It’s been reported numerous times on our website the rapid decline Venezuela has seen in both domestic and international air traffic.
Just recently, the country’s largest carrier—the conglomerate between SBA Airlines and Aserca Airlines—announced the end of their operations. The airline, historically, had been the one with the most capacity within and outside of the country, with a fleet that once saw DC-10s, Boeing 757/767s, and MD-80s.
With this demise, together with a rampant economic and political crisis that’s hitting the country, international airlines have chosen to flee and drop their routes to what once was one of their most profitable destinations.
When Avianca announced the closure of its once-lucrative Bogota-Caracas route, a large population of loyal travelers found themselves severely affected.
READ MORE: Iberia Temporarily Suspends Flights to Venezuela; Avianca: Venezuelan NAA Denies Approval for Partner Carriers to Operate
Avianca not only provided a direct link, three times per day, between both cities; it also offered reliable medium- and long-haul connections through the airline’s extensive Star Alliance network.
The remaining Venezuelan carriers tried to step up to the plate and fill Avianca’s void. However, state-run Conviasa and privately owned Avior have proven to be ineffective, unreliable, and ultimately risky.
Conviasa ceased flying to Bogota, and Avior is reporting delays of as much as seven hours on the short 1.5-hour crossing to Colombia.
Colombia’s AeroRepublica and Ecuador’s TAME, both ceased their daily flights to Caracas, leaving travelers with the sole option of flying via Panama with Copa Airlines. Instead of flying for 90 minutes, the connection via Panama totaled in six hours of journey.
With a definite void and a market that needs a direct link with Bogota, Copa’s new Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) Wingo launched 5x weekly flights between both cities, offering low-cost fares and a fundamental, reliable service.
READ MORE: Copa Holdings Launches Colombia’s LCC Wingo
I had been given an assignment in São Paulo, Brazil, to cover the delivery of the world’s first Embraer E2. To get there, however, was a challenge on its own.
I was able to get there flying via Barranquilla, Bogota, and reach São Paulo on Avianca’s Airbus A330. However, on the way back, I’d have to connect in Bogota and switch airlines to Wingo’s morning flight to Caracas.
I found a very decent, one-way fare of US$106, departing at 08:10, arriving in CCS just before noon time.
Wingo offers several add-ons, such as extra checked bags, and the always convenient extra space on board. For this flight, the first three rows of an ex-Copa Boeing 737-700 were given a few extra inches of pitch. And since I have long legs, this extra space is something I always desperately looking for.
The extra price for these seats was of just $28—not bad at all!
I booked my journey via the airline’s app, which is not a technological marvel, but it does its job with ease.
I was able to select my seat (2D), neglect to check a bag and obtain a confirmation via email in less than six minutes. The entire booking process was extremely user-friendly and effective.
24 hours before my trip, I was able to log on to Wingo’s website and check-in for my flight. The process, just like the booking, was equally friendly. In a matter of minutes, my boarding pass was printed out, and all I had to do was get to the gate in time the following morning.
My flight from GRU arrived at BOG 45 minutes ahead of schedule, at a dreadful 04:30.
Everything ready for my 1AM departure back home after a super intense week that started in St Petersburg.
— Enrique Perrella (@Enrique77W) April 4, 2018
As soon as I deplaned, I followed the ‘International Connections’ sign, and I was routed through a hallway that drops you right behind customs. This is a brilliant design idea by the Colombian authorities, who unlike the US Customs and Border Protection, allowing you to connect without having to go through the infinite lines at passport control.
I found myself gate side at 04:45— an incredible fifteen minutes after touching down.
Since I had traveled in Business Class with Avianca, I thought I’d visit their lounge and perhaps take a shower. To my surprise and utter disgust, I was not allowed to enter the Avianca lounge because they only accept departing passengers—not arriving.
Despite the fact that I had traveled in Business Class, on an expensive last-minute fare, I wasn’t allowed into the empty lounge—a great fault by the Colombian airline.
Wishing to take a shower and rest during my four-hour layover, I decided to stroll down the beautiful El Dorado Terminal 1 and reach the Priority Pass lounge, located in front of Gate 41.
An Amazing Lounge
Upon walking past a tall glass door, I felt as if I was entering a high-end nightclub. An elegant lady welcomed me and asked to use the elevator to reach the -1 floor, where the lounge was located.
As I reached the bottom floor, an extraordinary design of elegance and modern tweaks struck me dry.
I was allowed in after paying a $27 fee, which includes a breakfast buffet, and access to the private shower rooms.
The lounge was exquisitely designed, with a myriad of lights, wooden, golden and rock twists on the roof and sidewalls.
The breakfast buffet was of excellent quality. And along the hallway, plenty of comfortable chaise longues were hidden behind a private panel wall, giving a sense of retreat that proved to be incredibly comforting.
Minutes later, I stepped into the shower rooms, where I was able to freshen up using the lounge’s amenity kit.
Overall, after three hours of relaxation and a delicious breakfast, I walked to the very last gate in the terminal, where my Wingo flight was ready to depart.
The boarding process initiated right on schedule, at 07:30. Passengers with the need of assistance were called in first, followed by us, who purchased the extra space option.
The Gate Agent inquired about why I was carrying two carry-on bags. I had to explain that a suit bag is not considered a carry-on, and she reluctantly allowed me to board.
Wingo notes that if a carry-on item is denied at the gate, a fee of $60 applies.
As I reached the aircraft, a 13-year old, ex-Copa Boeing 737-700, I was pleasantly surprised by a somewhat standard, grayish color palette that seemed appropriate enough for an LCC. The leg pitch on the first three rows was indeed startling, measuring 36 inches of pitch and 18 inches in width.
The cabin configuration had the typical 3-3 arrangement, totaling 142 economy class seats.
The fact that I was able to cross and extend my legs makes me a pleased customer. And to my utmost pleasure, the middle seat was left empty, so the comfort levels were exponentially higher.
At precisely 08:10, we pushed back from the gate and began a lengthy, 30-minute taxi to Runway 31L while the young, energetic Colombian Flight Attendants performed the safety briefing.
At 08:48, our 737 rolled down the runway and became airborne, ready to cross Eastern Colombia into Western Venezuela at 37,000ft.
About 20 minutes into the flight, the in-flight service began. The friendly Flight Attendants invited all passengers to check the in-flight menu, which depicted the various sandwiches, snacks, and beverage options that were available for this flight.
Feeling a little bit hungry, I ordered a Chicken Breast sandwich. An ex-AeroRepublica flight attendant smilingly suggested I tried their Nescafe Mocaccino, which according to her, was delicious.
I accepted her suggestion and got my meal for $9. The airline only allows cash in US currency—something that could prove inconvenient for passengers who don’t have access to US Dollars in their country.
The quality of the sandwich was indeed excellent. Thick chicken breast slices were laid on top of four cheese pieces. A mayo-mustard dressing comes attached to the sandwich bag, which adds the necessary moisture for it to be the perfect snack for a short flight.
The Mocaccino was average in taste. But I admit I’m a hardcore coffee lover, so my bar is set quite high.
The Flight Attendant found my questioning odd. But I felt the urge to ask.
AeroRepublica—then re-named Copa Colombia—and Wingo both belong to the Copa family. However, after Copa Colombia reported hefty losses in early 2016, a new LCC spinoff was created later in October to readapt and cater to a different clientele.
According to the Flight Attendant, she used to work for AeroRepublica in its Bogota base. After the airline was converted into Wingo, she found her new home. She seemed to be happy, though I wonder what kind of difference training they’ve had to go through as they switched to the LCC philosophy.
Descent and Arrival
Our flight rapidly came to an end after a quick descent into Caracas. We landed 12 minutes ahead of schedule, and since I didn’t check any bags, I reached my car only seven minutes after having deplaned.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Wingo’s on-time departure out of Bogota, and ahead-of-schedule arrival into Caracas.
The whole experience, from booking until arriving, was very friendly and quite effective.
I must admit my hopes weren’t very high, especially when I learned that Copa Airlines was creating an LCC to fly niche routes in the region. However, I found their booking experience to be straightforward and well explained, not hiding any surprising fees, and allowing passengers to finalize the booking in a few, rapid steps.
The in-flight service was equally friendly, active, and to the point. The airline seems to ‘make things different’ even by making their announcements more engaging.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have arrived. We know you’re eager to leave this plane and get to see the people you love. But please, keep your seatbelts fastened until we are completely stopped. We wouldn’t want to see you hurt in case something goes wrong!”
I believe that, for longer flights, I would definitely miss some in-flight entertainment. Perhaps WiFi would do the trick, but on short flights like this one, it was not necessary at all.