We’ve taken a lot of buses on our trip because typically they are much cheaper than flying. When we started looking at buses from Salta to Buenos Aires, we realized that the price was about the same as flying. I got really excited as a flight sounded much better than a long haul bus ride. Before we made our final decision we had some options to weigh.
Pros and Cons of Taking the Bus
Even though I really wanted to fly, mostly because I was over riding buses, there were still some items to discuss.
- We would save a night of lodging since it was an overnight bus
- The seats would be more comfortable
- A full 180 recline bus with meals was available
- It worked out to be cheaper when you factor in the taxes, lodging and meals that were included in the price
- Since it was New Year’s day when we left Cafayate, buses to Salta did not begin running until 1:30pm (on a standard day there are 3 before that). It was impossible to get to Salta in time to catch the bus that we wanted to take on New Year’s Day. This would require a night in Salta and another night on a bus before we arrived in Buenos Aires.
- It would take 19 hours vs. 2 hours of flying
Booking Our Flight
Originally I was looking only at Aerolineas Argentinas as I incorrectly assumed that it was a discount airline. Fortunately the flight that we wanted to book was sold out at the discounted price. This forced me to look on Momondo, my favorite aggregate booking site, where I discovered that there were LAN flights available for less than the Aerolineas Argentinas flight.
I tried to book our flights through the LAN website but kept getting error messages. Since LAN is a partner with American Airlines I booked through the AA site which went through. I was a little nervous as I did not receive an email confirming my booking, but the next day my flight showed up on my AA account.
When we arrived at the Salta bus station we grabbed a taxi right to the airport. We knew that we would be really early but figured it would be better to be early and wait at the airport than go anywhere with all of our luggage.
Pulling into the airport we weren’t surprised that the airport was very small. We went to go check into our flight but realized that the LAN counter did not open for another 45 minutes. This made sense since we were so early to our flight which was the only LAN flight of the day. We grabbed some seats near the check-in counter and relaxed until it opened.
Once the agents arrived, we quickly checked into our flight. Unlike the US, our bags were checked free of charge. We then ran over to the only airport restaurant to grab a bite to eat before our flight.
After we finished eating we figured we should head to the gate. We were confused when we saw that the security was not yet open. Evidently they decided it would be better to open and have everyone go through at the exact same time. We took a seat until it opened, then made it through security pretty quickly. When Andy got his pat down, the man was very confused about his earmuffs which were in his coat pocket – I guess when you live in the desert, you don’t know what earmuffs are.
We then waited until we could board the plane. Before we were able to board we had to show our passports for a 3rd time. Previously we showed our passports when we checked in and went through security. It seemed a bit excessive to me for a domestic flight but maybe that is just me.
When we boarded the plane we began to realize just how spoiled we had gotten on buses. There was very little leg room and the seats were pretty narrow. Pretty much immediately after takeoff, the woman in front of Andy reclined her seat the whole way, leaving Andy with a comically small amount of room. Why everyone in South America always has to recline their seats, especially on a short flight, I’ll never know.
Even though it was a short 2 hour flight, we got both drinks and a snack. I am always amazed at how much better service is on foreign airlines than on US airlines.
Arriving in Buenos Aires
Our landing in Buenos Aires was a little bit rough, in fact it may have been worse than our landing in Punta Arenas a few weeks before.
We did not pull up to a sky bridge as it appears that the Buenos Aires airport accepts more planes than they have gates for. We all waited on the plane until there was a bus which would drive us to the terminal.
When we got to the terminal, we waited for our bags to come out. Since we were on the plane for a while, we thought that they would come out promptly. That was an inaccurate assumption as things move at their own pace in South America. Fortunately, our bags were some of the earlier bags to come out which rarely happens. We collected them and headed out.
Our next step was to grab a taxi to our apartment. We found the taxi line which was crazy long. Since we had no clue how to get anywhere on public transportation and it was late, we had no option other than wait. The most frustrating part for us was that even though there was a long line of people waiting for taxis, there were very few taxis that were pulling up. After about 30 minutes of waiting, we finally got into a taxi and we were off.
The taxi from the airport to our apartment was more expensive than we thought it would be. In addition to it being New Year’s day, it was also late at night which started the meter at a higher rate. Airports are typically further outside of town than bus stations, something that we didn’t put into our consideration when we were running our financials of flying vs. taking the bus.
I had this glamorous notion of how flying would be much better than a bus but in reality it wasn’t better. Sure it takes a lot longer to go by bus but you have a nice seat, get to save on a night of lodging and are dropped off in the middle of the city. If it weren’t New Year’s day with screwed up bus schedules from Cafayate to Salta, we would have ended up taking a bus.
There are a lot of horror stories out there about LAN airlines. In fact we have heard a lot of people on the road complain that their flight on LAN had been cancelled for no reason or significantly delayed. That being said, we were lucky that our flight left and arrived right on time.