An Argentine experience

I had the pleasure of flying Aerolineas Argentinas for thefirst time last week.

The state-owned flag carrier has made big strides in recentyears. It completed a three-year restructuring, exited a decade-long bankruptcy,modernised its fleet and – symbolically completing the cycle – joined the SkyTeam alliance to much fanfare on 29 August.

AR_SkyTeam_welcome2“The investments we have made in the name of Argentinaand to join SkyTeam are large,” said Mariano Recalde, president ofAerolineas, to a packed hanger of more than one thousand employees as well asexecutives of SkyTeam and other member airlines at Buenos Aires’ Jorge Newberyairport.

The airline still has a ways to go to compete with the otherlarge airlines of South America, despite the numerous investments that have been made. On the fleet side, the airline has replaced all of its ageingaircraft with new or newish ones – new Boeing 737-700s and 737-800s, andEmbraer 190s to replace 737 classics and MD-80s, and used Airbus A340s toreplace Boeing 747s.

My flight down to Buenos Aires could have been on any majorairline, except maybe the leading Asian and Middle Eastern carriers. Fullylie-flat seats and personal TVs were available at every seat in business class.

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The flight back was a bit more interesting. The seats remindedme of VH1′s hit show I Love the 80s -nostalgic and comfortable but from a different era, and lacked personal entertainment systems.

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Recalde said that the airline is focused on investing in itsexisting fleet and customer service currently, in an interview. I would hope that this includes standardising their inflight product.

Investments are not only being made in the fleet. I visitedthe Aerolineas’ partially completed $25 million Argentine Pilots TrainingCentre (CEFEPRA) at Buenos Aires main international airport Ezeiza. Thefacility will allow the airline to bring its pilot training back to BuenosAires from Miami once the facility is completed in the second quarter of 2013.

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Aerolineas still has an image problem, at least outsideArgentina. Based on the numerous unsolicited Facebook and Twitter messages thatI received, the carrier has a lot of dissatisfied customers around the world.The airline will have to continue to work hard to win back their (and others) business.

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