Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Aerolíneas Argentinas' New Circle Route

Argentina is the world’s eighth-largest country - only slightly smaller than India - and the distance from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the top at its border with Bolivia is 3,700 km (about 2,300 miles), only a little shorter than that from New York to Los Angeles. For that reason, getting around the country on a relatively short trip of a couple weeks or so means flying significant distances.

Unfortunately, flying from any Argentine city to another almost always means going through Buenos Aires, the country’s capital and biggest city (nearly a third of the country’s population of 40 million lives in or near “Baires”) and transportation hub. Traditionally, for instance, flying between the provincial capitals of Mendoza and colonial Salta (pictured below, roughly 1,000 km or 600 miles from Mendoza as the crow flies) meant an obligatory detour to Buenos Aires, for a total distance of about 2,250 km or 1,400 miles - not to mention layover time and the chance of missed connections. In the United States, this would be roughly equivalent to flying from Boston to Washington DC via Chicago.

The root of this, of course, is the fact that Buenos Aires has dominated Argentina’s political, economic and cultural life for two centuries now, in a way that Washington DC can only dream about - even if Argentina’s federal constitution bears superficial resemblance to that of the US. That was the case in the days of horsecarts and railroads - which emanated from the capital like the spokes of a wheel - to the times of air travel, but it’s changing as new air routes simplify the connections between some of Argentina’s top destinations.

That began to change last year when the startup Andes Líneas Aéreas began to fly from Salta eastward across the Gran Chaco lowlands to Puerto Iguazú - thus connecting the stunning northwestern canyon country to the world famous Iguazú Falls (pictured above) without necessity of returning to Buenos Aires first. Before that the only trans-Chaco option was a marathon 22-hour bus ride.

Andes continues to cross the Chaco but, recently, Aerolíneas Argentinas has added a new route that should appeal to the tourist trade - twice weekly, its so-called “Corredor Federal” route will link Buenos Aires with the popular destinations of San Carlos de Bariloche and its Andean lakes (pictured above), Mendoza (pictured below) with its nearby vineyards and wineries, colonial Salta and its canyons, and Iguazú before returning to the capital; another flight will do the itinerary in reverse. This will also help residents of those cities - a passenger from Mendoza, for instance, will be able to fly to Bariloche and back without having to change planes in Buenos Aires.

At present, the flights will take place Wednesday and Saturdays, with early morning departures in each direction. The relative infrequency means that, in some cases, visitors may still have to backtrack to Buenos Aires to visit the destinations they prefer, but at least it’s a start. If only Aerolíneas can improve its on-time record, it could be even better.


Andrew said...

Thanks for posting this. I've booked a flight from Mendoza to Salta on a Saturday in early December via the Aerolineas website, so it helped make Salta a viable option for me.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

You're welcome, Andrew. I'd like to know how it goes, as this sort of service is still so atypical in Argentina.

Andrew said...

Hi Wayne,

I took this flight from Mendoza to Salta on Saturday December 4th and other than a last minute delay of about 75 minutes, which they weren't all that great about explaining, the flight went off without a hitch. The pilot explained that they were late taking off from Bariloche. The plane seemed about 90% full, maybe half foreign tourists, and it seemed that about half the people got off in Salta.

I also ran into someone I knew from a tour on Wednesday the 8th who was flying from Salta to Iguazu, and her flight was delayed, too. I think that's probably an issue- once there's one delay, it will cascade through the rest of the day.

Funnily enough, I had more hassle flying from Salta to BA with Lan- they had a hard time with my credit card, so I had to make multiple phone calls to sort it out. The flight was excellent, though.

Custom Search