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March 21, 2014

Aerolineas Argentinas Transpolar Flight “Vuelo Transpolar” Sydney – Buenos Aires

Aerolineas Argentinas Transpolar Flight

Sydney to Buenos Aires nonstop

This trip report is BEST enjoyed  in Youtube video format from below link:

Part 1  Interaction with Pilot explaining the significance of Transpolar flight operations

Part 2 A spectacular lightning show and landing into Ezeiza International from the cockpit.

Aerolineas Argentinas has a rich history and it was the first airline started Southern “Polar” flight operations between South America and Oceania in 1980s. Those days they flew the B747-200 from Buenos Aires via Rio Gallegos to Auckland and it was extended to Sydney in the early 1990s. The flight path is one of the MOST ISOLATED ocean crossings in the world with only 2 alternative points in Antarctica for emergency.

In the 2000s, I saw them bringing in the newer A340-200 on the same route 3 times a week.  I have flown Aerolineas between Australia and South America in 2002 and I was also lucky to have flown their B747-200 from Buenos Aires to Sao Paulo!

A simple Trip Report from 2002:

http://www.samchuiphotos.com/SAMR

Starting 2012, the company decided to go non-stop between Buenos Aires and Sydney, the flying time can go up to 16 hours 45minutes in the first generation A340 jet!  Sadly the company has decided to discontinue their long proud polar route tradition in the end of March 2014. I decided swiftly to join Aerolineas Argentinas to mark my map a non-stop line between Sydney and Buenos Aires before another classic, interesting air-route disappears.

At the same time, South African Airways announced to discontinue their Southern Atlantic crossing between Buenos Aires and Johannesburg. I have decided to do BOTH Deep SouthOcean crossing flight one after another! The SAA flight will be covered in another trip report later. You can see my “Southern RTW” air route below:


Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.

Before Departure

I always think Argentina is quite different to the rest of South America. I love Argentina as it is good mix of European and Latino. Especially its capital Buenos Aires, it is the “Paris” of South America. That says a lot about the sophistication there. In recent times, the Argentinean Peso has devalued sharply to over 8 peso per dollar on official rates making visiting Argentina very affordable. Before starting my trip, I already planning to have a fine steak in Buenos Aires J This trip and especially this flight was highly anticipated!

I have contacted Aerolineas Argentinas to seek assistance about filming in-flight due to the significance of the polar route and a visit to their EZE airport facility. Although nothing eventuate, the regional manager Mr OC was very helpful is communicating with me.

In a slightly unusual manner, I decided to fly Economy Class to see what the 14 hours 25 mins crossing will be like and I especially wanted to see whether Aerolineas has improved since they’ve joined Skyteam. I trust that I can handle any airline in any situation, good or bad. Another theory behind is that I believe many family or relatives/friends of crew are getting upgraded “behind the scene” so it is NOT worth it to pay for a full J class fare on Aerolineas. This is just my beliefs but I could be wrong and biased here.

Day of Departure

On the day of departure I found out the inbound flight AR1180 from Buenos Aires is delayed for 1.5 hours and it would land at 4:15pm. To my surprise, my outbound flight is also delayed even Aerolineas have 3 hours to turn the plane around. AR1180 is scheduled to depart at 19:30 but delayed to 21:10. Not a good start and I am slightly concerned about given the reputation of Aerolineas! Their on-time record is only 11% (and average 165 mins delay) on flight 1181!

The news of missing MH370 came through social media and news channel early afternoon. I didn’t feel great and actually with a sinking feeling knowing I am going on a very long and isolated ocean flight in the evening.

Check-in

Aerolineas Argentinas used Row A at SydneyAirport for check-in. Knowing the delay in advance, I arrived late so there is no queue. The supervisor told me the delay was due to technical on the inbound flight from 2 days ago, the operating crew need to have enough time to rest before operating this flight.

You can see we were an hour past the STD, the flight status remained open. No passengers were surprised given this is Aerolineas!

Finally, the boarding call (only in Spanish!) came around 8:50pm.

Going to a place highly anticipated!

Onboard

I have a window seat 3 rows from the rear on the right side of the aircraft. Boarding process is normal, not chaotic. I was surprised to see the condition of the A340-200 (19.5 years old) have been well kept, they even have new seat covers since I flew them last time 12 years ago! The leg room is very generous at 34” seat pitch. No PTV at the seat but I am not bothered a bit. I enjoyed the good old fashion way of flying and sleep well without the TV screen flashing around cabin.

Our “Polar” Route

The Journey

AR1181

Sydney – Buenos Aires

LV-ZPX

Loads: 209/249

Flying time 13 hr 20 mins (scheduled 14 hr 25 mins)

FL 300 -> 390

Mach 0.80

We pushed back at 21:15 and head straight to Runway 16R for full length take-off with no traffic holding.

Please enjoy the in-flight and takeoff video here

As you can see from the video, the takeoff lasted almost a minute. We rotated at the end of the 4km runway and struggle to climb above water!

After an hour, the crew came out with a full cart of drinks, after a round of drinks. Dinner is served.

Tasty Pasta with Maze and Pumpkin Salad

Marble cake as dessert

The meal is not too bad but of course nothing fancy. At the same time, I noticed we were very close to the Southern Tip of New Zealand as we continue to track Southeast direction.

After dinner, I befriended with some of the very senior flight attendant. We exchanged pleasant conversation that none of us could believe the company is discontinue the polar flight to Australia. Many flew in the 80s and 90s on the polar route to New Zealand and Australia and have fond memories of it. We actually spent an hour just talking about the route! The crew told me after Aerolineas quit Auckland, Lan Chile (LAN) have a monopoly of South America flight and the fare went up by as much as 1000 dollars! The NZ government have approached Aerolineas and hope they can make a come back!

I was very tired and went to sleep solidly for 7 hours afterwards. No movie was showing and the cabin was dark. I like this way to sleep with a peace environment.

Mid-flight

As I woke up, we are somewhere in the ocean but due to no IFE, I could not tell where exactly I am at.

It was bright daylight outside.

The friendly gentleman crew came over to my seat and informed me, “Let’s go to the cockpit!” He just delivered my favourite message I guess!

I followed him and headed straight to the cockpit with all my belongings, walking past Business Class in dark. To my surprise, the cockpit door is wide open!

There were 2 set of pilots, the 2nd set (relieve) pilots were in charge at the moment.

It is at this point I have learnt a lot from the pilots about their Polar Route operations. There are a few different set of published air routes the flight can choose depends on the wind conditions. On some occasions, the inbound flight AR1180 from Buenos Aires face strong head wind would go as south as 72 degrees in latitude. This is within the Antarctic Circle!

Fortunately today we have gentle wind condition and went only as far as 60 degrees South and we would catch up some of the time lost in the delay of departure.

Please view the video as F/O Marcelo gives an excellent explanation about the operations of Polar Route with Aerolineas.

I have spent hours inside the cockpit conversing with the pilots. At some point, we reached way point “SATIN” and came over land of South America after 10 hours of long isolation flight. Before that our last flight communication was few hours ago!

We track NE direction over some amazing sceneries of Patagonia , tracking towards famous skiing area of Bariloche but most of the snow would have melted during the summer.

<b>Landing</b>

After few hours in the cockpit, I left and settled back to my seat for the 2nd meal which was a simple sandwich and a carrot cake. I enjoyed an amazing lightning show in the sky as we continue to cross time zone and entered evening.

I was fortunate to be invited back to the cockpit for landing into Buenos AiresEzeizaInternationalAirport. The weather was clear, CAVOK for the evening landing into runway 11.

Again, words cannot describe those landing moments, please see the video for the landing and lightning show in the sky.

Conclusion

It was truly amazing and I have learned a lot on my flight. Aerolineas was a MILLION times above my expectation. This is mostly due to the friendly crew who saw I was genuinely interested and went out of my way to fly one of their last Polar flight. I did not see the cockpit invite coming prior to my flight happening at all so I was very lucky. Aerolineas was fine and incident free.

I am very proud to have flown this unique long haul air route. At the time of writing, this is the longest A340 route in the world.

Thanks for reading and watching

This trip report is BEST enjoyed in Youtube video format from below link:

Part 1:   Interaction with Pilot explaining the significance of Transpolar flight operations

Part 2:  A spectacular lightning show and landing into Ezeiza International from the cockpit.