Category Archives: air travel

Santiago to Calama (a flight)

The first thing I noticed on my Sky Airline flight was that this was an old easyJet plane. easyJet is a low cost British carrier and why their plane was being rebranded (on the outside) slightly concerned me. How old was this aircraft, really?

But I couldn’t focus on that for long. Once we were in the air, the scenery was otherworldly. Every photo was wildly better than the last. The clouds mixed with the landscape was just incredible.

Received a lovely meal on the (short) flight …

meal on plane

And I had it of surprise when I landed. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in Calama but it wasn’t this! This is the entrance to the airport after deplaning by stairs. All planes landed this way. We were basically dropped in the middle of nowhere so whoever I asked to take the photo, took a bit of a photo shoot with the plane in the background. Check out the background, or lack of, in each of the pictures. If you think this looks like Mars, wait for the next post.


Leaving Cordoba — Take Two

Monday morning the wake up call went off – and I got out of bed with the first one. I showered, got ready and headed down to the lobby where we had all agreed to meet for breakfast. I was the first one to arrive at breakfast at our agreed upon time and so sat down with a cup of tea while I waited for my dining companions/stranded travelers/friends.

After a breakfast from the buffet, the ten of us checked out, got back into the taxis that we had taken just a few hours before and headed back to the Cordoba airport for take two.

mendoza take two

We left on time but the flight was very bumpy and when we landed I was so thankful to be on the ground.

During the time we were delayed, my new friends Rafael and Gustavo invited to show me around their town, Maipu, which is one of the towns in the countryside around the city of Mendoza, later in the week. I agreed and we exchanged emails to confirm Thursday. They would pick me up in Mendoza and then it was up to them to make a plan.

The flight was very bumpy and I was so thankful to be on the ground. We said good bye and agreed to confirm my trip to Maipu on Wednesday.

I got into a cab and headed to Mendoza. The taxi driver, of course, asked for an address, and since I didn’t know where I was going, I asked him to drop me off in the center of town.

mendoza taxi

Back where we started

Once we were back on the ground in Cordoba (yes, the airport we started out from) was probably one of the funniest things I have ever seen.

In the US when there are flight delays, typically, you have people crowded around the counter, tempers flare and people get angry. It’s not pretty.

Same thing happened here — except I couldn’t understand full sentences because everyone was speaking so quickly.

It was one of those travel moments where you step back out of the situation — and at this point I had to. Everyone was yelling and talking so quickly that I couldn’t hear enough words together to be able to translate fast enough. Everyone was mad and yelling but in Spanish it sounded so beautiful.

So I just observed and hoped for the best. 

My new friends Gustavo and Rafael were also looking out for me. Gustavo did not speak any English so he and I would communicate with my Spanish and if I didn’t know the word, through lots of hand motions. Rafael and the woman were leading the charge and would periodically come back and update us.

They were trying to get the airline to put us up in a hotel (another hotel night for me!!). Once they made that happen, the gate agent had to rebook the entire flight (it seemed to take forever and there weren’t even fifteen of us) us on a flight in the morning — on Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina’s national airline — because this Sol plane wouldn’t be going. The flight we were rebooked on would depart at 8.15am but the taxis were scheduled to pick us up at 6.45am.

Note: I never found out why we were delayed and I don’t think I’d really want to know. 

Then, those of us staying at the hotel had to wait to be issued vouchers. And then, finally, sometime after midnight, we were able to get taxis to the hotel.

Ten of us crammed into two taxis — the local people went home — and arrived at a pretty nice hotel in the outskirts of Cordoba. There was a golf course, a spa and a pool. Of course I wouldn’t be using any of these amenities since we were leaving only a few hours after we arrived.

After checking in, and asking the front desk for two(!) wake-up calls since I was certain I’d be hitting snooze, I said good night to everyone else — who were all going to meet up at the restaurant for dinner. At nearly 1 in the morning.

I went to the room and conked out as soon as my head hit the pillow. I had about five hours of sleep in free accommodation and I was going to take advantage of it!

For anyone doing the math, it basically made my splurge the prior night cost-efficient! And out of everyone inconvenienced, I was probably the least, since I had only made my plan for my arrival while spending time in the airport. Win win (for me, anyway)!!

You Have Got to Be Kidding

My new lady friend and I were seated next to each other in the front row (fear not, there was no first class on this flight). We were seated across from the flight attendant in her jump seat so my new friend and her had a lively conversation and I could pick up a little bit so I could nod where appropriate.

The welcome message was in Spanish followed by an English version that was more Spanglish — and more on the Span. I understood her but in the chaos of an emergency, probably not.

The flight attendant did drink service and the flight was bumpy but pretty uneventful. It was definitely dark when we left and I was relieved I had a place to tell a taxi upon arriving in Mendoza.

About halfway into the flight, the flight attendant got a call from the pilots. She made an announcement in Spanish and I paid no attention thinking it would come in English any second.

She never said it in English. But my new friend turned to me and did the translation.

She told me we are turning around.

I thought she was joking. Her face told me she was not.

I said es verdad, es verdad? Is that true?

Apparently the weather was not cooperating — there was too much lightning — and landing would be very dangerous. Cordoba was still the closest airport so we had to turn back. I thought it would have been cool if there was another airport, to see another city, as my itinerary was quite flexible.

I know it was good they were playing it safe but all I could think about was the guy at the hotel telling me about the crash a few months prior.

At this point, everything else was secondary. I just only wanted to get back on the ground. Even if it was back where we had started.

Tick Tock

My flight still said on time for a 5.40pm departure but I went to the gate agent and he confirmed it was delayed. No surprise there.

The gate agent told me the flight was now delayed until 7.30pm. I was getting concerned with no accommodation reservation since it would be dark when I arrived.

Since there were limited flights, your odds of meeting someone on your flight were pretty good. I met an Argentine woman and we got to chatting. I told her my situation (no place to stay and now we were sure to arrive after dark) and she offered to help me pick a place. I pulled out my Lonely Planet. Now I am just going off the Lonely Planet — no cross checking on TripAdvisor — so I narrowed down the descriptions I liked and then she picked one with a good location.

Now I needed a phone to make a call. Skype had been my lifeline in this situations prior but without WiFi, I was without a phone. I figured I could wait a bit in case the plane would take off soon and then make the call in the Mendoza airport. She was adamant that I had a place booked before I landed.

She also told me the rules in Argentina and that if a plane is delayed more than four hours they would have to provide dinner and a hotel. Because of this, airlines are incentivized to take off on time. I looked at her quizzically, this was Argentina, and she was confident we would board before the four hours were up.

Tick tock.

Finally, she told me to come with her. We went to the gate agent and she told him my situation (solo female traveler, she can’t speak quickly, no reservation in Mendoza — I’m certain I looked like a winner). I basically stood there like her sidekick picking up words here and there. I still had no idea what she said in Spanish but after a lot of arguing and him head nodding (as in ‘no’) he finally handed over his cell phone to me. She told me to call and make a reservation with his phone.

And then we waited some more.

We met the others on our flight. Two men who were returning from a vacation in Brazil were trying to return home to Mendoza were also on our flight. I was practicing my Spanish since one spoke very good English and the other only Spanish. It was frustrating to everyone because they wanted to get home. I hardly had a plan but I knew I wanted out of the Cordoba airport.

This is what the airport looked like when we boarded at 9pm — just shy of four hours delayed.

cordoba airport

But little did we know that our adventure, and our friendship, was just beginning.

Security or Not?

After my Cordoba adventures, I went back to the hotel, grabbed my stuff and took a taxi to the airport.

I went through what could have been a doorway, but I went through security with my shoes on, a bottle of water in my hand. I stopped to ask about the water and my shoes and instead before I got the words out, was just waved through. There was no line when I got to ‘security’ and there was no line after. It was as if I went through a doorway. There was no concern. I was through in a matter of seconds.

I got to the terminal — which was the terminal for the whole airport and realized I would have an hour to kill before boarding.

I took out my laptop to see if I could figure out where I could stay and no WiFi. I took a seat and nearby I hear English. Lots of it.

About eight burly men were returning to Buenos Aires. They were on a hunting trip and returning home to various places in the Midwest, Idaho and Montana. We chatted for nearly an hour, and then they left to board.

I realized I should have been boarding for my flight to Mendoza around the same time too.


Making a Plan: Cordoba to Mendoza

The staff at the hotel were so helpful. The bartender clearly was great, and the front desk manager on duty helped me figure out my plan for the next day.

The bus was another doozy — ten hours. In order to get to Mendoza before the sun went down, I’d need a bus that left around sunrise. A few glasses of wine in, this was no longer an option.

I could take a night bus the following night, but that would mean no Super Bowl (and let’s be clear, it wasn’t so much for the Super Bowl but for the camaraderie that accompanies it). Plus, I was planning to be in Mendoza for a few days so it would have been nice to meet some other travelers early in my stay.

But, my new bff at the front desk told me, that I could also take a flight. We looked at the price and if I took the one at 5.40pm, I figured it was actually only $30 more than the bus. I didn’t want to cut my day short in Cordoba by leaving too early so this was perfect.

The guy at the desk did tell me there was a recent crash on this airline. I had a slight buzz, I was spoiled by my luxury environs, the speed with which I could get to Mendoza was desirable, flying sounded grand and so I decided to hope for the best.

We outlined a few things I could do in the morning and early afternoon before my flight, I said thanked him for his help, said good night (because I couldn’t wait to choose a pillow!) and I went back to my room to book it.

I’ve Arrived!

Upon arriving into Buenos Aires, I was one of the first from my flight to arrive in immigration. Thank you Business Class.

As you get into immigration, a representative asks where you are from. Because I have a US passport I was directed to the line for US citizens; however, I had already paid the reciprocity fee* when the boyfriend and I visited Argentina last year. When I showed the page in my passport confirming this, I was swiftly directed to a different line where I was quickly and efficiently stamped into the country (unlike in Miami upon my return into the States, but I digress).

The events that follow I can best describe as a clusterf#ck brought on by yours truly.

After immigration, I spotted a duty-free shop and asked where the American Airlines Business Class Lounge was. The woman working there did not know where the lounge was and directed me to another man, who worked for a different airline. I got nothing. I went through Customs and asked at a taxi stand. Nothing. Made my way to the to the American Airlines departures desk. Closed. The woman at the shared LAN counter told me I could only use the lounge if I was departing that day. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a shower upon arrival, no?

Hot (I was still wearing my fleece from the airplane) and eager to shower and put on weather-appropriate clothing, I continued to ask various people working at the airport where the lounge was. Nearly an hour later I decided to give up on that shower I had been dreaming of.

A smart girl would have asked on the plane, or would have referred to the map in the magazine – which I normally do look at. I blame this on my distraction with all things Business Class and thus neglected to figure out the lounge access situation prior to my arrival. Note to self: make this a priority before getting off the plane. Next time…

* Reciprocity fee is the equivalent to what Argentine citizens pay to enter the US. The entry visa is good for US citizens for ten years. Argentina charges reciprocity fees to citizens of Canada and Australia. The costs and validity vary. You can avoid the fees by traveling overland. Note: Chile also has reciprocity fees; however, I did avoid those by entering the country by bus.

Leaving on a Jet Plane

*If you are following along, yesterday’s post took us all the way to the end of the trip. We’re back to chronological order and … leaving (the US for Argentina) on a jet plane.

Soon after I booked my international flight, the boyfriend had encouraged me to upgrade myself to Business Class. I agreed and got myself on the list but the upgrade was not confirmed until the day before my flight.

The boyfriend’s reasoning was that if I were to have a panic attack, it would be so much nicer to have one in Business Class, than in Coach. I have to agree. So I hope you have a laugh with me as you see the irony of starting a budget travel adventure in Business Class.

Upon arriving at JFK, I made my way to the Business Class check-in. It was so pleasant! The gate agent actually invited me behind the counter to view the seat map and pick another seat since the one I had chosen on the phone not more than 24 hours prior was no longer available.

Nervous, because I did not have access to Seat Guru, I trusted the gate agent, and chose my seat based on her recommendation of the bulk head seat.

Once confirmed, I was directed to the Business Class lounge. I was even told that I could use the Business Class lounge upon arriving in Buenos Aires to shower (in hindsight…lies!).

Nothing says Business Class lounge like comfy chairs, great views and free drinks before a flight. Nothing says backpacker like yoga pants, a 60 liter rucksack on the back and small daypack on the front.

I was seated near four business people headed to Rio. I realized I was sitting there in the international departures lounge because I was heading to Buenos Aires! It was really real!

About three-quarters into my glass of wine, my flight was boarding. It was painless as I left the lounge and headed right for priorty boarding. I didn’t even see the seats in Coach as I took my seat in the front of the plane. Per the gate agent’s suggestion, I was in the bulkhead seat and since Business Class was half empty, I didn’t even have a seat mate.

Pre-departure I was greeted by my friendly flight attendant with a glass of sparkling wine. Soon after take-off I was handed a pair of Bose headphones and a menu, (a menu!), with my choice of drinks, dinner and dessert.

I took the first two hours of the flight to discover what was available to me in Business Class. I had down comforters, an assortment (yes, more than one!) of pillows, television, movies and music.

And buttons!

There was an entire panel of buttons to use to control my seat. The buttons kept me occupied for some time as I played around to determine just the right amount of recline for dinner, entertainment and (of course) sleeping.

Since no one was next to me, I took both toiletry bags…socks, eye masks, tisses, wipes, pens, extra toothbrushes and toothpaste…which came in handy since I quickly realized I forgot my toothbrush. At some point my flight attendant stopped by to check on me and my television situation. It was fine. He told me there were problems in Coach as most of the tv’s were not working. How pissed those people must have been…

But let’s not neglect dinner.

After my table was set with a tablecloth and proper silverware, I chose to start with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. My main course was halibut and lemon risotto followed by another glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a cheese plate for dessert. I could have even had ice cream. I hadn’t been in the front of the plane on an international flight in years, and that’s because my job had paid for it.

According to the in-flight route map, I tried to fall asleep somewhere over the Dominican Republic and Haiti. I woke up somewhere on the border of Northern Bolivia. And then went back to sleep and woke up just an hour outside of Buenos Aires.

No more than five minutes after opening my eyes, my flight attendant gave me a breakfast menu. I chose the bowl of cereal, which was accompanied by a yogurt and croissant but Huevos Rancheros and other hot foods were on the menu.

I also took a look out the window and saw this.

All for 25,000 miles and $350. Well worth the investment. I’m not sure how I will ever be able to go back to Coach.

All those miles I have on various airlines…forget using them for free flights, let’s talk upgrades!

And that panic attack, well, with all the comforts of Business Class, it never happened.


This post has been saved in my drafts for some time and double-checking again to confirm I am still right, it’s gotten even worse.

Several airlines have annoyed me with recent route changes.

When I was looking for flights to surprise my sister back in November, I was very disappointed in the outbound evening flight offering.

Continental used to run an 8p EWR – PHX. Now, the last flight nonstop flight out is a 6.30.

Update: now it looks like a 5.29p is the latest flight.  ???

Just for the record, JetBlue also took their 8p ish flight away and now a 5.50 is their last flight (JFK – PHX) of the day.

Update: now it looks like a 5.45 is their latest non-stop outbound flight.

And US Air – really? Phoenix is one of your hubs and the last nonstop out of the New York area is a 4.35p? How is that even considered an ‘evening’ flight at this point?

Update: now a 4.12p

Note: this is not completely scientific. I checked flights during January 2012 on random Thursdays and Fridays outbound and Sundays and Mondays for the return. And this is the information I found.

If I wanted to kill a vacation day flying I would have already been flying Southwest – which for the record is a good airline the two times I have flown them (not in or out of NYC). Southwest’s flight schedule for cross country flights does not match my flying style – nonstop and evening fights for east to west travel and the red-eye for that west to east travel.

For the record I have asked this question of United and JetBlue on Twitter…twice. No response.