From Río de la Plata to Mar Caribe: accross South America with Avianca (Part II)

After 11 days of work and a flu in high altitude and coldish Bogotá, I needed a weekend break. The two cities I was undecided between were Medellín (Colombia’s second largest city and the hometown of plastic artist Fernando Botero) and Cartagena de Índias (the historical Caribbean coastal city where Gabriel García Márquez’s world acclaimed novel El amor en los tiempos del cólera – among others – takes place). Even though I prefer Cien años de soledad by far, I still chose the latter, once I was in the need of a bit of sun and very eager to get to know the old city, part of which is World Heritage. This is the story of the flights that took me into and out of the city which became independent from Spain in 1811.

After a good experience from EZE to BOG, I had no doubts in choosing AV once again. It wasn’t easy, however, to buy the ticket at an acceptable price. I couldn’t buy it with AV’s webpage at first and online travel agencies would quote the lowest price at around €300 (which was ridiculously high). After insisting a lot, I don’t know how exactly I managed to do it, but I found a way of buying it for less than half that price through AV’s website.

AV9542
BOG (SKBO) – CTG (SKCG)

Airbus A320-214 N411AV (msn 3992, first flight 17/07/2009)
ETD: 08h45
ETA: 10h05
Seat: 11A

March 26 2010

I arrived 2h before ETD to the Punte Aéreo Terminal of BOG – a separate terminal only used for AV’s domestic flights. The (common) queue for check-in was long, but I had done the check-in online 24h before. It did work and allowed me to change my seat choice online, but in the end it was completely disregarded when I saw the pdf of the boarding pass. So I went to a self-service machine to collect it. The machine, however, redirected me to a check-in counter. It was a special counter, though, which did not require me to join the (huge) queue . The agents were very polite and efficient and inserted my FB number.

The terminal isn’t huge, but has a nice offer of shops and cafés – only landside, though, because the airside part only has seating areas, restrooms and a couple of vending machines. And in addition to all that, a fantastic view to the tarmac.

As soon as I got to the gates, I realised that boarding for the previous CTG-bound flight had just started. As I still had 45 mins. for my flight, I decided to try my luck and enquire if I could take that flight instead. The agent only asked me if I had checked in any luggage – I said “no” – and she just processed it and handwrote a new flight number and seat in the original boarding pass. I was lucky enough to still get a window seat. And there I went! After passing through the gate, there were corridors that funneled the pax directly to the stairs.

Upon boarding, the Purser didn’t allow a Y pax to place his carry-on in the C class overhead bins – applause!

Doors were closed at 08h45 and 5 mins. later we were already taxiing. It was time for some amateur spotting through the tiny dirty aircraft windows.

At 09h00, we were taking off from rwy 13L. We had a very slow climb, probably due to the high altitude of BOG.

The aircraft was rather recent and the cabin was in mint condition. Even though it was a narrowbody, C class was equipped with proper C seats. And the Y class seats all had PTVs installed.

As for service, only beverages: water, coffee, tea or packed juice (mango light, tropical and a third one). Nothing to bite, not even a pack of cookies.

The IFE was fully operational (except for movies, due to the short duration of the flight) and headphones were provided (they were already in the seatbacks cupholders when the pax boarded), both free of charge. I watched an episode of The Simpsons and checked the inflight map.

At 09h45 we reached our TOD. During the approach I was fortunate enough to be seating in the right side of the airplane and see the old city of Cartagena. 15 mins. later we touched down on rwy 01.

We backtracked and taxied to our parking stand very quickly. There were only two other aircraft parked at the airport: an E190 from Aerorepublica and a B727-200 from Líneas Aereas Suramericanas. Deplaning was swift, via stairs. And as it had happened in the EZE-BOG flight, the captain didn’t address the pax even once.

AV8549
CTG (SKCG) – BOG (SKBO)

Airbus A320-214 N411AV (msn 4011, first flight 03/08/2009)
ETD: 20h00
ETA: 21h20
Seat: 12A

March 28 2010

The online check-didn’t work the previous day (due to site maintenance), but it was available at least 10h before ETD. At the airport, there was no indication of any drop-off counter – so I asked an agent (because the general check-in queue was long) and he immediately directed me to a counter. The check-in agent was, however, completely indifferent to her task.

Although according to the boarding pass the boarding time was supposed to start at 19h10, it only started at 19h45. Before every pax could board, however, he/she had to go to a different counter to get a red line marked on the boarding pass. The gate agent would then check whether one had the red line in the boarding pass and let one leave the terminal through the gate and walk through a maze-like tunnel to the aircraft stairs. At that point, another agent would tear part of the boarding pass (but not check the id.). A few steps away from the latter agent, a FA would welcome all pax at the bottom of the stairs; the Purser would do the same once onboard.

Only when I reached the tarmac did I notice there had been an equipment change: from a F100 to an A320.

Once onboard, I noticed that the IFE was turned on with Colombia tourism advertisement. Also, the aircraft had the air conditioning on and due to the temperature difference, that meant there was a lot of condensation.

The doors were closed at 20h00. Once we started rolling towards the runway, I noticed there was an aircraft taxiing towards the end of the runway after having landed on rwy01, for backtracking purposes. We entered rwy19 nonetheless – for backtracking as well, I thought. But no: we started immediately speeding up for take-off.

Shortly after departure, I was trying to take some pics when I made a pause and looked to my right. The pax seating on 12D and 12E were looking at me with a scared gaze, telling me it was forbidden to use electronic devices. As it was dark outside and I was outside the EU, I just smiled and stopped taking photos.

As for the service, it was exactly the same as in the inbound flight. IFE was also on and I watched a House episode – but couldn’t finish it – with too many commercials, including some aimed at getting more advertisement contracts.

TOD was reached at 20h55 and we landed on rwy13L at 21h10. After landing, already on the taxiway, engines were shutdown and we waited for around 10 mins. to get a stand; we were then towed to gate. No explanation for this wait was provided. We reached our parking stand at 21h25, ie, exactly on schedule. Again, not a word from the cockpit.

Final evaluation
Reservation [1]: 5
Check-in [1,5]: 7
Boarding [0,5]: 9
Seat [2,5]: 9
Aircraft overall ambience [0,5]: 9
IFE [1,5]: 10
Power outlets [0,5]: 0
Crew [3,5]: 7
Food [2]: 0
Beverages [0,5]: 8
Freebies and amenities [0,5]: 8
Disembarkation [0,5]: 10
On-time record [2]: 10

Weighed overall impression: 7,03 (inflight overall impression: 7,43)

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~ by Tiago on February 8, 2011.

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