We landed right on time at SAL and I went straight to the TA VIP Lounge across from gate 8. There was a Star Alliance Gold sign at the outside entrance. Two agents in a very compact desk were checking guests in. When I entered and walked around the entire lounge, I thought that this was one of the most depressing lounges that I have ever been admitted into. It is small, basic, outdated (80's feel), lacking any style and worst of all, devoid of any food except for a small plate that the bartenders hand you containing two soggy (yes, you've read right - soggy) pastries. This was not a lounge befit to represent an airline's main hub. As a matter of fact, I think that the whole SAL airport could use a renovation. In order to get anything to drink, you had to walk to the bar in the middle of the room and ask the bartenders. Near the bathrooms you can find a row of computers with internet access. I spent less than 10 minutes here and decided to wait at the gate.
At the gate everyone goes through security inspection and there are a few tables set up for that purpose. Business passengers can go through an express line saving some aggravation. Agents were courteous and did their job thoroughly. At least with my bag, they opened every compartment and looked meticulously.
Boarding started 25 minutes before dept. with wheelchair passengers first, then followed by J ones. The purser was at the door greeting everyone and once inside I realized that this is yet another different cabin. At least the seats are AVOD equipped. A few minutes later a gate agt chats with the purser and she comes around advising us to leave the airplane and grab our luggage. At the gate, the agent made an announcement advising that there was an aircraft substitution and we will re-board within 30 min. Well, 30 min. passed and we kept waiting. No other announcements were made until about 1 hr. and a few minutes later. By then we started to re-board again and one of the J passengers complained to the agent reminding him that the delay was only 30 min. and not over 1 hr. The agent just shrugged his shoulders and carried on with his boarding duties.
First plane that went mechanical
I stepped inside the airplane and I am greeted in a different cabin without AVOD. FA's hung coats and offered orange juice or water from a tray. I took the water and the FA asked if I wanted another type of drink. I declined his offer and kept my water. Afterwards he also distributed Immigrations and Customs forms. The captain made an announcement apologizing for the delay and gave us an estimate of our arrival time. Once we took off and reached cruising altitude, the purser distributed headphones and blankets.
Second plane without AVOD system
Hot towels were handed and it took some time before we got our beverages. I had a glass of water and strawberry with banana nectar. As usual, the drinks were accompanied by a bowl of cold nuts. The choices for dinner were turkey or ham. I chose the turkey and it was served with spinach and rice. The tray also contained a bowl of potato salad with a few leaves in addition to the main dish. Warm bread was also served (no choices). The meal tasted fine if unremarkable. For dessert, there was a choice between bread pudding with fruits or an apple cake. I chose the colorful bread pudding and it was served with a few dollops of custard on the side. I was surprised that TA offered a choice of desserts here and enjoyed the pudding with a cup of tea.
The rest of the flight was uneventful and there is no snack service before landing. I think that for a flight of this length some freshly baked cookies or even a basket of packaged goods would be nice. We finally touched down at 20:13 in SFO, 58 minutes behind schedule which was not that bad.
Avianca VIP Lounge
San Salvador - SAL
San Francisco - SFO
Ground handling needs to improve in case of irregular operations and gate agents should be trained better. We all know that mechanical or operational delays can happen but the difference between bad and tolerable is how the gate agents handle it. Delays are not pleasant and add extra stress. In times like these agents should be particularly proactive and communicate often with passengers. When they do that at least they send the message that they have not forgotten about the passenger and will keep him in mind.
The crew did their job as best they could and remained professional. Catering is a bit weak and I think that a small snack service should be offered before arrival. Instead of a second dessert a small fruit plate with cheese and crackers would be a welcome addition.
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