Tagged: gig

Travelling to the Brazilian Oktoberfest in Blumenau

As mentioned over in britexpatinrio.com, in October I travelled down to the southern Brazilian city of Blumenau to experience the second largest Oktoberfest in the world.

Blumenau does not have an airport, but is served by nearby Navagantes and also Florianopolis. The first first is around 1 hour away, the 2nd around 2 hours.  If travelling by TAM or Azul, there is a free bus transfer service from Navagantes, which costs R$50 if travelling on GOL.  From Florianopolis, there is an inter-city coach available I believe.

We were flying by GOL from Rio GIG to Navagantes.  The check in experience in Rio was, as I have seen before on GOL, a disaster…  Three huge queues, each having 3-5 desks serving them.  Except on the queue we were in, they kept taking 2 desks away to serve the running crisis of tens of people not checked in for a flight leaving any minute…   And given the handling, I’m sure they were on time.  We had to queue over an hour to check in, so I’m glad we arrived early.  Having said that, arriving late you basically got priority treatment and pushed to the front of the line, even in front of people on the same flight who had been queuing for an hour.  There is a GOL Smiles lounge at GIG, but we literally walked through security and boarding was ready to start a couple of minutes later.  This lounge can be accessed by Priority Pass members, or GOL elites.

I had selected GOL’s Comfort+, providing a few extra centimeters of log room.  And it is a very comfortable seat with 36cm of leg room, although the width is quite tight I find.  GOL use 737s, and I prefer flying on Azul’s Embraers for better seat width.  I also prefer their 2+2 seating as opposed to 3+3.  But, for a quick <2 hour flight, it is fine.  Even the non-seat plus is still ok for such short flights.

Navagantes is a very small airport, and we made it through quickly to the waiting bus, which was located on the far right of exiting the terminal.  Apparently it is branded ‘International’ airport, but I don’t think it has seen an international flight in a very long time, if ever!

The bus was very comfortable, and basically I just slept and woke up in Blumenau!  The bus station was only a short 10 minute walk to our hotel, the Accor Ibis Blumenau.

It has been a couple of years since I stayed in Ibis.  It’s perfectly functional, a queen sized bed, a room with enough space to walk round it.  And that’s about it.  The service is nothing special, but nothing offensive.  We had no problems with an early check in, which I requested in advance, and had our room by 10am.  After a quick drop of the bags, we headed out for the day.  As this is the peak time, it wasn’t the cheapest (in fact there were rooms for almost the same price as the 5* Accor property we stayed in São Paulo next!), but it is well located and has a good number of rooms.  There are no top level hotels in Blumenau, and this is a fairly decent option I’d say.

Breakfast was served until 1030 the next morning, which was a small buffet of fruits, ham, cheese bread and yoghurt.  Nothing wow, but enough to start the day.

We also experienced the local bus system, which was R$3.50 for a journey including changes (as long as you change in the right place!).  Like Rio, drivers still think they are all on a race track!

So, if you are thinking of going to Blumenau, it’s easy to get to from Rio or São Paulo, it is fairly cheap to stay, and you can drink a lot of beer while there.

We flew in to Navagantes from Rio GIG on the GOL morning flight.  This meant us paying R$50 each, which can be paid in cash or by card.  The bus transfer left shortly after we arrived, and only had a few passengers on off what was quite a full flight surprisingly.

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Rio to Heathrow (again) on BA World Traveller Plus 

Last weekend I flew a flight I have only done in business or first for the past two years in BA’s WT+, or Premium Economy.  Right up until check in I was due to fly in economy, and I wasn’t looking forward to it!  However I got upgraded to WT+ for free, most likely due to overbooking as there wasn’t a free seat on the plane!

The extra leg room and seat width, greater recline and improved food of WT+ makes a huge difference.  BA normally offer airport upgrades for around £200, and it’s very much worth it in my opinion.  Sleeping becomes feasible (comparatively), watching a movie becomes comfortable.

Seating is only 8 abreast, which is great.  That’s one less than most other airlines.  Economy is only 9, again one less than most.

Here’s a quick video of the cabin as I boarded:

The flight leaves at 945pm, so a reasonable enough time for an overnight flight.  A hot towel was offered shortly after take off, with a drinks service soon after.  The meal service was nearly 2 hours in to the flight however, a bit later than I was hoping for.  There are two options from the business class menu available, a tenderloin of beef, or breast of chicken.  I had the chicken, and it was edible.  I often find chicken options very dry, but it wasn’t as bad as some.  The wine however is the same as economy.

A reasonably sized screen, the viewing angle gets a bit bad if the person infront reclines their chair and you do not.  There’s two USB ports and a multi-country AC socket.

The crew were friendly, although I didn’t see them walking up and down very often with a drinks service.  As I was trapped in a window seat, I had to use the call button to request some wine, and only managed one cup of coffee with breakfast, as there was no more available…  That was disappointing, as in my memory they normally offered a top up!

So lately when I’ve looked at prices, WTP has been within $200-300 of business in each direction, and over $400 more than economy.  That’s enough to be worth stretching up even further perhaps.  However when the price is close, it is an easy decision for me.  Indeed. Sometimes it is less!  Same goes for the airport upgrades – $325 Or £225.

On the return journey I paid for my upgrade.  It was a much quieter flight with only 8 of us in the cabin!  I had both seats to myself, so more space including two tables to spread out on.  The service was also a bit better, but still no drinks trolleys coming through except after take off and with the meals.  The meal service itself was great!  The beef main meal on the return was excellent – a real surprise!  And even the chicken light meal was pretty decent.

Rio to New York via DFW on American Airlines Business

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.

Upcoming travels

I have a few reviews still to publish over the next couple of weeks, but I’m excited at the travel ahead.

Well…  Not the first two!  Rio to London in BA economy in May – this’ll be my first time since 2012, and my first time on the 777-300 with the newer IFE.  BA operate a 3-3-3 on their 777s, one of an increasingly small number to do so.  

Whenever I’ve been booked in economy before I’ve been successful in getting an upgrade to Premium Economy, a cabin I like a lot.  Lately though it has been a lot more than economy when paying cash, and so close to business class in price it hasn’t seemed worth it.  But a good miles + money option, or all miles.

After, I have an Air France economy, in both the A330 and 777.  The first I haven’t done, but should be ok with 2-4-2 layout as I have done on other A330s.  However the 777 is 3-4-3.  The seat is pretty small…  Last time I had an exit row seat with infinite leg room, but a seat so narrow it actually squeezed me!  We will see… This time no exit row, so marginally wider as the table and TV isn’t in the arm rest.  

I enquired about an upgrade to AF, but seems that is only available with miles and I don’t have enough with Flying Blue, and the price to purchase would make it far too expensive.  Having said that, the business class on both these flights isn’t great, with no fully flat bed.  I am really intrigued to fly Premium Economy here, and will try for an upgrade at the airport of then have any deals – I’ve heard rumours of good offers.

Then a flight I’m looking forward to – Qatar Business Class on the 777-200.  This is a 2-2-2 layout, so a wide seat on a 777.  It’s not the latest cabin, but still a very highly regarded soft product and a decent hard product.  Can’t wait to see how it compares to the other One World carriers.

London to Rio – BA First – experience in the air

So… picking up from the last post!

Sometimes there is a bit of chaos at the gate I’ve found… and this was about the most chaotic ever…  with no announcement to board there was a huge queue of people, half of them at the Fast Track lane.  After a couple of minutes they announced boarding would start, but a huge throng of people started towards the fast track queue…  I slowly managed to edge through the crowds of waiting people who were being told not to queue yet, to find a nice arguement starting on a guy who was in Premium Economy and insisting he should be allowed Fast Track.

It turns out, despite the seeming throngs of people, no one was actually supposed to be in the fast track lane yet…  We were the first in to the First cabin, today with two boarding air bridges, with a dedicated one for First.

The Rio flight is operated by a 777-300.  On all the BA First cabins, there are 14 seats, but some slightly different arrangements.  This is 1-2-1, with an extra two seats on the window sides to the middle.  We were shown to our seats and home for the next 10.5 – 11 hours by Nick, having selected the two center seats.  I’d never travelled in the centre before, always taking the window seat.  Certainly if travelling by yourself this is the better pick.  Travelling together, the centre seats allow conversation, but still a good degree of separation.  Of course each seat does have the hot seat opposite, so you can die together sitting opposite each other.

The BA First seat is a lot more simple than some.  Instead of a control panel with various buttons, there is a single dial you twist.  One way the seat relaxes, eventually turning in to a full flat bed, the other way is more upright.  There’s a button to put it back to landing position, and two to adjust the lumbar support.

There’s two lighting options – a small light in the ‘suite’ which you can turn on and dim, and two overheads, medium and strong light for lack of a better term!

The IFE screen folds back, so no watching during take off or landing.  It is also quite hard to open and close sometimes!  It’s an ok size at 15″, and isn’t too far away from you either.  The controls are in a small handset on the side of the seat (in a small cupboard when by the window), and touchscreen.

The hot seat pulls down (well, part of it) to make a foot rest at a lower hight, which is more comfortable for most positions.

Storage space is not much though.  There is a private closest, which is enough to hang a jacket, shirt and trousers in when changed in to the pyjamas, as well as a pair of shoes at the bottom.  That is it though…  There is an overhead bin for carry on, unlike some other airlines.  But around the seat itself though, there is no storage, other than a small magazine pouch not big enough for a book really, but ok for an iPad or Kindle.

By the window, the small table is raised out the side, which does give some space behind to stow some things.  In the centre it is slightly different, and there is more flat space there, but no where to secure things from sliding forwards.

There are the usual selection of USB port, multi-country mains socket, and a video in if you happen to have composite video out… not met anyone who does yet!

While the plane was boarding another 5 people joined in the First cabin, meaning half the seats were full.  We were served some of the very nice Grand Siècle as we had in the lounge, as well as some hot nuts.  The wash bags and pyjamas were distributed as well.  I do like BA pyjamas – I have eight pairs now, and wear them all the time! The washbag has some ok products (lip balm, moisturiser, eye gel, toothbrush, hairbrush, deodorant), but I do prefer the previous bag to the current one, which feels a bit cheaper and is quite small to be useful as a regular travel bag, unlike the previous one.

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The menu was distributed shortly after take off by the Cabin Service Manager, who also had a brief chat with all the passengers, and of course knows everyone’s name.  You can dine at your leisure in First, and we decided to dine together at around 3pm (we took off at 1).  The highest priority is of course the wine list!

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This gave us an hour and a half or so for a movie, and I watched Big Hero 6.  I’m just a kid at heart!  Loved it!!  And a couple of glasses of the pinot noir.

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I can’t for the life of me remember what the Amuse Bouche was on this flight… but I don’t think I liked it much! My starter was the ham hock and chicken terrine, which was pretty nice.  Normally I have a soup, but there wasn’t an option.  For my main I went away from my usual steak option, and went (Shock horror) for the Twice Baked Gruyere and Parmesan Souffle.  And it was delicious I must say.  Matched with a lovely glass of the bordeaux wine, Chateau Haut-Bergey 2004.

The chocolate fondant for dessert was quite divine, one of the best plane deserts I’ve had in a while.  For this I had a class of the Cabidos dessert wine, which has been on my last couple of flights.  They used to serve a Tokaji    , which I preferred, but it is still very nice.

This was my first time dining together, and it quite an interesting experience being able to sit together like at a real restaurant!  The hot seat isn’t the most comfortable in the world, but it is serviceable for a couple of hours, no worse than a simple chair in a restaurant anyway!

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As luck would have it, as it was coffee time the seatbelt sign came on, which means no hot drinks.  It was only for about 15 miniutes, at which time my espresso arrived, and I returned back to my seat for a bit to finish the movie, and to start another.

As it was a dayflight, I wasn’t particularly tired at this point, alternating between watching, reading and drinking!  I’m one to talk to the cabin crew if they are receptive, and on this flight I probably had a good one hour chat with the steward looking after my side of the First cabin.

At this point I had the bed made up, got changed to the pyjamas and slept most of the rest of the flight.  I didn’t bother with the light lunch, still feeling fairly satisfied after dinner and taking an opportunity to get some rest.

All in all a great flight, one of my better experiences on First… although I did miss the window…  I think the electric blind is fantastic!

Flying London to Rio – Iberia Business Plus on the new A330

My first post is going to be a cheat… I’m going to copy a lot of the post from a previous entry on my brit expat in rio blog, and expand on it a little.

Over the last few years I’ve been flying quite a lot, heading back to Europe almost once a month in 2013 for various reasons… But I haven’t ever posted anything about airlines and my experiences. And as I thought I should post before the end of the year, here is my mini review for those coming to Rio!

For this post, I am going to review my flight from London to Rio, via Madrid.

Most of the time I am flying to London, and have used BA, but a few months back it was significantly cheaper to take the Iberia flight via Madrid, and only 3 hours longer overall, so I went for that route.

I had travelled on Iberia twice before, but both times in economy (or Tourist Class) on a business trip.   I had both the newer (A330) and the older planes (A340-600) with the older interior. This meant not even having any In Flight Entertainment in Economy… It isn’t an experience I want to repeat really…  On the A330 the overall experience is quite similar to BA’s 777 on the Rio route.  The IFE system is decent but not the biggest English movie selection. But a huge improvement on before still, although the seat recline is somewhat reduced from the older cabin I thought.

This time though, it was was a holiday, and for holidays I always see the flight as part of the experience, and if I can I like to fly business, and I checked before booking that the flight was operated by the new A330, guarenteeing the new Business Plus cabin (the same cabin is being rolled out on the A340-600s – you can tell from the plane if it is the new or the old – an A340-500 = new business, an A340-200 or 600 = old business).  Later in the year I have a flight booked on the old Business Plus, so I will share my thoughts about that to you then!

For this flight, I selected a window seat (2L).  As you can see on SeatGuru, there is only one seat on the window side of the aisles, but not all window seats are equal!  Their new Business Plus is in a staggered layout giving 4 seats across in each row, although as it is staggered they alternate in layout – there is only one row of seats between the aisle and the windows so no one sits next to you, but on some you sit next to the window, others next to the aisle and the window is further away from you because of your table and storage are. Equally on the middle, two seats are together, then apart next to the aisle with the tables in the middle.  So again, be careful if you are travelling alone – the middle ‘honeymoon’ seats could make for an uncomfortable journey, as you are as close as you would be in economy, but great for travelling as a couple.   I have had a subsequent flight travelling with my fiancee where we took the middle two seats (row 1, 3, 5).

Unfortunately I wasn’t thinking to take any good pictures, but snapped a couple.

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The seat itself has a massage function, and is quite adjustable, but the seat base move forwards in steps with a certain amount of recline available, then it moves another step forward for more recline, but due to the location of the leg rest / ottoman (fixed position) eventually you just have to put your legs up or have them chopped off! I’m a big fan of the ‘Z’ position available on BA’s Club World seat for watching a movie, which is unfortunately not available. Also the TV screen is fully fixed, so when very angled or in the bed position, the viewing angle to the screen is quite bad and it can’t be tilted down.

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There is a lot of storage space and a decent amount of privacy. BA’s is arguably more private at the window seat, but does not have no where near as much storage space to put things. And there is direct aisle access without the issue of having to step over someone’s bed in BA if they are sleeping! And to top it off, a nice wine selection too. Talking about the on board service, we were offered a small bag of L’Occitan products as well as the standard washbag – a nice touch with some nice hand cream, lip balm etc. but the washbag products were not great, I guess why the after addition!

For the initial drinks service cava was offered along with  a nice choice of olives as well as the more traditional nuts. The main meal had a decent looking selection on the menu.  I selected a meat cannelloni.  The table was well presented with a table cloth on the table, and there was very attentive service during the meal in taking away empty plates, refilling wine etc.  But…. the meal itself though was quite a let down..  First I was served the wrong meal, and the cannelloni itself was something I might expect to find in economy I thought!   However, one of the highlights of the drink service was the excellent Pedro Ximinez sherry and being offered a tasting of the two very enjoyable Spanish brandies on board.  In general, the wines and drinks were quite decent.  The steward looking after me was excellent, and all the crew spoke a good level of English.  It’s also worth mentioning that the tray table itself is very stable, unlike the BA Club World table that can wobble quite a bit.

Oh, and we also had some great views on the flight!

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Once the transformation of all the planes is complete, the new Iberia Business Plus is one of the better I have flown in as a hard product, and on this flight the service was also very good.  But the food, and sometime the service as well can let Iberia down I’ve found.  Also the IFE, although a good system, is lacking in English language movies. Nonetheless, I am now giving them far more consideration to them in the future, as the stop via Madrid doesn’t make the flight too much longer than the direct if it is a better buy. Unfortunately, there is no Premium Economy cabin still.

Of course on this flight, I had to get to Madrid.  I actually like Madrid T4/4s – I think it is a very nice looking building, a good lounge, and a decent selection of shops, and I don’t mind the transfer here.  On this journey I stayed the whole time in 4S as BA flights depart exclusively from here.  The lounge in 4S is my favourite as it caters for long haul flights, as well as European – this means a better food selection with hot food options.  The lounge in T4 is only for European flights – it has the same drinks selection, but only sandwiches and salads for food.  If you are connecting via Iberia to London it leaves from T4, so bare in mind there is a transfer between the terminals – if you are on a short connection <1 hour, it could be very tight to get from T4 to T4S, as there is a passport control in between as well as an automated train to take you to and from.  The roof of T4 (and similar in 4S) is beautiful though in my opinion – very nicely designed:IMG_2187

For the MAD-LHR leg, I flew in the new Club Europe cabin LHR-MAD…. Except, in a way I didn’t – I was flying on the new Club Europe cabin, and there is no longer a dedicated set of seats with more leg room – the whole cabin is the same, they just close off the middle seat with a table… This gives them flexibility to increase and shrink the Club Europe cabin – but it makes me question why am I paying more? Not having someone sit next to me… Of course you do get Champagne to drink, and the food is a little bit better. Of course there are other perks besides the flight experience itself, such as lounge access and priority boarding and exiting of the plane. The seat itself looks good and ‘classy’, but for a premium business class product, I really think this is a mistake from BA to reduce the leg room. The recline is all but non-existant (nice for not having the person in front intrude of course, but not so nice for me wanting to sleep a bit on my 630am flight). On a 45 minute Paris flight, who would notice… but on a 2.5 hour journey this is the sort of thing I would have been inclined to pay for… With a BA Silver card you get lounge access, priority boarding, business class check in (in fact even a Bronze card gets the last two).

As I said, I have another Rio-London flight via Madrid bookedin December, and I’ll be flying on both the new and old Business Plus, and also a BA 767 for the connection to London, which should have the old Club World flat beds – for the same price the product can vary a lot!  I have also flown in Iberia Business, which is similar to the older BA Club Europe product, just blocking off the middle seat, with a couple of extra inches of leg room.  It is worth saying if you are flying economy, Iberia do not have a free food or drinks service in economy, unlike BA.

Next up, a review of a recent flight in BA First London – Rio, American First New York – Sao Paulo, American Business Rio – DFW, and London to Edinburgh in a plane nearly as old as me it felt like…   And some hotels perhaps!