Airline: LAN Argentina
Flight Number: LA4346
Aircraft: Airbus A320-233
Seat: 2A (Single Class Economy)
Distance: 831 miles
Duration: 2hrs 1min
Photo © Baires Aviation Photography
Photo © Frederico Cavalcante
After four days in Buenos Aires it was time to move on to our next stop, San Carlos de Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes. We’d booked on LAN as they seemed the best carrier on the route and also because of our oneworld elite status.
I’d heard that although the Aeroparque is LAN Argentina’s main hub because they don’t offer a business class cabin that there is no priority check-in and a friend had flown them and said check-in was a right mess so we arrived a couple of hours early. The Aeroparque is certainly an airport that outgrew itself quickly and the departure arrival arrangement reflects that, a hook turn across all the lanes of traffic required to get into the airport from the city centre direction! Makes Heathrow look like a model or urban development planning LAN check-in area
LAN check-in had two sets of desks; a bag drop and a normal line. As we’d checked in online at our hotel we used the bag drop desk, much shorter but because it only had one person staffing it the line got blocked by the one person at the front. Sigh. Alas our fears about long check-in lines were unfounded and from curbside to security was about fifteen minutes.
Security was upstairs and despite no priority line there either it was a quick affair, one boarding pass check and were through one of the two stations in a matter of a couple of minutes With no lounge to go to we took some seats in front of the windows and watched the activity outside, the city framing the airport goings on rather nicely.
1) Our aircraft being readied for departure
2) Varig? Eh?!
3) Sister A320 off to Puerto Montt
Our flight was departing from a remote stand so we took the escalator down to the empty waiting area.
Remote stand boarding area
At 11.30 smartly uniformed GAs turned up and an announcement was made in Spanish, presumably about boarding starting soon as people appeared to ready themselves. A group of passengers approached the podium and given the “Preferente” notation on our boarding passes we joined them. The GA waved away the others but took our entire boarding pass and directed us onto the waiting bus outside so we opted for the best seats for preferente disembarkation at the stairs. Given it was our first domestic South American flight I wanted to assume the worst from a hand baggage perspective and didn’t really want to end up gate checking my rollaboard.
As with BAA it was a competition to get as many people on the bus as possible. Just when it’s full and the windows are about to blow out add a few more people for good measure…and all for the drive of about three bus lengths from the doors to the rather wobbly stairs up to the aircraft!
View from row 2
The cabin setup was a bit different from most A320 family aircraft I’ve flown and there was nothing between row 1 and the exit door except a cabin divider. Sitting down in row 2 it became apparent this was going to be an almost Club Europe like experience due to the decent legroom and the fact the “business class” cabin divider was set up between rows 3 and 4 (as far forward as Airbus allow the dividers to go). Right up until boarding ended I thought we’d bag a free seat too but one of the last passengers to board nabbed the aisle seat, nevermind.
Right on time we pushed back and the safety video was played. We taxied over to runway 31 past presidential 757 Tango01 and an equally smart Gulfstream V adjacent to it, the other T-tail rustbuckets littering the airport grounds weren’t quite so easy on the eye however!
After a ten minute hold we taxied onto the runway itself and off into the skies above the city. Scored a great view of El Monumental, the River Plate football stadium that we’d enjoyed a match at a few days before. From there we turned over the River Plate itself and then back over the city.
Scenes from a departure…El Monumental, River Plate, Microcentro (The eagle eyes amongst you will spot several well known landmarks) and Ezeiza Airport
The views of the city itself were unbelievable, having walked round a lot of it over the last few days all the main sights were pretty clear. However, once past the city limits it was rather less interesting!
Although all the row 1 starboard side seats were free the person in the aisle seat chose to remain put as opposed to taking three seats to herself. In retrospect we should have been the ones to move!
The smell of aircraft oven permeated through the cabin and I wasn’t sure if given the lunchtime departure whether or not we’d be the grateful recipients. When the drinks cart was wheeled into row 1 it was clear it wasn’t us on the end of the hot meals, although the Havanna snack box and free beer was a reasonable second place option Havanna Snack box and Quilmes
The inflight entertainment started up around the same time and the choice being that omnipresent airline favourite…Just For Laughs. Despite being predictable and a bit lame it was quite nice to have there as the scenery dulled during the middle passage of the flight and you didn’t need headphones plugged in to follow it. The only notable scenery once out of the city were the little spots scattered across the desert, or what looked like desert, probably salt pans of some kind. Answers on a postcard!
After the two episodes of Just For Laughs ended I peered out the window a little more as the horizon suggested more interesting scenery was coming soon and we could feel the initial stages of the descent begin. It was an extremely gradual descent and I’ll be honest the scenery wasn’t quite what I was expecting at first. Those on the starboard side of the aircraft were faces pressed up against the glass though so something must have been more interesting over there!
As we descended further the little valleys and gorges that were well disguised from higher altitudes became more pronounced and a few turns mixed into the approach added to the sporty driving feeling. Although thick cloud was over the area a few snowcapped peaks off in the distance let us know we were in the foothills of the Andes.
From my side of the aircraft it certainly seemed as though we were in quite a remote part of the world with nothing but the odd farmstead standing between us and the hills and the mountains across the way. The fence for the airport property came into view as we touched down on runway 29. Due to the lack of taxiways we had to go to the end of the runway, pull a nifty U-turn and taxi back towards the terminal building, a quaint Alpine style terminal building.
Taxiing back to the terminal
Despite BRC’s size it still had two jetbridges one of which was quickly attached to the aircraft and we were down in baggage claim in no time. From where I was standing in the claim hall I could see the bags being unloaded from the aircraft and being brought over. As the claim hall filled up a little predictably everyone stood right in front of chuffing carousel. Jesus people, am I the only one who sees this as utmost human stupidity? Even the guy who had every bag possible labeled with Delta Platinum tags (old design!) was standing in front of it. Facepalm. Our bags were slow to come through by which time the baggage inspection line was quite long. Mr. Delta Platinum got to cut to the front of the line due to what appeared to be some rifles he’d brought with him.
Once on the other side of the desk the welcome desk from our hotel was ready and waiting with a car to whisk us off.
After showing you pictures of snackboxes and dull boarding areas it would be unfair not to share a few pictures from the beautiful area we stayed at, the Llao Llao Hotel:
Route: Bariloche – San Carlos de Bariloche International – Buenos Aires – Aeroparque Jorge Newbery
Airline: LAN Argentina
Aircraft: Airbus A320-233
Seat: 2A (Single Class Economy)
Distance: 831 miles
Duration: 1hr 45mins
Photo © Miguel Cano Alva
Photo © Allan Martins Antunes
As the hotel was rather busy we could only hold our room until 4pm, and with a flight just before 7pm this seemed a reasonable timel for us to head to the airport, particularly with a 45min drive to consider…as we were pulling up to the departure ramp I almost told the driver which airline we were flying until I realized how comically small Argentina’s fourth busiest airport is!
Bariloche Airport…yes, that’s it!
LAN check-in was empty and so we walked to the front of the line to find check-in didn’t open until an hour and twenty minutes before the flight! We staked out a primo spot to wait things out and the wife waited whilst I took a quick whiz around the departure area. Lots of people were watching the Real Madrid vs. Barcelona game in café, ok, everyone was watching it The café had a nice view of the apron though not much traffic to observe!
When I got back an elderly couple had decided to set up camp in the check-in line and like a good Brit in WWII would have done I joined it too. I didn’t want some enormous group to show up and then we ended up being stuffed, well that was my reasoning anyway!
1hr 45mins before departure a group of staff appeared from the back office and started check-in proceedings. After a couple of handwritten baggage tags were made we were directed to Gates 1 and 2, alas this early check-in was to no avail as security wasn’t open! It seemed not many things at Bariloche airport were open including, rather ironically, the “Open 25 Hours” store We’d seen signs for a VIP lounge in the departures area when we arrived five days earlier and with hopes our oneworld status or Priority Pass would get us in we rather awkwardly loitered outside the entrance to the closed security checkpoint.
As a steady stream of people arrived not only for our flight but a similarly timed AR flight we got to enjoy watching people part with their pesos on getting their luggage shrink wrapped.
At 5.50pm security finally opened, my wife was through first and I was pulled aside. She sat in the concourse, well, waiting room more like, just across from me but was then, rather peculiarly called back to the table where I was and then had her bag turned inside out and the guy never looked in mine! No clue what that was about…
Once past security it became apparent from our little holding pen that we had no direct access to the lounge, you could only reach it from the international side, although it was on the other side of some glass doors I felt hesitant about going near. A LAN representative showed up at the podium and armed with our Executive Club cards we enquired about the lounge, he said it wasn’t Priority Pass and LAN/oneworld passengers wouldn’t be granted access and that for the US$40 entry it was “very ugly” However, once he was done with his task he came over to us and much to the bemusement of those around us put some large VIP tags on our carry-ons and reminded us “as important customers to LAN we could board whenever we liked”.
At 6.20pm the inbound aircraft landed and a PA was made to the departing passengers that “LAN announces the arrival of LA1234 from Buenos Aires”…thanks for that!
The inbound passengers showed up on the other side of the glass and for some reason one of the departing passengers took it upon himself to walk through the forbidden transparent doors and then got shouted at by someone out of sight which sent him scurrying back to where he should be.
The boarding was a peculiar affair, the two female agents set up two tensa barriers in a cross and then sort of filled them up with passengers in an arrangement I couldn’t figure out. Bored with the gate area we showed them our passes, pointing at the “Preferente” designation. We were told to sit and wait around ten minutes or so and then we’d be able to board. Hmm. I wasn’t too worried but the wife for some reason had adopted my “airport personality” and was a little angsty, as were two other Brit passengers sporting BA Executive Club Gold and Silver tags on their carry-ons and had also received short shrift from the GAs. It seemed a bit odd to see other Brits so far from home…
1) Waiting to depart
2) Look! Legroom!
The bonus of boarding late was that once on it was only a minute or so until the doors shut and then we were on our way. This time around all of row 1 and the aisle seat in our row was free but the wife seemed happy in the middle seat and as I watched the beginnings of the setting sun I could see why. I could see the other AEP bound flight take off on runway 29 which, if we followed it, would set us up for a superb view of Lake Nahuel Huapi and maybe even our hotel. Although for some reason after taxiing out a little it was apparent we’d be taking off in the opposite direction.
1) Looking eastwards
2) That’s a bit more interesting
3) Ahoy! Skywards!
4) Quick! The sun’s setting and I want to see it!
We taxied down to the little turnaround spot at the end of runway 11 and you could tell we picked the absolute perfect time to depart; a basically cloudless sky during the last few moments of full light. We lifted off from runway 11 and almost immediately turned to the north east and the view was nothing short of breathtaking. Lake Nahuel Huapi winding its way northward, the mountains and volcanos straddling the Chilean border that we hadn’t seen whilst on the ground or on approach felt like they were at an arm’s length, and to have the staggeringly beautiful Patagonian sunset to boot. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen from an aircraft, maybe even from anywhere! At such moment it’s difficult not to want to try and document it but any camera isn’t going to convey the beauty but here we go…
Watching the sun dip below the horizon and seeing the near infinite range of colours in the sky blend as it did so was just wow, it’s pleasure flight worthy!! But as the yellow beachball melted into the horizon normal cabin service resumed, it was almost like it was the show and once over everyone onboard began their normal duties starting with the wheeling out of the drinks trolley.
At that moment it struck me that this was an almost carbon copy of the outbound flight. We were in the same seats, the snack box was the same, we chose the same drinks and even the episodes of Just for Laughs were the same!
Spot the difference! Clue: there are no differences
Although it had been some time since the sun had set its glow still silhouetted the mountains as we tracked towards Buenos Aires gradually getting further away from them. Above us was a very bright light indeed, my guess was a low level satellite or possibly the International Space Station, it moved very slowly across the sky remaining constantly bright.
Bathing in the warm glow with the mystery white speck
The drinks trolley was wheeled round for a second outing and we were offered more beer and one of the snackboxes that was going begging, this time around it was slightly different though. Check it out:
Spot the difference: Clue: there are differences
Once the sun was completely gone it was remarkably difficult to figure out where the sky ended and the ground began as the stars and the lights on the ground were perfectly matched in both colour and spacing. Maybe I’d been so engrossed in JfL that I hadn’t noticed we were now flying vertically and they were in fact all stars…hmm.
As the flight time ticked on you could tell we were nearing civilization as grid pattern towns became closer together and then a PA made to inform us we’d be on the ground in about 30mins. Compared to the outbound flight this had passed remarkably fast, maybe the déjà vu effect of beginning part of the service The lights were brought up shortly thereafter and I kept an eye out for something interesting to see on our approach from the northwest of the airfield. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, not until right before touchdown when what looked like an Middle Eastern encampment could be seen. A glance at Google Maps after landing showed it was “Parque Norte” for those who fancy a visit via Panaramio….
Approach into AEP
From the taxi to our remote stand the stark white glow from the El Monumental stadium indicated a match of some kind was taking place. Having been there at night to enjoy a game the previous weekend and seen all the incoming aircraft it would have been cool to see it from the other way round but alas on this occasion I’ll happily take prime view of the sunset instead
From where we parked it was a whole 50ft on the bus to the baggage hall where we only had a few minutes to wait until the bags started appearing. I once again became enraged a little inside due to the crowding of the belt but thankfully our bags were one of the first off so there wasn’t enough time for my blood to reach boiling point. After waving off a couple of unsolicited taxis we were quickly into a cab, risking our lives once more at the hands of the Porteno taxi drivers
[Edited 2012-05-10 21:35:59]