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BoA Trip Report Part 3: La Paz to São Paulo with Boliviana de Aviación
I had a very enjoyable morning at El Alto International Airport in La Paz, Bolivia. The airline knew I was there to write about the flights, so as soon as I got off the domestic flight from Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz, I was received by the ground staff.
I was invited by them to try the famous “mate de coca” — a tea made with coca leaves that is meant to help get used to the high altitude — at Boliviana de Aviación’s back office. After that, I went to take some photos airside.
In my opinion, El Alto looked like the most modern airport I visited in Bolivia. It had a good structure and was very organized for an airport of its size.
But soon it was time to head to Cochabamba, Bolivia, a 45-minute shuttle that is one of the most popular routes in the country.
OB607 – El Alto International Airport (LPB) — Jorge Wilstermann Airport (CBB)
The flight would be operated by CP-2926, one of Boliviana de Aviación’s four 737-800. According to Airfleets, the aircraft was originally delivered to the U.S.’s American Trans Air in March 2002, it was transferred to Trinidad and Tobago’s Caribbean Airlines in May 2008, after its American owner went bust. In December 2015, the aircraft was transferred to Boliviana.
As on my previous flights with Boliviana’s 737s, the cabin had those comfortable leather seats. The only difference, although hardly noticeable, was a personalized bulkhead.
The load factor was low on this flight, with only 96 of the 168 seats occupied, so there was no rush in boarding, and the doors were closed on time. Pushback was started at 11:03 a.m.
With no traffic ahead, the aircraft lined up at El Alto’s runway 28. At 11:10 a.m., the captain applied full throttle to the engines, and CP-2926 roared its way through the airport’s single runway.
I don’t recall seeing many longer take-off rolls than this one since the aircraft needs a higher ground speed to get off the ground at high altitudes. Regardless, the 737 seems to handle these extreme operations very well — the light load of the aircraft made up for a steep climb.
As soon as the seat belt sign was turned off, the cabin crew rushed to begin preparing the trolleys. Even though this was a flight of less than 40 minutes, they still had a drink service, a very nice touch by the airline. This time, I only took a Coca-Cola.
The flight passed really quickly, and at 11:26 a.m., just 16 minutes after take-off, we began our descent into Cochabamba. Although I couldn’t see too much throughout the flight, at least the landscapes during approach were nice.
At 11:43 a.m., CP-2926 landed at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport in Cochabamba under some light rain. Notice the aircraft boneyard comprising some classic 727s and 737s of the defunct AeroSur during short final.
Deboarding was quick .and about an hour and a half later, my flight back to Brazil would leave Cochabamba, so there was not much time to explore the airport.
Many of the passengers were transferring to São Paulo, but there was no transfer area at the airport, so everyone had to leave the airside and then return to it passing by the migration before.
OB738 Jorge Wilstermann Airport (CBB) — Sao Paulo-Guarulhos Airport (GRU)
Although our flight was the only international departure that afternoon, the wait at customs took a little bit because each passenger had to pass through a manual hand luggage inspection by Bolivia’s Narcotics Police.
After that, it was just about waiting for boarding. I had hoped for a miracle to happen and have the aircraft swapped for a 737-300, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Boarding was organized and on-time. I would fly again in CP-2926, although another crew had taken place for this flight.
From the window, I could see the ramp was full of Boliviana 737s. The airline is headquartered in Cochabamba, though their hub is located in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, and they also have a large base in La Paz.
Seemingly, Cochabamba is an important city for Bolivian aviation. There, most of AeroSur’s fleet was abandoned, as well as TAM (Transporte Aéreo Militar)’s, the airline of the local air force, and Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano’s, configuring maybe one of the biggest aircraft graveyards of South America.
Anyway, boarding ended on time, even with the flight having a high load-factor. Pushback was started at 1:06 p.m., four minutes before scheduled.
At 1:19 p.m., CP-2926 took-off from Cochabamba.
Onboard service was the same as in the São Paulo-Santa Cruz flight, a sandwich with a rather dry filling with a little mayonnaise package. Drinks were also the same, so I took a coffee and a Coca-Cola. Once again, there was a second round of drinks after everyone was served.
At this particular time, I felt the crew was a little bit more distant than on the other flights. Anyway, I know it was difficult to keep up with the brilliance of the other crews, all of whom were remarkable.
A quite calm flight succeeded; I took the time to read my book while keeping an eye at the window. The clouds only started to get sparser when the aircraft was already over Brazilian territory.
At 4:34 p.m., Boliviana flight 738 started its descent into Guarulhos, Brazil’s largest airport.
Some thunderstorms disrupted operations in Guarulhos, so the flight had to execute a holding pattern over countryside outside São Paulo.
After a much longer than normal approach, CP-2926 landed in São Paulo/Guarulhos International Airport at 5:43 p.m. Despite leaving on time, arrival was 33 minutes late due to these weather constraints.
After deboarding, in the exact same parking spot as I had left two days ago, I met Javier Miranda, BoA’s Guarulhos airport leader, which asked me if it all went well on this trip.
Indeed, all went really well and I was quite impressed with Boliviana de Aviación. This stint of six flights showed me that not only does Boliviana have a good product, but that it can be quite consistent from flight to flight.
As I mentioned before, the long-haul hard product is underwhelming for today’s standards, but the soft product makes up for it. And on the short-haul flights, I also liked Boliviana’s service.
Having a standardized and comfortable cabin with plenty of legroom in addition to having a complimentary drink service with hot beverages in the domestic operations — and a second-round when there’s time — the airline really impresses on shorter operations as well.
Is there space for improvement? Of course, there is. For instance, by adding WiFi, streaming and power plugs under the seats. However, as a smaller airline with lower investment capacity, hindrances that largely come from being state-owned, this kind of spending may not be as easy on larger, private airlines.
But the biggest asset Boliviana can count with, as per my experience, is its workforce. With very few exceptions, everyone I interacted with was very attentive, helpful, proactive and overall kind not just to me (for I know that as a guest by the airline, I could have been “flagged”), but to all other customers I saw as well.
Overall, this was a really nice experience, and I’m sure that if Boliviana de Aviación can keep the momentum, it will definitely print its mark in the South American aviation.
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