Way Down South: Aerolíneas Argentinas Club Economy AEP-GRU + Delta Business Elite GRU-ATL-ECP

Delta Business Elite ECP-ATL-SCL
Four Points by Sheraton Santiago
W Santiago
Exploring Santiago
KLM World Business Class SCL-EZE
Hilton Buenos Aires
Exploring Buenos Aires
Aerolíneas Argentinas Club Economy AEP-USH
Alto Andino Hotel Ushuaia
Exploring Ushuaia
Aerolíneas Argentinas Economy USH-AEP
Sheraton Libertador Hotel Buenos Aires
Aerolíneas Argentinas Club Economy AEP-GRU + Delta Business Elite GRU-ATL-ECP

In planning my trip out, I had to focus on anywhere in South America that I could myself on a flight back to the US. Given that there are options on Delta as well as partners, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aeromexico, and Gol, you would think that finding availability would be easy or that there would be “acceptable” options. For one, I had dreaded the thought of flying Aerolineas Argentinas long-haul business class based on several reviews I read online, and flying Gol to the US? I’d rather not fly an all coach airline on a Business Class ticket.

Really, the goal here was Aeromexico through Mexico City, but despite seeing availability on the Alaska Airlines website, I could never get Delta to see the same space. Ultimately, I had found availability on Delta in Business out of Sao Paulo, and I just had to get to Brazil first. Luckily between Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo there are a number of flights operated by Aerolineas Argentinas and Gol. I originally booked myself on a Gol flight as Delta couldn’t see any award space on Aerolineas Argentinas at the time of booking. So I booked what I could and then a few weeks later tried again…I lucked out and I was able to secure space in Aerolineas Argentinas Business Class (“Club Economy”). With that change I was about as happy as I could be, as I kept checking for availability on the EZE-ATL non-stop, of which I was never successful.

Departure – Aeroparque Jorge Newbery
With a mid-afternoon departure, I had plenty of time to get ready to go and eventually make it to the airport. Despite getting through without much hassle a few days prior for my domestic flight down to Ushuaia, I figured I would err on the side of caution and get there a good bit early, which would leave me some time to see what the international side of the airport was like.

I had my hotel grab me a taxi and I was off to the airport in no time. Due to some confusion between myself and the driver, I was dropped off at the wrong point at the airport and had to walk over to the Aerolineas Argentinas International Departure area. Just as with my prior experiences with Aerolineas, check-in was relatively easy. There wasn’t a wait for the Sky Priority lines, but the agent did seem to have some issue with my reservation. Just took a while, but ultimately I was handed boarding passes all the way back home, AEP-GRU-ATL-ECP.

The exit immigration process and security processes were all smooth and painless. Pretty much, despite trying to plan for traffic in getting to the airport or that I would get stuck in some line at the airport I all of a sudden had myself about two hours to kill in the terminal. As with most international airports (well outside the US), you are pretty much dropped into a duty free store right after immigration/customs, so I checked out the goods for a bit before leaving without buying anything. I had been hoping to find a model Aerolineas Argentinas jet to add to my desk, but I was out of luck. You could however buy a TV…

I Don’t Think This Will Fit In The Overhead Bin

While the Domestic side of AEP seemed to have a good number of gates, and several eating/drinking establishments, the international terminal did not. There was one restaurant and unfortunately just like the domestic side no lounge for Aerolineas premium passengers. You could tell that like the Domestic side it had been remodeled fairly recently, but it still kinda felt like a bus station waiting room with the lack of amenities (although it definitely was much nicer).

Waiting Austral And Aerolineas Argentinas Jets

View From The Single Restaurant

So on that note, I found myself at the restaurant and started to use up some of my Pesos, given that they won’t be worth anything once I leave, with a sandwich, empanadas, and the local cheap beer. You can only kill so much time doing that and there really wasn’t anywhere to walk around, so aside from looking out the windows for a bit, I definitely started getting bored.

This Is How You Get Rid Of Spare Pesos

Of course about the time I had started getting bored, it was also approaching boarding time. And just a bit before boarding, the power went out. Well, mostly just the lights as the displays and terminals at the gate seemed to be still working. It didn’t seem to delay boarding by no more than 15 minutes, so at least the flight departure wasn’t in jeopardy. Just as with my flight to Ushuaia, the plane was parked at a remote stand and thus we got a bus tour of the airport as we made our way to the waiting Austral (Aerolineas Argentinas’ regional subsidiary) Embraer 190.

Just After Most Of The Lights Went Out…

Aerolíneas Argentinas #2244
Buenos Aires-Aeroparque, Argentina (AEP) to Sau Paulo-Guarulhos, Brazil (GRU)
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Depart: 4:15PM Arrive: 7:00PM
Aircraft: Embraer E190 Seat: 2A (Club Economy)

It was up the air stairs to the waiting aircraft on a rather beautiful day. I was one of the first passengers off the bus and of course as I made my way to the stairs and on to the aircraft I took a few photos. I didn’t have very far to to reach my seat on board this jet, being seated in Club Economy (AR’s Business Class) Seat 2A. Like on most regional jets in service with US-based airlines with two cabin service, the seats are configured in a 1-2 layout in the forward cabin. There are three rows total, however there is no seat 1A due to storage, resulting in 8 seats total up front.

Getting Off The Bus

Boarding The Austral E190

I should also note that Club Economy was rather empty. I think there were three or four passengers total, with one being an off duty pilot.

Empty Seats Up Front…

I settled into my seat, which like featured ample leg room being the first seat on the A side of the aircraft as well as giving me all the benefits of the seat being both an aisle and a window seat. Outside of a lie-flat business class seat, this arrangement is my favorite on any aircraft. Additionally at the seat, there is an entertainment system at each seat, providing a few TV shows and movies. I recall watching a few episodes of How I Met Your Mother, but there wasn’t much else available. Which I won’t complain too much about – it was only a three hour flight up to Sao Paulo.

The Leg Room Shot

Pretty Standard Inflight Entertainment Screen

It took awhile for inflight service to begin, but that was wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as I was enjoy the view out the window for the first bit of the flight as we passed over the Rio de La Plata and into Uruguay in the late afternoon sun. Apparently, the use of mobile phones, even in airplane mode is forbidden, but I didn’t know that at the time I took this photo (and listened to Spotify for a good bit); only realized later whilst flipping through the inflight magazine…

Rio de La Plata

Eventually, the flight attendant came by and handed out the “meals” which were the same kind of snack box I had on the early morning AEP-USH flight in Club Economy a few days earlier. It consisted of a sandwich along with a few snack items. I ordered a coke to go with, since that’s more or less universal in any language. It wasn’t terrible for what it was, but it would be nice if they could do something a little more up front.

Club Economy Meal AEP-GRU

Really the big take away here was that the flight crew was pretty hands off for the duration of the flight. Aside from the serving of meals/snack boxes and handing out customs forms for Brazil (not that I needed one as I was an international transit passenger), they were out of sight. Not exactly the best service, but at least the flight was comfortable, so it’s not like it is going to go down as the worst flight that I’ve taken.

By the time we were approaching Sao Paulo it had already become dark out, so there wasn’t exactly a good view out the window, just city lights everywhere.

Transit – Sao Paulo
my flight came into Terminal 1 while my connecting Delta flight was out of Terminal 2. Early on it had seemed a little confusion how the transfer would work once I got to GRU, but luckily it was pretty easy once I got there. An Aerolineas agent met the flight and walked the few of us connecting onward to other flights to the transit security checkpoint. This deposits you right back into the airside of the terminal right after immigration and customs. It’s not a big checkpoint, so if there are a lot of connecting passengers on your flight, there could definitely be a wait – luckily there wasn’t very many of us (maybe 3-4 from Buenos Aires) going through. I checked out Terminal 1 first which didn’t have much before heading over to Terminal 2. Along the way, I passed a lounge that served a few SkyTeam airlines, including Aerolineas and the Air France Lounge before finally reaching the Gol Smiles lounge. For whatever reason, Delta has decided to use the Gol lounge in GRU (Yes, I realize that Delta and Gol are partners) over SkyTeam and ever longer partner Air France’s lounge. I thought about trying to use the Air France lounge as flying Business Class and SkyTeam Elite Plus should have got me in, but noticed it would be closing shortly. I opted to just head to the Gol lounge for my nearly four hour layover.

Gol Smiles Lounge GRU – Entrance

To be admitted to the lounge, you first go into a crowded space that contains the reception desk. Once the agent verifies your access you are invited to pass through the door into the lounge. Let me tell you, it was everything that the internet had led me to believe. Usually, when someone says something like that, it is followed up with words of praise and wonderment. Not so much with this lounge.

Walking through the food and beverage areas there are the tables with what appears to be very cheap plastic chairs – they resembled the little chairs I sat on as a four year old, and just don’t look like they would really support my weight. There were seated areas located on the three sides around the food and beverage area of which most of the seats were taken. I eventually found myself back in the corner of the lounge near the restrooms. The other thing that I found rather “impressive” is how there were plates, glasses, etc all over the place. The lounge attendants were definitely not doing the best job of keeping everything clean. Add with the awesome fluorescent lights, definitely worn furniture and you had what just seemed like a pretty depressing lounge. Granted there were self serve beverages, including alcoholic ones, and a few small snacks (including some hot options), but nothing was overly remarkable. I settled for a coke and a few of the local cheap beer during my wait.

Gol Smiles Lounge – GRU

Gol Smiles Lounge – GRU

While sitting there, I got to talking to the person seated in the chair next to me at one point, who also turned out to be flying on Delta up to Atlanta in Business Elite that night as well. We swapped a few travel stories and then I found out he was a member of Delta’s super-secret Delta 360 program. This program pretty much means he spends a rather sizeable chunk of money with Delta, as there is an agent who will watch over his flights when traveling and proactively do things like re-booking if there is even the slightest bit of weather delay probabilities. It was interesting to hear about that…something I’m sure I won’t ever get to experience first hand.

It Did Not Make Me Smile…

I was able to at least spend a good amount of time using the wifi, but it was slow at times and took a little bit of an effort to get registered for some reason. Other than that, I just sat there occasionally looking through the window that looked out to the American Airlines Admirals Club across the hallway. Surely, it had to be better than this lounge.

With about 30 minutes prior to boarding starting, I opted to stretch my legs before my flight and checked out the duty free shops as I made my way towards the gate. There wasn’t anything really of interest and there wasn’t really much of anything on the concourse either in terms of shops, so eventually I found myself at the gate standing and waiting. Past experience of flying Delta as the second leg of a multiple-airline itinerary suggests that you should trade in the boarding pass issued by the first airline for one issued by Delta. For whatever reason, I figured surely all would be good, and thus never went up to the podium. That meant that when Business Elite was finally called to board, I was pulled aside while the agent reprinted my boarding pass, asked me the usual security questions, placed the sticker on my passport and eventually let me down the jetway. A minor inconvenience, but I should have known better….

Delta Boarding Gate For The Flight To Atlanta

Delta Air Lines #58
Sau Paulo-Guarulhos, Brazil (GRU) to Atlanta, GA (ATL)
Saturday, May 10, 2014
Depart: 10:55PM Arrive: 7:42AM +1
Aircraft: Boeing 767 Seat: 5A (Business Elite)

Delta’s 767-300 aircraft are configured such that there is a 1-2-1 layout with staggered seats in Business Elite; the odd seats on the outside of the aircraft feature a bit of privacy as you have the oversized armrest/console against the aisle and the seat right up next to the window. Even though I booked my flight about 3 months out, all of these seats had been taken already! Luckily as it got closer and closer to the day of the flight, I was able to score 5A and not only be isolated from the aisle, but far enough from the galley to make for a good night of sleep.

As I settled into my seat for the flight, the flight attendant came around with a pre-departure drink of champagne and a a bag of nuts. I didn’t bother with the nuts, but I always partake in the champagne when I’m flying in Business Class. It’s just what you’re supposed to do, right? As the rest of the passengers shuffled back toward Economy, I just sat there mostly just looking out the window. There wasn’t much activity out there, just a bunch of Gol planes parked at their gates.

Pre-Departure Champagne

Parked Gol Aircraft At GRU

Eventually, All Seats Were Full

Apparently, The Light For The Seat In Front Of Me Wouldn’t Turn Off…I Guess That’s One way To Fix The Problem!

Pushback and departure were on time and then not long after getting to our cruise altitude the flight attendants started coming through Business to start the meal service. Drink orders were taken, tablecloths were laid on the tray tables and hot towels provided. For tonight’s dinner, there would be multiple options available all served with the same starters of Bocconcini and Tomato Skewers and Beef Tenderloin Canape; a Cucumber, Tomato and Feta Cheese Salad; Broccoli and Parmesan Soup; and of course a selection of breads. For my main I had opted for the Sea Bass, which I had not had inflight before, and it was acceptable. It wasn’t overly dried out as I was expecting, so at least it was a little bit of a win there. I will add that the starters were all pretty decent as well – overall the meal was definitely not bad. Of course to finish it off, there was an obligatory ice cream sundae topped with chocolate, whipped cream, and chopped nuts. Only downside was that it was rather frozen and I had to wait for it to thaw out a bit before I could really dig in…

Business Elite Menu – Page 1

Business Elite Menu – Page 2

Apparently, This Is The Only Photo I Have From The Meal Service…

Once I finished off the ice cream sundae, it was time to change into my sleep attire and turn my seat into a bed. Given that the flight is almost 10 hours long, by the time I got to that point there was about 8 hours remaining in the flight. That meant I could attempt to try to get sleep for about 5-6 hours before they started serving breakfast. Considering that when I got back to Panama City I would have to get home, do laundry and then pack everything to get back to on a plane that afternoon to Iowa, getting some sleep was going to be paramount. Thankfully, with my preparations, I got about 4 hours of good sleep!

As usual, about an hour and a half out from landing in Atlanta, the flight attendants came through looking for those of us who were awake and ready for breakfast. Starting out with some coffee, I had opted for the omelette option, which was served with ham, potatos, a roasted tomato, and fresh fruit. The omelette was definitely better than what I’ve had in the past on some domestic Delta First Class flights, although the ham was a bit on the tough/overcooked side.

Delta Business Elite Breakfast – GRU-ATL

Arrival into Atlanta was on-time if not a little early, and I made it through immigration without any problems. However, as I sat there at the baggage carousel waiting to get my bag so I could go through Customs, I found myself waiting and waiting as people filtered in, claimed their bags, and went on their way. Soon enough, I was the only person standing around it was clear that my bag was not there. I found the one Delta agent who pretty much just told me that it wasn’t in their system other than that Aerolineas Argentinas had forward them the fact that I had a piece of checked luggage. At this point, I didn’t know where my bag was at. Did it make it on the plane in Buenos Aires? Had it been swiped by an airport worker in Brazil? No one knew at the time, so the agent told me to talk to the agents after Customs at the transfer desk to start a claim.

I walked over to the counter, which had a few agents, but no passengers waiting. I walked up to the first agent in the Sky Priority lane who pretty much told me that they couldn’t help me and that I would have to file the claim once I got back to Panama City in a less-than-helpful tone. I won’t lie, I was getting frustrated at this point. I didn’t exactly need my luggage getting lost when I needed to turn around the same day to fly to my grandmother’s funeral to start, and with only a few hours of sleep, and my connecting flight just over an hour away and I still hadn’t cleared security yet, I wasn’t exactly in my best mood either.

Clearing security up on the main level of Concourse F wasn’t very busy, but it did seem to take a bit to get through the line. I made my way over to Concourse B and eventually found the gate for my final flight. I was trying to be in a good mood, but my bad luck would continue.

Delta Air Lines #2403
Atlanta, GA (ATL) to Panama City, FL (ECP)
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Depart: 9:12AM Arrive: 9:15AM
Aircraft: Boeing 717 Seat: 2B (First)

Well, it was a pretty ordinary short flight back home to Panama City. Boarding was on time and pre-departure beverages were offered. Unfortunately, I had opted for a cup of coffee figuring I could use the caffeine. Well, that was until someone with far too many bags was heading down the aisle and managed to bump me and my coffee. It’s fun when coffee spills on you, it really is! Considering everything else that had happened thus far on this return leg of this trip, it seemed to be par for the course.

Once back on the ground in Panama City, I found a much more sympathetic agent at the ticket counter who took all my info down and started processing the claim for my lost bag. It still hadn’t popped into the system yet, so I made my way home to get a much needed shower (there wasn’t enough time to visit the Sky Club in Atlanta) and finish lining up a hotel and rental car up in Iowa that evening.

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