When I was younger I frequently heard stories about how you could fly as a courier on commercial airlines and others where you could find cheap seats on cargo flights. From what I remember of the stories, as a courier you would pick up documents in one city, go to the airport and get on a (free-for-you) flight to another city, and then drop off the documents when you got there. The cargo flights supposedly had "a few seats" that sometimes were available depending on the load the flight was carrying. They both sounded too good to be true so I never really looked into them.
Well, I guess some urban legends are true... This is my ticket for a cargo flight leaving Villavicencio, Columbia bound for Puerto Inirida, Colombia at a cost of 300,000 Pesos ($150 U.S.):
Puerto Inirida, which I will write more about later, is on the eastern border of Colombia with Venezuela. It's so remote that there's (almost) no way to get there other than by plane. Also, the town is so small that only about three or four flights per week go there, two of which are via this Air Colombia DC-3 (note my orange luggage below the wing of the plane):
That's correct, a Douglas DC-3, which was designed in 1935 and built (most likely in Santa Monica or Long Beach, California) in 1943! The plane was originally purchased by the U.S. Air Force, later sold to the Royal Canadian Air Force, and has been owned by Air Colombia since 1982. The DC-3 revolutionized commercial air travel in the U.S. by making it possible to fly coast-to-coast in as little as 15 hours. Interestingly enough, my outbound flight was on December 16th, one day prior to the 75th anniversary (December 17, 1935) of the first DC-3 flight!
The plane seemed to be in great condition especially considering its age. The interior was bare except for some canvas seats that are bolted to the walls. Here's a view of the first-class cabin on this Air Colombia flight:
...and here's how you don't get to the bathroom (yeah, just past the fruit trees, boarding stairs, two crates with dogs in them, passenger luggage, and assorted other packages):
Both the outbound and return flights were great and the lack of any in-flight entertainment, food, drinks, or snacks on board are very familiar to anyone who has flown in the last few years on a commercial airline in the United States. As I mentioned, Puerto Inirida is WAAAAY out there. The scenery out the windows is basically jungle with the occasional river thrown in:
The flight stops both ways in the tiny town of Barrancominas, which looks like there are about 500 residents. One local told me that the town doesn't even appear on a map of Colombia. Here's main street Barrancominas looking towards the "airport":
The stopover on both of my flights was to drop off and pick up both passengers and cargo. During the outbound flight the cargo that was dropped off was mostly Christmas-present-looking stuff, but...on the way back...FISH!!! Lots of fish! You can see a couple of the metallic bags with fish in them in this shot baggage-handling equipment pulled up to the plane:
All in all, Air Colombia was a great adventure. The flights were smooth and the folks who own and operate it were super nice and always very courteous. I felt surprisingly safe at all times. Even with the load of fish on the return flight, I wouldn't hesitate to take another trip on this piece of living history. Maybe I can get a job as a courier here in Colombia and get to fly with them again...