Two Near Misses…Thanks Colombian ATC!

AV Airbus A320-214

AV Airbus A320-214

When it came time to leave the luxurious 5-star Hotel El Caribe, I was not in a good place. Three nights of going out hard in Cartagena will absolutely catch up with you. I was doing ok in my room with the curtains drawn and the air conditioning cranked up, but I knew soon I would be out in the heat, the sunlight and surrounded by crowds. I was not excited.

It was still a few hours before my flight, but apparently the luxurious 5-star Hotel El Caribe needed my room, and they were adamant that I get out.

I settled up with the desk, threw my bags into a taxi and got moving towards CTG. I found the signage at CTG incredibly misleading and I kept walking back and forth between sub-sections of the airport, unable to find the Avianca counters.

When I finally managed to locate the desk, the agent noticed my scheduled flight wasn’t for a while and told me there was another flight leaving in 20 minutes with available business class seats.

I had no great desire to hang around CTG for an extended period of time, so once she assured me that I’d be able to make the flight, I agreed to take her up on her offer and switch to the earlier CTG-BOG flight, AV 9549. It was a decision I would almost come to regret.

With a boarding pass for my new flight in hand, I went outside and around towards where the domestic gates are. CTG is tiny, so security took about 30 seconds. As soon as I was through, my gate was dead ahead and my flight was already boarding.

This was oddly reminiscent of my experience with Thai when flying from Phuket to Bangkok in the aftermath of the Koh Phi Phi Tsunami scare.

I went right from security to the gate, outside, up the airstairs and onto our Airbus A320-214 registration N451AV.

2nd AV flight, 1st on an AV red liveried plane.

2nd AV flight, 1st on an AV red liveried plane.

The seats were identical to those on my flight in from BOG to CTG.

I conked out for most of the flight back to BOG, which I assume was uneventful. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the final portion.

I have been on probably thousands of flights in my traveling life. In all of those flights, I have had only ONE missed approach ever, on an Air France flight from NCE to CDG.

As we neared the runway, on final into BOG, close to touchdown, I heard the engines rev up, the plane hesitated then lurched back skyward, and I knew we were going around. The second missed approach of my travel career.

We gained altitude, circled for a bit, then setup to try it again.

Just before the wheels finally hit the tarmac, you guessed it…I again heard the engines scream, the aircraft floundered then began upwards and we were doing it all again. My third missed approach and the second of the flight.

At this point, I was starting to have my doubts as to whether these pilots were capable of landing an aircraft at all, and I was kicking myself for trusting my safety to Avianca.

Additionally, there are mountains around BOG and it was getting to be late afternoon and the clouds were rolling in. Mountainous terrain, worsening visibility and a crew that was seemingly not competent enough to land an airliner at their home hub…I know we were never really in any danger, but it’s easier to see that in hindsight.

On the THIRD try, the pilots managed to set it down, and I felt like giving them a pat on the back. When we got to the gate and deplaned, I asked one of the FA’s what the cause of the two go arounds had been, since the pilots hadn’t made any announcements.

She told me that BOTH go arounds were due to traffic on the runway as we were about to land, so basically we almost pulled a quasi-Tenerife twice in a row. That’s some fine looking out there BOG ATC crew…you have traffic on the runway causing a near collision, then you wave us off, send us around and when we come back to try it again you vector traffic onto the runway in front of us again!? It boggles the mind.

The important thing is that we got down safely. Between the hangover and the stress of the go-arounds, my nerves were a bit jangled. I got off the plane, walked out front, hopped a cab and made for the JW Marriott.

The cabbie’s daughter lived in the U.S., and he felt it necessary to tell me her whole life story and all about her husband who is in the Marines. I nodded politely throughout, but really just wanted to close my eyes and rest.

It was early evening by the time I got to the hotel. I went up to the room, dropped my stuff off and flopped onto the bed. The hard part was over. Now I could rest and recover until my return to America.

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