Flying within Argentina just got more complicated. Apart from the fact that domestic flights are painfully expensive – a wallet walloping $495 US round trip between Mendoza and Buenos Aires, now making a choice between LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas is like a playing a game of Russian roulette with your holiday. Click the wrong option on www.notsocheapflights.com and you could be having a 3-day airport meltdown instead of a delightful few days by the pool at a wine lodge.
LAN used to be the most reliable option as the Argentine national carrier has a woeful tradition of downing tools at peak weekends in high season over a pilot not getting mayonnaise with his in-flight sandwich. However a recent, sudden suspension of all LAN flights caused chaos in airports with anguished passengers abandoned and one plane load of people were actually trapped on a plane in Bariloche as the airport handling company Intercargo inexcusably refused to supply a ramp for passengers to disembark.
The problem is caused by a commercial dispute between LAN and Intercargo, a state-owned monopoly operated by Campora which is best described as a nationalist youth movement closely affiliated with the government. Campora also operate Aerolineas Argentinas which is an obvious conflict of interest and makes most cynics conclude that the Argentine powers-that-be are intent on pushing out the Chilean airline and monopolizing this country’s airways. Such a suspicion is compounded by LAN’s genuine grievance that Intercargo has broken a signed contract and doubled the normal rate for providing ramps, baggage handling and cleaning services. A court order has sided with LAN on the issue but expect more disruptions and even the eventual pull out of the airline from a sector that sorely needs more competition not less.
Aerolineas Argentinas is reputedly losing 2 million dollars a day and is propped up by government subsidies and political cronyism. It is enough to make you just take the bus, but wait, that too is a risky alternative. Recently all intercity buses were paralysed for three days, causing misery for thousands. The reason – the bus companies accuse the government of ignoring them and affording Aerolineas favorable treatment. Would somebody please call Michael O’Leary at Ryanair?
By Charlie O’Malley