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Cubana BOG-HAV, C class on a Tupolev 204 (now with photos!)

Cubana BOG-HAV, C class on a Tupolev 204 (now with photos!)

Old Mar 27, 11, 4:03 pm
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Cubana BOG-HAV, C class on a Tupolev 204 (now with photos!)

Time to leave Colombia. .I had only been here a week but rather fallen for the country. Bogota in particular appealed to me .If you are a fan of big gritty cities fallen on hard times and then bouncing back you'll love it. Certainly I did! To soften the sweet sorrow of parting there were several firsts to look forward to; a new airline, an entirely new type of plane and a new country too!

As you'd imagine there are not many options for a BOG-HAV routing. .The choice was

* A horrible (and horribly expensive) connection via SAL with TACA
* Three daily options via PTY with COPA
* Cubana direct

Direct wins over connection most times for me and as this trip was planned as an adventure Cubana seemed more appropriate than flying on two of COPA's.E190s.

Saturday morning traffic was very light so it took less than 30 minutes to zip eastwards to the delightfully named El Dorado airport. There are two terminals, the Punte Aero used by Avianca for domestic flights and the other which serves both domestic and International. .Lots of construction work underway which is needed as the terminal is a little cramped and old..

The cab driver dropped me at door 6 right opposite the Cubana check in desk. .There was a little podium (like those used by US airlines in Europe for security check in). And here the circus starts!

After a short wait I was asked to go to counter 19 to get a tax exemption. .Off I go, have my passport stamped, get handed a piece of paper and come back to the podium. Only to pay another tax! There are two different fees payable, an exit tax (which I had exemption from) and the airport tax which everyone has to cough for at a mere USD 34. This generates another three bits of paper before I allowed through to check in.

There is no obvious line for Business, just general and a problem people/old people/kids line. .It took about 10mins to get to a counter, giving plenty of time to observe the really quite shambolic organisation of the process. .Only 3 agents working with another 5 or 6 milling around doing sod all.

My turn came, and while pleasant enough the girl really shouldn't have been allowed anywhere near this job as she was painfully slow. Much shuffling of paper, constant rechecking with other colleagues and three requests to see my onward ticket. .Finally we got there, boarding pass and lounge invite in hand. .I'd asked for a window seat not at the bulkhead but after the third time of asking ended up with 1D. I decided to call it quits and sort things out on the plane if the bulkhead was as horrid as they usually are. .All that took 15 minutes! Painful

Security was blessedly empty as was immigration. .Uniquely in Colombia the people working immigration were incredibly discourteous and unpleasant, not bothering to acknowledge my cheerful Buenos Dias and generally behaving in a downright rude and ignorant manner. .Actually worse than some of the US and Canadian immigration agents which is no mean feat.

There is only one lounge, run by Avianca, and it is airside just before Gate 1. Three friendly and lovely ladies guarding the entrance. .The lounge itself is nothing special. A selection of sandwiches, snacks and the remains of breakfast. Plastic cups only for the sparse soft drink selection, the usual bellowing TV. .Neat touches were the tables with built in power and some reclining chairs in one corner. I'm struggling to find many positives so I can only hope the new improved terminal will feature something better. .Free and fast wifi though!

Bored by this point I went for a stroll through the terminal. This lead to the discovery of a delayed inbound meaning a probably 30 minutes delay to departure. Back to the lounge to entertain myself with a rather intense book about inequality and the impact on western society. Looking up I noticed our Tu-204 roaring to the gate. Russian jet engines don't really do quiet....

Finally we were called for boarding. The short International terminal was pretty quiet with just a COPA flight to Panama and Avianca to San Salvador on the board. There was a document check on entry to the gate. My Cuban tourist card was of no interest but somehow an old Russian visa was a source of great interest. Bizarre..

After a prolonged delay in the gate lounge - seemingly for the benefit of the crew as they were back and forth with duty free shopping for quite some time - we were finally called forward for boarding. Down the jet bridge and onto something that looked just like a regular Boeing or Airbus, but not quite.

Why not quite? Well, 99% of my travel is on 'normal' planes by which I mean 737/A320 and above in size. I don't do RJ's or funny propeller things and McDD products are very rare in my regular haunts. So, the little things like slightly different shaped bins, LED lighting and clunky looking seats really capture your eye. A galley two thirds of the way down the plane also just looked a bit odd.

There were 3 rows of C seating before the long economy cabin started. I soon moved from row 1 which had ridiculously limited leg room (I so hate bulkhead seats) back to row 3. The 40+ other passengers filed past and I was joined by the other business class passenger. .Hopes of a speedy push back were dashed as there seemed to be a problem with the ground equipment, tractor blah blah. Finally we rolled off gate around an hour late.

I was pleasantly surprised by the crew. .Expecting a surly Soviet style experience the crew (all female except for a male purser) were polite, smiley, helpful and amused by my fumbling espagnol. A pretake off juice was brought round along with a horrible refreshing towellette thingy and a full blown longhaul style amenity kit.

Offsetting that was an absence of blankets or pillows, nor an inflight magazine and despite the provision of inseat IFE nothing was played during the flight. .Even the safety demonstration was manual.

Earlier in the trip I'd taken a lightly loaded 757 from LGA. That take off resembled a 200 yard stroll followed by a rocket propelled ascent to the heavens the pilot flying was barely in control of. .By contrast the Tu-204 took an awfully long time - and a lot of noise - to gradually cast off the surly bonds of gravity. Not as sluggish as the Air Koryo Il-62 I flew some years back but far from spritly nonetheless.

After take off, brunch was served. A one tray affair, containing

* A cold meat platter of chorizo, ham, cheese (surprisingly good quality)
* More cheese with crackers (boring)
* Cake (OK)
* Bread roll and jam (nasty)

Ho hum. I'd rather hoped for something warm but this did provide acceptable fuel. . Better that some of the bilge served on BA though. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sadly no champagne (no great surprise really) and the wine looked utterly abysmal so I opted for a diet coke (Canadian) and then a beer (Cuban, 5.5% and the sort of thing you'd only drink to get utterly and unspeakably drunk). I had 3 and felt very refreshed.

After that, we just flew. The crew passed through occasionally to see if there was anything needed and I amused myself with a guidebook and some window gazing at the clouds floating by outside as we headed north across Caribbean. All perfectly unmemorable and uneventful.

The cabin looked a bit beaten up with a lightly stained carpet. The seats are of a strange construction, being very high backed and finished with what felt like steel. Despite the 'robust' construction the legrests were the very devil to extend and retract. still, the 40 inch seat pitch was a huge improvement on Euro-standard business classes. Perfectly comfortable for a regional hop. The IFE controller was very retro looking with an LED display and a plastic surround that made it look more like a machine part at the Novosibirsk 3rd Light Engineering factory.

2 and a bit hours later the 40minute call was given and then we began out lazy descent to Jose Marti International. A swooping turn over the coast and over fields before touch down. A nice selection of Cubana planes were parked up - Il-86, Il-62, Tu-134 - along with a COPA Embraer and a couple of Italian charter jets..

The terminal building is modelled on SVO-2. For anyone who has experienced that particular aviation experience (especially in years passed) anything that might replicate those chilling times will leave you cold and afraid. Despite my fears HAV was a breeze. Immigration was quick and painfree. .The mandatory Customs baggage screening was equally simple, my health form was collected with a smile and Customs waved by through. Within 5 minutes of touching down I was changing money and leaping in a cab to central Havana. Not bad at all....

What of Cubana? . Friendlier, with better catering and a hard product ahead of what I had anticipated. Had I known the load would have been so light I might have opted for a Y ticket and saved a couple of hundred dollars. But it was a good experience and a fun way overall to arrive. I now have a Cubana napkin on my desk at home, accompanying one from Air Koryo.

And Havana? What a marvellous place. .All the cliches are true but simply don't feel like cliches when you are there. .Fun, freewheeling, stunningly beautiful and a lively town despite the excrebable food and mediocre hotels. I lost 24 hours of my life in a whirlwind of mojtio, beer and Cohiba partying with a lunatic Canadian, pitching up in Iberia Business Plus from the flight home still wearing Havanias and shorts, accompanied by a haze of booze and smoke. I attracted some very disapproving stares on board. But it was worth it!

PS Sorry, no photos. For some incomprehensible reason I cannot download any taken in February or March from my iPhone..

Last edited by Swanhunter; Mar 28, 11 at 2:39 pm
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Old Mar 27, 11, 4:42 pm
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Great report! Havana is a such a cool city, the people are excellent, and any place where cigars are acceptable is for me! I stayed a few times at the Hotel Santa Isabel, which was personable and in a great location. Thanks for this report, especially the ride on the TU!

Ron
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Old Mar 27, 11, 10:36 pm
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Colombia is interesting. I have only visited Cartagena so far, but more is clearly called for. Thanks for the report.
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Old Mar 28, 11, 2:52 am
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Very interesting report ^

I do have a personal travel policy of only flying Airbus, Boeing and Embraer aircraft, though
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Old Mar 28, 11, 9:59 am
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Fascinating TR!.

I saw a Cubana IL-62 at BOG a month ago being readied for a flight back to HAV.
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Old Mar 28, 11, 10:27 am
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Originally Posted by Swanhunter View Post
Sadly no champagne (no great surprise really) and the wine looked utterly abysmal so I opted for a diet coke (Canadian) and then a beer (Cuban, 5.5% and the sort of thing you'd only drink to get utterly and unspeakably drunk). I had 3 and felt very refreshed.

..
But did you try the murky brown fluid with the Fairy Liquid sheen they serve as coffee ?

A bit of a change from Colombia.
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Old Mar 28, 11, 10:43 am
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Interesting and different, the two things I look for these days when reading a trip report!

Originally Posted by Genius1 View Post
Very interesting report ^

I do have a personal travel policy of only flying Airbus, Boeing and Embraer aircraft, though
You're missing out on another world. I've flown on an Il-62m and a Tu-154. Both were interesting and very different to Western aircraft.
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Old Mar 28, 11, 12:19 pm
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Great stuff! Colombia is well and truly on my must-visit list, as is Cuba (was all set to go this year but the SO won a green card, which made visiting Cuba a little problematic).

Any tips on Colombia? And did Cubana serve food on that sector? You mentioned good catering but then didn't mention food. Given how legendarily poor the food is in Cuba itself one feels that airline catering, procured from outside the country, might even be an improvement on what is served on the ground...
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Old Mar 28, 11, 2:45 pm
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Originally Posted by mad_atta View Post
Any tips on Colombia? And did Cubana serve food on that sector? You mentioned good catering but then didn't mention food. Given how legendarily poor the food is in Cuba itself one feels that airline catering, procured from outside the country, might even be an improvement on what is served on the ground...
Try about 3/5 the way down for the food. It was certainly better than one meal I ate in Havana. The 'pizza' best resembled a thick crepe coated in lukewarm cheese. My Canadian friends 'spaghetti' was straight from a tin with tomato ketchup and cheese on top.

Free flowing Havana Club mojito's at USD2 a pop compensated for the duff food.

Colombia. In summary:

Cartagena. After Havana the most interesting, alive and enjoyable colonial era town I've visited. Lovely place for a couple of days.
Medellin was a revelation. You go expecting drug cartels and visit a vibrant city with good public transport, some stunning modern art and sculptures(Fernando Botero hails from there).
I'd love to spend some more time on the coast, and also get into the hills. Wonderful country and still incredibly untouristed. I went an entire week without meeting a single Brit. ^
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Old Mar 28, 11, 5:45 pm
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Originally Posted by Swanhunter View Post
Try about 3/5 the way down for the food.
Oops. I swear it wasn't there before. Or I had been drinking. Or both.

Anyway, thanks
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Old Mar 28, 11, 11:32 pm
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Very, very cool TR Swanhunter. I'm jealous.
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Old Mar 29, 11, 5:43 am
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Swanhunter, I had no idea you were the "Jack Colton" type. I would love to have the courage to do those sorts of trips.

Excellent TR my friend. Bravo.
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Old Mar 29, 11, 7:14 am
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Originally Posted by eightblack View Post
Swanhunter, I had no idea you were the "Jack Colton" type.
I am so glad I Googled that at work. For the avoidance of doubt, I, like you rely on my natural wit, charm and good looks to attract people.
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Old Mar 29, 11, 7:36 am
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Originally Posted by camsean View Post
Very, very cool TR Swanhunter. I'm jealous.
+1. Though I am DYING for pictures!
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Old Mar 29, 11, 9:29 am
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Originally Posted by Swanhunter View Post
I went an entire week without meeting a single Brit. ^
Mission accomplished then.

Very enjoyable read. ^
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