Welcome to my 6th tripreport!
This report covers my intra-Bolivian flight from Sucre to La Paz with intermediate stop in Cochabamba aboard TAM (Transporte Aéreo Militar), the civilian wing of the Bolivian Air Force
In this report, "TAM" refers to the airline active in the domestic Bolivian market, not the much bigger player in Brazil.
If you want so, this is the second part of one weekend trip I took from La Paz to the constitutional capital of the country, Sucre. The first part, documenting my journey to Sucre on three Metroliners can be found here:
Andes, Jungles, Metroliners: Prop-Hops In Bolivia (by volvair Dec 10 2011 in Trip Reports)
Having flown AeroSur and Boliviana de Aviación before, there was only one major player in the Bolivian market left to try for me: Transporte Aéreo Militar, in Bolivia simply better known as TAM. They operate a fleet of mostly BAe 146-200, 2 MA-60s and is also popular with aviation enthusiasts for its hard-to-get F-27 and C-212.
About a decade ago the airline (which already exists since the 1940s) only linked the Amazon jungle communities to civilization. This airline is a branch of the Bolivian Air Force and therefore has a lot of privileges in comparison to private carriers. This apparently made the airline the perfect candidate for the government's proposed "democratization of air transportation" in the country (Read more about it in my BoA report: Democracy Aloft? Boliviana De Aviación 733/CBB-LPB (by volvair Nov 19 2011 in Trip Reports) ). Read: More frequencies, lower fares.
I bought my ticket in the smaller one of the two TAM offices in downtown La Paz one week before departure for a little over 40 EUR, pretty much okay in my book. As with all Bolivian airlines I have flown so far, there were fixed prices for domestic hops. Nonstop flights were also available, but much less interesting, of course. The office could tell me that one of their BAe 146's was supposed to do the run, so they might also be able to give advice on the deployment of their other (and rarer) aircrafts.
Many of you might know that the trip down to Sucre was supposed to take place over another weekend, but cancellation issues with Aerocon, the airline which brought me down there, made me postpone the trip to the next weekend. I had booked the legs back to Sucre with TAM about one week before I actually was supposed to fly. So after Aerocon rebooked me on the next weekend I also had to rebook my TAM flights. This was a relatively painless affair, I simply went to the TAM office (on the same day I originally was supposed to fly) and just paid the very reasonable change fee of about 3 Euros.
Sorry it took quite a while to finish this report, but I have been very busy lately.
This report takes off in Sucre, my destination for this little weekend getaway. It is the constitutional capital of the country and due to its comfortable climate and well-preserved colonial center it is well frequented by tourists.
This building could also be situated in Spain.
All the buildings in the center are painted white.
On the way to Tarabuco, a small hillside town known for its Sunday market.
Small town church.
Part of the market. The town is famous for the many tapestries on sale.
As every proper Latin American city with a colonial history there has to be a central square in front of the main church with tall trees lending shadow.
One of the many (many, many) churches in Sucre.
Wait... do I spot tail-mounted engines here?
Now that is a special aircraft - defying every rule of aerodynamics... it probably has some pressurization problems as well.
A former abbey (I think?) overlooking Sucre, this is still a nice place for views of the city...
...like this one.
Looking back to the church on top of Sucre.
A micro (dirt cheap) is taking me back to the airport.
Sucre is indeed a very nice city and should definitely be on your map when you plan to visit Bolivia. It has a very European feel as it has one of the most well-preserved colonial centers you can find in the area. Also, nice excursions are possible from there.
Now this seems to get boring, at every journey I am taking I am coming across this bird here.
The Micro I am taking does not turn into the airport building and just passes by the airport entrance at rocket speed (well, I am speaking in Micro-dimensions here, so that's about 40 km/h). I am yelling "me voy a bajar!", leave the bus and have to backtrack a little bit. Still, this saved me almost 3 Euros in comparison to taking a taxi. Spend a little time in Bolivia and you'll very soon become quite cheap.
Juana Azurduy de Padilla International Airport, Sucre
Walking up the airport's driveway.
First point of order, before even starting to have a look around the airport: Getting a nice view of the departing 727.
The Dassault Falcon is Bolivia's Air Force One. So, apparently, Evo's in town.
Bye bye, this should be the last view of my faithful comrade.
After that short spotting intermezzo I am heading for the TAM check-in desk where I have to present my ticket printout in order to receive my boarding pass. My request for right-hand window seat in the back is happily fulfilled by the agents. I only have carry-on luggage, so the whole procedure is done with in less than 2 minutes. Then I set off to my part for the airport's development and pay the obligatory departure tax. In total, a quick and no-nonsense procedure. But after I left it got quite chaotic at the desk with several departures and only three agents to do the check-in and ticket sales.
The airport is in quite a nice shape, although it is not as fancy as the domestic wing in La Paz or the impressive terminal in Cochabamba. There is no FIDS, but pre-boarding announcements are made over the speakers, which are very hard to understand. With two TAM flights leaving only a couple of minutes from each other the terminal gets very crowded and lots of people are quite confused as neither they nor the security staff really knows if one is allowed to clear the security checkpoint and enter the small pre-boarding area. Imagine 30 people around one confused officer all yelling around.
The terminal features newsstands and also a (highly recommended) outlet of Sucre's famous Para Ti chocolatier. It is a must for me to bring a bag full of delicious chocolates back to the colleagues in La Paz.
This is where my ticket comes in. To TAM's defense, It did not always look so crumpled - I carried it around in my pocket for half a day.
And here's the boarding pass. As with BoA they use the sales-slip style.
A closer look on the jet of Bolivia's Presidente.
What really surprised me were the quite fancy toilets. By a wide margin the best public toilet I have visited in South America so far.
After the confusion about who is allowed to enter the airside area and who is not seems to be resolved I make my way through security. Officers were very friendly and showed a large interest in my camera and we joked around a little bit. This definitely confirms the positive impression I have gotten from airport staff here in Bolivia.
Gate area. No information display in sight. But there were a lot of TVs were some Bolivian TV game show was broadcasted.
After only five minutes of waiting my plane, FAB-101, landed.
...and parking right in front of our gate.
This time, the boarding process was a little more chaotic than on my other flights in Bolivia, but one could still calssify more as civilized than ILBST-style. The short walk over to the tarmac and the absence of busses which take you to the aircraft was very much appreciated.
05 December 2011
TAM (Transporte Aéreo Militar)
SRE - CBB - LPB
1530 - 1720 (with intermediate stop in Cochabamba, CBB)
The plane was the first delivered jet airliner to TAM and is even featured in the A.net database:
Photo © Patricio Alvarez
It has a rich history mostly from flying in the US from 1985-2006 with PSA, US Air, Air Wisconsin (United Express) and later with Atlantic Airways and Mesopotamia Air before being delivered to Bolivia in late 2007 and starting service with TAM in 2008.
Photo © Frank C. Duarte Jr.
Photo © Frank C. Duarte Jr.
Photo © Michael Carter
Another look at the beautiful three-hole business-jet.
Four-hole for short haul.
And inside we go.
I am welcomed by noone when I enter the plane, which is nothing new for domestic flying in Bolivia. I turned towards the aisle and at the end I spot two of the flight attendants wearing a military jacket and high heels. Quite an odd look for a flight attendant. But next to the name of the airline this is only the second noticeable thing that points towards the peculiarity of this military-operated airline. The second surprising thing I notice as I step onboard is that the aircraft features a 2-3 configuration which is pretty comfortable on those planes. The fabric seats, however, seem to be quite worn-out. All in all the cabin clearly shows the age of the aircraft.
Seats on this plane. Maybe someone knows where they originally come from?
I locate my row of seats, which thankfully stays empty. It quickly becomes evident that it has been quite a while since the last cleaning and maintenance of the cabin. There are several dirty spots all around the cabin, waste in the cigarette disposal and one seat in the row in the front of me was reclining despite is was not supposed to do so. It is important to note, however, that the seats were very soft and comfortable and the legroom was okay.
There is a mother with an infant in the row behind me. The infant just sat on the lap of his mother without being buckled up. I thought there were seat belt extensions for that case.
First impression after sitting down...not so good.
Legroom is okay. And again – please forgive the pants.
I did not notice the observation deck while at SRE.
Advertisement for TAM's new 727. They started flying it in October 2011.
As always in Bolivia – plastic sickbags. The only seat pocket content by the way.
Chocolate dirt on the tray table.
Overhead panel looks kind of dated.
Cabin detail – the brown spots on the cabin wall are actually supposed to be there... 80s design..
This seat should not be reclining.
There is a short welcoming announcement in Spanish and then we are quickly off to the runway. The load is about 60%. One of the flight attendants takes her seat in the last row, puts in her earphones and relaxes to some music during takeoff. In her defense, there was no announcement prohibiting the use of portable electronics on board.
Starting our takeoff run.
It is going to be hilly all the way to LPB. But the big mountains are yet to come.
The short hop over to Cochabamba turns out to be quite bumpy. We overfly a very mountainous unpopulated region at the western outskirts of the Andes.
Leaving civilization behind.
Notice all the different shades of brown.
Service on this short shop consists of drinks only. Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Guaraná Soda and Water are on offer here on TAM.
Water for me, please!
Notice the rainbow.
The landscape below is changing within seconds.
Another shot of the cabin, this time with F/A.
Farmland below, so Cochabamba is near.
The descent into CBB is very impressive as we overfly some mountains very lowly. As soon as we start taxiing towards the terminal there is a short announcement asking the LPB-bound passers to stay on board. Only 13 passengers remain in their seats.
Starting our spectacular approach.
Outskirts of Cochabamba.
The big Jesus Christ statue is visible here.
TAB DC10-F and TAM's sole 727 in maintenance.
CBB's own 727 graveyard.
A glimpse of CBB's great terminal.
Deboarding under way.
With the empty cabin and not much to do this is a good moment to further explore the cabin. Of course the weird gringo and his camera earn a few strange looks. It is also during this short stopover that I notice that the seats also incline forward. Maybe a nod to genuine socialist airplanes operated in genuine socialist regimes? Watching one of our pilots oversee the refueling procedure also provides some entertainment.
Some fresh air?
Last passengers leaving the aircraft.
Bulkhead with fabric.
I proudly present Bolivian Tom Cruise.
Even heroes have to do paperwork.
And his machine is falling into pieces.
Dirty it is as well.
A view across the cabin.
After 8 minutes after de-boarding of the terminating passengers we folks who stayed on the plane get some company. In total we will be 32 passengers (with 88 seats on the plane) going to La Paz today. Before we start taxiing again one flight attendant hands out newspapers to some selected passengers, I guess they were available on request. After a quick safety demonstration we are quickly off to La Paz again. I did the same route (CBB-LPB) a month earlier and I chose a right-hand window seat again for the views. It is a little cloudier compared to my first take on the route, but I am again looking forward to some stunning views of the Andes.
Off we go.
Barbecue gotten a little out of hand?
Shortly after takeoff the crew springs into action and hands out styrofoam boxes filled with a sweed pastry and a ParaTi chocolate bar. A very nice touch and a pretty much adequate snack for the short hop. As the chocolate came pre-packed in the styrofoam box and was not handed out seperately like on Swiss I don't ask the crew for more. Also a drinks run is quickly conducted.
I prefer AeroSur's paper packaging.
Sprite for me!
The flight remains quite uneventful, the most exciting part about it are certainly the spectacular views outside.
More clouds than last time.
But less around Mt. Illimani, Bolivians second highest peak.
Tall he stands.
Great approach to LPB. The city of La Paz is in the valley in the background, what is visible is El Alto.
A view back to Mt. Illimani.
We arrive perfectly well on time in La Paz.
Metroliner, take I.
Metroliner, take II.
BoA pushing back.
Our tail section.
Sorry, Markus, I almost forgot!.
LAN A320 taking off.
A detailed viewof TAM's flight attendants.
As usual, one of the frequently operating shuttle busses took me down from El Alto into the valley.
It was very interesting to see how TAM operates. Airlines which are a part of the military and offer more than essential air transport service are rare on the planet. TAM certainly hides its Air Force roots well. Only the wardrobe of the flight attendants points to the origin of the carrier. Other than that TAM seems to be a pretty normal airline offering a decent product for the fare they are charging.
They are the cheapest carrier in the Bolivian domestic market and offer a product adequate to the price. They serve you something to drink and a small snack even on short hops which seems remarkable in today's day and age. However they could work on the appearance of their cabin. Also, the crews seemed quite uninterested – but they did get their job done, so I don't have any real complaints here.
If I compare TAM to its main competitors, AeroSur and Boliviana de Aviación (BoA), all the airlines all do seem to offer more or less the same on-board service. The cabin appearance on BoA was probably the best, but I might have flown them on a lucky day. Price difference between TAM and BoA was marginal, so based on my experiences on both carriers, BoA might be a step ahead. AeroSur's prices are a lot more expensive than BoA's or TAM's, but their domestic product hardly differs from that of its competitors. With BoA's recent international expansion the Bolivian market will be interesting to follow in the next years. I hope you enjoyed my reports about my ventures in Bolivia.
The next reports, whenever I'll get around to finish them, will feature my flights back home from Bolivia to Germany with interesting carriers but less special equipment.
Thank you for reading!
Feedback is greatly appreciated.
Andes, Jungles, Metroliners: Prop-Hops In Bolivia (by volvair Dec 10 2011 in Trip Reports)
Democracy Aloft? Boliviana De Aviación 733/CBB-LPB (by volvair Nov 19 2011 in Trip Reports)
Of Buckets & 3-Holed Workhorses:5L 732, 722 To LPB (by volvair Nov 8 2011 in Trip Reports)
The Withering Ultra-Longhauler: TAM A345/MXP-GRU (by volvair Oct 22 2011 in Trip Reports)
A Failed Escape From The Drunkards: EN/Y/MUC-MXP (by volvair Oct 13 2011 in Trip Reports)