur aircraft featured a special livery. Mid-October, AeroSur has put a third 737-300 into service which does not feature a special livery (yet?).
The magazine contained a special feature about the aircraft I was flying on.
An ancient legend tells that “bufeos” (fresh water pink dolphins of the Amazonas basin) can transform into men at night and seduce women and take them forever. The fear n (sic!) riverside communities due to this myth, as well of the climatic changes and men’s actions who kill them for their eyes and genitals as talismans and to attract fish, have all brought them to the brink of extinction, specially the Inia Boliviensis species.
AeroSur tries to help rescue the river dolphins that still survive in Bolivia by calling attention to their existence and the need to save this beautiful mammal.
The “Bufeo”, Boeing 737-200, flies the Bolivian skies, covering national routes to integrate the country.
In today’s world, no one would probably come up with a story of pink women-seducing dolphins anymore.
Domestic route map
Cruising over Brazil
After some time, a second drink service followed. My neighbor and I opted for another glass of wine. The flight attendant disappeared into the rear galley and returned with two half full cups informing us that this was the last bit of wine they had on board.
Later, I explored the cabin a bit.
Rear galley. Note the paper sign at the trolley: ”Don’t remove from airplane CP-2561”
The Y-Cabin from the back
Nice improvised 5$ smoke detection system in the lavatory. Funny thing: they should change the battery of the smoke detector soon; it was already beeping every 15 seconds.
Signs pointing to the first owner of the aircraft.
The Bolivian Rio Grande
Lining up for finals
You can watch the landing and hear the roaring sound of the engines here:
Some screenshots from the Video:
More 727s and a 732, resting in peace
Now, you have to be my ride!
You gotta love ‘em threeholers
We parked next to AeroSur’s 737-300 “Potro”
Santa Cruz de la Sierra – Viru Viru International Airport
In the end, we arrived at the gate about 15 minutes late. But no problem, as I had a lot connection time. When we entered the terminal there was an AeroSur staff member who took care of the connecting passengers. In addition to my La Paz flight, there was also a flight to Cochabamba leaving. As we were the only international arrival at that time, immigration was painless. After immigration I said goodbye to my American seatmate who just had to fork out 135 $ for his visa. I, as citizen of an EU member, can enter Bolivia for 90 days for free. Retaliation visa fees are funny. Anyway, as soon as you pass immigration you enter the landside area at Viru Viru International. Having some time to spare I went outside to enjoy the more than 30 degrees centigrade it still had here, retrieved some Bolivianos, purchased a Bolivian SIM card and went to an internet café to catch up on some e-mails. There was not much going on at that time at the airport. About one hour before my departure I passed security (I was probably the only one doing so in 15 minutes) and went to the boarding area of my flight.
FIDS @ VVI
In the gate area there was only a cafe and a newsstand. Also, there were free water fountains. Great for me to rehydrate before reaching 4000m high La Paz and counter possible symptomps of altitude sickness. About half an hour before scheduled time of departure boarding was “called”. The boarding call consisted of an airline staff member simply yelling “La Paz”. This time, although having a larger aircraft, there were no boarding groups or a special boarding call for business class passengers. However, a very orderly queue formed and soon I was released to the tarmac in order to walk over to my plane.