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New Years in Buenos Aires

New Years in Buenos Aires
via American Airlines Flagship First
January 2014

For the past few years, we've been spending New Years traveling with our good SoCal friends. Last year was Sevilla, the year before Salzburg. This year we decided on South America and Buenos Aires. Despite warnings of heat and humidity and the reality of mostly crappy flight options to South America, we decided to roll the dice. Oops... believe it or not, this is an improvement over last night's forecast.

And memo to self: no matter how hot it gets, stick to the pools.
Pirhana attack in Argentina leaves at least 70 injured

And then there are our flights. No 5* or even 4* airlines on this trip, although I had flirted with and booked KE's LAX-GRU 77W. But leaving a day early and spending 8 hours in transit just didn't seem like it was worth the effort. That plus I waited until it was too late to safely send passports off for a Brazilian visa. What sealed the deal was we are now on the same DFW-EZE flight as our SoCal friends who are connecting from LAX.

• American Airlines Admirals Club at DEN
• American Airlines First Class DEN-DFW
• American Express Centurion Lounge at DFW
• American Airlines First Class DFW-EZE
• Alvear Palace Hotel Buenos Aires
• Buenos Aires
• Aerolineas Argentinas Premium Economy AEP-MDZ
• Park Hyatt Mendoza
• Mendoza and Wine Country
• LAN Chile Economy MDZ-SCL
• Santiago de Chile
• San Cristobal Hotel Santiago
• Delta Business Elite SCL-ATL
• Delta SkyClub at ATL
• Delta Business Elite ATL-DEN

Easy drive to DIA this morning and we were at check-in at T-90, where the agent told told us that the flight was running about a half hour late. That's AA speak for at least an hour. "Thanks for getting us here so early" was the first of many witty comments from the Princess today.

One look at the 50 pax deep line at the South Pre-Check line, we headed to North Pre-Check where it was much better with only a few kettles in the line. A quick train ride to the first stop, Concourse A where the Princess came up with another good one, "Are we going to another club or the crappy one?" Sorry dear, we are going to "the crappy one" aka The Admirals Club, which IMO is better than the only other option here, the United Club, east or west.

More mostly recycles pics of the DEN Admirals Club.

And today's arrivals and departures, now with a more realistic but still optimistic 65 minute delay.

With the delay and no "lunch" on our DEN-DFW, we or rather I decided to have something at the Admirals Club and took a chance on the Cuban Pork Panini. Either I was really hungry or this was one very tasty panini. Mrs. SFO took one bite, exclaimed "wow" and proceeded to share my panini.

At T-20, we headed out to Gate A51 where boarding was just beginning.

AA 109
DEN-DFW
MD-80
11:55A-2:55P (sked)
1:20P-3:50P (actual and ETA)
December 28, 2013
Seats 5AB
Refreshments

Not much warmth to this crew today. No PDB and self-serve hang your coat.
Drinks and the furthest from the truth "Gourmet" Snack Mix.

First time in ages I've been on the AB side. I'll miss the Mad Dogs when they are retired.

Coming up: Our first look at the DFW Centurion Lounge

For those that haven't been here, DFW is huge. I'm here 2, 4, sometimes 8 times a month and it grows on you. AA occupies 4 of the 5 terminals and the Skylink is a clean, fast and efficient way of navigating your way around. We arrived at C17 and a few minutes later were on the Skylink for the long winding way around to the D terminal. One would think C and D would be next to each other but alas the progression here is A, C, E, D, B and a blank space presumably for a future F.

The D terminal is the newest and most attractive terminal. It also serves as the main international terminal.

American has an Admirals Club in all four terminals. Been there, done that. So I was eager to visit the new Centurion Lounge. Amex is opening these lounges at a few airports (LAS and DFW so far). All one needs to gain entrance is an Amex Platinum or Centurion card.

Other than a few primo seats in the far end of the lounge, the non dining seating areas are actually fairly limited and not that comfortable. The U-shape design has most seating right near and beside foot traffic. All four of DFW Admirals Clubs are much larger with bigger and more functional business centers.

But no Admirals Club has a spa. Very nice.

The best feature and biggest draw is the open bar and the delicious food offerings.

All in all, a good addition to the DFW lounge scene. Despite its small size and tendency to get very crowded at times, I'd rank it high on the domestic lounge scene but only for the free food and drink. Without that, there is no reason to come here if you can access the Admirals Club.

At around T-50, we decided to head out for the long walk from the Centurion Lounge at D18 to D33. Although most gate area seats were taken and we had been sitting for a while we decided to be gate lice tonight. Spacious concourse produced few other gate lice as we walked up the front of the Priority AAccess line for a brief wait.

American Airlines AA 997
Dallas/Ft. Worth DFW to Buenos Aires EZE
777-200
7:30P-8:50A (sked)
7:30P-8:45A (actual)
December 28, 2013
Departed 14/15
Seats 4DG

Less than 5 minutes after we arrived, boarding commenced with First Class. None of the "passengers with small children or those that need a little extra time" nonsense on so many other airlines. For an old cabin, it was still in excellent shape. Plenty of space in the overheads for carry-ons. The seats were comfortable and there was a massive amount of counter space in the area between our seats and two tables. No cubbie storage compartment, although 4DG did have an extra open space immediately behind the seats.

Very cool feature is the ability to swivel the D and G seats to angle towards each other and then face each other or use as a desk, if you are so inclined.

So far so good, although the PDB was the first reminder that it is still AA. Yes, the ever classy plastic champagne glasses. Although the champagne and mimosas were properly chilled.

Yay, I can actually put my feet up on the buddy seat without reclining the seat.

Each seat was stocked with blanket and pillow kits.

One of our two F FAs handed out PJs.


With Mrs. SFO giving her blessing to the comfy American PJs, she decided to change before we departed.

AA's basic amenity kit, but one which doubles as an ipad case after the flight.

Menus were also at our seats when we arrived.

Not sure why, but a separate dessert menu.

Wines? OK, there is no confusing American wines with Emirates, Malaysia or even British Airways for the matter.
A wine list and wine tasting list. Not sure what the point is because they are the same wines.

And a breakfast menu to fill in just like hotel room service. Seems a little tacky but I guess it helps determine who wants breakfast and who doesn't.

More pics around the cabin as we get ready to depart.

On time departure and we are on our way to Buenos Aires, only 9 hours and 45 minutes away. In Flight Entertainment? Yikes, not so good. Reminiscent of Lufthansa Old First and BA old or new First. At least they didn't cheapen out like Emirates and Malaysia and went Bose.  At least, we don't have to watch on an overhead screen.

Our cabin crew jumped into action shortly after take-off. Hot towel? Kind of puny.

On the other hand, just like BA.

Beverage service starting with warm mixed nuts and water in a cool glass.

And my usual G&T to start.

Mrs. SFO went with the Trimbach Pinot Gris, but OMG what's with the size of that pour?

And showtime with a nice tablecloth and place mat on the huge table.

Tonight's Amuse Bouche, a very nice Corn and Grits cake with Cajun shrimp.

For the starter, I went with Thai Chicken with grilled five spice pineapple, watermelon and Asian style mint dressing... wonderful.

Next up, the Poblano Asiago. OMG, one of the most delicious soups I have ever tasted, anywhere.

Mrs. SFO agreed although the angle of her table was a little more severe and worn than mine. Yikes.

Excellent salad although dressing tossed would have been nice, instead of drizzled on top.

For my main, I decided to go with the Grilled Fillet of Beef hoping that it wouldn't be well done. Nice presentation.

Although it was medium and little dry, it was still very good.

Mrs. SFO went with the Manchego chicken which she enjoyed.

And for dessert, the classic AA Ben and Jerry's ice cream sundae.

All in all, a surprisingly, indeed shockingly excellent meal. Not impressed with any of the wines although the one I did try, the Antu Ninquen Syrah was passable. But while the food was excellent, the service was not well paced and seemingly rushed. The old battle ax on the AD aisle seemed to think that she needed to deliver each course within 30 seconds of removing the previous course. Jeez, is it that difficult to have someone with restaurant experience spend an hour with your Flight Attendants.

After dinner, I watched a bit of The Internship, the best of a bad lot of limited rerun movies, most of which I'd already seen.  One of the better scenes...

Since I'd already seen the movie, I decided to get some sleep and went to change into my very comfy PJs in the comically small and depressing loo, while one of our FAs made my bed... including mattress pad.

While Lufthansa, Singapore or Malaysia beds are more comfortable, the bed was quite nice and amazingly I slept well for four hours before getting up and working on pics.

At about T-90, breakfast was served. This was delicious and, except for last month's Etihad steak and eggs, one of the best breakfasts in a long time. Presentation could have been better and more paced, as everything was packed onto a tray and delivered all at once.

Almost there...

On time arrival at Buenos Aires. In summary, I was pleasantly surprised with my AA flight. Other than the crappy IFE and tiny lavs, I enjoyed the hard product. The seat was comfortable and there was more than enough space. The DG middle seats are very pleasant for a couple. Food was excellent and the service generally attentive, although far from polished. And no way will AA FAs be confused with Asian FAs. AA's biggest handicap in the service game is union seniority rules that let battle axes cherry pick routes instead of assignment by merit. Nevertheless, even with unpolished FAs, this was far more enjoyable than any recent BA flight... better hard product, better food and even unpolished, better service. And no one threatened to have security meet me at EZE.  Indeed, even the battle ax was amused by my taking food pics wanting to make sure I'd taken all the close ups I needed. 

More than before, I'm looking forward to our AA 77W flight next May... just hoping for a more polished, less jaded crew.

Once we landed, it was a quick taxi to what appeared to be a decrepit old terminal, leaks and all.

A modest 15 minute line at customs/passport.

And one of the worst and most chaotic arrivals lobbies I've ever encountered.

Fortunately, our Alvear Palace driver was waiting in the midst of the chaos and we were loaded and on our way a few minutes later.

Twenty minutes later we were in the city.

And another 10 minutes later, we arrived at the beautiful Alvear Palace Hotel.

Our suite...

Where our wonderful butler Osvaldo arrived to turn down our bed before I could take all my pics.

Osvaldo returned a few minutes later with a gift to help us with our "nap".

After a couple hour nap and a shower, down to the beautiful hotel bar.

And then to the Sunday Alvear Palace brunch.


 

After lunch, we took a taxi to the Evita museum which was only open Sunday during our stay. Even today, Eva Duarte Peron still evokes passion amongst Argentines. There is apparently no middle ground here.

Back to the hotel and then out to dinner later that night, to the beautiful Puerto Madero, a trendy renovated port area, with restaurants and bars.

To El Mirasol for a fabulous dinner. Tempting but we passed on the testicles. BTW, these prices are in Argentinean pesos, about 6.5 to the dollar on a CC or 8.5 to the dollar when paying in USD cash.

One of the best rib-eyes anywhere!

Back to the hotel for a nightcap.

And breakfast the next morning before our driver and guide met us for our first full day in BA.

We met our guide Anna at around 10AM and headed out into the heat and humidity for day 1 of our tour of Buenos Aires, starting with nearby

Basilica de Nuestra Senora Del Pilar (Our Lady of Pilar) apparently the first church in Buenos Aires.

Le Recoleta cemetery, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The 15 acre site contains nearly 5,000 vaults with many elaborate marble mausoleums decorated with statues in a wide variety of architectural styles. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks with tree-lined "streets" filled with mausoleums.

Most have a basement where coffins and remains are stored if there is not enough room on the main level.

Many famous Argentines are buried here including Eva Peron. Today, all you need is cash as the mausoleums are bought and sold like real estate. The one next to the Duarte family mausoleum has a for sale sign... asking price US$500K.

On our way to Palermo.

Hipodromo de Palermo, elaborate horse racing track and buildings.

To the tony Palermo residential neighborhood.

And a short distance away, lots of interesting shops, restaurants and bars.

And great people watching.

And a stop for coffee and pastry.

El Ateneo, popular bookstore in an old, beautifully restored theatre.

And then a great lunch at Oviedo and two bottles of wonderful Rutini Chardonnay.

Tonight we are off to dinner and a tango show back in the trendy Puerto Madera area.

And one of many protests that seem to be a regular activity here.

Rojo Tango at the chic Philippe Stark designed Faena Hotel in Puerto Madera.

Dinner was delicious.

And the tango show was wonderful.

On Day 2 we headed out down the street to check out some interesting buildings, like Ralph Lauren's home until the Argentinian government insisted he manufacture in Argentina. Shocker, he apparently no longer has a home anywhere in Argentina.

Run down place next to the Park Hyatt.

And the swanky Park Hyatt Buenos Aires.

Our tour continued with a short drive.

Teatro Colon.

Across the street to Plaza de Mayo

OK, this may be fun but it seems just a tad unsanitary.

And yet another protest.  According to our guide, this one a group of Falklands War recruits that were never sent into battle.  Apparently, they want the same compensation as those that actually saw battle. 

The Pink House.

And more interesting people watching.

Next, we drove over the to old BA ghetto, colorful La Boca where Italian immigrants first settled. 

And back to our hotel neighborhood, another great lunch... at Fervor.

And later that night, the gala black tie New Years Eve celebration at the Alvear Palace.

Part of the elaborate pre-dinner spread.

And the ballroom scene with full orchestra playing big band mostly Glenn Miller songs.

And the tango show.

Happy New Year!

Before we leave Buenos Aires, back by popular demand and free from the PC shackles of Flyertalk, The Girls of Buenos Aires...

Only 15 minutes from our hotel is one of the most convenient big city airports one can imagine. Aeropuerto Jorge Newberry (AEP) is the mostly domestic and private airport located on the water minutes from the tony Palermo district.

AR has a lot of check-in counters with many confusing signs. The main check-in counters including Sky Priority were packed. We wandered away to another set of counters marked Internet Check-in, with no line.  Even though I had not done Internet Check-in, an Internet Check-in agent cordially checked us in.  No Sala VIP lounge at the moment but there will be one once construction is completed on the renovated concourse extension for Gates 1-4.

Up the escalator towards security. Indeed pretty close to the water.

No one at security and we were thru without taking off shoes, or taking out liquids or laptops. Basically, PreCheck for everyone.

Not knowing what "Snack" meant in AR Premium Economy, we decided to have something to eat at the only game in town after security. This turned out to be a wise decision.

With our BPs showing a 1:55P boarding time, we headed over to our assigned Gate 6. The good news was that there was an AR 737 attached to a jet bridge at Gate 6. The bad news was that, after waiting 20 minutes, we found out that this was not our plane, or our gate. Finally at 2:10P, boarding was announced... at Gate 7. So everyone lined up at Gate 7... and waited another 10 minutes...

... while at least 9 AR gate agents stand around and chit-chat next door at Gate 8.

Finally real boarding begins with no apparent recognition of Sky Priority and we walked down a jet bridge and down two flights of stairs to the tarmac and our waiting bus for the 5 minute ride to "de plane".

Aerolineas Argentinas AR 1422
Buenos Aires AEP to Mendoza MDZ

A320
2:40P-4:30P (sked)
2:50P-4:25P (actual)
January 1, 2014
Seats 2AC

Front "Premium Economy" was two rows of comfortable 2-2 J seating.

Much better than non-Premium Economy.

But the seat was apparently the extent of Premium on this flight. Once in the air, it took forever for our FA to deliver drinks. Turns out she was serving the non-Premium Economy cabin first before making her way up the Premium Economy. And naturally, no alcohol. No coffee either. Just Coke products or water, sin or con.

The old AA mini tray.

Meal-time! LOL.

This looks scary.

Even worse up close. I don't think so.

Other than the peanuts, the only edible part of the "snack"

A separate box for this sucker? I'm thinking this completely dried out muffin had been sitting around in the heat most of this past week, or month.

After delivering our meal and drinks, our FA disappeared back to Y. I played Flight Attendant by taking our trash up to the galley. Confused the heck out of the poor girl when she came to collect the trash. Other than admonishing me for taking a photo with my iphone ("no cell phones on Aerolineas Argentinas") this crew couldn't care less about fully reclined seats on take-off or landing or even collecting drink glasses, which I had to hold on landing. All in all, AR seems sort of like Alitalia... in other words, a perfect member of the world's crappiest alliance.

On the other hand, can't complain about our on time arrival at MDZ and a jet bridge.

Naturally our Priority tagged bag came out pretty much at the end of the carousel delivery.

And of course, we need to x-ray our carry-on luggage on arrival on a domestic flight.

Our excellent Park Hyatt driver Emilio (Emi) was waiting for us and dropped us off at the PH 15 minutes later. Beautiful looking hotel in the heart of Mendoza.

From the Park Hyatt website...

Unfortunately, the best part of this hotel is the exterior. Once inside, a pretty beat up no more than 3 star hotel. I've seen nicer Sheratons than this thing. Then again, the $200 a night price should have been a clue. Our upgraded Executive Room... cheap furniture, dirty carpets, beat up walls and doors.

Yeah, this really looks like a Park Hyatt.

The public areas of the lounge weren't much better. Not sure what is worse here, the guests or the staff that left the place in disarray.

We met our friends in the disappointing PH Wine Lounge and all of us agreed that we were not looking forward to three days in this place, lamenting that the Cavas Wine Lodge was completely booked months ago. I played around on my iphone and found a glimmer of hope. Cavas had availability on Friday with a color-coded calendar that suggested rooms might be available tomorrow. Called Cavas and pleasant front desk staffer said indeed they did have two rooms, quoting me the outrageous rack rate. After he connected me with the owner and some friendly haggling about a "last minute no-TA commission discount", we had two coveted peak season villas at the CWL.

The best part of the Park, and the toughest reason to leave, were the concierges, Jessica and Barbara.  They booked an amazing dinner for us that first night and a perfect wine tasting tour the next day.