This year Labor Day holiday in the U.S. was on Mon. Sept. 4 and this proved to be the perfect opportunity to squeeze a quick weekend trip so I decided to visit my family in Costa Rica and meet a new family member.
The fares from SFO-SJO were higher than average so I opted to just buy a one way on AV to get there and return using leftover miles from my CM account. TA merged with AV in May 2013 and is now subsidiary known as Avianca El Salvador. I was excited to fly under this new airline and wanted to see what changes were made to the old TACA lounge in SAL.
I was scheduled to dept. at 01:30 so I had plenty of time to get ready after work and prepare for the trip I arrived at the airport a little after 22:30 and waited in line at the Business Class line for about 10 min.
Arriving at the airport and heading to the AV counter.
The agent who helped me was pleasant and had me weight my carry on. It was a little over 22 lbs (10 kg) but she let me bring it aboard without a problem. I'm sure being an *A Gold member helped. AV departs from the A gates at SFO so there are no *A lounges in that area of the terminal. This was the same case when it operated under TA. I inquired if they had a contract lounge like AC that despite departing from the same pier, still provides lounge access to the AF lounge to elite and J pax. Not the case with AV and I was advised that I could access the lounge in SAL instead. I asked if they had any EMERG EXIT row seats available and she gladly changed me from 10D to 12C.
I really like the AV boarding pass.
I wanted to visit a lounge so I headed to the G gates and presented my boarding pass to the agent. She thought that I was at the wrong side but when I told her that I just wanted to use the lounge she allowed me to proceed through. The TSA Pre-Check line was quick and within a few minutes I was on my way to the EVA Lounge.
I was welcomed inside and another agent recorded the details of my boarding pass meticulously. i have visited this lounge before and I knew more or less what to expect. it was getting crowded and I quickly grabbed a few things to nibble. I couldn't take any pictures of the seating area since the room was fairly well occupied and I didn't want to draw attention to myself.
Some items were running out.
Sweet soup dessert with pomelo and mango.
The EVA lounge was getting busy so I left and went to the SQ lounge. The agent there apologized that it was full and couldn't admit more customers, so I went to the UA Club.
A friendly agent scanned my boarding pass and upon entering I was pleasantly surprised. A few months ago this lounge was busy due to part of it closed down and being renovated for the Polaris lounge. The space is still the same, but this time there are way less people. There was a different food display for BR pax using the UA Club. That is something new to me.
A few months ago I was talking to an agent at the SQ lounge and she told me that UA will not touch the SQ lounge for expansion anymore. I would guess that the same thing would apply to the BR lounge since they are next to each other.
Some Chinese publications on a table.
The BR food display. A nice attempt at offering something decent and it looks better than what is available at the BR lounge. However, the execution of the idea fails. The egg rolls were soggy and the shrimp tempura in the sushi rolls has lost its crunchiness as well. The filling of the sushi rolls looked a bit brown on the edges, meaning that they have been sitting there for some time.
Meanwhile on the UA side.
Finally it was time to go to the gate and I had to go through security again at the A gates. Unfortunately the TSA Pre-Check was closed so i sent to the Priority Line but still had to get the computer out and take off my shoes and belt when going through security. The area near my gate was busy with other departing flights by CX to HKG and AM to MEX. A few minutes later the crew arrived in their stylish uniform. Some crew members greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek, which for some cultures seems too intimate but I love it. In Costa Rica when you are introduced to female acquaintances in a casual setting, it is not unusual to be greeted by a kiss on the cheek. Oh la vache! I'm sure some men would not object to this local custom when meeting a pretty girl or vice versa.
Boarding started by 01:00 and the agents made sure to board all the pax in wheelchairs and those traveling with children. Then Group A which I assume were J pax and then B for elite members. I was paged to the desk right before Group B was called and I was scratching my head as to why. It turned out that since I was flying one way, the agent needed to verify that I had a return segment leaving Costa Rica. I had to get my computer out and search for the confirmation from CM which took some time. I was annoyed that this issue never came out when I checked in at the counter a few hours ago and I had to deal with it in the middle of boarding. By the time that I took care of this, I missed my boarding priority and had to board with the rest of the pax missing on the chance to get space in the overhead bin right above my seat. Needless to say, I couldn't take any pics of my seat and the cabin during boarding.
As I boarded the plane I placed one of my carry on bags in the bin by row 10 which had plenty of space and took the smaller carry on with me to place it under the seat in front of me. There was a FA by my seat who was very proactive in finding overhead bin space for pax and she made space for my other bag by row 14 behind me. I told her that I would prefer to place the bag in front of me and she said that because I was in the EMER EXIT, it was prohibited to place anything in front of me. So for those flying AV in the future, beware when you request an EMER EXIT seat.
Cabin with mood lighting.
The tray table is stowed in the arm rest on the side along with the control for the entertainment. The screen has a decent size and there is a cup holder along with a USB charger on the sides.
A few blankets were distributed but there were not enough for everyone. However, there was a pillow on my seat already. Ideally overnight nights should always have a set of pillow and blanket on each seat. After take off FA's distributed earphones and made a quick beverage service with a pack of munchies.
During the flight I asked the purser if there was any overhead bin space towards the front since it would be difficult to retrieve my bag a few rows behind me after landing. He said that he will check and found a spot by the bulkhead. He asked me to hand him my bag and he placed it for me with a smile. I thanked him for going out of his way for helping me out and asked him for his name when he had a chance but he never gave it to me.
One of the WC's was inoperative so there was some congestion in the back of the plane. A few hours later a hot breakfast was served and there was a choice between omelette or a vegetarian cheese and spinach empanada (turnover). Kudos to AV for offering a choice of hot items for free in the back. U.S. carriers take note. The meal was satisfying and tasty.
The beverage cart followed withe the usual selection of beverages. The brand of juice was JUMEX which tends to be a bit sweet to my taste so I stuck with hot tea and water.
As the sun rose, I took the opportunity to take some pics of my legroom. Interestingly FA's did not make the pax lower the window shades after take off so it was a rude awakening for some when the light shone on some passengers' faces.
We soon landed in SAL and it was time to get a quick introduction to the AV Lounge there.
United Airlines Red Carpet Club (International Terminal)
San Francisco - SFO
San Salvador - SAL
Overall AV proved to be a nice experience especially with the friendly and proactive crew aboard. The documentation issue could have been handled better and I'm surprised that they did not ask me to show proof of my return flight when I checked in at the counter. As a result of dealing with this situation at the gate, I missed my priority boarding and therefore had trouble finding overhead space for my carry on bags right above my seat. Thankfully the crew was proactive in helping pax find space.
In terms of catering I couldn't ask for more in Y. A quick beverage service with a pack of snacks after take off and a choice of hot breakfast before arrival. I commend AV for offering this much considering what the competition offers.
Service was efficient, professional and friendly. I really appreciated the assistance of the purser to store my carry on in the front bins. I felt that he went beyond his duty when he offered to place my bag and then came back to tell me the location.
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