I flew two local carriers airlines on my recent South American trip: the Brazilian low-cost airline Gol from Buenos Aires to Asunción and the Uruguayan flagship Pluna from Asunción to Montevideo. I knew what to expect from Gol after having flown it from Salvador to Rio in 2006, but Pluna was a new experience altogether.
My fare on Gol was R$279 (US$162 at the time of purchase), purchased through the airline's site. Gol feels more or less like the low-cost carrier that it is. Seats are relatively cramped and the boarding procedure felt vaguely like a cattle-call—though, I should clarify, it had nothing on the frustrating European LCC practice of selling "priority boarding" to passengers and then snaking queues of priority and cheapskate passengers alongside one another for interminable periods of time. Though completely packed—and mostly with passengers flying on to Curitiba and São Paulo—the flight itself was quite pleasant. A snack was offered free of charge, and passengers were encouraged to ask for two drinks. The in-flight magazine is entirely in Portuguese and full of interesting features, like "Em Trânsito," which offers mini-profiles of passengers, and good destination features (one on the Costa do Descubrimento, anchored by Porto Seguro; another on Asunción).
Pluna, on the other hand, disappointed somewhat. My flight ran $185, priced in dollars and purchased through Pluna's site. Before take-off I picked up the in-flight magazine only to discover the absence of a route map within. The route map is the most important part of the in-flight magazine, as far as I'm concerned. No route map means no idle fantasizing about future jaunts on the airline. The snacks trolley operates on a US/low-cost carrier model, with everything from sandwiches to water available for a charge. I found this disappointing. Every flight I've ever taken in South America has offered drinks gratis. Though I hate buying food and drink on planes, I was thirsty and tried to buy a water with my remaining Paraguayan guaraní, only to be told that Pluna did not accept guaraní. I remained thirsty. Pluses? The plane type (Bombardier CRJ900) is one I like, and the airplane itself was clean and bright and new. Flight attendants were perfectly nice as well.
I walked off the plane into possibly the most pleasing immigration control room I've ever seen, a well-designed space. Modern useability is the key here: A digital display tells passengers which booth to approach. The solitary hue in the space is orange, and it is deployed sparingly. The brand-new terminal, by architect Rafael Viñoly, is beautiful and ambitious throughout. As such, it stands somewhat in contrast to Pluna, an airline that could so easily and with very few modifications provide its passengers with a better experience.