Hello, dear readers! And welcome to my fourth Trip Report here on Airliners.net, which will be the first part on a series of three Trip Reports covering my holiday flights to, from, and within Colombia. This part will cover the outbound, Miami-Bogota, on Avianca's business class on the A330.
Lets rewind the clock 15 years ago It is 1999 and I am 5 years old. I watch curiously how our family's nanny, Estela, is cooking us a typical dish from her country while telling me about the wonders of that mystical land where she was born and where she goes back every Christmas: Colombia. She would tell me endlessly about its exuberant landscapes and the exceptional kindness of its people. At the time all I knew about that country were Estela's stories, but I knew I wanted to go someday.
As I grew up and went to school in Venezuela, I learned more and more about Colombia. It went from being that mystical land Estela would always tell me about, to our geographical neighbor which was always mentioned in history class. Of course as my interest in aviation arose, I also came to know about that airline from Colombia called Avianca which I always saw at my home airport, CCS.
It was not until 2013, after so many years and despite having family living there, that I got to step foot in Colombia for the first time, albeit on a short layover in Bogota on my way from Caracas to Ibiza, as previously covered on my last report which will be linked at the end of this post. However, to my fortune, one of my aunts living in Bogota was getting married in December, which meant I was going to be back in Colombia, this time more than just the airport!
The wedding was to take place in the Island of San Andres, a Colombian territory off the coast of Nicaragua, so our plan was to spend a few days there, then fly down to Bogota for another few days before heading up to New York City for New Years. Getting to Colombia was no difficult task for me as I had an unused Avianca ticket from a previous cancelled trip from FLL to CCS, so after a couple calls and paying the fee, I had a MIA-BOG-JFK ticket on DEC17-DEC28, both flights on A330. Next was to find a good round trip fare from Bogota to San Andres from DEC19 to DEC25. There are four airlines flying from BOG to ADZ: Avianca, Copa, LAN, and VivaColombia. Our original plan was to fly VivaColombia as they are the only Low Cost Carrier on the route and had a good base fare for our dates, but after adding all the extras they became more expensive than the competition! So we settled for the second cheapest option: LAN Colombia.
As I previously mentioned, this part of the report will cover the MIA-BOG leg on Avianca, which was originally booked in Economy but seeing it's the holidays I decided to give myself a little present and upgrade to Business Class a few days before the flight Part II of the report will cover the domestic BOG-ADZ-BOG legs on LAN Colombia, and Part III will cover the return flight to the United States BOG-JFK on Avianca (Or so I thought when I booked... stay tuned for part III )
This series is dedicated to the amazing people of Colombia, the friendliest and kindest I've ever met.
After running a couple errands and finishing up packing, a friend and fellow A.net member picked me up at my place at around 1:30pm, and after a short 10-13 minute ride (with traffic) he dropped me off at the Avianca check-in counters at approximately 1:45pm, although my flight would not depart until 5:35pm. As I usually mention on my reports, I like arriving at the airport early as to avoid any hurries.
Given that there are 6-7 Avianca flights departing from MIA every afternoon, I was expecting huge crowds at the check-in desks, especially after my aunt took my same flight two weeks earlier and told me the Priority check-in queue was so large she moved to one of the Economy Class lines and got attended before her fiancé, who was still waiting at the Priority line could even move.
Fortunately, despite my expectances, the Priority line was empty by the time I got there. A very kind Colombian agent -who I recognized from around 5 years ago one time I was asking check-in staff around MIA for tags for my luggage tag collection, he gave me around 10 different tags and was extremely friendly- asked me where I was headed to today, I answered Bogota and he directed me to one of the desks, where an also very friendly Daniela introduced herself as my check-in agent. She checked my passport and quickly proceeded to weight and tag my luggage, which was rather heavy containing beach, wedding, and winter clothes for the next two weeks. I was printed my boarding pass along with lounge pass. I was given seat 5K, the last window available, located in the Business class mini-cabin behind doors 2L and 2R, which I had previously assigned when doing the online check-in the night before.
Avianca Check-in desks. After the merger with TACA, now they have the largest number of desks at MIA after AA.
My boarding pass. Bogota, here we go!
With boarding pass in hand I bid Daniela goodbye and proceeded to go through security, where the lines were not too crowded with only about 8-10 people in front. An unexpectedly charming TSA agent checked my passport, then looked at me, checked my passport, then looked at me again. I asked if there was something wrong, she smiled and said I had lost weight. We both laughed and I thanked her for the compliment. The rest of the screening process was done fast and soon enough I was airside.
FIDS. AV007 to Bogota on-time from J16
Copa to Panama City at J2, with LAN 787 parked in remote in the background.
Air Canada to Montreal at J5
Caribbean Airlines (Air Jamaica) to Port of Spain at J11
Once airside, I went to check out the lounge. There are two lounges in MIA's south terminal: The Delta Sky Club in Concourse H, and the newly renovated LAN/TAM lounge in Concourse J. Avianca uses the latter, along with Star Alliance partners Lufthansa and Swiss.
While the lounge itself was still almost brand new and with many amenities, it was nothing overly fancy and the food selection was rather below average.
Some nice views from the lounge. AV003 to Barranquilla pushing back.
While browsing the net and eating a few snacks, one of my friends at MIA came by and we had a brief chat about aviation and MIA's future. Shortly after he had to leave, and with still about 1h 45mins before my flight, I decided to do some terminal spotting and visit South Terminal's bookstore, where I bought a couple books for my trip.
Avianca, still wearing TACA's livery, to San Salvador at J9
GOL to Rio de Janeiro via Santo Domingo at H4
AeroMexico doing my usual route to Mexico City at H6, which I covered on here a few months ago. Link will be posted at the end of the post for those interested.
Delta to Atlanta at H7
I found a quiet corner by the end of Concourse H where I plugged in my phone and sat to do some plane spotting by the window.
Stuffing the whale
GOL leaving for Rio de Janeiro via Santo Domingo. Quite a flight for a 737!
TAM freshly arrived from Sao Paulo
Then from the corner of my eye I saw something big and red coming down the taxiway...
...and sure enough it was my ride! N969AV, MSN 1016 delivered to Avianca in 06/2009, would have the honors to operate my flight to Bogota later in the day and here she is arriving from Lima as AV962. Avianca's A330s crossfleet in Miami, with one operating BOG-MIA-LIM everyday and another one operating LIM-MIA-BOG.
I stayed in my little quiet corner for about 20 more minutes after the arrival of N969AV before heading closer to my gate, J16, where I still had about an hour before departure.
With my Avianca A330, the Lufthansa A380, the SWISS A330, and a Copa 738 all sharing virtually the same gate space with similar departure times and with all flights at capacity for the holidays, it was getting very crowded at the end of Concourse J.
The SWISS gate, J18.
At around 4:30pm, a group of attractive stewardesses wearing flashy red uniforms with hats followed by a few very professional looking stewards and pilots showed up at our gate.. our crew was here! I really think Avianca has one of the best looking uniforms out there, it really stands out at any airport.
A few minutes after our crew boarded, at around 4:45pm, the gate staff announced that boarding was about to begin and asked for passengers with reduced mobility, with small children, and others such as unaccompanied minors to board first. Following the first announcement, boarding was called for Business Class passengers, those in Group A. I lined up and was surprised to see that behind me was a distant relative of mine who lives in Bogota and was on a visit to Miami before also heading for my aunt's wedding in San Andres the day after! He was going to be seating in the last row of the main J cabin, before doors 2L and 2R, while my seat was behind doors 2L and 2R in the 2-row mini Business class cabin. Then, at around 4:55pm, we were allowed down the jetbridge and wished a pleasant flight .
Flight #: AV 007
Route: Miami, International MIA|KMIA - Bogota, El Dorado BOG|SKBO
Aircraft: Airbus Industrie A330-243 - N969AV (MSN 1016) Del: 30/06/2009
Load Factor: No less than 95%, didn't see any empty seats although I didn't look too closely.
ETD: 5:35pm / ATD:5:30pm
ETA: 9:05pm / ATA: 8:42pm
Photo © Jose Salgueiro - Professional Photography
Photo © Sergio Diaz
We were greeted at the door by a kind and very young crew member who looked no older than me (I'm 20), and welcomed us aboard and directed us to our seats. Relaxing music filled the cabin.
No mood lighting on N969AV! The newer Avianca A330s come with Mood lighting.
The view from 5K
Legroom. My seat mate turned out to be a Brazilian businessman also going to Bogota.
At this point, Diana came to our seats to introduce herself to us with genuine Colombian warmth.
"Good afternoon! my name is Diana and I will be at your service on tonight's flight. Would you like a drink before we takeoff?"
I asked for water, as did my seatmate, which was promptly brought to our seats, along with Colombian custom forms for our arrival, which I filled right away. The cabin was slowly filling and it promised to be a full flight. In the front row was a family with a 10-week old baby and a 5-6 year old child. I had bad feelings about this but it fortunately turned out to not be a nuisance at all throughout the whole flight.
Door 2L was closed at 5:28pm and we were pushed back at 5:30pm, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. The captain came on the speakers welcoming us onboard and announcing details about tonight's flight, which would be 3 hours and 5 minutes and would take us over Cuba, Jamaica, the Caribbean sea, before entering Colombian soil over Cartagena and heading to Bogota, where we would land ahead of schedule. We would be flying at 37,000ft and good weather conditions would prevail throughout the whole flight until landing in Bogota which we were told would be foggy.
The Avianca magazine. 330 pages of content, amazing! Best inflight magazine I've read.
The fleet info page already featuring the 787, which would coincidentally be delivered from Paine Field to Bogota the day after, and with which I would later come across during my trip.
Taxiing to Runway 8R with the very last light of the day.
D-AIMA "Frankfurt am Main" was Lufthansa's first A380, seen here right before pushing back for its flight back to FRA.
The South Terminal rotunda.
"Lady Penelope" just arrived from LHR
Once we got to the runway we had to wait for several AA 738s and 757s, as well as an IB A330 before being allowed to takeoff.
Iberia off to wonderful Spain!
Climbing away to Bogota
As we reached our cruising altitude of 37,000ft, the lights were dimmed a little and I began browsing the AVOD which had a decent amount of films, TV shows, music, and games. Of course it is nothing like Emirates or Singapore, but it was still rather decent in my opinion. I saw that they had "Maze Runner", which I heard comments about... I reclined my seat, got comfortable and began watching it for some 10-15 minutes before I got bored. Just not my type of movie I suppose. I tuned to the airshow instead.
A few minutes later, Diana passed by our seats giving us hot towels and letting us know that the meal service was about to begin. She told us the main courses on today's flight were Gnocchis or steak with vegetables and mashed potatoes. I went for the latter.
Soon after, Diana returned with the meal trolley and we had our dinner delivered. The vegetables and potatoes were not bad but the steak was outstanding, very juicy and tasty! I asked for maracuyá (passion fruit) juice to drink, which is my all-time favorite juice.
Cheesecake for dessert
Once the meal service was over, I decided to take a tour of the A330.
Our 2-row mini cabin.
Main Business Class cabin
Economy Class, not bad either
With the cabin lights further dimmed, I decided to take a quick nap. Although not 100% flat, the recline angle makes for a very comfortable sleep.
After around 30 minutes of napping, I spent the remaining of the flight between the watching the airshow and playing the rather addictive "Who wants to be a millionaire" in the screen After my 5th or 6th try, I finally won the game! haha. Meanwhile, Diana kept an eye on us throughout the whole flight asking us if we wanted anything, which was a nice touch.
By this time we were already over Colombian soil, but it remained pitch dark outside. The exterior lights remained on ever since takeoff.
My 2 hours and 30 minutes flew by faster than the Concorde... and at around 8:00pm local time (which is the same as Miami), the captain announced we will soon begin our descent and we will be on the ground in some 40 minutes, ahead of schedule as previously announced.
After a few minutes the cabin crew began preparing the cabin for landing, and most passengers took the time to go use the lavatories.
I thought this shot of the seat and the engine looked cool.
Usually on most flights the lights are turned off, or at least dimmed, for landing. In our case, however, it was the opposite, with the cabin lights being fully brightened about 20 minutes before landing, and they remained that way until we parked at the gate.
Finally, some lights down there! (And yours truly, in the reflection)
Moments before landing
We touched down on El Dorado's Runway 13R at 8:42pm, 23 minutes ahead of our scheduled time of 9:05pm. There was a little fog, but definitely not as much as I expected there would be. Fog that day was so heavy that my grandparents' flight to San Andres earlier that day had been delayed from 3:00pm to 9:30pm, meaning by the time I landed they were still at the airport.
Avianca's domestic pier at El Dorado.
We parked at Gate 44 where we waited for 2 or 3 minutes before door 2L was opened. I thanked Diana and the rest of the crew for the great flight and made my way out to immigration.
Thanks for the ride, N969AV!
Once in immigration, and after a very short queue, a friendly officer stamped my passport with very little questions and wished me a pleasant stay in Colombia!
Next I headed to baggage claim where I expected my bag to be out rather quickly, but there were so many priority tagged bags on the flight it didn't come out until after 30 bags or more.
With my bag with me, I joined my cousin who had arrived an hour-or-so earlier from Bremen via Frankfurt on Lufthansa and headed landside where we waited for our new uncle who was stuck in Bogota's dreadful traffic and was coming to pick us up and head to their house, where our parents and the rest of our family were waiting for us after arriving earlier in the day.
This was Part I of this series, stay tuned for Parts II and III! Hope you enjoyed!
My previous reports:
Cheap Gas And Nice Girls: Caracas On SBA Airlines! (by NachoJFX Dec 11 2012 in Trip Reports)
Flyin' The Eagle Knight! MIA-MEX On Aeroméxico (by NachoJFX May 21 2014 in Trip Reports)
To IBiza By Air Land & Sea! CCS-IBZ On Copa/Iberia (by NachoJFX Sep 28 2014 in Trip Reports)