Published on January 9th, 2010 | by Mark Chesnut
FLIGHT REVIEW: Avianca Economy Class, 2010 (Airbus A330)
|The tail of an Avianca Airbus A330. Photo: LatinFlyer.com|
|An Avianca A330 at Bogota El Dorado Airport. Photo: LatinFlyer.com|
|A boarding gate at the Avianca domestic terminal at Bogota’s El Dorado Airport. Photo: LatinFlyer.com|
I’m headed to Cartagena, Colombia, today, and already the experience of flying Avianca is proving a bit different from most airlines. First off, I tried twice by phone and Internet to choose my seat assignment and enter my Delta Skymiles number (Avianca has an agreement with Delta), with no luck. I’m accustomed to many foreign airlines not allowing online check-in in the United States, but this is one of the few cases where they won’t even let you pick a seat by phone.
During check-in at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, I’m handed a pen and asked to write my departure and arrival city codes on a tag that’s put on my luggage (they still put the computerized tag on it, but does this mean if they lose my bag, it’s my fault because I may have written the three-letter code illegibly?).
Then the ticket agent bends over and snaps a plastic lock on one zippered area of my carry-on. This may be some sort of new security regulation after the attempted Christmas bombing, but putting a lock on just one section — while leaving everything else unlocked, and also handing me my checked baggage — doesn’t seem to make much sense.
Of course, I quickly realized that he’d locked the section with my reading material in it. When I went back to ask them to cut it off long enough for me to get out something to read, they said it would have to be done at the gate, after I’ve passed security. So here I sit now, before security, waiting to eat and buy the New York Times, with full access to my computer but no access to my books. This is supposed to protect us? I think I’d better get a McGriddle to calm my nerves.
As I’m sitting at the gate a bit later at JFK, I witness what for me (an airline nerd) is a spectacular sight: a group of Avianca flight attendants, resplendent in red capes and modified bowler-style hats. Indeed, I’m happy to report, Avianca still has one of the most unique and attention-getting flight attendant uniform in the Latin American skies. As a modern throwback to the days when airline uniforms were more than just variations on a business suit, I applaud Avianca for sticking with a look that makes every member of the cabin crew look special.
Happily, the Avianca Airbus A330 aircraft that I board is impressive and nicely equipped, even in coach, where I (of course) find my seat. Seats in economy have seatback coat hooks, fold-down coat-holders and even footrests, plus the precious winged headrests that for me are such a lifesaver when trying to sleep (those blow-up pillows always seem to deflate on me, and I’m not into carrying a regular pillow). The seatback video screen is playing a promotional video for tourism in Colombia as I board, and during flight the entertainment includes movies, music videos, and games.
The food service is equally decent, compared to many U.S.-based carriers that fly to Latin America. Avianca serves up a snack-size sandwich of turkey and cheese soon after take-off, and a couple hours before landing they come through with a full lunch, including salad, roll and dessert. I choose the chicken, which is a large, solid slab of juicy meat served on rice.
Bogota’s El Dorado airport, unfortunately, is nowhere near as impressive as Avianca’s Airbus. After passing through customs and immigrations, I’m shuffled to a shuttle bus for a rather winding ride to Avianca’s domestic Puenta Aereo (Air Bridge) terminal, where nearly open-air covered walkways serve as gates. The food choice is good (and the Avianca Store is recommended for anyone who needs a quick fix of airline logo gear), but this airport sorely needs an upgrade to put it more in line with the international profile of the city.
Another Avianca curiosity: the airline doesn’t seem to print boarding or departure times for my flights on the boarding passes, making me a slave to the departure board (I’m the paranoid type who always second guesses my memory when it comes to flight schedules).