Trip Report: Avianca Business Class Medellin to Cartagena
This is the fifth in a series of posts chronicling my January 2018 trip to Colombia. You can read an overview/preview here.
The flight to Cartagena from Medellin is pretty short, and served by three different airlines: Viva Colombia, LATAM, and Avianca. While Viva Colombia, a LCC, seemed cheapest, when you added in baggage fees, it was not. Avianca includes a checked bag in coach, but for some reason, business class was cheaper, so $57 it was (the “promo” fare still earned 750 Avianca Lifemiles).
Originally, my flight was scheduled for 3pm, which would have allowed me to spend the morning exploring more of Medellin. Alas, there was a schedule change and I was rebooked on a 1pm flight. The Medellin airport is far outside the city, so it didn’t make sense to do much; unfortunately, it was too cloudy to make sitting at the pool worthwhile. I took one of the hotel taxis for 80,000 pesos – inflated 25% over a standard taxi –and enjoyed the ride through the pretty countryside, including lots of luxury housing developments being built outside the city. The Intercontinental is actually on the way to the airport from the center of town, so the ride was a little shorter than my inbound – about 35 minutes.
There were lots of Avianca counters at the airport and business class check-in moved quickly. Security was quick and painless and I was through to the National Departures hall, which had plenty of seating, shops, and a variety of restaurants. I headed straight up to the Avianca VIP lounge.
There are actually two different lounges: a Silver and a Gold. Unlike Lufthansa, which relegates its paying business class customers to its worst lounge, Avianca provides access to its Gold lounge for Star Alliance top-tier elites and business customers, and its Silver lounge is for Priority Pass and lower-tier elites. From a quick glance it seemed like the Gold lounge was more recently renovated and had more differently-designed spaces, as opposed to the Silver lounge, which was basically one big room. In the Gold lounge, the space was pretty nice, with a large area with tables and plenty of outlets, then several more comfortable seating areas, a Samsung gaming area, and a computer area. (There was a bathroom in between the two lounges.)
Food and beverage was just weird, though—and I can’t imagine how much worse it was in the Silver lounge. As I arrived they were transitioning to the lunch spread, which was pretty meager: fried chicken drumsticks, small cheese sandwiches, chicken nuggets on a toothpick with a grape tomato, and a toothpick with a piece of cheese with honey and nuts. There were also some packaged crackers and bulk peanuts. The lounge does not serve liquor until 4pm, and there were juice boxes and bottles of Coke and Diet Coke. I’m not sure if the liquor restriction is a law of some sort but seemed weird. The free wifi worked fine, though.
While I was sitting in the lounge, the delay got extended by another ten minutes, and the monitors shifted from saying “operational” in the “remarks” column to “bad weather.” I could have/should have stayed in the lounge later but I had decided I should eat something more than chicken wings, and knew there wouldn’t be a meal service on the flight. There was a sit-down restaurant serving arepas, and a few fast food options. I made the mistake of going with the arepa place, which wasn’t expensive or bad, but flavorless (and too much food). I only ate about half of it and washed it down with a beer.
It wasn’t until 1:20pm that boarding began – almost an hour late. The gate agent announced zones, but it everyone just went en masse. The plane wasn’t ready yet, so there was a backed-up, long wait on the jetbridge for about 10 minutes.
This was the first of my Avianca flights operated by Avianca as opposed to TACA, and also my first on an A320 instead of an A319. But the interior was pretty much identical to that on the A319 I had taken from IAD to SAL (and had the same Star Alliance livery as my first flight), with in-seat personal IFE, AC power, and USB power, recliner seats, and footrests. Business class was 3 rows of 2 x 2 seats across. Something was weird with the seat though and it felt like I was sitting on something. It also wasn’t a particularly clean plane, but that might have been due to the short turnaround. The soft service was very different, not unexpected on such a short flight. No blanket/pillow/headphones/newspaper at the seat; no pre-departure beverage.
Business class was completely full. The Flight Attendant asked me to change my seat so a woman could sit next to husband, but that was a bulkhead aisle, which would have been quite uncomfortable for me, and I had made sure to check-in from the road in Guatape 24 hours in advance just so I could get a window, non-bulkhead seat. So, I said something about my legs. Also, it’s an hour flight. You can survive apart. Or reserve your seats in advance.
We rolled down the runway at 1:50. There was a beverage service once we were in the air, served in plastic cups. Some sort of packaged snack—a cookie or nuts — would have been nice, alas, no. The flight itself was nothing notable, and shortly after we reached cruising altitude, we were on our way down.
Landing in Cartagena, we deplaned via stairs and walked to the terminal and it was sooooo hot. Bags only took about five minutes, and I was on the taxi line at 2:55pm. You wait on a line, tell the woman at a counter where you are going, and she prints out a ticket with the price – but you actually pay the driver. It was only 18,500 COP (~$6.50) to Bocagrande, straight down the coast, making for a pretty 20-minute ride. There was a lot of traffic but it made for a good view of the beaches and high-rise hotels of Bocagrande, including the new Hyatt where I’d spend my third night, and the under-construction Sheraton. It reminded me a lot of South Beach or Fort Lauderdale in terms of architecture and the beachfront road.