Aircraft: Boeing 787-8 (N780AV)
Flight #: AV127
Route: Miami (MIA) > Bogotá (BOG)
Date: March 15, 2022
Duration: 2hrs 57mins
Cabin and Layout: Business class, forward cabin with 5 rows and a smaller cabin separated by a galley with 2 rows, both in a 1-2-1 configuration
Seat: 6K (lie-flat)
There’s nothing more exciting for me than visiting a new country or flying a new airline or aircraft.
So, when I was planning my first-ever visit to Colombia, I thought I’d double up on the excitement and try out the country’s flag carrier, Avianca.
Although part of what I do for a living is write travel reviews, I rarely do research on an airline before flying it for the first time.
I didn’t know much about Avianca, but I did know that the airline officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November 2021.
Whether I’d researched Avianca or not, nothing could have prepared me for the “business class” experience I had on my flight from Miami (MIA) to Bogotá (BOG).
You’ll want to have your seatbelts firmly fastened for this one.
Avianca operates both narrow- and wide-body aircraft on its route between Miami and Bogotá.
Flying the wide-body — in this case, a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner — on a short 3-hour hop was the natural choice for this AvGeek.
Avianca’s wide-body Dreamliners are also kitted out with lie-flat seats in business class — a far superior option to the recliner seats on the airline’s narrow-body fleet that also operates the route.
A quick search on FlightRadar24 showed me that at the time of booking, Avianca’s flight AV127 was the airline’s daily Dreamliner service between the 2 cities.
Hot Tip: Avianca’s LifeMiles is a great frequent flyer program to be a part of owing to the many great value ways you can redeem your miles.
Next up was deciding whether to opt for Avianca’s XL or XXL business class fare. The additional benefits that come with the more expensive XXL fare are an extra checked bag, and, the most important thing for me, unlimited flight changes and refunds.
Given the continued COVID-19-induced travel volatility when I booked my trip, I thought I’d play on the safe side and book the XXL fare which came to a total of $400.
I made my booking using my Platinum Card by American Express U.K. so I could be covered by its fully comprehensive travel insurance. Unfortunately, the bonus points we earn on our U.K. cards are far inferior to U.S. equivalents so I only earned 1x per £1 spent on this booking.
The U.S. card I’d have most likely used would have been The Platinum Card® from American Express, which gives the same great travel insurance as my U.K. equivalent but earns 5x Membership Rewards points (capped at $500,000 in purchases per year) rather than my measly 1x.
I wouldn’t usually pay $400 for a one-way flight of just 3 hours — even in business class. As this was for a review, I took one for the team this time.
Miami International Airport
Finding the Avianca check-in area at Miami International Airport was made easy by following the signs.
Avianca flies nonstop to 6 destinations in Central and South America, so I expected check-in to be busier.
To get into the business class and Star Alliance Gold check-in lane located in zone 1 of Avianca’s check-in area, I had to skip past these self-check-in machines.
In doing so, I experienced a scenario that annoys me when flying.
I headed right towards area 1 and a lady stopped me and asked, “¿A dónde vas?” (“Where are you going?”). I said “Bogotá,” and she pointed me in the opposite direction to zone 6. When I asked, “Even for business class?” she then pointed me back in the direction of line 1.
This annoys me because airline staff should not assume a passenger’s cabin class based on their preconceptions of any passenger, whoever they are, wherever they’re from, or how they’re dressed. We weren’t off to the best start.
As I’d opted for the XXL fare, my 25.5 kilograms (56 pounds) suitcase was well within my allowance of 2x cases at 70 pounds each.
In just a few moments, my bag was checked in, I had my boarding pass in hand, and I was on my way to the lounge.
Passing through Miami’s security was a markedly less streamlined experience. As there was no Fast Track lane and I don’t have TSA PreCheck, it took me around 20 minutes to complete the process.
Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge
I was eligible to use Miami’s Turkish Airlines business class lounge thanks to my business class ticket.
Star Alliance Gold flyers and passengers flying in business class or higher with Air Canada, Copa, Lufthansa, SAS, Swiss, TAP, and United are also eligible to use this lounge.
After heading up in the elevator, you arrive in what I can only describe as a deserted office space.
After spending longer than I’d hoped to clear security, another line was waiting for me at the entrance to the lounge after meandering my way through the seemingly endless corridor.
I heard a flustered lounge receptionist explaining that the lounge was at capacity for Priority Pass holders.
Curious, I skipped ahead and asked if I could get in with my business class ticket, which she scanned immediately to let me in.
The lounge was indeed at capacity.
The food options consisted of pre-plated cold snacks that were still being served by lounge assistants from behind a counter due to COVID-19 measures.
I went for a mini wrap, mini sandwich, and another beige item I don’t recall the name of.
I found what might have been the only free table left in the lounge to quickly eat my snack before heading to the gate. If only I’d eaten more …
Boarding at Miami International Airport
As usual, I headed to my gate in advance of boarding time to get some snaps of the aircraft.
Avianca’s N780AV was ready and waiting at the gate when I arrived — a good sign for an on-time departure.
Dreamliners aren’t my favorite aircraft to fly, though you can’t deny the cuteness of that dolphin nose.
Boarding started promptly with business class passengers invited first.
Onboard Avianca’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner
Even though I was flying a wide-body aircraft, there was no amenity kit waiting for me at my seat, and no welcome drink was offered either. This is, however, standard practice for airlines around the world in business class on short-haul routes.
I had selected seat 6K at the front of the smaller cabin for a more intimate feel.
Oh, and to be as close as possible to the massive Rolls Royce engine.
We pushed back at 4:52 p.m. — slightly ahead of our scheduled 4:58 p.m. departure.
Spotting an in-service Boeing 747 aircraft post-March 2020 is a rarity, so it was a nice surprise to see this Lufthansa 747-8i being readied for her journey back to Germany.
Business Class Seat
At this point, aside from a packed lounge with mediocre snacks, you’d be forgiven for wondering what was so terrible about this experience for me to call it the “worst value business class flight I’ve ever taken.”
From here on, I’m certain I’ll have you on side.
As the saying goes “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and these — what I can only imagine to be nut casings — were in plain sight at my seat when I boarded.
I understand that it’s not the crew’s job to clean, but they’d have seen this if they’d done a thorough walk-through of the cabin before boarding.
Even the laziest of crew would have given the crumbs a quick flick and been done with it.On closer inspection, the seats and cabin felt very old and tired.
There was nothing particularly wrong or unpleasant about the design, but at the same time, there was nothing that screamed “business class” either.
The plus side of my seat at the bulkhead is that it had more space than those in regular rows.
Though, as you can see, there wasn’t much in the way of privacy.
As you’d expect with business class on a wide-body jet like the Dreamliner, the seat reclined into the lie-flat position.
I didn’t sleep at all on this short flight. Due to the lack of privacy and proximity to the galley and bathrooms, I can imagine this seat might not be ideally situated for a decent sleep.
At my feet was a relatively large foot well, a drink holder, and the life jacket stowage compartment.
Due to vibrations while in flight, the panel hiding the life jacket fell onto the floor several times during the flight. If you look closely, you can see the duct tape that was used to try and stick it back together.
Cracks were showing, pieces of plastic were missing, and the duct tape wasn’t enough to stop this panel from falling at my feet time and time again.
Low down to my left was a small padded surface.
It opened up to reveal the only proper at-seat storage available to me.
Though there was a small pouch for reading material that was located near the footwell.
A large tray table pulled out easily from the console to my right.
Its swivel mechanism made it possible to leave my seat without having to put the tray table away and remove whatever I might have had sitting on it …
… which, for at least some of the flight, it was my 13-inch MacBook Pro that fit perfectly.
There was also a retractable armrest on my left.
The seat certainly wasn’t the most luxurious business class seat I’ve ever sat in. The fact that it rocked backward and forward in its shell when I moved made it feel older than it was. Despite that, the seat padding was comfy.
This has nothing to do with Avianca (it’s the design of the seat), but I’d much prefer it if the seat was angled away from the window rather than towards it so you don’t have to crane to see the world down below.
Business Class Cabin
In a similar way to the seat itself, the rest of the business class cabin lacked any design feature or personality to make it stand out as an Avianca product.
Despite a full cabin, there was no shortage of space in the large overhead bins.
This is the view of the smaller rear business class cabin from the galley.
Seats D and E in the center of the cabin are best suited for those traveling in pairs as they face each other and share a central table.
However, the position of the central console still provides an element of privacy should you find yourself in a middle seat with a stranger as your neighbor.
The rear cabin feels more intimate than the larger forward cabin, but that’s about the only benefit as there was no dedicated crew member assigned to work in this cabin.
The bathroom looked just like any other aircraft bathroom and didn’t feature any special business class amenities.
Food and Beverage
Beyond the lie-flat seat, the onboard dining experience is, for many, one of the most exciting things about flying in business class.
As no menus were handed out at boarding or after take-off, I checked the IFE to see if I could find any information on the onboard catering.
I found a page entitled “Menú a bordo” (Onboard menu) in the “Descubre” (Discover) section of the IFE.
There was no information regarding the dishes, but given there was a menu section, I figured there’d be something half-decent. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Alarm bells started ringing when 40 mins into the flight there was still no sign of the start of service.
Another 10 minutes and I began to question whether there’d be any service in business class at all. Maybe that’s why the guy in 2E brought McDonald’s on board with him.
In hindsight, when I spotted this guy during a walk through the cabin before take-off, I should have taken it as a sign of things to come.
Almost an hour into the flight, I saw another business class passenger nip down to the curtain at the front galley. If, like me, he was getting hungry and very thirsty, then it was probably to ask for a drink or something to eat.
Seconds later, I saw the cart for the first time.
A second cart proceeded to pass by me in the aisle towards the front of the aircraft.
While trying to remain patient and control my hanger, I distracted myself with the stunning view over the Caribbean Sea.
Finally, 1 hour and 5 minutes into the flight, the cart arrived in my cabin.
Never have I ever been so shocked by a business class meal service on a flight.
I opened the box to reveal a miniature bottle of water, a chocolate bar that was just a bit longer than my pinky finger, and a little card explaining that “Nuestro menú a bordo va a cambiar” (“Our onboard menu is changing”).
As I looked in sheer disbelief at my snack box, a small ham and cheese (I think) sandwich was plonked down in front of me, too.
Credit where credit’s due, it tasted quite nice.
As for the chocolate, it tasted cheap and nasty, but I finished it anyway as I was so hungry.
The only drinks available were bottles of water, coffee, tea, or Coke. I asked for a Coke Zero, only to be told there wasn’t any. About 10 minutes later, the same flight attendant handed me a bottle of Coke Zero. Go figure.
My Coke Zero was served at room temperature and there was no sign of cups or ice.
At 1 hour and 30 minutes into the flight, the rubbish was collected and I asked if there was anything else to eat. There wasn’t.
To add insult to injury, the crew continued through into the economy cabin after serving us our “snack” and served the same “meal” to economy passengers. Never in my life, not even on business class flights in Europe (which get a bad rap among frequent U.S. premium passengers), have I seen the same meal served to both economy and business class passengers.
To make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I thought I’d double-check about the meals with a crew member. She confirmed that indeed, economy and business class passengers get served the same food, but that in economy their only drink option was coffee. She had 2 jugs of coffee in her hand at the time and it smelled so bad — like the kind of coffee you’d find at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.
Apparently, Avianca is running “a few tests” on its menu. Surely running tests can be done while still serving paying business class passengers something substantial. If that’s deemed impossible, then it should still be unacceptable to serve business class passengers the same food as those who paid a fraction of the price for an economy ticket.
Avianca’s branded headphones were certainly not noise canceling and a buzzing sound rang in my ear sometimes if I moved slightly. It got worse when any weight was put on my tray table. How does that even make sense?
The handset for the IFE didn’t work, so I had to reach across to use the touch screen, which was reactive enough.
Located in a panel over my right shoulder were the seat control, IFE remote, reading light, and both a USB and regular power outlet. There was also a small compartment used to house the headphones.
The IFE had 3 sections for videos: all films, classics, and TV. In all, there were around 40 films to choose from.
Needless to say, I had the moving map playing on my display for the whole flight.
You’ll not be shocked to hear that there was no working Wi-Fi onboard, which meant I couldn’t work the way I’d have hoped on this flight.
I don’t think the crew wanted to be on this flight any more than I did.
I get that the company is going through a tough time financially which can easily have a knock-on effect on crew morale. However, there’s still a certain standard of service that I’d expect when flying economy, never mind business class, and unfortunately, Avianca fell short here, too.
Each time I asked a question, the crew’s answers were delivered short and cold. The staff seemed to not grasp why I was asking questions.
No proper safety checks were done before landing, either. I wasn’t told to stow my bag, and a man wasn’t stopped from working on his laptop even as the wheels touched the ground.
I make an effort on review flights to build rapport with the crew as this is part of my review where I love to highlight when members go above and beyond.
It suffices to say that there was no particular crew member of note to mention here.
After a pitiful lounge experience followed by a matching onboard experience, I couldn’t wait to land in Colombia and have something to eat — I was starving.
The beauty of the sunset and the excitement to be arriving in Colombia for the first time were enough for me to forget for a second just how terrible the flight had been.
We touched down at 7:16 p.m. — a whole 22 minutes ahead of schedule — and I made my way through a seemingly deserted El Dorado International Airport.
That’s because everyone was already waiting to go through passport control. Despite the lengthy queue, I breezed through passport control with no issues.
I entered the baggage hall at 8:07 pm where my luggage was already waiting.
When arriving on an international flight in Bogotá, you’ll clear customs after you pick up your bag. You’ll be required to pass all your luggage through scanners before being able to leave the airport.
It’s sad to say it, but I’ll remember my first-ever flight with Avianca for all the wrong reasons that I’m sure were clear enough from this review.
In short, no matter how cheap you figure the price to be, don’t bother paying for a business class ticket on Avianca between the U.S. and Central or South America — it’s simply not worth it.
If it wasn’t for the lie-flat seat, there would’ve been nothing business class about this experience.
The wear and tear of the aircraft made this plane appear older than its 8 years of age, though, in plane years, I guess you could call that approaching middle-aged.
Corner cutting and using duct tape to patch things up is sloppy and cheap. Here’s hoping it’s not a rule and Avianca’s mechanics use proper tools and materials to fix technical issues with the aircraft.
As for the food and service: abysmal.
I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I’ll be making a formal complaint to Avianca and attempting to get some of my money back.
The information regarding the Platinum Card by American Express U.K. was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.