Avianca, a Star Alliance member, is Colombia's flag carrier and also, one of the largest airlines in South America - owning 7 subsidiaries which all operate under the Avianca brand. This flight report documents my experience onboard AV260, a flight operated by the mainline company.
Route: Rio de Janeiro to Bogotá
Operating aircraft: Airbus 330-243
Departure Time from Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG):
08:00 / 08:43* (UTC -3)
Arrival Time in El Dorado International Airport (BOG): 12:33 / 12:41* (UTC -5)
Flight Time: 6 hours 33 minutes / 5 hours 58 minutes*
(*denotes actual timings)
Check-in at Avianca at Rio de Janeiro Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport (GIG) in the early hours of the morning when I arrived was absolutely chaotic. Even though there were signage for baggage drop counters, everyone queued at the same "general" check-in queue, resulting in a long never-ending line.
Ironically, many of the passengers had self-printed out their boarding passes at the self check-in kiosks, so they could have skipped the check-in line and proceeded straight to the baggage drop desk, but no staff was at hand to provide the necessary direction, and everyone ended up in the check-in queue - rather than saving time dropping their baggage at the designated desks.
I personally arrived exactly at 6am, after the chaotic check-in, long and slow lines at security checks and immigration clearance, I only managed to reach my gate after boarding had commenced. I wouldn't worry about missing the flight though as boarding was a long process with plenty of passengers boarding after me, it was still unpleasant to be running behind time for a flight.
Given the chaotic situation, I honestly would recommend giving yourself plenty of time to check-in for your international flight (3 hours minimum to be comfortable) at Rio de Janeiro. This is also to factor the queues for security and immigration clearance, and the long, long hike to the boarding gate.
To add to my unpleasant situation, I dropped my baggage tag somewhere between check-in and walking to the boarding gate - what a travel mess I was in that morning!
Once onboard, the journey took a more pleasant turn - promotional videos of Avianca's destinations (Aruba, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, etc) were played on the individual touchscreens, with relaxing accompanying music. Even though it was a full flight, having made it onboard and settled comfortably into the cosy black seat banished the earlier pre-flight stress. On the seat was a plastic pack comprising a pillow and a blanket. There weren't any headsets on the seats but I presumed the cabin crew would give them out later.
Seats are equipped with sturdy footrests - I didn't find them more comfortable but it is nice to have this option.
There are two options for charging up your electronic devices; a USB port next to the touchscreen, and a shared power outlet under the seat.
There was only a copy of the entertainment guide, Avianca entretenimiento magazine, in my seat pocket. The safety instructions card is noticeably absent, though one can be found in the pocket of the seat next to mine.
We waited a fair while for all the passengers to board, including a team of whom I presumed to be Brazilian para-Olympians (they were wearing athletic wear in Brazilian colours) who boarded after the rest of the passengers. Some of them could board independently, whilst others required an aisle wheelchair to assist them to their seats. In the meantime, I was nicely settled in and getting myself into a relaxed flying mood.
Announcements were made in Spanish, English, and some important ones also in Portuguese. Flight time was announced to be 6 hours and 10 minutes. The safety video was played in Spanish and English, followed by a safety announcement in Portuguese, and we took off.
After the seatbelt sign was turned off, the cabin crew passed through the cabin, offering to passengers immigration forms. Only passengers disembarking in Bogotá required immigration forms, and the cabin crew took care in asking passengers individually if they were in transit or entering Bogotá. It was a nice service from the cabin crew.
A passenger seated on the opposite aisle had a jammed seat that wouldn't recline and a jammed handset that was stuck in its stowage (probably wasn't her best day either). She sought help from a cabin crew who demonstrated clearly his handy skills by fixing her jammed seat without a sweat. He required a tool and a bit more effort to dislodge the handset but he was successful. Kudos to him on going the extra mile for the passenger's comfort - I am sure fixing broken furniture wasn't part of his job description when he signed up as a cabin crew!
On the other side of the aisle, I was waiting patiently in hope the cabin crew would be handing out the precious headsets to enjoy the inflight entertainment. After a less than patient wait, I decided to head to the back galley to ask from the cabin crew myself. "We don't have any," replied the lady crew. You could imagine my heart falling straight to the floor! Oh noooooooooo, not for a 6 hour flight - with the entertainment screen staring at my face and tempting me with all sorts of movies and television series! The same crew member helpfully added that if I have the earpiece for my mobile phone, I could use it. Ouch, the knife plunged right into my heart again - the one time that I should have brought my earpiece! I thanked her nonetheless, and listlessly resigned back to my seat to brace myself for the rest of my BORING flight!
Out of desperation, I dug into my backpack to find any solution to my despair, and when my fingers grabbed hold of a tangled wiry mess, I could feel a sheer sense of relief pulsating through my body: a long forgotten earpiece salvaged from the bottomless depths of my bagpack. Testing it on the audio port, the earpiece needed to be angled at a certain position to receive the audio but nevertheless, IT WORKED! Eureka! Lady luck was with me onboard AV260! Woohoo!
Okay, enough of #firstworldproblems. Was the time really so long ago when overhead screens blaring out silent movies on transpacific/transatlantic flights? It is pretty frightening to think what has become of me in freaking out that I would not survive the 6 hour flight without entertainment audio!
Anyway, breakfast service commenced as I settled my first world issues. The cabin crew were really nice, politely greeting "Buenos dias" before offering a choice of "cereal or omelette". Feeling hungry (can't blame me for the morning madness earlier), I went for the the heavier option: omelette. I had orange juice and hot coffee for my beverages, served by another cabin crew.
The meal was a simple yet satisfying treat. I thought the meaty sausage was one of the tastiest I ever had - on and off the plane! Avianca spoils passengers with chocolate muffins in the morning but why not, everyone deserves a break off their diet while on holiday. Surely, I was, as I happily devoured my meal whilst enjoying my movie "Focus" with my (me my mine!) precious audio device.
Looking around, interestingly, many passengers were well-prepared in possessing their own audio devices to enjoy the inflight entertainment. Others just played interactive games in the entertainment whereby no audio was required.
One odd thing about the entertainment was the flight information section - though live details of the flight were provided, there was no flight map available, hence, you can't really tell where you were overflying at the moment.
Aside from that, the entertainment was pretty decent - it was available in Spanish, English and Portuguese, and featured a nice selection of recent movies and television series. I ended up watching "Focus" and "Shakespeare in Love".
Lights were dimmed after the breakfast trays were cleared. The cabin crew walked through the cabin regularly to check on passengers, and call bells were attended to, quite promptly, and always with a glass of water at hand. Water rounds were few and awkwardly random - the cabin crew merely disappeared when they ran out of water from the water bottle they were holding. Drinks were available, though, in the rear galley, for passengers to help themselves - it doubled up as an informal socializing area and I ended up having a nice chat with some fellow passengers there (somewhat like a makeshift version of Emirates' onboard bar but minus the glamour girls and cocktails).
Here's a glass of Manzana soda I helped myself to from the rear galley:
After a short trip to the lavatory - where I was surprised to find toilet seat wipes - quite uncommon in airlines but surely, welcomed by passengers, I was back to my seat where I was snug as a bug in a rug.
To my surprise, a hot snack would be served before landing. It turned out to be a tasty ham and cheese sandwich. For my drink, I asked for whisky and coke - a consolation to me for surviving the pre-flight mad rush and the audio fiasco.
My cocktail was served strong - just the way I like it!
With that, it was a pretty uneventful landing into Bogotá El Dorado International Airport, with nice scenes of lush green ricefields(?) enroute.
My verdict on AV260? Flying is and always have been a stressful experience, more so with long queues and perception that time has been wasted, so I was definitely pleased to find myself onboard Avianca's comfortable A330-200 aircraft after the nightmarish check-in experience. No audio headsets provided on this 6 hour flight came as a heart-stopper for me but my excuse is that I am spoilt beyond redemption by other airlines. The Avianca cabin crew were really nice and meals were great - tasty, in good portions, and very decent for Economy Class catering. Things could have been worse but it turned out to be a very pleasant experience with Avianca.
Thank you for reading about my Avianca flight AV260 experience. For the full video experience of my flight AV260, please see below: