I arrived early (as I often do) and to my surprise, the TAM/LAN check-in was open 5 hours before departure; I was fully expecting to wait much longer. TAM has a number of flights from New York – usually one or two to Sao Paulo and one to Rio de Janeiro. Some of them come out of Toronto (and allow for a cheap business class purchase). The agent had no trouble understanding my plan to travel with two passports. My US passport had no visa for Brazil but I planned on using my German passport to enter Brazil (as it does not require a visa). She typed for a few moments and then we were done.
Unfortunately, TAM/LAN does not support TSA Pre, so no chance of using the shorter line. The regular security line wasn’t long either, though, and I would be done in minutes (not like my 30-minute we-need-to-check-it-all-ordeal before my Qatar flight).
TAM does not have its own lounge in New York and instead uses the American Airlines lounge. I had visited the American Airlines Flagship Lounge last October and had been positively surprised. The Admirals Club is just to the left and frankly almost the same. Now, of course, you can find a hair in the soup and with the Admirals Club you get only free two premium drinks and the food offers are minimal. But how much do you actually drink? And I’d just had a big lunch before coming to the airport – did I need to eat some more questionable carbs?
The layout, the Internet connection, the view, and furniture are all the same. I had a long shower and I’m sure it’s the same as in the Flagship lounge – sometimes we should not blindly believe in all the airline marketing hype!
The Internet connection was fast and I could get some work done. After two beers, I was ready for my flight!
Boarding was from the ‘satellite’ terminal’ which requires you to go through the tunnel walkway. It was slightly chaotic (hey, we are going to Brazil everyone!) but friendly and everyone was patient. It seemed the flight would not be full in business or economy. TAM has ripped out most of its first class offerings and while I would have loved to try it out, it probably had terrible utilization anyways.
Business class was about half full. I had a window seat on the right but when I tried to adjust the seat before take-off it did not move at all. TAM Business Class looks pretty antique and I did not want to be stuck in a non-working seat. I sat on the seat immediately next to it, preparing myself to move in-between.
After boarding was complete, several people started moving around the cabin to get a double seat in this 2-2-2 config. Nothing surprising so far. But suddenly an elderly lady showed up where I was sat and motioned me to get my backpack off my seat. I asked why and she mentioned that all she wanted was a window seat. Again, everyone was spreading out and she wanted to sit next to me? I told her about the non-working seat and she just repeated her line. I was perplexed. The flight attendant came by and she threw a friendly ‘stop talking’ toward me and ‘I only listen to the flight attendant – you shut up’. Talk about rude seatmates!
Now the flight attendant seemed to have granted her wish as he did not see me while I was in the restroom. He was not ready to take back his approval and mentioned that I would need to sit in my assigned seat or lose it to the ‘friendly lady’. Again, I told him the seat would not move and the lady repeated her line – ‘I just want a window seat’.
Since there were plenty of double seats in the middle, I felt no need to make this a big deal so I relented. Oh well.
We had a bit of a delay and once airborne (it was still a windy day) the pilot did some ‘wild’ gyrations. This was a 767 but we had an ‘angle of attack’ of a much smaller plane. As we
shot soared, we turned a sharp right 270 degrees only to turn another 360 right after. ATC likely had a firm grip on all planes that day but our pilot flew this 767 like a large fighter jet for the first 5 minutes! I’m sure he had fun!
After all that drama we settled into a smooth ride at cruising altitude and the flight attendants slowly prepared dinner. It took about 100 minutes but once they came out they would almost serve everything at once – an interesting tactic! I liked the shrimp entree but felt the portion size was super-small and the salad was not edible. The cheese dessert was just okay and it was very small as well. I felt pretty hungry but was so sleepy that I napped away right after dinner.
The IFE worked surprisingly well and had a lot of new movies on it. I liked how responsive it was. There is no in-flight WiFi.
The seat goes almost fully flat and comes up with a footrest. It almost looked like the Qatar Business Class seat but it seemed it went further in recline. It looked like a bad way to spend a night but I felt it was pretty decent. I slept through breakfast service, unfortunately.
Now when I woke up, we were like 10 minutes outside of Rio (according to the moving map). Still, people around me were in their sleeping position and no pilot announcement had been done. Nobody worried about getting the seats into their landing position. It was like the flight attendants were already strapped in. Eventually, 5 minutes out, the pilot announced the landing but still no flight attendants were to be seen! We had now moved seats but not everyone – a bunch of passengers slept right into landing! Others had luggage in front of them. The cabin was a beautiful mess, with some passengers walking around as close as 60 seconds from landing. Holy moly!
Landing was smooth though and we had a lot of rain coming against us. As luck would have it, this was the rainiest January in years in Rio. We taxied to the gate and people would get ready to deplane and finally folded up their seats. In all my flying, I have never seen that. Not on S7 in Siberia, Ethiopian in Africa or AirAsia. This was very unique (and dangerous).
The airport building for GIG’s airport isn’t the best, either. The jet bridge had a roof issue and we would wade through a few inches of water standing in it. Immigration was surprisingly quick though. The airport has the ATMs very well hidden and 2 of them were out of operation, of course. One ATM for the whole airport (departure and arrivals!) I gave up and exchanged money downstairs which you should never do; the exchange rate was a full 25% less than the ‘official’ exchange rate that day.
UberX is not allowed to pick up passengers at the airport (just the more expensive Uber Black) service and given the rain, no cars were available anyways. I decided to jump on the bus 2018 which leaves right outside and was the last passenger to come aboard. The ride is 2 hours during rush hour but it’s a bit of a city tour and you can get off anywhere at Copacabana or Ipanema.