Well, according to these Top 10 Signs You Might Be An AvGeek, such individual "willl book an unconventional itinerary just to fly on a new aircraft type, or visit a new airport."
And here I am… booking a flight from Santiago, Chile, to Montevideo, Uruguay, via Buenos Aires, Argentina, even though Sky Airline and LATAM have direct flights at better prices, just to fly on a 737-800 and to try Aerolíneas Argentinas (AR), two absolute firsts for me.
But all this geekiness comes at a high price…
…for my buttocks!
This trip to Montevideo is the fourth leg in this series of reports. You can also read the reports for legs 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8.
"Sorpresa" from beyond the Andes (Itinerary)
I plan this trip several months in advance. Eight months, to be exact.
On November 7, 2016 I buy the tickets and get a confirmation email from AR…
…along with my itinerary. The first leg - from Santiago to Aeroparque airport (AEP), in Buenos Aires - will start on Saturday, July 15, 2017, at 8:25 a.m.
They offer a boxed snack. Just for the fun of it, I choose the gluten-free option.
And this would be the second part of the flight, from Aeroparque to Carrasco airport (MVD), in Montevideo.
It's a very short hop across the Río de la Plata ("River Plate." I still can't believe it's the mouth of a river!) I should wait at AEP from 11:25 to 14:30, a mere 3 hours. I think I can deal with that. I will take the chance to look around AEP and take photos for the corresponding report, right?
But AR has a nasty surprise for me. One month before the flight, they let me know that I will be sitting in AEP for a bit longer than that. Quite a bit longer, in fact.
More than eight hours stuck at AEP?! I want to kill myself! I wonder if AEP will be an interesting airport, at least. Or maybe I will be allowed to get out and see the city…?
Take it like a gaucho (Checking in)
Gauchos are the lords of the Argentine pampa (plains). They roam around on their horses enduring the cold, the heat, the rain, caring for their cattle. Their rough life toughens them up. Their rough life… and Aerolíneas Argentinas' web check-in. Just have a look at this:
So you thought you were something because you were able to memorize your reservation code, huh? That will not impress a gaucho. They also have to provide their time of departure and flight number.
If they can't remember, AR will help them with a long list of daily flights to the same destination (all with similar numbers) that they can try one by one.
All this only if you find the link to the check-in section at AR's home page for a start.
There's none! Check-in is strategically hidden in the "Customer Service" section at the bottom of the page.
For some reason, AR decided to do without all this fuss on their Android app. You only have to enter your last name and reservation code, just like those airlines for weaklings!
I can check-in 36 hours before ETD.
My boarding pass for this leg.
So I have to be at 7:20 at the airport. AR suggests you show up at the counter three hours in advance. Gosh.
I'm dreaming of a white… July (To the airport)
Even though most Chileans live at the foot of the Andes, we seldom touch the snow. It rarely snows in the valleys, so you can play with snow only when you go skiing in the mountains, or if you live in the far south of the country, near Antarctica.
But this night, as I set off on my trip, I'm in for the most amazing surprise. It starts snowing over Santiago!
The phenomenon is so infrequent that the transfer driver tells me he can barely concentrate in his driving. We have to go slowly.
We make it to SCL at around 4 a.m. He drops me at international departures, which is nothing but the other end of SCL's only terminal.
Over there, at the bottom, is the domestic flights side. You see? In fact, national and international departures are closely intertwined at SCL, as you'll see later.
On this side, Aerolíneas Argentinas' check in is already in progress. We are all early birds.
AR's counter is right next to the access to police check.
Long line this morning.
Before joining the other passengers I check my flight on the FIDS. Gate 8. Boarding at 7:35. And it's only 4:07!! Well, that's better than being in a hurry.
The line is really long, but we move quite fast because there are at least 24 checkpoints. I stand in line for about half an hour.
Immediately after the police check we have to queue up again for security check.
I'm dozing off when I'm woken up all of sudden by something cold that's running down my neck. A leak in the roof!
SCL is succumbing to the stormy weather of the last days. Other passengers step back with approving looks when they see that I'm going to take a photo of the little swamp that's growing under our feet. They might think I'm going to file a complaint or something. Well, no. This is only for my flight report, you know?
"Your waiting time, 0 secs." Sheer lies, SCL! Still 5 more minutes to get to the checkpoints. This line is really slow! Yaaawn!
And here is the reason. Only two checkpoints open!
What about those?
This video explaining the security check process is among the improvements made by the new concession holder.
Once you are through with the screening, you emerge at the duty free area.
Wine festival! My fellow countrymen usually look at me in disbelief when I tell them I don’t like wine or beer. It’s not very Chilean from my part.
Costa Rican BritShop is omnipresent. It was in Uruguay, too.
The duty free area has been enlarged considerably. I walk along a series of narrow corridors flanked by shops. I feel like a hamster in a tube maze.
Where to, now? I think I’ll follow that lady. She seems to know where she’s going.
I finally find my way and make it to gate 8, at the very end of the west wing of the airport. It’s a lot of walking! This is close to the construction site that I usually photograph during takeoff.
Not much movement at the farthest corner of SCL.
This is the place, according to the FIDS. And the departure time is OK. Little did I know…
I sit and doze for a while. When I open my eyes and look out of the window… Wow! It's snowing heavily!
If you don't believe me when I say that snow is really unusual in Santiago, look at those staff. They are as thrilled as me, taking photois of this remarkable event.
The snow falling silently in front of those powerful lights is an amazing sight.
I stand there by the window for quite a long time, watching the snow fall. This Avianca flight has just arrived.
Still a couple of hours for boarding time. I go for a stroll along the half-deserted hallways, and walk all the way up to gate 21, where I have boarded lots of domestic flights, like this flight to Valdivia, and my recently reported flight to Copiapó.
The domestic flights boarding room is there, to the left. Hm…!! That gives me an idea! What if I have breakfast at McDonald's?
Noooooo….!!!! This door is locked!! That's so cruel. Me and my breakfast, separated by this simple, fragile panel of glass and metal.
So, now I know how this works. Need more gates for international flights? Lock this door over here. Need more gates for domestic flights? Lock a door over there.
Near door 23 are these glass cases displaying the work of local artist Renate Neumann. I love it! Well, I love bright colors in general. My bright green backpack is the best evidence of that. My previous one was orange, but for some reason my cat thought it was the enemy and attacked it.
Let's turn around and walk back to gate 8. My goodness! SCL leaks like a sieve! Careful. I don't want to kick the bucket so soon.. LOL
So the Spanish Movistar is their ISP. I didn't know that.
But the Chilean Entel provides the USB chargers. Entel is expensive and has the worst customer service. Stay away from them.
Waiting spaces for international flights have not improved as much as those for domestic flights. Almost the entire domestic flights area looks like a large VIP lounge now, but this…
Well, let's remember that SCL is a work in progress, and that the whole of this terminal will be dedicated to domestic flights in a couple of years.
Talking about work in progress: "Sorry for the inconvenience. Opening soon."
I get back to gate 8. I'm trying to sleep a little, when suddenly… "ding" My cellphone. Message from Aerolíneas Argentinas: Flight delayed. New ETD: 09:00.
My life is full of misery. :'''(
Your gate is number 8… no, number 7…. no, number 5… no…. (Boarding)
The day breaks.
Locked away from McDonald's, I buy a cup of coffe and a muffin at a shop called Maxi. The prices are good! Much the same as buying outside the airport.
Now the FIDS says ETD is 09:10,, and the gate has changed to number 7. No big deal. It's two meters away.
We get a little confused because there is another flight to Argentina boarding through gate 7.
They leave, while we are left…
…sad and stranded. :(
Then we hear that our gate has been changed again. It's number 5 now. Again no big deal. Just move to the next row of seats.
But 09:10 comes and goes, and our plane is nowhere to see. What on earth is happening? The FIDS still show 09:10 as our EDT! Then we hear the announcement: Our new gate is… 21 !!
Why didn't I stay there this morning??!!
It's a long walk, but I get distracted by their expresive profanities against their country's flag carrier. I'm learning a lot of new words!
And here we are.
Luckily, AR staff is there and we start boarding at once.
It's almost 10 by now! Eventually, we will take off at 10:29. More than two hours of delay! Later in the cabin I overhear an annoyed FA replying to a question from a passenger "Yes, but you didn't see us stranded on the tarmac all this time, madam." I hear that AEP had been closed during the morning because of the weather.
I love that shade of blue. Someone described it as a “whitewashed blue” or something like that…
…but that’s the shade of blue in the Argentine flag. It’s called “celeste”, which means “sky blue”. Today I will be flying on LV-FWS, which is barely 3 years old.
Down to the second floor.
Whoa! The jetbridge is steep today! B737s are really low aircraft!
If you have to queue up here…
…you can read the newspaper!
The moment I’ve been waiting for… and the picture is blurred. :( First time I see Boeing’s Sky interior in person. Is it always blue while boarding, or is that the intitutional color?
Legroom is better than that on my frequent A319 flights with Sky Airline, and way better than LATAM's.
The upholstery and everything else is brand new.
The contents of the seat pocket. AR’s inflight magazine, Alta. Quite thick and heavy! It will add at least 500 grams to my backpack!
I hope this title is not a bad omen!
Mood lighting changes. What mood is orange?
The beauty of snow vs. the threat of mass extinction (The flight)
After he leaves…
…past an Italian visitor. Ciao!
One from Canada.
French in disguise.
So you call yourself “Latin American” now, right? >:(
From our former metropolis. Thí, theñor!
These two should fire their creative teams.
Wow! Look at that! How beautiful! I’m talking about the snow, not LATAM’s livery.
I never saw those hills like that before!
Beyind the tarmac, construction continues for the new terminal.
I'm amazed at the sight of those white hills, but I'm in for an even bigger surprise.
Can anyone tell me what those CDs are doing there? It's a mystery to me.
Reaching the runway…
…and off we go, followed by Sky Airline.
The airport's west wing.
My gates today. The bucket is somewhere in the middle.
What you see there seems to be the first finished slab of the new terminal.
The green fields around SCL are nothing out of the ordinary.
But a minute later…
…as I get to see the mountains…
….white from top to bottom…
…I realize that this morning is something special..
I'm completely stunned.
I never ever saw the valley like this before.
Of course, if you live in Russia or Canada you will be wondering what so special about it.
It's because this is absolutely unusual.
I’m holding my breath until I go blue in the face while pressing the shutter like crazy!
If we had left on time…
I would have probably missed this wonder.
About 100km south of Santiago we turn left towards the mountains…
…but I won't see much of them…
…because of the clouds.
They are completely covered…
…until we reach the other side.
Look at this! I am pretty sure those marks on the ground are meteor impacts!
They are huge!
And beyond the rough terrain on the east side of the mountains…
…where the never ending plains of the Argentine pampa begin…
..there are more of them!!
All those lagoons are craters filled by the last rains.
Notice their shape. They look like a V, all in the same direction. I'd say the meteors hit from the south-east and the debris flew in the opposite direction.
The question is not IF something like that will hit us again, but… WHEN! (This is when you scream in horror)
It looks like it's rained a lot these days.
The fields are flooded!
It's completely cloudy for the rest of the trip.
The FAs hand over the customs declaration form, which reminds me that I have a clementine in my backpack that I should eat before landing. But wait… this is only for those of us travelling to Argentina! I keep the declaration anyway.
Then we get our boxed snack. Beautiful design!
Let's see my gluten-free meal. Oops! I get the same as the other passengers! I want to change it, but the FA is way behind my row when I finally open it.
OK. To h*ll with it. Makes no difference. What's inside? A little cake, a cereal bar, and a sweet.
Safety card, both sides.
Lots of space between the window seat and the wall.
Some IFE would be a welcome detail. In fact, AR’s Embraer aircraft crossing the River Plate do have a small screen!
We start our descent towards AEP.
As we fly through the thick clouds, we turn to the right. Wonderful! I think we'll land from east to west. I will see Buenos Aires!
But no. We turn to the right again and all I can see of Buenos Aires is a bit of the Palermo area by the river. :(
This is pretty much all I can see of Buenos Aires this time.
Flight details from flightradar24.com. Whoa! Did we really reach 1,082km/hr?!
Jetbridge. Good thing! The weather outside looks nasty.
A hard - very hard - experience (AEP)
Into the jetway.
I’m starting to understand why AEP was closed this morning!
AEP opened in 1947. This must be one of its older buildings.
Last view of my first B737-800 Next Generation.
Once in the terminal I am sent to a very small, dark corner with a single checkpoint for connecting passengers.
After the checkpoint comes the duty free…
…and then the boarding room, with a single large cafeteria…
…a sitting area with HARD plastic seats…
…a gate in the middle and another on the right…
…restrooms and this kiosk in a corner. And that would be all.
In the farthest corner beyond the duty free shops are the police checkpoints…
…with a large window on what seems to be an access to Aeroparque.
Back in the waiting room, I will be planespotting for the next eight hours. An avgeek's paradise… if they weren't only Aerolíneas Argentinas aircraft and the ocassional LATAM.
I think I will see the whole of AR's fleet today…
…until the last of this long list of flights has departed before mine.
You will never know how much I came to hate those blue seats. Imagine sitting on a rock for eight hours and you will have an idea of the price my buttocks had to pay for my geekiness. I promise: NEVER AGAIN!
Santiago - SCL
Buenos Aires - AEP
Aerolíneas Argentinas For an economy traveller, AR's service is not different from that of a simple LCC carrier. They take you from A to B, and that's it. The boxed snack is apt for a small child. A salty version would be much appreciated. The FAs didn't know that I had asked for a gluten-free snack. New aircraft with nice looking, comfortable cabin. No IFE though!
SCL Great, but they lost some points in the efficiency section this time. And those leaks...
AEP Tucked between a large avenue and the River Plate, Aeroparque is small, cramped, old, and claustrophobic. It has the hardest seats I have ever placed my poor buttocks on. No way to lay down on those seats because they all have armrests. Merciless with tired passengers. Only one cafeteria. Didn't even try it. Worst experience ever for a connecting passenger.
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