Is fear being used against this new Argentine LCC?
Or should we take the alarming media reports as a serious warning?
You be the judge.
A (Sad) World Record
Flybondi started flying as recently as January 2018.
Since the very beginning -even before its first scheduled flight- Flybondi's reputation has been marred by incidents.
On January 22, 2018, -only days before the beginning of its scheduled flights- Flybondi had to abort a promotional ride carrying staff and their families barely 12 minutes into the flight and return to the airport when one of the engines of the 737-800 (LV-HKS) overheated. More info in English here.
Funny thing. We're not talking about an old plane, nor has it served some obscure airline before. This is the story of LV-HKS according to airfleet.com:
By the way, LV-HKS was named "Nelson" after Flybondi's CEO's dog. I'm not sure whether I should feel proud or take offense! XD
As 2018 wore on, Flybondi's reputation wore out in a never-ending trail of "incidents".
In February, passengers from Bariloche to Córdoba were in for a terrible surprise after an uneventful 2-hour flight. Nobody had told them that their baggage would be coming… by truck! They would have to wait until the following day to claim their belongings.
In March, some pieces from the engine of a Flybondi plane fell to the runway. A fight started between passengers and the crew and the police had to intervene.
In July, the tail of one of its planes hit the runway during takeoff from Puerto Iguazú.
In November, the crew reported problems with the flaps and they had to make a flaps-up landing at Neuquén Airport (NQN)
If this interview was intended to be a heads up for the airline (I doubt it), they failed. In December it was reported that one of the tires of a Flybondi plane flying from Asunción, Paraguay, to Buenos Aires exploded after takeoff. According to the report, the crew decided to fly in spite of warnings from the mantainance crew at ASU.
Finally -and precisely when Flybondi must have been happy to leave a nefarious year behind- on December 24 the news was made public that one of their arcraft was operating with its cockpit overhead panel kept in place… with a shoestring!!
The President's Darling
For years, commercial aviation in Argentina was crippled by rules regulating the minimum fares to be charged by airlines. This was called the "piso tarifario" (fare floor)
Obviously, this policy -intended to protect Argentina's flagship carrier, Aerolíneas Argentinas- kept LCCs away from the country.
…and they got them! Even a route linking Buenos Aires and Falkland Islands!
You can't help but wonder if all this love has something to do with Flybondi belonging to Richard Guy Gluzman, vicepresident of Pegasus, an investment fund that's the property of Mario Quintana, Macri's deputy head of Cabinet.
The current investigation involves his possible links to Avian and Flybondi.
Purchasing my ticket
Poor safety record?
THAT'S MY KIND OF AIRLINE!! Let's go for a ride!
To begin with, I must confess that I love Flybondi's website. You pick your city of departure and you're given the available destinations in a very attractive way. In this case we can choose Buenos Aires, Córdoba or Mendoza.
The available dates. Hm. Only Tuesday 22 and then Saturday 26. None of the dates are OK for me. Just for fun I'll click on Sunday 20 and see what happens.
Only the logical happens. Duh. No flights on Sunday. But Flybondi still wants to put some pressure on me by mentioning that 13 other morons are looking for flights for a day without flights.
So, Tuesday 22 it will be.
Baggage allowance is not as good as Sky Airline's, but the price I have to pay for my cabin baggage is laughable if compared to JetSmart's. And for some unknown reason I'm charged 171 ARS (4 USD) instead of the announced 189.
Now my seat. We'll be flying northwards and I want to see the mountains on the west, so I pick seat 4A for 72 ARS (2 USD)
Total amount: 2007 ARS (50 USD) (Is it just me or it really sounds funny when you say that you pay in "ARS"?)
Congrats! My reservation is confirmed!
Where's my seat!?
On December 9, more than a month before the flight, I realize that I have forgotten my seat number. It's not mentioned in the confirmation email, either. So I access the details to my reservation on the airline's website, but my seat number can't be seen anywhere. That's weird. I mail Flybondi asking for this specific information.
I see red when I read their reply:
"Hi Nelson. Your reservation was rescheduled for TWO DAYS LATER. The system does not store the information about seats in these cases. You might want to tell us if you accept the change."
WHEN THE %&#$&##%# WERE THEY PLANNING TO INFORM ME ABOUT THE CHANGE??????
I reply politely. "This change is very incovenient for me. Please put me in the January 20 flight, AND MAKE SURE TO GIVE ME A SEAT IN ROW A, preferably 4A or 5A."
Their reply comes: "We can offer you flight FO 5461 on January 20."
Me: "Perfect! Don't forget about the seat in row A!"
Them: "Done! You can check the flight information on our website."
Of course, that is precisely what I'll do. I want to see my seat (in light green) in row A.
LA PUTA QUE LOS PARIÓOOOO!!!! .·´¯`(>▂<)´¯`·.
What part of "ROW A" don't they understand?!?!
I'm not in the mood for more emails. I'll solve this straight away.
29A will be OK…
…though I have to pay an extra 253 ARS (6 USD). Now I have paid for "3 services": One baggage and two seats. Let's see the bright side. Now I can choose where to sit in case I don't like my neighbor.
On December 23 -the day before the news of the shoestring- I read some disturbing news about Flybondi on Facebook: The company is experiencing its first economic problems. Does this mean my flight (and my holidays!) is in danger?
The weeks pass and I see no new reports on further problems with Flybondi. I check my reservation regularly, just in case!
Two days before the flight I proceed with my check in.
I'm expecting a lengthy process, entering all my information again, much like Sky in Chile.
But to my surprise I just click on my name…
…and I'm done! My BP:
As I've explained before, you can get to BRC by taxi, bus or transfer. The cheapest way is the bus (about 30 ARS = 0.75 USD)
It's good if you have your SUBE card, but a lady who got on the bus after me asked the passengers if she could use their card and she would give them the cash. The driver told her that it was OK, that he had change. So she paid with cash.
It seems that the federal government is not being fair with the provinces.
A word of advice: If you see that sign, leave the seat free. I didn't see it in my first trip (excited, taking photos) and when an elderly gentleman got on the bus he pointed at the sign with his thick, heavy walking cane over my head, saying "CAN'T YOU READ?????"
Less than 5km east of downtown Bariloche we leave the main road and turn right.
The road to BRC is lined with pines left from plantations of the time before this area was turned into a national park.
We climb to the second level.
Let's check if everything is in order.
Yes, FO5461 is on time.
Thanks to member Marathon for enriching my vocabulary. "Turista" has a whole new meaning for me now. XD
Cafeteria at the bottom, also restrooms and sel-check kiosks.
Oops! LATAM is not improving their service! XD
I didn't visit these restrooms before.
Being an LCC, it's only natural that Flybondi's measuring devices will be waiting for you.
When I saw this 15-inch laptop backpack at the shop something told me it was the perfect size. I was right!
Having no baggage to check, the best thing I can do is going airside right away. The first new thing I notice after six months…
…is this charging station. Two thumbs up for Pizzuti, a supplier of electrical appliances, for this advertising idea.
Another one in the other waiting room. This room has a great view. I want to look out the window, too. I suppose nobody will mind if I drag a bench around.
That's better. I don't have to wait long…
…for the plane spotting to start.
First one in sight is LV-BZJ…
…a private Learjet 60.
Minutes later, flight Austral Líneas Aéreas AU2807 departs to Rosario. LV-GAQ is an Embraer 190.
Great! Only one more scheduled flight and it's Flightbondi's turn.
But then I get an unexpected email from Flybondi. Have I won some prize? I doubt it.
Gosh. The flight has been rescheduled for 8:40 p.m. That means a 55-minute delay. Grumble.
Well, I can still kill some time watching a football match.
No kidding! I can't help laughing out loud at how angry they get (jokingly, of course) when they lose. Mops, chocs and other stuff begin to fly!
According to this website, LV-CCS -an Air Tractor AT-802- belongs to the "National Firefighting Plan."
Next in schedule is Aerolíneas Argentinas flight AR1697 to Buenos Aires (EZE)
And last, but not least, LV-ISR, a Cessna 337 Skymaster.
A most interesting design that I had never seen before…
…with front and rear propellers!
Without more scheduled flights before my flight, I prefer to move back to the other boarding room. It's very quiet at this time.
Yeah. I know that the flight is demorado.
How didn't I notice this before? Now you can buy a snack for your flight… and claim it two hours later on arrival at AEP. Very practical!
Those words -descargá, escaneá, agregá, retirá- are the Argentine version of imperative forms. The mark on the final A shows that they stress the word on the last syllable, making the words sound even more emphatic. That's why Argentine Spanish sounds "arrogant" to Chileans, but it's just our wrong perception. Actually, 99.99999% of Argentines are extremely lovely people… except the old gentleman that waved his walking cane over my head on the bus to point at the "Preferential" sign above my seat.
Darn. It won't be 8:40 but 9:00 p.m. now. I better take a nap.
Minutes before 9, LATAM and Aerolíneas Argentinas are on the apron…
…and the stairs an baggage belt get ready for the Flybondi flight.
And right behind LV-GVB…
…Flybondi comes at last!
I didn't realize what a coward I am…
…or the effect that the media can have on me…
…until now that LV-HFQ is taxiing towards me.
I'm feeling something like butterflies in my stomach.
Will I make it to Mendoza in one piece?
Or will some corner of Patagonia be redecorated with my burned innards? Gulp!
Is it the window glass or the plane really has a bulge on the top…
…right above the "fly" in "Flybondi"? Do all 737s have the same bulge?
Shouldn't I stay in Bariloche…
…and enjoy the lake, instead????? D:
"Broken pencil what?"
"Never mind. It's pointless." XDDD
Disembarking begins, but…
…oops. Wait a second.
Something needs the crew's attention before they continue.
Here we go. This way, please.
As they descend outside…
…we line up the old fashion way -in two queues- inside.
With the three planes on the apron, the boarding room is chaotic. All jetbridges are busy. Will we have to wait?
Ah! There is still an alternative.
It's fantastic! We'll walk to the plane!
This is usually the road you take on arrival…
…but gate D is "hidden" there on the left.
It has a short ramp, too. To protect the garden, perhaps? XD
Ahhh, there you are, LV-HFQ!
According to arirfleet.es, LV-HFQ is not an old plane but it's already a veteran! You can see it in its different liveries here.
My failed attempt for a photo of the whole split scimitar.
La libertad de volar = The freedom of flying. In English you use an -ing form after prepositions. In Spanish you use an infinitive.
This is the first time I pay attention to the rudder hinges. Is it normal to leave the rudder in that position? Or does it make no difference?
A view of he waiting room.
I had my spotting session from that window behind the jetbridge today.
Once in the cabin…
…I have a nice view of the inside of the winglet with the colors of the Argentine flag. A yellow circle instead of the sun was a great choice. There doesn't seem to be much consensus on what the sun in the flag should look like. I have seen many variations, and some of them can even be spooky!!
I have a better view of my gate from here.
The seats are much like the old LATAM ones. Thick, soft and comfy.
Smart choice. Collecto-proof safety cards.
The space is more than enough for me.
Ignorant as I am, I have the impression that you can't judge the age of an aircraft by its cabin. I have seen those large lamps in very old panels. I wonder if Boeing has changed them lately.
…with a connector for a double-pin plug.
The seats are reclinable!
The iflight-magazine is very thin, much like Andes'.
We are told through the PA that me must leave the magazine in the cabin. Darn. :( On this page…
…a description of the company ("first ULCC in Argentina, started flying in January 2018, 550 "colaborators", 5 planes, 900.000 passengers so far, of which 150.000 are first-time flyers") and of what an LCC is ("189 seats per plane, no extra charges")…
…and the extras you must pay for. A 6kg bag is the only baggage included in your ticket. Hashtag at the foot of the page: "We are ultra low cost."
Their routes. Those marked "*" are already being sold, and will start in March.
The (rather limited) menu is included in the magazine.
New routes for 2019.
A little information from flightradar24.com about this flight.
As we taxi…
…away from the terminal building…
…I try to reassure myself that this will be…
…a flight like any other…
…but in my feverish mind…
…I can't help hearing, loud and clear…
…the voice of the presenter of Mayday - Air Crash Investigation!
"Bariloche, Argentina. January 20, 2019…
…unbeknownst to the passengers of the low cost airline Flybondi…
…disaster looms over flight FO5461."
Well, there's no way to stop the flight now…
…without going to jail.
So I concentrate…
…on taking some photos…
…as we climb…
…above lake Nahuel Huapi…
…with a view of Bariloche…
…and the mountains.
With the dying sunlight…
…I barely have the time to see…
…lakes Lácar and Lolog…
…and lake Huechulafquén, at the foot of Lanín volcano, which is shared by Chile and Argentina.
Minutes after the sun dies…
…the BOB service begins. I'll have only an alfajor and a coffee.
Great! The coffee is Cabrales, the best Argentine brand, IMHO. If you can ever try it, go for the classic version in the yellow bag. It's superb. Other, supposedly more "refined" kinds are just fancy bags, not worth your money.
Alfajores are a traditional confection in Argentina and neighboring countries, but Argentines have a special bond to them.
As for its size…
…Cecilio approves it! And I approve the rest. :D
You can have an idea of the passenger load and the quiet atmosphere during the flight in front of me…
Who knows what towns we are flying over as we approach Mendoza in the darkness…
…but this one loos much like Tunuyán. That means we are less than 100km from our destination.
Luckily, the lights are switched off during descent…
…allowing for much better photos.
Mendoza is a large city with about one million inhabitants.
These are its southern suburbs.
This doesn't last long because the window gets foggy. It's quite warm outside.
In fact, there was a heatwave during my stay, and I had to languish under 40°C. Unbearable.
Welcome to MDZ.
We have made it in one piece!!
Everyone is eager to get off so I remain seated and wait while the cones are placed…
…and the stairs are brought.
I remember that John Paul II used to kneel and kiss the tarmac after getting off his plane. I feel tempted to do the same this time…
…but I think I'll just keep this photo with a full moon as a souvenir.
Mendoza is one of the domestic destinations of Norwegian in Argentina.
We arrive directly…
…at baggage claim.
There's a sanitary control before we going landside, but it looks like fruit and vegetables from Bariloche is safe because we just keep walking.
The main hall. MDZ is not a huge airport…
…and the exit is on your left as soon as you emerge from baggage claim.
So, is Flybondi a dangerous airline? What about its service quality?
If you ask me, after flying with them I'm more afraid of my flight being rescheduled than falling from the sky in a ball of fire.
I would suggest you keep an eye on your reservation.
To finish with, I want to say thaks to Cuchi, my cat. This report wouldn't have been possible without her help and inspiration. (It would have been posted sooner, though)
Thanks for reading! :)
San Carlos de Bariloche - BRC
Mendoza - MDZ
Flybondi is the first ULCC in Argentina. But far from being embraced and welcomed in their country, the media have extensively reported on a series of incidents that cast doubt on the airline's safety standards. What's more, Flybondi has been placed in the middle of a suspected case of corruption involving top government officials, including the country's President.
After flying with them, I would be more concerned of my flight being rescheduled without notice than having an accident. Here's the account of what I saw during my flight. Is Flybondi to be avoided? Is it really unsafe? You be the judge.
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