Back in November right after I came back from my trip to Turkey I decided to go to Costa Rica to visit some relatives. When it was time to decide which airline to fly, I chose TACA because I was intrigued by its product. Reports about this carrier's inflight service, especially in Business with pics are a rarity. Furthermore, with the elimination of the brand in 2013 when they fully incorporate into Avianca, this experience will acquire some historic significance.
Browsing through TACA's website I found a fare for $858.31 and bought it immediately. This will mark my first disappointing experience with them. I made sure that the site was set for the USA and the price was quoted in USD. At the end when I tried to finish transaction it signed me off. I never received a confirmation email and when I checked with the credit card company it advised me that the transaction was processed. I also called TA and the rep acknowledged that everything was fine.
I used a Bank of America Cash Rewards Visa and this particular card charges a fee for foreign transactions. When I looked at the statement online I see that I was charged $25 in addition to my ticket because the purchase was processed through TACA Panama. Now, I am not against TACA using a foreign location to process their transactions. It's their site and they can do whatever they want with it, but I think that before hitting the purchase button, prospective customers should be advised that they are not purchasing something within the USA and can make the right decision as to which credit cards they want to use to avoid a surprising charge. I made the mistake to assume that since the site setting was for the USA, the transaction will be processed within the USA.
TA suggests you to be at the airport at least 3 hrs before dept. if you are checking in at the airport. I actually arrived in less than 2 hrs since I only had carry on and was flying up front. The line for J check-in was almost empty except for 1 passenger in front and soon I was checked by an efficient and nonchalant agent. She wished me a pleasant flight at the conclusion of the transaction in a scripted tone. For J passengers departing out of SFO, TA uses the A gates and does not contract any lounges out of here so there is no lounge access.
I arrived at the gate at about 45 minutes before dept. and the gate area looked busy already. There were about 4-5 agents working and the crowd was composed of a healthy mix of foreigners and locals going back home for the holidays. At approximately 35 min. before dept. one of the agents boards all wheelchair passengers first. At 25 min. before dept. an announcement is made inviting J passengers to board along with families with children. The boarding goes smoothly and at the door a FA greets passengers cheerfully.
Plane at the gate in SFO. There were 2 TA planes side by side. One was the red eye and the other for the 5:50A dept.
The cabin looked comfortable and there was already a red pillow on each seat. I think TA can use a more soothing color instead. No pre-dept. drinks and no personal TV screens, but FA offered to hang coats though. After take off, a FA distributed custom forms and then headphones from a tray. Later the purser walks around offering amenity kits followed by sealed blankets. The kit is pretty basic with toiletries contained in a clear plastic pouch. Most items are generic looking and one of the most useful items is a small tube of L'Occitane shea butter cream. I understand that the kits are only distributed on their long haul overnight flights. Most passengers went right to sleep but if you were awake, the purser would take your drink order. I had chamomile tea and she brought a bowl of cold nuts with raisins to accompany it.
The nice FA who distributed the forms and later went to work in Y.
My tea and bowl of nuts
At around 1.5 hours before arrival the purser starts preparing the breakfast. She sees that I am still awake and offers me a choice between french toasts or egg frittata. I love french toasts so I chose the former. She then asks if I want more tea and brings me another hot cup. She hands me a hot towel which I found to be a bit odd smelling (the fragrance seemed just a bit rancid, maybe it was stored for too long?). Then a tray is brought containing the french toasts surrounded in a custard sauce with a few pieces of peach. Unusual way to serve them but I enjoy the change of pace from syrup and sausage links or bacon. A plate of fresh fruit, strawberry yogurt, warm roll, butter and jam are served along with the main dish. One noticeable thing is the lack of salt/pepper shakers or packets and this is the standard on all TA meal trays. I assume that if you need extra condiments it is on request basis. At this point the turbulence becomes stronger waking up some pax. I tell the purser that I can have breakfast later and she gladly stores my tray away. Once the wild ride subsides, she resumes service and brings me my meal quickly. Throughout the flight the purser was attentive and very approachable.
Landing into SAL was on time and I did not have to go through Immigrations since I was connecting to another country. SAL airport needs some renovation in order to make it more welcoming and appealing. The structure reminds me of an utilitarian building in the 80's with a lack of aesthetic touches.
San Francisco - SFO
San Salvador - SAL
It is always exciting to try something new, especially for an airline enthusiast when he flies a new carrier or aircraft. TACA did the job efficiently and transfer at its hub was smooth without any problems.
Each airline has its peculiarities and TA has a lot of them. For starters, the J cabin was a different one every time I stepped into one of its planes. I wonder how many different configurations they have, as this is certainly a consistency issue. The lack of salt/pepper on the meal trays is annoying. Does that mean that every time someone needs a bit more kick in their meals they need to ring the call button? This is if they carry them as bulk items in the galley. Also, this is the only airline that uses plastic glasses in a J cabin. To their credit these are sturdy glasses that resemble glass ones from a distance. I do not have a picture on this report but you will see them in a later one. Finally, I am always glad to see any other juice besides orange, apple and tomato. TACA offers a strawberry/banana one that is almost like a signature drink for them.
TA is not SQ but they are not at the bottom neither. The crew that I encountered were pleasant and professional and their meals were OK for the most part. It will be interesting to see how they will change when they integrate with AV.
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