As I mentioned in my “Out of Office” message, my year-end vacation this year is a combination of Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Punta del Este and Buenos Aires. The quickest way to get from Rio to Montevideo was flying Pluna Airlines, the Uruguayan national carrier.
I did some research before purchasing on Pluna and every report seemed the be the same “no-frills, but nothing bad” and that’s how I’d sum up my trip. Pluna has been in existence since the 1930′s and has never had a crash where a passenger was killed (knock on wood), so I felt good enough that the airline was established and safe. What would end up defining my trip was the in-flight service, or lack thereof. More on that later.
We left the Intercontinental Rio for GIG at 7am for our 9:40am flight. Since this was an “international” flight, I didn’t want to mess with any security or immigration lines and be stuck arguing in Portuguese to be reaccommodated on another flight.
We got to GIG in 20 minutes and arrived at Terminal 2, which is where we came in on United. Pluna actually uses United and US Airway’s ticketing space, since their flights don’t leave until the evening. We waited for about 15 minutes in line and they even had a baggage man who measured and weighed carry-on/checked bags, so that when you went to the ticket counter, you already knew what had to be checked. He even put on a plastic security fastener on my bag- how nice!
Pluna Check-in GIG Terminal 2
I was moderately perturbed that my Tumi carry-on, which was well within the carry-on size, couldn’t be hand carried because it was 12 kilos instead of the 9 maximum. While Pluna allows one bag checked for free, it was still nerve wracking to check my bags at GIG- even with the flimsy plastic fastener. I’m 6’7″ and have a size 14 foot- if all of my clothes and shoes were lost or stolen, I’d have a very difficult time trying to replace them while in Uruguay, of all places. However, when traveling, sometimes you have to roll with the punches and hope for the best.
Once at the counter, I saw their advertisement to buy up to a premium bulkhead seat for $25- quite a steal if you ask me. I knew we were flying on a coach only CRJ900 and while its not my most hated regional jet (the CRJ200 takes that title), 2.5 hours in a regular coach seat with someone reclining into my knees is my personal idea of hell. So I did the responsible thing and coughed up the $25/ticket to “upgrade”. The friendly check-in woman, clearly an outsourced ticketing agent, actually had to walkietalkie someone to get my seats assigned. That didn’t end up working, so a manager had to come over and actually override the system. The whole process took about 10 minutes and they were very friendly and even gave us the C,D seats which had more legroom.
We proceeded through security, which was an amazing experience in itself. I didn’t have to take my liquids OR laptop out of my bag, nor take my shoes off (which I’m used to everywhere else besides the US). The woman working the Xraymachine seemed to be in a daze wasn’t even watching the screen. Later I realized I still had a large sunscreen spray canister in my bag so I’m happy I didn’t have to buy another. On the flip-side, I probably could have snuck a bazooka through the machine, so I’m thankful nothing ended up happening.
The “international” terminal was clean and consisted of the requisite duty free shop and kitschy Brazil trinket shop. Before long, they were boarding our flight- those needing extra time first and then everyone else.
Angola Airlines 747
Our Ride- CRJ900 Next Gen
Upon boarding, the plane was very clean and the flight attendant greeted us with a smile. We took our seats and boarding commenced efficiently, without any terrorizing about carryon space and to “hurry the hell up and move out of the aisle” like we hear all too often in the US. It wasn’t stressful- what an interesting concept.
Our Premium Seats
I can’t say much about the flight pre-takeoff, except that the second flight attendant, Valentina, was absolutely, stunningly gorgeous. I think she definitely takes the prize for best looking flight attendant I’ve ever seen. Sorry, but I wasn’t crass enough to snap a picture of her!
We took off over Rio and then the fun began. Right after takeoff I saw the lead flight attendant scurry quickly and sit in the empty bulkhead seats across the aisle. She made an announcement once we hit cruising altitude and then sat back down in her seat and brought her purse with her (I guess she was trying to redefine the meaning of purser!). I always bring my own water on-board, but it was weird that 20 minutes later, there was no cabin service. And then the smell hit me.
Rio from above
All smells are amplified in pressurized confined aircraft cabins and this one was immediately identifiable: nail polish remover. The purser was actually doing her nails! I try not to be a high maintenance passenger- I don’t really care when flight attendants read a magazine once service is done or chit chat with each other once service is done. But doing your nails before you do service on a 2.5 hour flight? Come on! Not only is it bad service, but it was offensive to everyone’s olfactory systems! I couldn’t get a picture of her actually doing her nails, but I did snap one of her purse next to her.
Once the purser’s nails were in sufficient shape, she decided to do cart service for buy-on-board snacks and beverages. Even water was $3 USD- it reminded me of US Airway’s days when they charged for everything, including water. In the spirit of fair reporting, I had to buy something to write about, so I went with the Caprese Pita with tomato for $4. When they handed it to me, it looked like a cookie and it ended up being edible.
Pita “Cookie” y agua con gas
More than enough legroom for my 6’7″ self
After reading the newest issue of Conde Nast Traveler, I put on my eye-mask (thanks to my United First amenity kit) and actually dozed for a good hour. When I woke up, I noticed all of our trash was still on our trays and the flight attendants were seated making announcements about landing. I figured they’d make a final sweep through the cabin, which they did, but they were not about to collect trash. I looked around and every passenger’s trash was still at their seats and on the ground- it was bizarre. I’m not sure if this is a common thing for Pluna, but the aircraft was a mess upon landing.
Uruguay from above
Landing was uneventful and we parked at a “remote” gate next to the American and Iberia jets. I say “remote” because we were approximately 150 feet from the door to the terminal, yet they still bussed us. It was literally a 7 second ride, which was quite silly.
Montevideo airport seems brand new and it was extremely efficient, with a huge duty free shop. Immigration didn’t ask me a word, they simply smiled, stamped my passport and had me on my way in 10 seconds. Our bags, with security locks still in place, were out within 10 minutes.
Overall, it was reliable transportation that got me from point A to point B and it gave me some stuff to laugh about. Sometimes, that’s all you can ask for when traveling!