This time I will cover a trip I made to Qatar almost two years ago (I know, I know I have a huge backlog).
Probably the easiest way to Doha is through Europe, however the Office's travel agent decided it was more fun for me to send me through Miami since I hadn't been there in 7 years, how considerate of them! Now all of you might say, who on earth thinks MIA is a nice place to connect before a 16h flight, you can ask the guys at the travel agency…to make things worse, instead of sending us on the early AM flight to MIA which would guarantee enough buffer time to go through the horrible CBP at MIA and manage to score a BP on QR without a visa (more on that on our next episode), they sent us on the noon departure which would give us a "reasonable" 90 minutes or so between flights.
At Bogotá-Eldorado Airport, LATAM Lounge
My trip to Doha was a short trip, and because of the travel agent's gonad-busting move to make us run through MIA, I decided against checking any baggage lest I wanted to miss my flight. Because of that, I tried to get my BP from the self check-in kiosk, which surprisingly didn't bother at all (these kiosks tend to go bust when you fly to the US). With BP in hand I went ahead to pass emigration and security checks and then go to my go-to place at BOG: the LATAM Lounge.
Downside of using the kiosk…flimsy not-so-cool BPs, not the best souvenir when you're going to have a series of firsts, but, what can you do.
At that point in time you could chose between the two competing lounges at BOG, Avianca's and LATAM's. AV's lounge is pretty lame in my opinion, it cannot beat LATAM's in catering, confort and views.
Unaware of what expected me on AA that afternoon (I would have expected a lunch) and night ( a nice dinner on QR) I chose some light food.
While I waited to meet with my travel companion I browsed FR and watched the traffic as our ride to MIA arrived
Eventually the lounge ladies recommended us to go down to our gate for boarding
Boarding the AA A319
The flight was full, boarding order was enforced and on the way to the airbridge I was stopped by the ground crew telling me to check in my bag to ease the boarding process. I declined telling them that I had an extremely tight connection and that I would miss my flight if I checked my bag. The person told me that I could grab the next flight, I told her I couldn't as it was just that flight for the day…she let me through with a "what a d*ck"-look, right back at you AA amiga. I hate the "I'm doing you a favour", self-inflated mood the AA ground crew have at BOG, you're not doing any favour to me by providing me the service I (or whoever buys the ticket) pay you to provide.
As usual in all flights to the US, you're stopped for a secondary "random" check before you board the plane. I was asked about the nature of my trip and destination and was quickly let through. And so I boarded my first ever AA Airbus.
A little bit of history on AA's operation in Colombia. American Airlines began its operations in Bogotá (and Colombia AFAIK) as Eastern Airlines collapsed in the early 1990s. AA served Bogotá, Cali and Barranquilla from Miami and also had a brief operation between BOG and JFK. AA was super popular in the 1990s to MIA, which reflected the use of A300s, 763s and 757s in the route which had up to 4 daily flights, then the route moved to 763s and 757s, then to 738s and now the A319, frequency varies between 2 to 3 dailies depending on the season. AA also serves a DFW-BOG-DFW daily flight since 2012 if I'm not wrong. The A319 has replaced the 757 and 737 as AAs workhorse in Colombia, being sent to Medellín, Cali, Cartagena, Barranquilla and soon Pereira. While AA has downsised in Bogotá, it has expanded overall in Colombia, American giveth, and American taketh.
Thus my interest on this flight (I had flown an AA 757 back in 2009, maybe I'll throw a retro-FR one day on it). My previous experiences on AA had been normal. Nothing awesome, nothing nasty as many fliers complain about the company. But I was eager to see what the new AA was offering vis-à-vis Avianca and Delta which had offered superior products in my experience to the US.
I was greeted nicely by a Colombian lady (AA has a crew base here in BOG and flights are served with Colombian cabin crews, something I appreciate to be sincere). My first impression as I boarded is how small and crowded the cabin felt. But thanks to my not-so-tall size I didn't feel as cramped as in NK. The PTV was a great addition to the hard-product. The seats felt okay for the 3h hop over the Caribbean. A pillow and a fleece blanket was also waiting for me at my seat. Any sense of legroom was made null by the MASSIVE IFE box…really, how hard is to come up with the small ones like AV does?
An AV Dreamliner, getting ready to MAD or LIM.
Seat pocket contents, which includes the Nexos Magazine that is destined for the Latin American market which AA currently dominates. It had a nice article on my hometown with one of my less liked artists.
The Dreamliner was symbolically replaced by an A332
Boarding concluded, we're more or less short of time…anxiety level: moderate. 10 minutes later, we haven't pushed back. Anxiety level: oh-oh.
Taxi and Takeoff
We eventually pushed back around 20 minutes late. I was a bit stressed about arriving late to MIA and missing my flight to DOH, but I thought that the captn' would make up for the tardiness in-flight. Spot the intruders in the pictures!
As we begin to taxi, I notice something is off. MIA bound departures, specially on narrowbodies, are made on RWY13L and then you turn northward to a straightforward departure to the north. We were heading to RWY13R. My naïve self thought "no problem amigo, we can still turn northward"…
As our little Airbus soared over the cloudy skies of Bogotá, we turned southward. My naïve self still thought…we can have a quick ascent and then a short overfly over BOG and quickly head north (this had happened to me on a LA 763 before), but the guys in front felt it was better not to test the performance of the A319. By the point we almost reached the Magdalena River (this is halfway between Cali and Bogotá FYI) I was on the verge of a heart attack. WTF are these guys doing? You've just added another 15 minutes at the very least to our flight!
But then…the plane turned left again, as if trying to draw a little fishy over Colombian skies…the moving map showing our progress to my dismay, constantly updating the later arrival time to MIA which each turn.
I realised my fate was no longer on my hands. I was prisoner to seat 12A of the little Airbus trying to reach Miami…I was on the hands of these pilots who were trying to find MIA.
And so I tried to soothe myself with the views of the cloudy andes and valleys and some movie I cannot remember now.
About an hour into the flight, the crew announced catering was soon to come…but no smell of food was invading the cabin. Curious I though, ignoring the current state of affairs of flights between Colombia and the US…and then the cart came through, handling out a bag of potato crisps, "ah…this is like the Hors d'ouvre" my naïve self thought. A second cart passed and then I was asked whether I wanted chicken-salad or a ham and cheese sandwich…"is this all there is? I didn't have any lunch waiting for lunch right now, please avgeek god make it stop!", I went with the sandwich due to my salad-allergy, the eyes of the lady handing me the tray matched with mine, there was this sort of telepathic conversation, she understood my dissapointment, she felt embarassed, and that's why she also gave me the whole soda can when I asked for a sprite and got a 7up instead…or so I like to think.
So this was the grandiose meal anyway:
Clouds looked so gracious over the Caribbean in that late autumn afternoon
Soon we were over Cuba…hoorray, we're almost there, I shall make it to my next flight. Nope the avgeek gods answered. The pilots thought doing a cool recon-flight over Cuba was in order.
Our flight concluded as the day did the same. I did not take any further pictures to prepare for the run to CBP.
Arrival to MIA
So, if you haven't guessed thus far, the avgeek gods were having fun at making everything possible for me not to board that flight. Not only we landed on RWY9 (the furthest from Concourse D), but we had a parking position in the eastmost part of the councourse (the furthest from the CBP), this took more time from my already short connection time. I exited the plane and lost track of my trip companion. There were CBP officers as we exited the plane checking our documentation, I was stopped, had a couple of questions asked and let go. Then I made a very silly move. Instead of taking the Skytrain, I chose to run, not taking into account there was almost a mile between the gate and the CBP post. I was cramping by the time I reached the second station and boarded. When I reached the CBP it was utter chaos. I flagged one of the airport people and told them about my short connection, they handed me an orange card and I was able to cut through the queue (awesome!). The CBP officer turned out to be super friendly ( something CBP folk are not known for at MIA) and I was on my way.
I ran towards Concourse E, from where our flight to Qatar would depart, I made it through the TSA, I felt like Kevin McCallister running through the airport. I made it as the last passengers were boarding an albino OneWorld 777-300. The lady boarding passengers directed me to the podium. What happened next was a s*tstorm. The QR lady didn't want to let me in, as I didn't have a visa. I told her I didn't need one, and I showed her the documentation supporting my statement. She insisted that it was incorrect. I told her to call HQ in Doha, who would confirm. She said she wouldn't do it and rather told me I would have to get my act together or else I wouldn't be going to Qatar anytime soon, not today nor tomorrow. I asked if my travel companion had made it in, she said no. I told her it was essential for us to get to that flight, I knew he didn't need a visa so I asked her to hold the flight for him. Of course she declined. My friend arrived seconds after she had given the okay for the flight to depart. We were escorted out of the concourse…during the walk one of the QR employees told us that our documentation seemed bogus and some more rubbish.
In spite of all my running, and praying to the avgeek goods, and so on…we missed our flight to Doha. The two of us were stranded as the 777-300 left without us and we were trying to figure out what to do now.
To be continued…
LAN VIP Lounge
Bogota - BOG
Miami - MIA
My rendezvous with AA proved to be a mixed bag of feelings. AA used to be one of the most exiting airlines to fly from BOG, mainly because of the chance to fly the mighty A300 and the 767, but also one of my personal favourites: the 757. The fact that you're tended by a Colombian crew is sometimes a plus, but catering has been severely downgraded (don't know when this took place exactly). The seat-pitch second to NK as to tightness, and may prove miserable on the DFW-BOG run. On the happy side, the IFE is awesome. I see very slim chances I would willingly chose to fly AA if price is matched by AV or DL, or even CM.
BOG was good (as usual) and the LATAM Lounge might have been the nicer part of this flight. This was the last time I have visited the lounge as I lost my PP card during this trip...I will report on other lounges at BOG as soon as I can.
MIA was chaotic. I fail to understand how can list less that 3 hour connections as viable in MIA. Internet access sucks, and I have come to loathe the place. All of the excitement it used to inspire to me in my childhood has mostly evaporated to a far memory...it is one of the worst places to be stranded in (but come to think about it...most airports in the US are very sucky places to be stranded in).
Thanks for reading and stay tuned to further episodes of this adventure, saludos!
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