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BoA Trip Report Part 2: Madrid to La Paz via Santa Cruz with Boliviana de Aviación
After a very pleasant flight from São Paulo to Madrid with Boliviana de Aviación and some hours of planespotting in Barajas Airport, it was time to return home. I was excited to see if BoA would maintain the good impression I had on the first few flights.
I arrived to Madrid’s Terminal 4 with plenty of time to spare. Although there was a long check-in line, this flight had Business Class, so unlike in Guarulhos, I had a separate line and waited no time.
Business Class granted me Fast Track access through customs, so in little time I was already in the transfer area of Terminal 4.
I say “transfer” because Terminal 4S (Satellite), where BoA actually operates, can only be accessed through the airside of T4 (the non-Schengen one). So all passengers must check-in on T4 and then move to T4S.
This involves a lot of walking and also using the APM (Automatic People Mover), an automatically controlled train, which covers the bulk of the distance. The wait didn’t take long, and in a few minutes, I was at T4S.
In Madrid, BoA’s Business Class passengers have access to Iberia’s Velazquez VIP Lounge. Iberia and Boliviana are codesharing partners, hence the free access to the lounge.
Overall I really liked the lounge. It was super spacious, with two self-service meal areas and a very modern design with comfortable chairs.
I just had time to eat dinner, for boarding was almost starting. I then went to the gate, which was pretty far from the lounge. The walk was shortened, though, since there were multiple moving walkways along the extent of the concourse.
When I arrived there, boarding had already started. I was a priority passenger, so didn’t need to wait in the line.
I would be returning on the same day of the arrival, so the aircraft was the same as the Santa Cruz-Madrid leg. CP-3017 had stayed the whole day in Madrid and now would take me back to the other side of the Atlantic.
Again, pre-departure drinks were offered, and I took some white wine to start things up, which tasted like the same that was offered in the first flight. The leader FA asked me if I wanted to be woken up for breakfast, which I accepted.
This time, Business Class had a higher load-factor, with half of the 10 seats occupied. The central row was empty, so the crew would use it for resting during the flight.
At 9:34 p.m., four minutes after STD, pushback was started and both engines were started up. A quite short taxi for European standards followed and at 9:48, Boliviana 777 took-off from Madrid.
Soon the lead flight attendant offered me the dinner options. Main courses were three: beef steak with mashed potatoes, chicken with quinoa or risotto. I chose the beef steak.
In no time the main course had arrived, although there was no entry course beforehand. Maybe the cheese pieces and the small salmon plate (which was superb) that came with it would serve as such, but I’m not sure about it.
Really, the steak was genuinely wonderful. I don’t remember eating such a good meat for a long time… to make up for a good night of sleep, the FA suggested me to take a beer. They had the Paceña, brewed in La Paz. I’m not a beer expert, but it tasted good to finish such a good meal at a high note.
By the way, I appreciate when international airlines value their local products. If airlines are overseas representations of a country, bringing local meals or drinks is always a nice touch.
I was asked if I wanted dessert, which was very welcomed at that point. I don’t know what it actually was, but it tasted quite good as well.
For some reason we weren’t given blankets and pillows, so I had to ask for it. Anyway, after I was given them I slept almost for many hours — this trip had really left me exhausted.
I woke up before breakfast, so I stretched myself and took the book from my backpack to continue reading it.
At 7:25 a.m. Madrid time, around an hour and a half before landing, breakfast service was started, with options being an omelet or a croissant. I opted for the omelet, which was not bad.
An uneventful flight succeeded, and soon we were soaring over Bolivian territory. Shortly thereafter the descent into Santa Cruz de La Sierra was started.
At 3:48 a.m. local time (8:48 in Madrid), twelve minutes before the standard arrival time, CP-3017 touched down back in Viru Viru International Airport. Being the airport is relatively small, taxi to the gate took no time, especially because there are very few flights during this time of the night.
Deboarding was quick, with Business Class passengers leaving first. This was a pretty nice flight, but there was more to come really soon.
The original plan was to wait for the daily flight from Santa Cruz to São Paulo, which would leave at 8:30 a.m.
However, arriving in São Paulo, I would spend the whole day waiting for the flight back to my hometown. Additionally, that day had one of the three weekly flights from Cochabamba to Guarulhos later in the afternoon.
So I tried my luck and asked the first BoA agent I found if it was possible to swap my flight and return home via La Paz/El Alto and Cochabamba. This needed to be quick; the flight to La Paz would leave in about an hour and a half, so I was a little bit worried.
The very attentive agent told me to wait for her reply at the international departures area. About half an hour later, she returned with the boarding passes. We then rushed through customs, the x-ray machines and the national departures area until we got to the gate, because my flight was already boarding.
I thanked her so much and went to the aircraft. Thankfully, boarding was at a remote position, so I could enjoy the views, the fuel smell and a BoA 737-300 parked just by our side. I wish I could have flown it, but later discovered they are not allowed to operate at that very high-altitude airport anyway.
This flight would be operated by CP-2922, a 737-700 with a long history in South American aviation. It was originally delivered to Argentina’s LAPA in February 2001. Months before the demise of LAPA, the aircraft was delivered to Brazil’s GOL in January 2003. In June 2010, it then went to the U.S. flying for Sun Country Airlines, until August 2015, when it finally arrived in Bolivia.
I was positively surprised to see that the seats were the same I saw on the São Paulo-Santa Cruz flight — that is, they’re standardized to a model chosen by BoA. Not bad, especially considering that smaller airlines in South America tend not to change seats when bringing used aircraft.
I was one of the last passengers to board, and doors were closed on time. At 5:43 a.m., pushback was started.
The climb was pretty turbulent. As the day was dawning, I saw we actually didn’t get out of the clouds layer at any moment of the flight.
Anyway, the crew started the service as soon as they could. Just recently, BoA stopped offering snacks on domestic flights, which means the service had beverages only, which I think it’s okay for a one-hour flight like this.
Options were peach and apple juices, coffee, water and tea. I asked for coffee and peach juice. Again, at this flight, after everyone was served, they offered another round of drinks, so it was not an isolated action of the first flight. I think this is the first time I’ve seen an airline doing that at a short-haul flight, which is a nice touch.
After the service was done, I went to talk a little bit with the crew. I was worried about El Alto’s very high altitude. After all, this is the highest international airport in the world. Visiting there was not planned and I was not prepared for the “soroche” — as they call the mountain sickness.
They were very lovely, explaining all my doubts. They said that if I didn’t feel well, then I should let BoA’s ground agents know and they would assist me on that. In extreme cases, doctors from the airport are there to provide assistance as well.
Overall, the cabin was well maintained. This was the first duty of the day for CP-2922, so this was kind of expected.
As we descended into La Paz/El Alto International, I felt a little bit dizzy, but nothing more than that. As the crew noticed I was taking photos, they invited me to swap to the other side of the aircraft so I could have a better view when landing.
Seemingly, the magnificent mountain could be seen on the side I was originally seated at, but anyway, this was a very nice act of proactivity by their side.
At 6:46 a.m. local time, we touched down at La Paz International Airport, located in the adjacent city of El Alto — which literally means “the high” in Spanish.
Notice how fast the aircraft approaches the ground. As I would later discover, V-REF (speed at which the aircraft crosses the runway treshold) was of astonishing 170 knots of groundspeed on this flight.
Deboarding proceeded quickly and I went to the cockpit to talk to the crew about operations in El Alto. I was genuinely impressed about how extreme the operation is there — it’s crazy to imagine this is their daily routine.
Captain José Luis Leigue, who was in charge of the flight that day, proudly talked to me about the operations in La Paz. According to him, a take-off roll in Santa Cruz, which is in a way lower altitude, can take down to 1,000 meters. A take-off roll in El Alto, on the other hand, takes around 2800 meters. The airport’s runway is really long, measuring 4,000 meters.
These extreme performance conditions happen basically because the high altitude means the air pressure is much lower than at the sea level, bringing the power produced by the engines down.
Moments like this remind me why I love aviation so much. The amount of skill needed to safely operate these huge metal birds in such difficult conditions must be immense.
After these two flights, there were only two to go now. Again, both left me a really good impression of Boliviana de Aviación.
The return flight from Madrid was similar to the inbound one, which was expected, although I noticed some inconsistencies, like not giving blankets and the necessaire without requesting it. Anyway, I felt that the crew was really attentive; they really seemed to care about providing a good flight to us. Mistakes like these may happen sometimes.
Besides these minor issues, overall feeling was really good and again, I can’t wait to see what BoA will offer when it has a competitive hard product on its long-haul flights. Then, it will be just a matter of solving some small problems on the soft product and they will be pretty competitive.
The leg to La Paz was also really enjoyable. The cabin was the same as the São Paulo, with those comfortable leather seats, the onboard service was okay for a short hop like these and, once another time, the cabin crew stood out.
They were really genuine, proactive and attentive to everyone, seeming happy to be there and proud to do what they do. This was especially true with at the flight deck, when I could see how happy the pilots were to share with me their experiences of operating at El Alto.
Now there were just two more flights to go with BoA until I got back home.
Editor’s Note: The author flew as a guest of the airline.
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