via Dallas… Yes, it’s a slightly long way round, and there is a direct flight. But this was far more cost effective.
AA run from GIG Terminal 2, the slightly newer and nicer of the two terminals at GIG (comparatively, as nice isn’t a word I’d use on its own)!
AA’s check in is at the far end of the terminal, and had almost no queue on business class when we arrived about 2 hours before the flight. And about an hour later than planned due to Rio’s traffic….
The post security immigration queue was the longest I had ever seen in Rio, although normally I’m flying from terminal 1. All flights to the U.S. Go through 2, making it a lot busier with international flights I guess.
But I still had nearly two hours in the AA lounge thanks to the crew being stuck in the same traffic, with the plane leaving about one hour late in the end.
The lounge is nothing special. No ‘food’ per se, just snacks. But wine, and some seats. It was very busy today with not many seats left as every AA flight was late.
The plane was a 767, with AA’s old 2-2-2 business product with angle flat beds. I really wasn’t expecting much; it had been years since I last flew AA, and by all accounts I wasn’t in for the best experience.
On boarding we were directed to our seats, and offered champagne. I didn’t get to see the bottle, but it was served in plastic glasses…
So the seat itself met my not so high expectations. Certainly not up to a modern business class seat, but comfortable enough, and an angle flat is far better than an economy seat still. I managed a couple of hours of decent sleep.
There is no built in IFE, instead about half an hour in to the flight Samsung tablets were distributed. It’s functional, but a somewhat bulky solution with a mess of charging cables taking up most of the space on the mini tray above.
The seat controls were a bit odd I thought, in as much as how large and prominent they were. But simple enough to use. As I said, it is only angled flat, but can be comfortable enough in intermediate positions.
The crew themselves were the real surprise though. With one exception, they were friendly and helpful. My wine was kept proactively refilled (although nothing special), the food was edible (but didn’t leave much impression other than the Sundae) and the Bose noise cancelling headphones welcome (I’d forgotten quite how noisy a 767 could be in comparison to a 777). Other airlines take note!
I was expecting much worse from some stories.
Immigration at DFW…. For me I was through fairly quickly. For those on a visa it was a different story. Well over an hour. Then a long transfer between terminals for the Domestic First leg to JFK. Things were a bit of a mess with some building work going on, and it was a bit confusing finding the lounge, having to go through what at first I thought was closed off!
The Admiral’s Club lounge was big.
And seemed deserted as a result, even though counting people there were a fair few. I was somewhat surprised to find alcohol wasn’t free, especially on a long haul connection… There was a proper bar, but you just had to pay. But as it was 7am in the morning I didn’t want anything either. The food options weren’t great, just cereals, fruit etc. Nothing hot. Generally domestic lounges in the US don’t offer the same level as European lounges I would say (the BA Galleries at Heathrow being a prime example).
The connecting flight to JFK… Used to European business class, I don’t expect much on a three hour connection. But I really don’t understand calling it First, as that devalues real First to me. Business is a perfectly ok name…
We had front bulkhead seats, enough legroom, only 2 abreast on a 737, and something resembling a cooked breakfast. No champagne though, which was disappointing.
And finally, after 24 hours from leaving home, we arrived at JFK.
So the second part of my New York travels was something I was looking forward to trying. AA’s new international first on the 777-300 from JFK to GRU. This would be followed by a quick TAM flight back to GIG.
For a few months before the flight I had secured a window and aisle seat. In the last couple of weeks before I got lucky and managed to secure the two middle seats. Normally I’d always want a window, especially due to the seat here, but when travelling with someone it is rather antisocial!
I arrived at JFK quite early, dropped off the rental car and had a long train journey to the AA terminal.
The first struggle came to find the Flagship First check in! Perhaps I was blind, but couldn’t see it so walked down to business to ask, only to find it was the opposite end of the terminal!
Entering through a set of automatic doors, my first impressions were very good! Leagues ahead of the BA First check in area at Heathrow.
There were a number of desks, with a porter to take the luggage. However only one was manned but with no queue. Check in was quick, our bags whisked away and through the door in to security.
I wasn’t expecting this, but the first check in line went in to the TSA Pre Check. Being British, and having done no registration I didn’t realise I was eligible. My partner was not however…. After waiting while they served the main line, I was sent through but then he was whisked away to another area to queue again. Not very well handled!! I was expecting priority security sure, but to whisk someone away to another queue was a bit odd.
But… After a few minutes he joined me on the other side and we headed to the Flagship First lounge. At the front desk we were escorted to the doors to the right and swiped in to the lounge. At no point were we greeted by name either
Disappointing was my main thought. Certainly not a scratch on the Concorde Lounge at Heathrow or JFK…. It was busy, no comfortable chairs left (only those round a dining table we at first had to share with another couple), no waiter service, and no champagne!
There was a hot buffet, and the food itself was ok but nothing special – similar to the BA Galleries lounge I’d say. The wine again was in a similar position. The showers were good though.
With around 3 hours to kill at this point, and the miserable shopping selection at JFK not helping to pass any time, I was rather disappointed! I love lounges and was really hoping for more. I should have checked the standard Flagship lounge, but didn’t think.
Finally it was time to board!
The priority boarding line was short and orderly, and there was one bridge for both business and first. I think we caught the crew off guard as there was no one to show us to our seats so we made our own way.
First impression of the cabin was good. Not very private, but it looked nice. The seats were comfortable, the screen decent. The novelty feature is the swivel chair.
For take off and landing it points straight forward. For flight it angles in a few degrees which lets you recline and form the bed. But you can also turn inwards, or to face the window!
This is how dinner was had!
The service had a slightly odd start as the cabin manager, Steve, put my partner’s bag in the overhead locker, itself a nice touch but it came with ‘is it too heavy for you sir?’ I got that it was a joke, but still…
Seated either side, in one of the seats I had reserved to start was a Brazilian couple who asked if we could swap. We said no, as I spent weeks of daily checks to secure two middle seats. The wife did not look happy and made Steve’s life difficult insisting on sitting next to her husband. The husband…. He seemed relieved!! Some champagne helped to soothe things over, in plastic glasses…. Come on AA! The wash bag is somewhat… Well it’s a tablet sleeve! And the toiletries inside were only AA branded, nothing ‘special’, especially for first.
We asked for dinner as soon as possible in to the flight as it was a 10pm take off. And turned the seats to face inwards.
There was a lot of table space from the main pull out table and the flip out central table. There is a hot seat, but as the TV position is static, I think it would have been very uncomfortable to use!
Dinner itself was ok, but nothing wow. I had the soup, followed by the beef. The wine, which the menu said was award winning, was perfectly ok but not the level I might expect on first class, and not that extensive with just two reds and two whites. Here’s the menu:
The dessert sundae was great though, even better than the way out on business. In the morning, I had the American Breakfast, which was quite disappointing. I would have hoped for pancakes, bacon and maple syrup, muffins, perhaps eggs benedict… But a flat and flaccid omelette was served as the ‘American Breakfast’. The bread selection was also poor, with something that was certainly pushing the definition of a croissant.
Speaking of business class though, I popped back to look at it. The new AA business looks fantastic! Reverse herring bone, very private, spacious… I actually paid less for my first ticket than business cost on the same flight, but in normal pricing, it could be hard to justify… Especially as first is less private if that is an important consideration!
Now the service from the two crew was great. Steve especially was very friendly and made sure our glasses were refilled. I feel they have a good hard product to work with, but are let down by the menus and wine selections. Otherwise this could have been a truly great first class flight I think.
I think it was one of the best sleeps I’d had on a plane, as after dinner I requested my bed be turned down, went to put on my (not 100% cotton but soft) pyjamas and was out like a light until breakfast!
Deplaning first made GRU’s immigration pretty easy (it can be awful!). Bags were out quickly too, as we had to clear customs and recheck (I believe always in GRU). Then a shop…. With crazy queues. After some tricky navigating, bag recheck for TAM was straight after, and we were issued updating boarding passes showing the gate.
Then the tricky bit… Our boarding pass only had a gate, not a terminal… After asking lots of people, and navigating through the unsigned maze we ended up at T2. Asking where the lounge was, I was told there were two lounges, one before and one after security.
Now the worst bit… There is no lounge after security… T2 is split in to two wings, and the domestic wing has no lounge. Not good!! A two hour wait with no lounge, no shops and uncomfortable chairs… I since discovered There is an Amex Centurion lounge before security open to Platinum holders. Nothing great, but better!
But one final surprise – a change of plane meant we had a long haul 767 instead of the normal A320, and a business class angled flat seat.
It taught me not to consider TAM business to the UK unless it is dirt cheap! Not the comfiest seat, and too short for me. There was an uncomfortable hard part that would dig in to my side when I lay down. But still it was better than the expected shuttle service plane.
45 minutes later, we were back in Rio and the holiday was over:(