Cachando Chile Does Italy Part 1: Flying the Funky Skies of Aerolíneas Argentinas

Starting at the End

Masked Margaret Snook, Carnevale, Venice, Italy, February 2011.

Cachando Chile gets into the Carnevale spirit in Venice

Every new journey ends with its share of tales to tell, and the Cachando Chile Duo (that would be me and the Mister) have plenty to say about our recent trip to Italy. I had hoped to offer up regular doses of insights, tips, and tidbits from the road that recently took us through Rome, Florence, and Venice, but alas… the Chileno half of this expedition does not believe in leaving any sight unseen or step untaken. Forget about piazza-side espresso sipping and people watching; in fact, I think his feet keep moving even in his sleep. Remember, he’s of the “but we might die tomorrow” school of thought. I, having sped up a less than successful round of physical therapy for a bum ankle to make this trip, was doomed to play the part of the gimpy gringa grumbling about aching feet, perfect shots missed (more on that photographic subject to come, you can be sure), and culinary novelties left untasted. He, the enthusiastic onward-marching soldier was determined to conquer Rome and acquire the true spirit of Italy in a mere 2 weeks. But we made it out alive—and together—and are on our way home with a cart-load of shared memories, one traveler’s notebook filled and spilling over onto the back cover, and some 40 gigabytes of raw photos (FYI, that’s 1500+) ripe for processing.

As we unpack, settle in, and reflect upon the experience, I will post the most post-worthy—and spare you the “Aunt Gert & Uncle Fred on vacation” version of it all!

Flying the Funky Skies

But just to get the ball rolling, I’ll start at the end, thanks to Aerolíneas Argentinas, who awarded us a bonus pack of 4 unexpected hours in Rome to chill (to the bone) at Rome’s Fiumicino Gate 11. To their credit, they did give us each a slice of pizza and a soft drink for our troubles. Snarkiness aside, it was much nicer to arrive in Buenos Aires at 8:30 AM instead of 4:20 AM, as originally planned, although that 5-hour layover we were dreading in BA? Forget it. Missed the flight to Chile anyway.

View from above the cloudsThe passenger list tipped the scales on the Italian side, followed by Argentines, who share the same charming accent (though not the language) and boisterous extroverted collective personality. If there were other Chileans on the flight, you would only have known by their silence. Let’s just say it was a lively night.

Boarding was late and haphazard. Out of boredom and desperation, anxious passengers began lining up at the gate when they tired of waiting. What is it about human nature that makes people feel the need to march in step? In this case the ring leader was a long-robed priest at the front. Maybe everyone figured he had some inside information from above (and I’m not talking about the control tower)…

When in Rome…

Being the more frequent flyer in this Duo (which gives me bossiness credits in airports), I announced there was no need to join the herd because, really, who ever heard of boarding first come first serve? Errr… Italians at Aerolíneas Argentinas, as it turns out. When the announcement finally came and the mad rush began, there was no call for first class or adults with children first, no priority wheel chairs (which were clumped together near the entrance and apparently boarded last), just on your mark, get set, GO!

Understandably anxious to get this show on the road (although bird in the air may be more appropriate), all 300 passengers surged forward, brandishing boarding passes, stormed the stairs and came to a screeching halt as those in row 15 blocked aisles to stuff, cram, and jam their over-sized bags into the overhead compartments while passengers in rows 16–40 back up on the stairs and spilled out onto the tarmac.

Finally seated and ready for takeoff, belts fastened, seat backs upright, electronic devices off—Hey you in 26B! That includes cell phones!—the flight attendant had to come back TWICE to say that the pilot was having trouble communicating with the tower due to interference from the cabin.

The flight itself was textbook economy class: the guy in front flips his seat back suddenly into your lap, the one behind fiddles with and pushes his tray into your back all night and somehow manages to kick you from below at the same time; the same “pasta o pollo?” at midnight, the same insultingly bad movie starts sometime during the wee hours. The usual high-carb, low-caffeine breakfast; the same lines waiting for the person camped out the restroom (seriously, what could anyone possibly do in there for so long? No, wait, I don’t even want to know). I make a list of annoying airplane behaviors

Strangers in the Night, BEST Buds by Morning

We were all tired, cold, and annoyed when we boarded, but some mysterious magic friendly dust seems to have been sprinkled into the ventilation system, because people who were total strangers just hours earlier swapped life stories and addresses by morning. Aisle strollers stopped to chat, breakfast snacks got traded, and destination advice was offered. The sun rose somewhere over Brazil and I overheard an enthusiastic young man peeking out the window explain to his seatmate that he was looking for the Andes. Everyone around him did a double take, language check, and launched into a geography lesson. Arrival anticipation rose.

Aerial view of Buenos Aires, Argentina & Río de la Plata

Buenos Aires, Argentina by air

The pilot announced we’d begun our descent. Scattered applause. We giggled. We haven’t even landed yet and the celebration was already on! In the past, Chileans often applauded upon landing, although it’s decreasingly common as people fly more.

Take your seats, buckle up, seat backs forward, electronic devices off. “Yes, 26B, that really does mean you!

Hearty touch-down applause was immediately followed by the unclick-click-clack of hundreds of antsy travelers bursting out of their seat belts.
Please remain in your seats with your seat belts fastened…”
The woman next to me hopped up to get her entirely unnecessary heavy winter coat out of the overhead compartment (she isn’t going to need that thing till she touches down in Rome again–it was already 70ºF). She couldn’t reach and bags and jackets toppled into the aisle. The flight attendant, desperate as a kindergarten teacher on the last day of class, stormed back to establish order.
We wait.
The pilot comes on to explain that another plane is in our assigned slot.
We wait
We move up to another slot.
We wait.
The Sky Bridge operator is nowhere to be found.
We wait.
For the next 20 minutes the passengers play cat and mouse with the flight attendants, sneaking up into the overheads as we assume someone is trained in the fine art of Sky Bridge attachment.
We inch into place and the seat belt light goes off. More applause as everyone jumps up in unison. Hand shaking, cheek kissing, qué te vayas biens in that Argentine-only cross between Italian and Spanish. Finally.
We’re back in South America.
Almost home.

How about you? Got a favorite plane travel story to tell? Leave it in the comment section or blog it yourself and let us know so we can do some link swapping!

16 responses to “Cachando Chile Does Italy Part 1: Flying the Funky Skies of Aerolíneas Argentinas

  1. Margaret – Welcome back home, I mean your ‘second’ home. It’s kind of funny to read your tales about passenger behaviour. I always find it’s like a mini-cosmos of society. Look forward to reading about the ‘juicy bits’ that I’m sure you picked up along the way.

  2. Bienvenida nuevamente, que gusto saber que lo pasaste bien en tu viaje y pudiste disfrutar esa hermosa ciudad. Ciudad de gatos y de mucha historia.Esperamos poder ver algunas fotitos!!! si se puede. Y en cuanto al viaje de vuelta, esas cosas que pasan en los aeropuertos y aviones…uf!! siempre para recordar…tengo un par de historias y sobre todo en Aerolineas Argentinas, quienes se portaron muy bien con nosotros , nada malo pero si muy tragicomico….historias de avión y de vuelos. Que bueno que estés en casa y felicidades por tu viaje.

  3. @John. Thanks- and yes, Chile IS my home. It’s been nearly 20 years now! And yes, travel tales always have their comical edge— if not tragicomical, as
    @Nano comments…. Gracias a ti también y sí, de todas maneras voy a presentar muchas fotos! Estoy revisándolas todas. Es que no quiero escribirlo como “Día 1: Roma!, sino presentar el viaje por sus diferentes aspectos interesantes! Ya verán!

  4. Our trips have been entertainingly frought but our new Chilean relations just smiled at our stories and shrugged. Every journey is crazy, they said. It’s normal.
    So our first one went: a choice between £1000 tickets and £500 ones, we chose the £500 ones. My husband’s seat was broken. My tele screen didn’t work. Our whole row of lights were either on or off. I had a seat by a window. The wing was steam punk metal patchwork. I passed the time checking all the rivets were there. The toilet door didn’t lock and there was no papel hygienico (who needs to learn vino tinto por favour in their first Spanish lesson? Give me confort anytime!). I was completely thrown by one air hostess talking to me in Spanish Spanish (my teach yourself for free on line had worked – I understood her) then another one used different words (Chilean Spanish and my self confidence was extinguished.)
    Everytime we have to do a middle of the night/wee small hours stop over in Madrid. I’m getting better at handling it but (was it because of foot and mouth and various bombers?) we had been stripped of all food and drink. We walked the length of the whole airport (boy, is it a long one) but every cafe was closed. We found one chocolate vending machine. I had one euro coin. Everytime I put it in , it fell out. We were getting a bit ravenous and stressed. It didn’t help that I had been learning Spanish by playing a Madrid airport is being run by zombies and vampires game!

  5. Great stories Anne! And yes, every trip has its quirks, and the cheaper the tickets, the quirkier it gets! The majority of my flying is done between Santiago and my family’s home in the US, so it’s the same route on the same airline, and other than the odd seatmate or occasional missed flight, there’s rarely much to that surprises me anymore. I thought about not even writing this because we all have airline stories… but then thought it would be fun to hear some from others. Thanks for yours! (and hope your next flight is smoother!).

  6. The only story I can recall is when once I flew Santiago-Paris via Rio de Janeiro. The plane was full of Brazilians, and when it approached RJ’s Galeao airport around midnight, all those hyperkinetic Brazilian teenagers started singing “Cidade maravilhosa…” . (We all had to descend, anyway.)

  7. I am studying abroad in Chile this semester, but first I traveled to Buenos Aires for 3 weeks to take a mini-course on Argentine culture. I left my house at 7am, hopped a plane to Miami, arrived just in time to make my connection to Buenos Aires, and alas, the woman at the LAN Argentina desk tells me “el avión está roto!” At this point, my face fell, I almost began to cry, and she took pity on me. While LAN Argentina was [more than] a little disorganized (surprised?) LAN Chile had their stuff together and took me under their wing, flying me to Santiago and allowing me space on a flight to Buenos Aires. After a month in Santiago, I feel like the difference between LAN Argentina and LAN Chile is very telling of the countries…anyone agree with me?

  8. OK, so the topic has gently moved to airline trips and stories. This was a scary one for me. I was returning home from Youngstown, Ohio in mid December. We were supposed to land in Pittsburgh so I could connect to a Miami flight. It had snowed heavily the night before, and the airport operator put a bit too much salt on the runway.

    Consequently a lot of that salt got into our plane’s landing gear and we couldn’t land in Pittsburgh because the runway was too short. We were rerouted to Dulles in Washington. As our plane approached the runway, I looked out of my window and I saw about 12 ambulances and fire trucks with all their multicolored lights flashing. I asked the passenger next to me if he knew anything about those ambulances and fire trucks.

    He very calmly told me that they were all waiting FOR US TO LAND! The salt that got into the landing gear in Youngstown could overheat the axles and the plane would catch fire. BTW, the gas tanks are close to the landing gear.
    Fortunately, we all got off safely and I continued on my flight to Chile. Let me tell you, that was a pretty hair raising experience for this then young and innocent 🙂 boy.

  9. @Raúl- isn’t it interesting how patriotic people get about their homes while traveling?

    @Sari- interesting analogy of the two cultures as represented by two versions of the same company! I haven’t spent a lot of time in Argentina, but they’ve had a lot of economic problems over the past 10 years or so and it shows. Plus, the cultures themselves are quite different. And now that you’re here, I hope you enjoy your stay in Chile!

    @John- what a hair-raising experience! Glad the ambulances and fire trucks weren’t needed!

  10. @Sari – Land Chile is one of those rare Chilean enterprises that “get it”. Their service is by no means perfect, but generally speaking is above average compared to other airlines. Aerolineas Argentinas suffers from the well know Argentine syndrome known as “bigheadedness”. In addition, they couldn’t make a profit if their life depended on it. LAN does so well that last year they lent Globo (Another Brazilian airlines) 16 million dollars. Now LAN is the process of merging with Tam which would create the largest airline in South America,
    As far as the two countries having two different cultures, a lot of South Americans believe that words such as ‘humble’, ‘shy’ and ‘modest’ are banned from usage in Argentina. No, I do not want to start a war with our neighbours to the east. Generally speaking they are a pretty nice and colourful bunch of people, but there are those who believe that Argentines are single handedly responsible for global warming based on the amount of hot air coming out of their faces, 🙂 Love you all Che.

  11. Hi John- LAN is no longer just LAN Chile because it has incorporated other countries, including Argentina, Perú, and Ecuador. So as I understand it, Sari was actually talking about differences within the same company but based in different countries!

  12. Hi Margaret – I get it. My point I guess is that LAN Argentina is run by Argentines. Ownership is in Santiago but the staff are ‘Ches’, thereby the difference.

  13. …the guy in front flips his seat back suddenly into your lap, the one behind fiddles with and pushes his tray into your back all night I can really relate to this comment…Mr P being over 6ft tall has real problems when people do this as he has long legs.

    I do envy yoy your trip to Italy – I would love to go as Italian food is a passion of mine. Sounds like you “saw the sights” I would pause more in little cafes or drink wine at sunset 🙂 There are only so mnay beautiful buildings you can look at; as you can only drink so much good wine 🙂


  14. Hi there PiP! It WAS a great trip, and believe me, we saw just about as many charming little tables (topped with heaping plates of pasta and glasses of wine) as we did art exhibits and beautiful buildings.
    Photography, food & wine are my greatest passions (along with Cachando Chile, of course), so I’ve got plenty of notes and tons of photos and a long list of topics I want to write up (oh WHERE does the time go??)
    Can’t wait to clear some odds & ends off my desk (how things pile up while we’re away!) so that I can dig in and start posting!

  15. Well Margaret you certainly capture the flying the friendly skies atmosphere par excellant. I’m of the opinion the only thing you need on vacation is a sense of humor and Tylenol PM. We have certainly been re-categorized by the travel industry as cattle, so all expectations of being treated differently need to be left behind. And, BTW, I’m sure you already know this, but I’m on the Boot Camp Team for traveling, vacations, and sight-seeing! although stopping off for a taste of the local’s favorite spirits is also my specialty. You might want to consider adding bikes into your vacations… easier on your feet and the other half can cover EVEN MORE ground. Loved the read.

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