Flight Review – Flying Direct from London to Bogotá

Avianca Flight AV121

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This is a simple review on my recent Avianca flight from London Heathrow to Bogotá’s Eldorado airport. I really only would imagen this to be of interest to anyone flying this route or fellow plane enthusiasts. If you have any questions after reading this, please feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to help. There is another handy review of this flight but it is business class orientated. You can find this review by here.

The Route

  • AV121. Also given AVA121, EY2601 , LH9648 , NH7841 , and TK8465.
  • London Heathrow (LHR / EGLL) to El Dorado International (BOG / SKBO)
  • Departed 22:58 BST – Arrived 03:18 COT (+1)
  • Aircraft Airbus A330-200 (twin-jet)
  • Aircraft Registration: N975AV (Pictured) – Mode S: AD964C – Serial Number: 1224 – Age: April 2011
  • Speed Filed: 469 kts
  • Altitude Filed: 40,000 feet
  • Distance Direct: 5,271 sm Planned: 5,389 sm Flown: 5,384 sm
  • Route: GOGSI N621 SAM UL620 GAPLI EVBAK TAMEL 4500N/02000W 4000N/03000W 3200N/04000W 2400N/05000W BNJEE PPR UA550 KIKAS UW44 BUV A567 VULAM VULA2B
  • View Actual Route in Google Earth or Google Maps.

Pre-flight

Avianca is the only airline that flies direct from the United Kingdom to Bogotá. Previously British Airways ran a direct route. There is fairly good competition between Europe and Colombia. I have previously flowed with Iberia and Lufthansa via Frankfurt and Madrid respectively. In short the service, a quality of the joinery over all was the best with Lufthansa with Iberia being easily the worst. This opinion includes this reviewed Avianca flight. However, when including a value for money into the equation along with present flight prices Avianca has a lot of positives to consider.

Avianca does do deals all Year but excluding the Christmas period from mid-December (2nd week) to early January (1st week). This is their UK deals and offers page. The deals run roughly three Months at a time. They will open a deal an outbound and inward date of no more than three months. As time runs Avianca will increase the return dates of the offer weekly. The offer may disappear momentarily for a day or two while they do this. Then as time flows through quarters you will see a big jump ahead in the time frame of the deal to include whole new Months.

Purchasing the ticket is a standard affair. However, once you have made the reservation you’ll receive an email compelling you to contact them over the phone to it does involve a verification of the purchase. For this, you should call +4408000314206 pressing 1 for English and 4 for the advised Web Support Agents. They merely ask you for your payment details again. This is a downside that is not applicable with the other airlines I’ve used to Colombia. Once this is done you’ll receive a blank email containing all your e-ticket information.

Check in is easy enough. Using their online check in page opening a new application window you just enter the Booking Reference/E-Ticket Number/Frequent Flyer Number and the date of your flight. Online others Avianca really stick to allowing you to check in within 24 hours before the flight and not a minute earlier. It’s an easy process. Your passport information and then on to choosing your seats. You’ll have to option to print the boarding pass thereafter or have it emailed as a PDF. I chose it to be emailed and this is the result.

 

Arrival at Heathrow

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Arriving with plenty of time. I approached the two Avianca service desks. As I approached two staff wearing Avianca attire made themselves busy and left the desk. The desks (regular and Star Alliance Gold) had a general sign which confirmed the opening times as being from 15:00 to 23:00. I wanted to book an empty seat. This is a promotion run by Avianca, where if there is an unbooked seat, you can reserve this next to your own. This is advertised as being £19. It’s a bargain considering all the extra space of another seat for such a long flight. Waiting past the stated opening time, I got a little concerned and approached a general Heathrow assistant operating the opposite self-service check in terminals to enquire after and locate an Avianca representative. She searched our part of the terminal to finally check in the office behind the Avianca service desk. Low and behold there was a representative therein who had the door closed. The gentleman attempted to relay a message through the helpful lady to dismiss us with a message that the desk will open after 6 pm. I then had to explain to him his own sign via the helpful lady meditating. He tried his best not to engage with me directly. When I refused to accept his dismissal he then tried to make himself look busy whilst talking to and not through the lady. Stating that, he had staff sickness and couldn’t open the desk despite me previously seeing two other Avianca staff plus himself. He refused to accept that he should display a sign of the later opening time. He held a very rude and condescending attitude refusing to even face me while talking. He then went to the adjacent office closing the door only to emerge again while rushing off to what gets claimed, was to receive a flight. The Avianca flight at Heathrow had already arrived the day before. So I knew this was a lie. I failed to obtain the desired extra seat. The desk failed to open at the advertised time which was what I had confirmed beforehand over Avianca’s main customer service number. This was disgraceful service from Avianca’s grand staff at Heathrow that day. Looking at reviews for Avianca service from some staff is an evident problem.

Baggage Drop Off

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The self-service check in terminals of which there is a good number are located directly opposite the closed Avianca service desks. You are forced to complete the baggage labelling yourself. If one of the two assistants are available they can help in a limited capacity. Although I arrived early and there weren’t many passengers doing the same the area became clogged up with people not knowing what to do or how to complete the airline’s tasks themselves. All this while staff sat at the actual drop-off desks themselves doing nothing.

This is a big service failure by the airport, star alliance or the flight operator themselves. The plus here and it is one that I forgot to mention thus far is that Avianca allows two suitcases of 23kg per passenger. This is an allowance that is twice what other airliners afford their customers. Once labelled up you push your luggage through a maze to the drop off desk. It’s a fairly mundane of placing your suitcases on the belt where the attendant checks the weight sticks some extra stickers on your suitcases and presses a bug to take them away.

Security

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A very standard UK affair. Put your small liquids in a clear plastic bag. Scan your boarding pass to move through the automated gates. Join a line for a security check and go with the flow. This airport has a body scanner in place and you have the right not to be scanned with it but receive a hand search by someone of the same sex. After security, you are straight into the middle of the upper floor of the departure terminal.

Departures

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Here’s a great Heathrow Terminal 2 Map. There’s a great selection of shops and restaurants here. With the above linked to map you can see them all listed and their locations. I had something at Leon. Good selection of healthy food that is reasonably priced. There are a lot of things to do for adults and children too. Children have a great play soft area which was well managed. As expected with a captive consumer, prices are generally high.

Aircraft

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The aircraft I flew with on this AV121 flight was the registered N975AV Airbus A330-200 (twin-jet) was waiting at Gate B39. This flight landed thirty hours the day before from Bogotá. However, this registered aircraft seems to not be the regular London-Bogotá route workhorses and can be found flying a whole host of other Avianca routes. The photo above shows another Star Alliance flight coming into land and more noticeable a grounded British Airways Concorde aircraft. Here’s a photo of the Avianca aircraft at the same B39 Gate later that night closer to boarding time.

Departure Gate

At about 21:00 the information displays updated to confirm the departure gate as B39. Now, this gate and all gates from B29 to B49 are advertised as being 15mins away. Unfortunately, B39 is at the extreme far side of this terminal and is reachable by a very nice underground passage with escalators, lifts and travelators.

Boarding

Boarding took place nice and early just about a whole hour before the scheduled departure. In comparison for other Colombia bound flights, this was a very organised affair. Priority to boarding for business and children. Then by boarding group. Mine being Group D which is indicated on the boarding pass. The flight was almost half full which is just as well due to the bad customer service issue at the Avianca service desk previously. Where I wasn’t able to reserve the intended additional seat. Each seat has a fresh blanket, pillow and earphones.

Seating

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I was sat at 17D. I chose that during the online check in for no particular reason. I figured that as the flight was through the night I won’t gain from a window seat. I didn’t want to be cooped up with my own travel buddy when trying to sleep. So I just chose a seat in the middle seat near the gangway. Closer to the toilets of which there are only four for all economy travellers.

In Flight Entertainment

Standard issue in flight entertainment. Flight progress and loads of videos, as well as simple games. The terminals for each seat are exactly the same as an Aeroflot flight, I had taken from Moscow to Tokyo in 2011. So it isn’t state of the art technology but still more than fine. It’s noteworthy to explain that there’s a handy USB charging port and a standard 3.5mm headphone connection in the tip of your armrest so you can use their supplied earphones and your own. It’s also useful to know that the viewing angle starts when directly viewing the screen at the same level. If you have children sitting lower they will see a very dark screen. The only way around this would be to boost them up higher.

 In Flight Catering

There’s a hot main meal about 40mins after takeoff. This consisted of a choice between, Vegetarian, Beef or Fish. I chose the beef option and it was pretty good if not a bit salty (as with most airline food). The beef was a good portion and tender too. The accompanying rice was fine also. Breakfast was served within 2 hours of landing. The options were Egg or Cereal. The egg was similar to an English breakfast. Two runny boiled eggs with bacon but with soggy potatoes wedges. Cereal was a small pack of Kellogg’s Special K with yoghurt. If you are wondering the origin of food they provided. It was from a Heathrow based catering company. This is not your first taste of Colombian food so don’t be disheartened.

In Flight Service

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Service was swift and to the point. Crew somehow managed to smile and be courteous. The standard of service from the flight crew was a world of a difference to the appalling experience I had had from Avianca’s ground representation earlier in the day at their service desk. This flight connects in Bogotá to a number of other Avianca destinations in South America. For those whose destination is Colombia itself, you will be offered a form by the flight attendant after dinner. This form is a Luggage, Cash and Monetary Instruments Customs Declaration (for Travelers). I won’t use this form linked to here but rather the one handed to you. The form you receive on the plane has an individual number at its foot. The bad news is that the form handed out was all in Spanish. This making it very difficult for non-Spanish speakers to complete. Further to this, In short, you are just providing information such as your passport number, names, an address at which you’ll be staying, your inward flight information, where you are from, how many days you’ll stay and your total expected spend. Then you just confirm or deny what you are bringing in. It seems to be just a formality. I have never had anyone check this, particularly on arrival.

Lights go out a little after the first meal. By then it’s about midnight GMT. Everyone is tired and the cabin is almost pitch black. Calm ensues and seeing as the flight had plenty of empty seats, quite a few of us found ourselves spacing out to other rows.

Arrival

You arrive at Bogotá El Eldorado Airport just after 3 am the day after your departure from London. The airport is deserted. Disembarking the plane is standard issue. Here is a handy map of the airport. There’s a long corridor. From this passage, you have connecting flights through a round of security checks to the right. Toilets are positioned about half way along. At the end to the right, you have immigration. At this time in the morning and about 10 minutes after everyone else from the flight, there are no queues at all. There’s a priority line for families and then a number of others for everyone else. The border staff at this time were very relaxed. One had a radio playing some comedy and he seemed quite bored. I have a resident visa and I stated this to him upon handing him the passport. He merely stamped the passport and handed it back. In the past, I’ve come and gone with as a visitor (90 days without a visa). At this point, you would be asked what you plan on doing in Colombia with perhaps a few other light questions. Your passport in every case will be given an entry stamp.

After this, you are funnelled past the desks to escalators that bring you to a large baggage hall with about six baggage belts. Of course, it was only our flight’s luggage that was rotating. Me being at this point about 20mins behind everyone else, only my two suitcases remained on the belt. When you get off the escalator into this hall there is a trolley steward controlling access to the trolleys. The deposit for one trolley is COP$4000 (little over £1). It’s a bit annoying but you do get it refunded. Here’s the trick. He won’t be too keen to help you return the trolley hoping that you leave it at the airport as you leave. You get a receipt for the deposit. On the back of the receipt are the locations were written (not depicted) to return your trolleys for the deposit refund. I’ll tell you in a moment where I returned mine.

After you’ve collected your suitcases you progress towards the end of the hall where there’s an official. It’s here that you’ll present your declaration form that you got early on on the flight. I have never been had the form scrutinised here. It is a formality and they merely see through your form for anything that you are declaring. Straight after this, you have to pass a security check on your suitcases. There are a number of large scanners into which you load your cases and collect them out the other end again. This is where a spot checks happen based on what they see on their scanner. This is when they would check your declaration form against your suspect baggage. I have never had this happen to me nor have I seen anyone else be checked.

I then returned my trolley outside by the first taxi rank you see at International Exit 6 (Close to where you will leave departures and slight off to the left as you walk away.). The flimsy trolley desk could be mistaken for something to do with the taxi drivers.

Return

  • AV120. Also given AVA120.
  •  El Dorado International (BOG / SKBO) to London Heathrow (LHR / EGLL)
  • Departed 24:04 COT – Arrived 14:45 BST (+1)
  • Aircraft Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
  • Aircraft Registration: N782AV (Pictured) – Mode S: AA9BBF – Serial Number: 37505 – Age: November 2014
  • View Actual Route in Google Maps.

Much of the return flight was in keeping with the outbound Avianca flight. The points of difference really only refer to the aircraft type. It is a much newer model being the Dreamliner. Despite the aircraft type being the beset Boing model. The trip was far more comfortable to slightly more space and comfier chairs. The window blinds were not your standard pull down affairs. They had an internal dinner controlled by a touch panel below the window. The entertainment screen was much like the reviewed one above. USB is provided but at 5v out only, meaning charging was slow. A little tip here. As soon as the cabin doors are shut seek out seats further ahead of where you can have the seating row to yourself. Lastly, the point that makes this flight preferable over others is excellent flight departure time. It really is easier to fly overnight. Be warned however this return flight suffers regular departure delays sometimes as far as into the next day.

Summary

All in all this Avianca was a great way to fly to Colombia. Flying from the UK, I would definitely recommend this Avianca flight, even after the terrible treatment at their Heathrow service desk. However, if you are flying from anywhere else in Europe and the price is similar, I would like to recommend Lufthansa direct from Frankfurt. Then if you are having to make a connecting flight that you choose Avianca second with Iberia from Madrid as the third choice.

Feedback

Again, I am more than happy to answer any questions you have regarding the flight. Just fill out the two fields below or just leave a comment for the benifit of all reading this.

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