I was originally scheduled to take an early morning flight from Foz do Iguassu to Sao Paulo, then fly Sao Paulo to Lima, Lima to JFK, overnight in JFK, then fly to DCA in the morning. The schedule changed such that my connection in Sao Paulo was 40 minutes, which was way too close for comfort. It took many many emails and calls but finally LAN agreed to rebook me. For some reason, they couldn’t get me on the later flight to Sao Paulo which would have been best for several reasons, but they did get me on one of the two daily TAM flights from IGU to Rio, connecting to a non-stop redeye to JFK, giving me about an hour to connect to my flight to DCA.
The Sheraton made arrangements for me for a car to the airport back in Brazil for 560 pesos. The desk clerk told me two hours before the flight would be enough time, which I was skeptical of, but I trusted her. The trip back through Brazilian and Argentine immigration was pretty simple. This time the taxi driver came in with me at the Argentine border and spoke to the border agent, but I made it to IGU in a total of 30 minutes.
Arriving 90 minutes before my flight was totally unnecessary. IGU is a tiny airport. There’s a purposeless line for all baggage to be x-rayed before entering the check-in area. There’s a café and a shop there, and there were long, chaotic lines for TAM check-in, with flights to Curitiba, Rio, and Sao Paulo all leaving within 30 minutes of one another. Check-in took inexplicably long, but after another security screening, I made it to the one small gate area where all flights departed – with one food kiosk and a few jewelry stores.
The café sold burgers and sandwiches, and I figured I should have some lunch. Oddly they gave me a hard time trying to pay my 24 real tab with a 50 (approximately $10). I didn’t have enough smaller bills, and they encouraged me to pay with a card. I said forget it and then suddenly they had change. The “Beirut roast beef” sandwich was not quite as expected – a panini-pressed pita with low quality deli meat, pesto, cheese and tomato.
I bought $10 of junk souvenirs, and the gate area calmed down a bit. At my scheduled boarding time, though, a torrential downpour began. Which is bad when you have to walk outside to get to the plane. I hadn’t thought I’d need a raincoat or umbrella until I connected with my checked bag again, but TAM prepares for this, and had a ground crew member standing at the door handing out TAM umbrellas, that other employees collected at the plane.
They moved my flight to a “gate” closer to the plane. I had noticed that I had a “Plus” fare which entitles you to priority boarding, so I waited on the “Preferential” line. A gentleman with a Louis Vuitton bag accusatorily questioned whether I was preferential. I wasn’t even dressed poorly, with a Banana Republic polo shirt, so I don’t know what motivated him other than being a bad person. Of course, at boarding his seat was several rows behind me and had boarded through the wrong door.
The rain slowed and I ended up the first on board the A320. The flight was pretty much the same as my flight down from Rio, with only an hour and forty minutes flight time, though I didn’t have a bulkhead this time. Hard candies were distributed pre-takeoff, but then turbulence delayed service, which was just a bag of cheese crackers. The Hungarian tour group seated all around me was very upset that there was no milk offered to go with the coffee, and shouted across the plane.
I had download the LATAM entertainment app to my Kindle before the flight, but couldn’t get it to work, so watched the Sarah Silverman special I had downloaded back at home. We landed a little early, and a good 70% of the plane was standing before the seat belt sign went off, and continued the shouting across the plane.
Once in Rio, even though I both landed in and was departing from Terminal 2, I’d have to re-clear security and move from the domestic side to the international side. I had more than 4 hours before boarding my onward flight so I figured I’d wander over to Terminal 1 if only for the change of pace anyway. Terminal 1, though older, has a lot more food and shops pre-security than Terminal 2. There’s a food court, but then only one restaurant with real seating – a buffet which wasn’t super expensive – about $6. Unfortunately the food was not what you’d call good. It seemed very unfresh, and I wondered if it had been sitting out since lunch, as it was “only” 6:15pm.
After dinner, I headed back to Terminal 2 and through security. There are two Priority Pass lounges there. I read one review which suggested that the Smiles Lounge, operated by Gol, was the better of the two, so I headed there first. It was not particularly nice, and very crowded – thought it is connected to an Admirals Club, which I was surprised by since Gol is half-owned by Delta, and the wifi is actually through AA. I had lost my one adapter that was working with Brazilian power ports, so when I saw they didn’t have any American-style outlets, I headed towards the other lounge, stopping at the various stores to see if they had affordable power adapters. The cheapest was $29, so I figured I’d head to the other lounge, the ProAir VIP lounge, to stew it over. (I still had 30% power left on my laptop, and was close to full on all the other devices, with an external USB power supply.)
The ProAir lounge wasn’t significantly nicer than the Smiles Lounge, though interestingly, this is where Lufthansa puts its First Class passengers, whereas its Business Class passengers go to the Smiles Lounge. TAM also uses this lounge. It’s surprising TAM doesn’t have their own lounge, but it will be interesting to see if they continue to use that now that they are fully integrated with Oneworld and LAN. TAM doesn’t actually have a lot of international flights out of GIG – only JFK, Miami, Asuncion, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, and Santiago, having most of its international flying out of Sao Paolo, so its not super-surprising they don’t have a lounge.
Both had prepackaged salads, sandwiches, and desserts and self-serve drinks. Id say the Smiles lounge wins on dessert and booze (they had champagne), while the ProAir had slightly better looking savories. Furniture was much nicer in the ProAIr lounge, but it was soooo hot. With 2.5 hours of layover left and the lounge starting to fill up, I decided it was worth spending the remainder of my Reals for the adaptor. I’ve spent $29 on far more useless things, and I would’ve spent them on other junk anyway. Unfortunately, one problem with the Pro-Air lounge is one shared by many lounges. There are flat tables, and there are couches/seating areas. All of the outlets are at the latter, not the former, which means keeping your laptop on your, well, lap, if you want to work and charge. There were very loud children, using the floor to run trucks and cars all over the place, even though there was a separate children’s area, so with about an hour before boarding, switched back to the Smiles lounge.
Was no warmer, and less comfortable for working seating. Plus, they weren’t announcing the TAM flight, and, as with my flight from Rio to Iguazu, my boarding pass listed an obviously-not-true boarding time of 90 minutes before scheduled departure. So I went back to the ProAir lounge, which was right next to the boarding gate (in GIG T2’s “reversible zone”), and grabbed a water and charged some more for about 5 minutes, before boarding was announced for my flight.
Boarding didn’t actually begin for a while, but of course people were already lined up and couldn’t figure out the standard four TAM lines of pre-boarding, priority, back half, front half. I actually haven’t seen so many people ever “pre-board” – i.e, people who need extra time to board and traveling with small children. And I know you can’t judge people’s disability based on looks, but…. Anyway, boarding began at 10:15pm for an 11:15 departure. Even though I was supposed to be in the last group to board, there were a lot of stragglers.
The TAM 767 feels a lot smaller than the LAN 787, and in a good way. You don’t feel like you’re on a shipliner in steerage, packed to the gills. The business cabin is pretty much the same as on the 787, but the coach experience showed that LAN and TAM are nowhere close to harmonized. The seats were a lot more comfortable – despite being much older, and I didn’t miss the mood lighting. Though there were no individual air vents, I didn’t feel warm. The same seatback entertainment system had been installed, complete with USB power (same content and physical screen, but a different interface), though there was only one power outlet for the set of 2 seats in the 2-3-2 layout. The biggest difference was in what was waiting on the seat. There were headphones and a much smaller blanket and pillow than LAN had offered, along with a pretty full amenity kit – probably the fullest amenity kit I’ve ever received in coach – with socks, toothbrush, pen, and brush. Oddly, the two things missing were the two things that LAN had provided: earplugs and an eyemask. But I plan ahead 🙂
The flight time was scheduled at 9 hours and 50 minutes, and boarding finally finished at around 11pm, 15 minutes prior to departure. Unfortunately, my plan to work got hampered because woman in front of me fully reclined before the seat belt sign even came off while we were still on our initial ascent, and the guy next to me didn’t know how to use his headset so I was hearing his movie plus mine, oh and he was a manspreader.
45 minutes after takeoff, meal service finally began. I was in the first row being served by the cart, and the options were “ravioli in red sauce” or “beef with mashed potatoes.” I went with the beef, which was okay, though fatty; the mashed potatoes were gross. It came on a tray with processed cheese and crackers, and a salad I didn’t try. Service took a really long time—it was a full hour before plates cleared and coffee/water were rolled out, and then that service took another 45 minutes to wrap up before the lights were dimmed.
I had some trouble falling asleep but eventually got there. I woke up a few times, including once due to the people in front of me hanging out and chatting in the aisle. About 90 minutes before landing, breakfast was served – a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and crackers.
We landed at JFK on time around 6:25am, which should have been plenty of time for an 8am flight to DCA from the same terminal. But while I zipped through Global Entry, baggage took forever as it always does with AA’S JFK ground staff – so long in fact that I was worried I’d miss my flight. My bag didn’t come until 7:10am – an unacceptable 45 minutes after landing. I needed to get a bag tag to check my bag through to DCA, since TAM won’t check a bag through on separate tickets. Thankfully, the AA agent at the baggage dropoff area was able to print out a bag tag, and I booked it back upstairs, and through precheck. I was on one of the regional jet flights to DCA so that meant I was at the farthest possible gate, so I knew there would be no time for the Admirals Club- or my pie in the sky dream of a shower. Indeed, after a pee, while getting breakfast at Au Bon Pain, boarding was announced.
My upgrade didn’t clear, unusual for this route, but the combination of a regional jet and a Monday morning explains that. I had taken what I call the poor man’s upgrade, though, which is the front row of main cabin extra – more leg room than First actually. Plus, the seat next to me was empty – until an FA upgraded a large passenger from the back who had an insane amount of stuff. And then the FAs moved a girl with crutches into First. I had seen her when she boarded, and she asked if she could take the seat next to me. Call me heartless, but I’ve traveled with injuries before and there’s no reason why a passenger with a broken leg needs to be in F when there are empty seats in coach on a 47 minute flight. Overall, I don’t appreciate the FAs blatantly making up their own rules.
AA’s Twitter had the helpful response “We try to make our customers as comfortable as possible.” But First Class would be more comfortable for every passenger on the flight. People may say that it’s elitist to think rules about elite upgrades, etc., are followed. But it’s actually a question about fairness. When there are objective rules in place, and those rules are followed, you eliminate subjective discretion. I see this all the time in my work. When subjective criteria come into play, that’s where biases (subconscious and others) come into play. It’s also bad for corporate image and consistency. You can’t have every AA flight attendant determining for themselves who deserves an upgrade to a main cabin extra or first Class seat. What sort of injury is enough? That opens it up to people who bring gifts to FAs hoping to get special treatment. Bottom line, “being nice” to one passenger is being unfair to another passenger – the one who should have gotten the upgrade. Upgrades are zero sum. It also makes me feel like a fool for always following the rules – not passing off a giant bag as a “personal item,” turning my phone into airplane mode. Anyway, philosophical diversion over.
So that is finally the end of my trip report from November. And spoiler alert, in five days I’m going back to Brazil! Preview to come.