Unfortunately as you read in the last entry, Cubana was having a bit of a problem with its Ilyushin 96s, so they would not be flying them between Madrid and Havana today. As excited as the offered alternative of 13+ hours in charter economy (read: economy with even less legroom than normal) was, I decided to see who else could get me there. Avianca had a flight on their new 787 that left at the same time as the Cubana flight, and with two stops in Cali and Bogota (and a short overnight in Bogota) would get me there at noon the next day. It meant I would lose a morning of touring in Havana, but in the end be much more comfortable. Plus, I admit I was swayed by the chance to not only fly my first ever Europe to South America flight, but to do it on a slightly unusual route like Madrid to Cali.
The nice thing about the departure time is it allowed me to have a leisurely morning in Madrid, enjoy some coffee and a short walk before taking the bus to the airport to save a bit of money. It was a bright and sunny day in Madrid, but fairly cold…but the sun won out and it was nice for strolling around. At check-in, there was a good deal of confusion…could they issue my boarding passes all the way to Havana, or not? Do I need a visa for Havana, or not. Apparently, this isn’t a very common connection – especially via Cali and not the nonstop to Bogotá. That flight, however, was thousands more due to being nearly sold out in business. In contrast, my 787 to Cali with continuing flight number to Bogotá only had two people in business. Score!
I had forgotten to ask about the lounge, but after taking the train out to the far gates and checking, Avianca did indeed use the Iberia lounge instead of the contract lounge which looked to be packed with Emirates and Qatar passengers and not nearly as nice. The Iberia lounge, by contrast, was rather nice and offered a substantial pre-flight snack and lots of places for charging the computer:
After catching up on a few things, it was time to walk over to the gate where my ride to Cali was getting ready to board:
Boarding was a mad rush to the plane, with no respect for queues or boarding business class first. It was every man, woman, and child for themselves, pushing towards the boarding pass scanner and onto the jetway. Fortunately, in the last several years of travel I’ve learned to put politeness aside in these situations and fend for myself.
Avianca flight 15
Madrid, Spain (MAD) to Cali, Colombia (CLO)
Depart 15:25, Arrive 19:56, Flight Time: 10:31
Boeing 787-8, Registration N781AV, Manufactured 2014, Seat 5K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 119,829
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,158,723
Somehow my flight had gone from two people in business class to eleven in the two hours since I’d checked in. Not a problem, and from a service point of view it probably helped because it prevented the crew from just throwing things at two people and then disappearing. I was told no moving seats until the door was closed because there still might be more passengers. Where does Avianca get all these last minute business class passengers on such a new route? Regardless, after closing I moved back to 5K to “hide” a bit in the back of the cabin, which was much quieter since almost all the other passengers were in the first three rows. Welcome aboard champagne and nuts in my original seat of 3A:
Tumi amenity kit. Definitely saving this one for use on future trips. Great storage:
Today’s menu to Cali. One small note, English was pretty much non-existent with this crew, but on a flight from Spain to Colombia I expected that:
Somewhat strange combo for a starter, but the cheese was super tasty, and…hey…cheese for a starter! Mmmm!
Meal service was all on one tray, and the chicken was quite juicy, which surprised me:
After the meal, the crew disappeared and I crashed for about three hours of sleep. The cabin was completely darkened, and the crew used the override on the windows to prevent them from being opened. Not sure if this is a positive or negative of the 787, where you often have no control over daylight because the crew can override the mechanical windows. But, I got a good nap, it just made it really hard to adjust having 9 hours of the flight completely in darkness.
Before arrival, a rather tasty quiche-like snack was served, but the grilled mushrooms served with it were foul. Unfortunately, the fruit was also quite dry and lacked any flavour. Not the best snack.
Immigration was pretty simple, but it was clear Cali wasn’t designed to handle large numbers of international arrivals. There was a long hallway to immigration, and at the end of the hallway three counters. Despite being in business, there were a good 50 people in line in front of me, from a previous Avianca arrival from Miami. It was pretty quick, however, and a bit entertaining. The immigration guy spoke very rapid Spanish despite being asked to slow down, and finally I relented and asked if we could speak English please. “No! Español Señor!” Ugh, lol. I eventually answered all his questions, which wasn’t easy, because he also couldn’t understand for the life of him why I wasn’t on the nonstop flight to Bogotá once I told him I was in transit. Anyways, that solved, it was out into baggage claim and then…to the curbside.
There were no directions to domestic transfers, so this was going to take a bit of searching. Eventually I found the check-in area, which was several times bigger than the international area. Cali is clearly a domestic airport that just happens to handle a few international flights as well. The bigger problem is the domestic check-in area was all open air, and it was extremely hot and humid in Cali. I was rapidly getting gross after having been on a 10 hour flight and now sweating in the humidity. Eventually, after going to like five counters I confirmed that yes, since I had my boarding pass, I could go straight to the gate.
Problem was, the gates were unmarked, and there was a lot of construction going on. …and nobody had thought to, you know, maybe put some signs pointing to where the gates were. They turned out to be down an unmarked makeshift hallway, where I finally found security and eventually the domestic terminal. I also found…air conditioning! Whew!
The Avianca lounge was upstairs, and had quite a sad looking set of snacks, which the passengers were attacking like hungry vultures. I normally avoid scary looking sandwiches at all costs, but I figured dozens of Colombians couldn’t be wrong so decided to take one for the team and give it a try. Washed down with a glass of wine it was actually reasonable.
Our flight kept fluctuating from two hours late, to fifteen minutes late, back to an hour late on the monitors. Seems there had been weather in Bogotá all day and flights were backed up. I asked about getting on the flights before mine, but there was no telling when they would leave either, so no, I couldn’t go on an earlier flight…which might actually end up leaving later.
Then, ten minutes before my original flight time…it suddenly became on-time. I rushed to the gate, where everyone was already on board, and was pretty much the last one on before closing the door. My seatmate was nice and slowly explained that the four flights to Bogotá were all in the same area, and when it became clear 10 minutes before that mine would suddenly be the first to leave, everyone from the other flights stormed the gate and switched. Fortunately, my original seat was still in tact.
Avianca flight 15
Cali, Colombia (CLO) to Bogotá, Colombia (BOG)
Depart 22:15, Arrive 23:16, Flight Time: 1:01
Airbus A320, Registration N862AV, Manufactured 2011, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 120,003
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,158,897
Lots of people seem to complain in different online forums about people who put their feet on the bulkhead. You’ll be glad to know Avianca is looking out for you:
Flight was short, barely 30-40 minutes in the air, and the crew remained seated the entire flight due to turbulence. Arrivals were easy, and there was actually quite a long walk to get to the arrivals area. After asking around a bit, I found where the hotel shuttles were supposed to arrive, so I went there…where I was pretty much the only person standing around, and hoped that the “every 30 minutes” Aloft shuttle would actually show up.
After 20 minutes, if eventually did, and it was a short ride to the Aloft Bogotá airport for my four hour nap. I’ve always avoided Alofts and Four Points, but I have no clue why. Almost universally abroad I have good experiences at them, and this one was no exception. Friendly welcome, clean (if simple) facilities, comfortable, and english-speaking staff. Plus, they’d left a small welcome gift in my room…complete with a handwritten English welcome. It’s the little touches like this that leave a positive impression:
Great four hour nap/sleep, and then checked out the breakfast, which was apparently included for all guests…and included quite the nice spread along with an eggs-to-order station and fresh squeezed orange juice…impressive! …not to mention 100% Colombian Coffee…Juan Valdez would be impressed!
Caught the shuttle back to the airport, check-in was easy and it was no problem getting my boarding pass. They were much more familiar with the requirements for Cuba here, and it was then off to immigration and security. Only problem was, the line was super long due to all the departures to the U.S. and looked like it would be 30+ minutes. Managed to sneak my way into the “crew and diplomats” line with a Delta crew, no problem, and even had 15 minutes to spend in the Avianca lounge before heading to my bus gate to board.
Avianca flight 254
Bogotá, Colombia (BOG) to Havana, Cuba (HAV)
Depart 8:42, Arrive 12:20, Flight Time: 3:38
Airbus A319, Registration N741AV, Manufactured 2015, Seat 2C
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 121,303
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,160,270
Took quite a while to eventually board, but soon everyone was on board. While we waited for the economy folks to board, orange juice or water were offered, along with the same nuts:
Today’s route to Havana, 1379 miles to go:
A rather reasonable omelette and fruit were offered, but the melon and strawberries were again sad and devoid of flavour. I’m not sure what the little orange fruits were, but they were sweet and tart and delicious.
Flight was quick and uneventful, and immigration was a complete non-event. I didn’t even have to ask, but the agent winked and said he didn’t need to stamp my passport, and that was it. I was in Cuba, and ready to begin my adventure!