Mission A340: Aerolineas Argentinas A342 AKL-SYD
Auckland has been known to attract A340s from various airlines over the past decade. Aerolineas Argentinas fly the A340-200, Cathay Pacific, Lan Chile and Air Tahiti Nui operate the A340-300, Emirates bring the A340-500 and Thai used to operate both the A340-500 and A340-600 to AKL before switching them for the 777-200. Earlier this year, Emirates announced that it would discontinue the A345 services to New Zealand in favour of the 777-300ER which was now capable of flying unrestricted from Dubai to the East Coast of Australia. The increased capacity over the A345 means that Emirates will be benefitting much more from the restricted trans-Tasman crossings. I’d never been on an A345 before and it was a great opportunity to try it out or face having to fly half way around the world just to travel in one. Motivated by my friend to jump on an A345, I was off to find a way to catch this wonderful plane before it left the shores of New Zealand after 7 glorious years of service.
What better way to make a trip report about the A340-500 by also flying another A340 on the same trip!? It was definitely a plan. The way I had planned it took me to Sydney on either a LAN A340-300 or an Aerolineas Argentinas A340-200. Knowing how rare the A340-200 was, it was quite clear from the beginning that it’d be the preferred option (not only that but it departed at a more humane time) and so I went through with it.
Welcome to my 15th trip report. This will cover the flight from Auckland to Sydney on an Aerolineas Argentinas A340-200.
Aerolineas Argentinas is the flag carrier of Argentina. They operate A340-200s 3x weekly from Buenos Aires, EZE-AKL-SYD.[Aerolineas Argentinas ceased the stop in Auckland in June 2012 as they looked to a non-stop EZE-SYD flight to compete directly with Qantas] They also have long haul services to MIA, MAD, BCN and FCO. Down in NZ/Aus, they are renowned for their lengthy delays and even cancellations for no reason on this flight. However this was not going to stop me from trying them out!
Booking a flight with Aerolineas Argentinas does not follow conventional ways of the 21st Century. Their website is only for reservations so once you get the quotation, you have to head into their office in town to pay. While I was booking, an unbelievably cheap price of NZ$131 flicked over the screen and I immediately processed my details to capture this extremely cheap fare. I was able to choose my own seat as well which was excellent. I went into town to pay and it was very quick. I soon found myself in the possession of a printed e-ticket on actual plane tickets – ones which I haven’t seen in years!
Also viewed here:
I was up early on the morning of the flight, ready to head across the Tasman once again. My mum kindly drove me to the airport at 7am. There wasn’t much traffic at this time of the day and the sun cast a fairly faint light over the dawn sky. Straight into the check-in line I went and waited 5 minutes to be served, at the Business Class counter which was vacant at the time. Air New Zealand performs the ground work for AR and the agent checking people in at the Business Class acted professionally. The queue was constantly building after I had checked in. I decided to do some spotting from the observation deck after checking in.
The heavies that come in from North America tend to use the gates at the far end of the pier, even when arriving. There aren’t any good opportunities to take photos of them while they’re down there unless you’re on the apron. After seeing no planes take off or land, I passed through customs. There wasn’t much of a queue here either. Auckland is a great airport to visit during off-peak hours as it’s so quick to process through to airside or vice versa.
I guess Auckland’s duty free area after customs isn’t too bad when compared alongside Melbourne and Sydney. They’re sane enough to leave a corridor open for people to freely walk through to the gate but by looking at the designs, it does seem quite tempting to go into the shop itself.
I decided to pre-clear myself for Australian Immigration to save me a minute upon arrival in Sydney. It’s a great invention.
It was still really early and I decided to go down and wait by the gate so that if I drifted back to sleep, someone would notice!
At 7:40, there was a message over the PA that they were waiting for the plane to be refueled before boarding started but they’d take families with young kids and Business Class passengers first. So a queue was formed 40 minutes before actual boarding was made with all these eager passengers willing to get to their seat. I wonder if this is psychological and it makes the person feel as though they’d get to the destination faster or something. Anyway, it beats me as to why you’d want to stand up and wait in the queue like that! It’s not like there aren’t enough seats for everyone either..
9 April 2010
Routing: Auckland – Sydney (AKL-SYD)
Airline: Aerolineas Argentinas
Scheduled Time of Departure: 0825hrs (GMT+12)
Actual Departure: 0834hrs (pushback), 0850hrs (rotate) (GMT+12)
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 1015hrs (GMT+10)
Touchdown: 0949hrs (GMT+10)
Flight time: 3hr 15 min
Aircraft: Airbus A340-211
This Airbus A340-211 first flew on the 5th December 1994 as the 80th A330/340 frame and the 20th A340-200 frame. It was delivered on lease to Cathay Pacific (VR-HMT) in February 1995 as preparation for the A340-300s they were going to receive. It was then taken up by Philippine Airlines (F-OHPH) in 1997 before being sold to Aerolineas Argentinas in July 1999.
It operates the EZE-AKL-SYD route and also EZE-BCN, FCO and MIA routes in a layout of 32 Business and 217 Economy seats.
Even though everyone was already in the queue, there wasn’t a long wait until my turn to board. Down under, it’s generally the stub that gets ripped off and is retained by the gate agent so you keep the bigger portion of the boarding pass however this was the first time departing AKL that they’ve handed me back only the stub! Anyway, I took what was given back to me and headed down the jet way.
I don’t remember being greeted too warmly but either way, I was politely guided to the far aisle. The Business Class seats looked quite nice but the seats were very old, especially for long haul standards these days. After passing through Business, I reached the Economy Class section I was going to be in for the next few hours. The cabin was reminiscent of the Air New Zealand 767 cabin of yesteryear – one projector on the bulkhead and CRT screens scattered down the cabin; ie no PTVs. However instead of them being in the aisles, they were in the middle of the centre block, as seen in the picture above! Just imagine getting up in the middle of the night and banging your head on one of those..
I thought the seat had plenty of legroom. My one complaint about the seat was the headrest. It wasn’t very comfortable as it sat too low and the ‘wings’ didn’t hold in place. There was also a footrest which seemed broken so I didn’t use it. There was no air vent above the seat.
My seat, 17K, was quite close to the front of the cabin. It was a seat without a window but I had use of the window perpendicular to me and that sufficed. Unfortunately, it had a massive gouge and a lot of other tiny scratches on the outside surface which made good photos pretty hard to take. The size of the window was good and measured by my Nokia E63, I judge it to be slightly bigger than the A380 window – the picture of the A380 can be seen in an earlier trip report (Joyrides Down Under Part 2). The best thing about these windows over the A380 one is that there is hardly any gap between the outer and inner pane meaning it is much more photo friendly.
Everyone was on board in rather quick time as we pushed back about 15 minutes after boarding. The safety demo was completed without the flight attendants paying too much attention to anything. Lights were dimmed and we took off 16 minutes after pushing back.
Well, what is there to say about an A340 takeoff? The power of the engines sometimes makes you wonder if you’re even going to get off the ground, hence the word ‘hairdryers’ is a colloquial term for the CFM 56 engines on the A340-200/300 used every now and then in aviation circles. Not only that, but they look pretty small in comparison to the fuselage from a distance. Needless to say, the imminent climb out of Auckland after a long takeoff run was at a very shallow climb rate and I was thinking to myself that I probably haven’t experienced such a shallow climb over Auckland before. The 737s shoot straight up in comparison. Nevertheless, we were off the ground and soon after takeoff, we turned around to head for Sydney. The view of Auckland City from the starboard side of the plane would have been nice if the sun wasn’t so harsh.
Is there anything I can say about Aerolineas Argentinas entertainment? Well, for starters, I’ve already mentioned that Economy Class has no PTVs. Instead they have a projector on the bulkhead and CRTs permanently dropped down in the middle. Can you guess what movie/programme was showing? How about none! I’m grateful they had the Airshow function on for the entire flight. That plus an iPod is sufficient for my inflight entertainment needs. Headphones were in the front seat but I never thought about trying it out as audio isn’t generally that great on planes without any other selection. But I’d imagine the majority of channels would be in Spanish anyway.
The meals were next to arrive. They had a very strange way of serving the meals and they actually served the meals diagonally over the seat in front rather than along the row. It was quite strange to see a meal appearing from above the person sitting in 16H rather than directly from the aisle! I had no idea what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t think we’d get served anything to begin with. So it was a surprise that we were given something. What we got on our tray was a ham and cheese sandwich and a dessert comprising of biscuit layers with dulce de leche in between the layers. The ham and cheese sandwich was ordinary but enjoyable as I was quite hungry by that stage. The dessert was a complete sugar hit.. There was more dulce de leche than biscuit and it simply oozed out, making it difficult to eat without getting sticky fingers. It was very nice however and the Colombian seat mate of mine told me what it was and how it is made etc. The drinks cart rolled through immediately after the meal trolley and I had a Coke, poured into the cup from a big bottle made in Argentina. A well travelled beverage!
By now, there was nothing to see but cloud below. We were also passing through high cloud at cruising altitude of 37,000ft. After the tray tables were collected again, I took my chance to take pictures around the cabin. It seemed quite small in comparison to the wanders around the A380 and there were only 2 cabins to explore. The lavatory seemed ok but quite basic.
I was soon back in my seat as there was nothing else to see. The cabin lights were dimmed after I got back, probably allowing people who had continued from EZE to get some more rest before arriving into SYD at 10am. The flight was a little bit bumpy but nothing unbearable. It was a very quiet flight, nearly comparable to the A380.
We weren’t too far away from Sydney when we the pilots came across over the PA, notifying that we were beginning descent. His English wasn’t very good but it was still understandable. The announcement was also made in Spanish first, obviously. The cabin crew passed through the cabin for the final check. They had their own rather unique way of getting passengers to have their seat back in the upright position and tray tables stowed away. People who were still sleeping got their recline button pushed by the flight attendant and the flight attendant also pushed the seat back to the upright position! I thought this was funny from my point of view but I can imagine what it’d be like being a passenger being rudely awoken by your chair being pushed up! I must say it wasn’t very professional but it certainly did the job!
The approach was slow as well and we made our way onto 16R with ease. I was on the wrong side of the plane to get a nice view of the city centre on approach but glare would have been a problem anyway.
I’ve always been intrigued by the reverse thrusters used in these A340 CFMs which have 4 bits that stick out.
The ‘eager to disembark’ crowd were quickly into the aisle as soon as we had come to a stop at the gate. The aisle was cleared within 5 minutes and I headed for the exit. I said ‘Muchas gracias’ in my extremely limited Spanish vocab to one of the flight attendants on the way out.
Immigration took all of 30 seconds using the Smart Gate system but my bag seemed to take an age to process. I finally removed it from the carousel and headed for Quarantine and the exit. I was back in Australia again and headed for the train into the city.
The A340-200 is a rare plane. It feels good to know that I’ve flown on one now as they’re getting old. It was one quite interesting experience to say the least. I’m not too sure if I’d fly them again but it was definitely worth the amount paid, that’s for sure and there’s no way I’m complaining about it. My previous flight on an A340(-300) was 5 years ago but there are similarities that I remember between that plane and this one (and so there should be!) such as noise levels etc.