- Avianca is Colombia’s national airline.
- I recently flew with Avianca round trip from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport to Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport.
- I found the flight comfortable yet lacking in many aspects.
I recently flew with Avianca roundtrip from New York City’s John F. Kennedy airport to Bogotá’s El Dorado International Airport.
Avianca is Colombia’s national airline, and it’s actually the second-oldest airline in the world. The airline was founded in 1919 as the Colombian-German Air Transport Company. Because the oldest airline in the world is the Netherland’s KLM, it’s the Americas’ oldest airliner.
It’s the second-largest airliner in South America, after Chile’s LATAM. As Business Insider’s Benjamin Zhang reported, the two airlines are vying to edge each other out in the continent, particularly in Brazil.
With the understanding that Avianca was one of South America’s biggest, and the Western Hemisphere’s oldest, my expectations for the airline was high.
Here’s why I was more disappointed than impressed with my flying experience.
I reached out to Avianca for a response to some of my issues on the flight and they responded in the article below.
After a delightful trip to Bogotá, I made my way to El Dorado International Airport, which is Avianca’s hub in Colombia. The line to drop off one’s bag and check in looked hectic, but luckily I didn’t have a bag to check and I had checked in online.
But, if I had packed a bit more, Avianca has a pretty forgiving baggage policy. I could have checked two bags as an Economy passenger, which Avianca calls “Tourist Class.” And business class travellers get *four* bags checked for free, two of which can be up to 70 pounds.
After a relatively speedy immigration and security process, I was in Bogotá’s international terminal. The airport was definitely one of the nicer ones I’ve been to — the signage was clear, the facilities looked new, and there was an array of dining, shopping, and beverage options.
The bathrooms in the airport, strangely, had screens above each faucet displaying information about the terminal. I didn’t quite understand the purpose of them. Meanwhile some of the automatic faucets didn’t actually turn on for me.
Here’s where I got my last meal in Colombia. At either end of the terminal, there were food court areas in addition to the restaurant options closer to the gates.
And what a meal it was! It was a crispy, baked round of plantains, served with guacamole, cheese, two different salsas, and some pork. Plus some orange juice.
My Avianca flight was supposed to board at 12 p.m. to depart at 1 p.m. However, by 12:30 p.m. or so, we still weren’t boarding.
I wandered around the terminal for a bit and came back around 12:50 p.m. Boarding had finally commenced — ten minutes before our flight to New York was supposed to take off. There hadn’t been any announcements of a delay.
Avianca told me this about the delays:
First, we would like to address the delay of flight which presented a delay in the departure with respect to its original itinerary due to a novelty presented with the crew; it is important to mention that commercial aviation is an industry subject to many possible changes, however, we can assure you that all our processes and procedures are developed within the framework of the regulations that govern us internationally and that we do everything in our hands to guarantee a safe and effective operation and framed in our safety and quality standards.
But the boarding confusion wasn’t over yet. Avianca was announcing that they were boarding Group A first. There was nothing on my boarding pass or my emailed ticket of what boarding group I was.
Avianca told me this about the boarding pass confusion. They said my group was on the boarding pass but clearly was not.
We are very sorry to hear that you found the boarding process chaotic and disorganized; in this regard we would like to share with you that, with the intention of facilitating the boarding process, during the check-in process a group is assigned to each traveller, this group is assigned alphabetically and dictates the order of boarding; In this sense, the boarding process begins with our LifeMiles travellers and is followed by the passengers of groups A, B, C and so on. Please bear in mind that the boarding group is reflected in the boarding pass and not in the ticket.
I decided to pretend I was Group A. I managed to finally board. Here’s my view as I walked to my aisle seat in row 25.
We all got free blankets and pillows on our seat. The flight attendants later passed out earbuds.
I was in row 25. I was right in front of the bathrooms, and I thought this would be a problem for reclining my seat all the way back, but I was able to recline without much issue. However, my placement near the bathrooms did result in an unpleasant odor wafting occasionally to my seat throughout the six-hour flight.
Speaking of bathrooms, the facilities on my flight from New York to Bogotá were a mess. I snapped this towards the end of the overnight flight. I’ve never seen a plane bathroom look so disgusting. (The bathrooms on my way were in a much better shape, albeit emitting unpleasant odours towards my seat.)
Avianca told me this:
Before anything else we consider appropriate to offer our sincere apologies for this situation because this, in no way reflects our quality standards and is not consistent with the travel experience that characterises us and to which our customers are used to; for this reason, we have reported this situation to the area in charge of cleaning and preparing the aircraft in order to make the necessary feedback and take any corrective actions to ensure that this situation does not happen again with none of our customers.
I was shocked to see that our seats did not have USB outlets or other charging docks. There wasn’t WiFi either. Those features seem like given to me on most flights, particularly long-haul ones. The entertainment screen, with remote, seemed a bit outdated to me.
Avianca said this:
On the other hand, about the On-board Wi-Fi we share with you that, to date, we continue to implement the Wi-Fi service throughout our fleet so, for now, this is available only on some aircrafts, however, we hope this become a reality very soon in all our routes and planes.
Finally, regarding the lack of USB ports, we share with you that this was due to the configuration of the aircraft that operated your flight as it has an USB port for every three seats in the economic cabin; regarding this point it is important to mention that this varies from one aircraft to another according to the route they operate.
The remote’s wire was also challenging to deal with.
More positively, I was impressed with the amount of space I had to extend my legs during both directions of the trip.
Despite the delay in boarding, the flight took off just 18 minutes behind schedule.
Our takeoff was kicked off by the air safety video. I was hoping for a lighthearted video or something else entertaining, but it ended up just being this vaguely-creepy CGI recording. It was aired first in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, then English with English subtitles.
Watch the whole safety video
The meal was pretty good. Our options were chicken or beef. I went with the enjoyable beef option. It was served with a small salad, which was tasty. The chocolate that came with the meal was surprisingly good, as well.
With takeoff and the meal out of the way, I turned my attention to the entertainment options. The moves on board were mostly American or English-language cinema. I was hoping for titles from Latin America.
There were some TV shows I was interested in watching, only available for Hulu, HBO, Amazon Prime, and others. Sadly they only had later seasons available.
None of the entertainment options were particularly interesting to me, and I was pretty tired from my time in Colombia. I ultimately spent much of the six-hour flight sleeping or occasionally reading on my Kindle.
We landed 18 minutes late. Ultimately, I was disappointed by my Avianca experience. I expected more out of Avianca’s flight from its Colombia hub to one of the United States’ busiest airports.
Part of the issue, I later learned, was that we were flying on one of Avianca’s older planes — the Airbus A330. Avianca has 13 of these jets, but their signature jet is the Boeing 787, of which the airliner has 12.
I appreciated Avianca’s response to my questions and concerns I raised here, but I still don’t quite understand the boarding process or how helpful it is to passengers if every three seats has a USB outlet.
My flight was only minimally delayed, and the food, service, and other components were all good. I was also quite happy with the amount of space in my seat. But the lack of USB outlets, poor communication about delays, and dirty bathroom made me unhappy about my Avianca experience. Those factors really shouldn’t be in an international flying experience, particularly on a country’s flag carrier.
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