This is one of several entries about our group of eight’s 3 week tour of Argentina Oct-Nov 2012. Aerolineas Argentina was one of the few unenjoyable aspects of our trip - and it charges foreigners more for flights too. They have an airpass which saves a little on domestic flights but you have to do the international flight with AA to qualify. This is a high price to pay when BA has a convenient direct flight from London that was also cheaper than AA via Italy/Spain when we booked 11 months ahead.
Our six domestic flights, BA – Iguazu – Salta – Mendoza – BA - El Calafate – BA, cost £835 per person booking 8-9 months ahead in Feb 2012 (sorry I cannot break that down to individual legs). Our trip was planned to use the direct flights Iguazu-Salta-Mendoza which only run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday but we had to go to from Mendoza to El Calafate via Buenos Aires. I did not find the website easy to use and was puzzled that I did not have to pay when booking until I received an email and realised you have ring up one of their offices with your booking number to do this.
You can only book four flights at a time on-line but the London Office (or at least one person there) was helpful when I rang to pay and amalgamated our bookings under one reference and made some helpful suggestions. She explained that there are two airports, EIZ with mainly International flights, (35k from centre) and AEP for most of the domestic flights (about 15 minutes drive from the centre) and that going from EIZ to Iguazu at 8am was actually less convenient than going from AEP at 7am. (Address: 1st Floor, Mayfair, 22 Conduit Street, London W1S 2XR. Tel 020 7290 7887).
SCHEDULE CHANGES. Then the fun began. We had 14 changes of schedule before we set off and another one after we left. These were mostly insignificant, but our Mendoza to BA flight was postponed 12 hours and had us arriving 7 hours after our coneection to El Calafate was due to depart. The London Office rejigged our flights but had to get permission from Head Office not to charge us more. A couple of other flights were postponed 1.5 hours reducing what we planned to do on arrival in Salta and Mendoza.
DELAYS AND CANCELLATIONS. Four of the flights were almost on time. The Iguazu-Salta flight was delayed an hour and our Buenos Aires to El Calafate at 15:00 was cancelled just after it was due to leave. We were put up in an OK but not great hotel in Belgrano (whose staff were helpful and all too used to this) and put on the 6am flight the next day instead. The cancellation was ostensibly because of heavy rain in BA but few other flights were cancelled and the weather in Patagonia was good. There were fewer than thirty of us and we all fitted on to the 6am flight. The thought crossed many of our minds that Aerolineas Argentina cancelled our flight to save money.
In flight food consists of a snack box whose contents are mainly very sweet confections that we found inedible but there was an unexciting sandwich on the 6am flight. Drinks were water, soft drinks or poor coffee.
Domestic Airports in Argentina have most facilities before security and you are not expected to enter the small departure lounges until called. This can result in queues for the X-ray machine as departure time approaches but the only place we ran into problems was Iguazu. Three flights were scheduled to leave within five minutes of each other with a sign for a queue for the LAN flight but not the two Aerolineas ones, leading to an air of chaos in the packed departure lounge. Our delay was not indicated until after the expected departure time causing many on the Salta flight to worry they had missed it and get in the unmarked Buenos Aires Queue. So do not leave it too late to go through, especially as it is easy to miss the mainly Spanish announcements.
CONFIRMING FLIGHTS. Aerolineas Argentina is one of the few airlines to still suggest you confirm flights within 48 hours of departure. I guess this is also because of their frequent schedule changes, but you can check this if you have access to your email. Checking in on-line (24 hours before flight) gets around this but we were sometimes in places with irregular internet connections and it is not allowed for group bookings. A phone number is provided but this means getting your hotel to ring as it is in Spanish and one of our hotels could not get though, causing some anxiety. I felt that I was wasting time and fussing about nothing but did not like to take a chance in case we were turfed off a flight.
Argentina is a great place to go on holiday, especially as the seasons are reversed, and it is a shame that their national carrier is letting them down.