In a nutshell: Flying no-frills low-cost-carrier Viva Air Colombia during COVID-19 mean being subjected to packed gate areas and a packed plane. Boarding was confusing. Seating was confusing and cramped. But they got me safely to Cartagena, and the airline is taking some pandemic precautions. Plus, the ticket price was fantastic booked just three days out.
What’s more fun than flying a low cost carrier? Flying a low cost carrier in another country during a pandemic. I’m always game for flying new airlines, so when I had the option to fly Viva Air Colombia versus Avianca, I chose the former. The trip was a short hop from the capital of Bogotá to Cartagena along Colombia’s Caribbean coast.
Booking Viva Air Colombia
I hadn’t booked my intra-Colombia flight by the time I’d landed in the country. It was my plan to wait until the last minute, but I really didn’t plan to wait until quite this last minute. Searching for tickets, I found that low-cost carrier Viva Air was the best deal. The afternoon flight out of Bogotá was also the ideal choice in terms of timing.
The ticket cost 73,588 Colombian pesos, which converted to just $24.58 USD on my Chase Ink Preferred card statement. Definitely a cheap ticket for a 90-minute hop, booked just 3 days ahead of time.
But I wasn’t done. Traveling with both a duffel bag and a backpack meant that I needed to pay for a cabin bag as well. This cost another $20 USD. But it was still a better deal than either Avianca or LATAM, which were charging $50-60 USD one-way.
The last thing to note about the Viva Air Colombia booking and check-in process is that you must print your boarding pass ahead of time. If you don’t, they’ll charge you. How very Spirit. I made sure to get mine printed at the Grand Hyatt Bogota before I left for the airport.
Bogota Airport Experience
Bogota Airport was busier than I expected it to be during COVID-19. Still, the domestic security checkpoint was pretty dead. They only had one lane running, and the wait was less than 5 minutes. Given that I had to fly out of this particular section of the airport, I wasn’t able to take advantage of any of the Priority Pass lounges.
If the spirit of Spirit was already seen in how Viva Air Colombia handle their boarding passes, they also give the U.S. carrier a nod with their paint color. The bright yellow makes Viva Air unmistakable. Their more normal livery is in the foreground, which happens to be the A320 that would take me to Cartagena.
I arrived pretty early, not sure how long it would take to get through El Dorado International Airport. I made it to the gate in under 15 minutes, which meant I had well over an hour to wait. After hanging out in an uncrowded area, I returned to find the gate area rather packed. Social distancing was sorta being observed, but given the limited seating, some people had given up. I went and grabbed a donut from Dunkin Donuts for the first time ever, so I guess I get to check that off the list as well.
Boarding was sort of a mess. They were supposed to board by a few rows at a time, but between being unable to understand the gate agent over the PA system and the fact that half the passengers lined up at once, you just had to get in the conga line. No one was spaced anywhere close to 6 feet apart.
The number of people at the gate made me suspect this was a rather full flight. Best I could tell once aboard, it was a completely full flight. So much for any social distancing. I really couldn’t care less, but if you’re hoping to avoid close proximity with others, Viva Air is probably not the way to go.
The seats looked suspiciously like Frontier Airlines seats. I’d venture a guess they are from the same manufacturer. They are stuck in place with no recline and have a tiny tray table on the back.
It was refreshing to note that I still fit in a mere 29″ of seat pitch. Viva Air Colombia offers a “Space Plus” section. The difference? You get one more inch of pitch. One. At least per SeatGuru. You’ve been warned.
We departed Bogotá with a very full aircraft a little behind schedule. This was not helped by the fact that we started playing musical seats in the back, as one was double assigned. I’d also sat in the wrong seat, but no one approached me to move, and mine was already occupied by one half of a couple. We got it all sorted out eventually. Thankfully, I’d been given an aisle seat.
What more can I say about a packed budget carrier Airbus A320? The flight went smoothly, although it did certainly become uncomfortable near the end. There was no in-flight service. We landed in Cartagena safely. How different the weather was compared to the Andean capital.
Final Thoughts on Flying Viva Air Colombia
I’d never heard of Viva Air Colombia before planning this trip. But I would happily pay $25 again and again to fly similar hops with them. It’s unfortunate their baggage charge is so steep, at least in comparison to the ticket cost. I’ve so little experience with budget carriers even in the United States living on the West Coast. I think I’ve flown a total of two segments on Frontier and none on Spirit. I’ve racked up one Ryanair segment in Europe flying out of what might be the world’s worst airport (aka Rome Ciampino). As long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, low-cost carriers don’t present much of a hassle. Unless they experience complete operational meltdown.
Viva Air actually operates a handful of international routes, including flights from Medellín to both Miami and Orlando. If you live in Florida, they might be an option to consider for traveling to Colombia.