|The terminal building at Aeropuerto El Palomar
Buenos Aires has airport issues. That’s long been apparent, given the accessibility issues of the main international airport at Ezeiza, the problematical logistics of the urban Aeroparque and, now, a third airport in the suburb of El Palomar, used primarily for the burgeoning low-cost market.
|Manuel Tienda León is my default option from Ezeiza into Buenos Aires.
It’s the last of the three that I’ll be most concerned with there, but I’ll briefly mention the first two. Ezeiza, formally known as Aeropuerto Internacional Ministro Pistarini (EZE), is about 22 km south of the city center via the freeway known as the Autopista Teniente General Pablo Riccheri. That’s not far, but transportation can be problematical when suburban traffic clogs the highway at rush hour. Ideally Ezeiza would have rail service but, when I made this observation to a taxi driver, he responded that it would kill one of his main income sources (never underestimate the collective power of taxistas). When arriving at Ezeiza, I normally take the Manuel Tienda León bus/taxi combo into town—short delays don’t mean as much then—but, when leaving the country, I usually choose a cab or remise (livery car) directly there because luggage can be an issue. I still leave plenty early, though.
|Aeroparque has few gates, so passengers must often take a shuttle to their plane.
Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) has different issues. It’s almost walking distance from our apartment in Palermo—or about a ten-minute cab ride—but the narrow road that runs alongside it (currently being widened by a landfill that projects into the Río de la Plata) can also get congested. Aeroparque’s biggest problem, though, is its very convenience, which brings low-flying planes to land on a crowded airfield with so few gates that passengers must often board shuttle buses for the relatively short distance to their plane. Immigration facilities also get really busy on international flights (mostly to and from neighboring countries).
|Immigration gets backed up at Aeroparque.
El Palomar (EPA) is something else entirely. Only 20 km from downtown Buenos Aires, just outside the city limits, it’s a converted military airfield with only a single runway to serve FlyBondi and JetSmart, which provide cheap flights to provincial Argentine cities and to Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. Because of objections from neighbors, there are no nighttime flights.
|The Ferroccaril San Martín is a commuter line that serves El Palomar.
|On board the train to El Palomar
Getting there can be interesting. Manuel Tienda León offers remise service, but the congested approach makes public transportation a better option. The modernized Ferrocarril San Martín, a commuter line that once crossed the entire country to Mendoza, offers direct service from the central Estación Retiro, but I chose to walk from our apartment to the refurbished Estación Palermo (newly constructed overpasses have made the route quicker than it used to be). It’s 37 minutes from Retiro to El Palomar, and only 29 from Palermo, with frequencies every 15 minutes.
|The gates to Aeropuerto El Palomar
|This disconcerting panel stands outside the gates to Aeropuerto El Palomar.
Better yet, Estación El Palomar is barely a five-minute walk from the airport gates (presuming you’re not weighed down with heavy baggage). Some travelers may find it disconcerting, though, to be greeted by a sign that says that “This base operated as a clandestine detention center under the Air Force. According to witnesses, this was the departure point for ‘death flights’ with the purpose of killing detained and disappeared individuals from various points in the country.” During Argentina’s 1976-83 dictatorship, the military often threw sedated prisoners from planes or helicopters into the river or the open South Atlantic.
|El Palomar's check-ins are congested.
After that, the terminal can’t help but be a relief, though its claustrophobic facilities are far inferior to of both Ezeiza and Aeroparque—even if conspicuous signs assure patrons that “We are modernizing El Palomar.” Not intending to fly out of there, I was unable to visit the departure areas, but I was still relieved that my own flight to Neuquén, on low-cost Norwegian Air Argentina, would depart from Aeroparque.
That scenario could change in the near future, as JetSmart has acquired Norwegian Argentina’s routes and will phase out the brand in favor of “JetSmart Argentina.” JetSmart should hold onto those gates at Aeroparque, which many if not most Porteño fliers should still find more convenient than El Palomar. That doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t consider a cheap flight from El Palomar to, say, Bariloche or Ushuaia.