Behind the flight hike

The new Aerolíneas branding
Although domestic plane tickets in Argentina have a two-tier pricing system for Argentines and tourists, flights went up from today by an average of 15%. The hike was announced with just 24 hours’ notice in the Official Gazette, the same day that Aerolíneas Argentina unveiled its much-needed new corporate image.

The upside is that it helps long-distance coach companies get back into the game. Aerolíneas has been subsidised by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government since 2008 and coach firms have basically been priced out, reducing competition for Aerolíneas.

When I went to Bariloche in Patagonia in February 2010, a bus ticket cost around $600 (pesos) while a plane ticket cost $800. In order to save 40 hours of my valuable holiday time (I get 19 days a year and we’re talking a return trip), the plane was the obvious option.

Although coach firms receive an indirect gasoil subsidy, it’s nothing in comparison with the airline’s government subsidy. And a staggered 15% rise in the price of coach tickets in June and July is also taking place, closing the gap again. In 2008, a ticket to Pinamar, 360km from Buenos Aires, cost around $60 pesos. Two years on and it is setting me back closer to $100, one way.

Coach firms are anxious to see what happens next. They rode through a rough 2009 winter thanks to the affects of swine flu, have put up with stiff competition for the national airline, and are now waiting to see what happens this winter. “Bookings haven’t been great,” says Mariano from the coach company Vía Bariloche.

Long-distance coach travel is a totally viable option in Argentina if you have sufficient time on your hands. More comfortable than taking a long-haul flight (you can relax in a coche cama bed seat, meals and movies are served up, and there are regular stops for a leg stretch), plus you have the huge benefit of absorbing the countryside from ground level, rather than peeking through the clouds to glimpse a lake or a hill.

I had the choice, and I took a flight. But if I had time on my hands, I’d go by road without a doubt.

See the Herald, June 10, 2010 for the full story.

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