Friday, March 31, 2017

Argentina Opens Its Skies

One deterrent to travel in Argentina—the world’s eighth-largest country—has been the deplorable state of its air services. Throughout my lifetime, the state-run Aerolíneas Argentinas—occasionally under private ownership—has dominated a Buenos Aires-centric system that, with unavoidable stopovers, sometimes made flights as time-consuming as bus trips. The arrival of Chile’s LAN (now LATAM) improved the scenario, but political obstacles kept it from challenging Aerolíneas’s dominance.
State-run Aerolíneas Argentina now dominates the country air services.
At one level, there’s a logic to this pattern, as roughly a third of the country’s population lives in and around the capital, but it also re-enforces the city’s primacy. Traditionally, even important cities with upwards of a million inhabitants, such as Rosario, Córdoba and Mendoza, can only make connections to other provincial destinations via Buenos Aires. It works against the tourist industry as well, when flights between popular visitor destinations such as Mendoza and Bariloche require lengthy detours via the capital.
Many domestic flights require changing planes at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, the Buenos Aires city airport.
It’s about to change, though. Earlier this month, the administration of President Mauricio Macri approved 135 new routes by five new or expanded airlines, including the budget carrier AirBondi. Bondi will not begin operations until September, but Neuquén-based American Jet, Córdoba-based Alas del Sur, and the capital-based Andes Líneas Aéreas may begin immediately. Tucumán-based Avian, an affiliate of Colombia’s Avianca, should soon join them.

The idea, according to Macri, is to more than increase the number of flights and more than double the number of passengers by 2019. Given that distances are so great, that long-distance trains barely exist, and that bus services are time-consuming (although the quality is generally high), there’s potential for modernizing Argentina’s transportation system and the tourism sector in particular.
In a perfect world, AirBondi would live up its name by adopting the color scheme of this classic city bus.

Whenever Argentina announces great changes, it’s always advisable to retain a certain level of skepticism, but greater competition in the transportation sector should be a welcome development—even if part of that is a budget airline likely to charge for checked baggage and other “extras.” For what it’s worth, Bondi’s name derives not from the famous Australian beach, but rather from a lunfardo (slang) term for city buses in Buenos Aires.

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