Reported en route to Rio de Janeiro by Seth Miller, “The Wandering Aramean”. Follow him on Twitter @WanderngAramean
Flights between the United States and Brazil on TAM Airlines are hardly a new development; the airline has been flying from its home bases in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro to various US gateways for more than 15 years. Recent updates to their longhaul fleet, however, make the trips between New York City’s JFK airport and Rio de Janeiro a rather more pleasant experience. Less than a year ago word was that TAM was going to be retiring the 767-300ER planes from their fleet. Today those same planes remain in service and, thanks to recent updates to the interiors, they offer a much more pleasant passenger experience. The new configuration is currently used for the flights between JFK and Rio de Janeiro/Galeão (GIG). The Miami – Rio de Janeiro/Galeão and Miami – Manaus flights will begin operating with this plane starting in September. The Miami – Belo Horizonte/Confins and Miami – Brasília routes will offer this plane starting in November. As part of my trip to test out the new configuration I flew one way in the new business class beds and the other in Espaço +, TAM’s version of increased legroom seats in the economy cabin. This is part one of the report, covering the flight from JFK to Rio in business class. Part covering Espaço + will post in a few days. Airfare and lodging for this trip was provided by TAM Airlines.
The southbound trip started with a minor hiccup: the ground staff at JFK were in a training course which ran long, leading to check-in opening a bit late and queue rather longer than expected. Fortunately the crew was able to clear the lines quickly and get passengers through in to terminal or, in my case, the lounge thanks to flying in business class. TAM uses the American Airlines Admirals Club at JFK, plus coupons for two free premium drinks. I took advantage of the showers at the lounge plus the drink coupons and before long it was time to board “The Magic Red Carpet” and head to Rio.
During the boarding process we were offered drinks as well as ramekins of nuts to snack on prior to the departure. I alternated between snacking and bouncing around the cabin to get photos of the new seats and play with the controls. The new seats, made by Contour, are arranged in a 2-2-2 layout and recline to a flat bed. Also, even when fully reclined your feet are still “out” in the cabin, not in a cubby hole under the seat in front of you. The bed length is just over 6 feet (at 5’ 11” I could fit but stretch to touch the ends). While the photo above shows a slight angle in the seats TAM is saying that they are a fully-flat model, the same as on the LAN 767s in business class (The Points Guy agrees that those are full flat). As of press time we’re having trouble getting back on board to confirm that; we’ll keep trying. Either way, I found the seats to be quite comfortable and I managed to sleep well during the flight.
I also spent a bit of time examining the amenity kit offered to us. It was a good range of products and, while not a brand I recognized the product quality was just fine for my needs. Here’s another review from Darren at Frequently Flying; he’s more in to that sort of thing than I am.
The new IFE system on-board managed to keep me entertained for the portions of the flight where I was awake without any troubles. The screens are large and bright, making for easy viewing even when mostly reclined in the seat. More importantly, the breadth of the movie selection was excellent, offering up options to suit most tastes. There were scores of films available ranging from the classics (I watched “Casablanca” over dinner) to more recent releases. There were also a number of cartoons available (“Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” are two titles I remember) to keep kids (of all ages) happy in flight. Beyond the movies there are a number of music channels, including several dedicated to Brazilian artists. One of the other travelers on the trip mentioned how much she enjoyed the music options.
There was a bit of light turbulence for the first 30 minutes or so of the flight but once that passed the flight attendants were up in the cabin, offering up drinks and dinner. Given that we were headed to Rio, home of the Caipirinha, there was not much doubt about what I’d be having to drink with my appetizers. I also managed to get both the duck and the shrimp summer roll appetizers even though I was supposed to choose only one. The duck was quite a bit better though the shrimp wasn’t bad, just a bit dry and no sauce/dip for it.
For my main course I had the steak and, while a bit over-cooked for my tastes, it was still tender and tasty.
Ice cream was offered for dessert in the form of a Hagen-Daaz single-serving cup; no sundaes on this flight.
After dessert I put the seat into full recline mode and dozed off to sleep, waking up for breakfast before the descent into Rio. Breakfast was a multi-course affair, starting with sliced meats, fresh fruit and a croissant. The number of options for jams with the pastries was impressive. I think I ended up with guava and strawberry (the latter because I asked about it and the FA went and fetched it for me from the galley).
That was followed by an egg crepe served with ham and mushrooms.
And then, about 9 hours after leaving JFK, we were on the ground in Brazil. I picked up an order of pão de queijo in the arrivals hall to complete my welcome to town and then it was off to the hotel and to explore the city for a couple days (covered in a separate post).
Compared to the competition the new seat is a huge improvement. American Airlines is the only direct competition in the markets and the new LAN business class is a marked upgrade from what American offers today. American will also be upgrading their 763s starting in 2014 to a reverse herringbone seat layout but without an integrated IFE option, relying on portable devices instead.
The new business class seat is very comfortable and the service on board was warm and efficient. The flight attendants were friendly and willing to go along with my requests for an extra appetizer or a different jam than what they had out for the regular service. And the selection on the AVOD IFE system was impressive, more than enough to keep me entertained throughout the trip. The seat is a bit short, and I still have some concern about getting into the fully flat position, but the layout without a foot “cubby” is a nice one and overall I found it a very pleasant flight.
Seth Miller is the author of the popular blog The Wandering Aramean. A world traveler and avid frequent-flyer points collector, Seth is an expert in the field of airline loyalty programs. You can connect with Seth on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.