My Friday was a long one, starting out at 4:30am when I checked out of the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis Airport for my 6:30am flight to Charlotte, connecting to Orlando. I had been in Minnesota all week on business, and had to fly home to Orlando to complete this business trip before Steve (DOS) and I could take our weekend President’s Day trip to Sao Paulo.
I got to Orlando on time at 2:40pm, and DOS was at the airport meeting me. After retrieved my checked luggage I swapped it in DOS’s car with my pre-packed Sao Paulo luggage DOS had brought to the airport. I also changed out of my cold winter Minnesota clothes and into my more comfortable travel clothes for the overnight flight to Brazil.
We had a quick and late lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s in the ‘B’ side terminal.
As a bonus getting there, we got to ride on the new airport tram that just opened today! At MCO airport you have to take a tram (train, some would say monorail but technically it isn’t) once past security to the airside terminals. While there are normally two trams running simultaneously at opposite ends, only one had been running for the last several months as they replaced the one tram with a newer model. We noticed a few differences among them; notably a small group of chairs on either end, and no more window ledge seating in the front of the cars, although the windows looked bigger, and had windshield wipers on them.
Our first flight from MCO to Miami was on a Boeing 767-300 series, which while an older plane had recently been re-configured to true lay-flat seating in Business Class which was nice, even for the short 45 minute flight. While clearly intended for international or long haul flights, we sometimes get these 767’s even on short jumps to Miami. On this configuration, American Airlines only has 2 classes Business (basically First Class but called Business) and Coach.
DOS and I sat in the middle section in this 1 x 2 x 1 business class seating arrangement, in row 3. While this seating configuration is nice for two people traveling together, on an international flight we both agreed we’d rather have a window seat in an EVEN row.
This is due to the quirky arrangement of the seats, which alternates with each EVEN and ODD row. The EVEN rows have the window seats right next to the window, which sounds obvious, but the ODD numbered rows have the window seats away from the window and closer to the aisle with the seat’s table and seat controls directly next to the window. It’s hard to describe, so here are a couple photos.
Also, the odd numbered seats are closer to the middle person’s seat due to this arrangement. The ODD seat numbers in the MIDDLE row in the ‘D’ seats also have a table that is about 8 or 9 inches wider than the ‘G’ seats. This too alternates with the ODD and EVEN arrangement. If this sounds confusing, it is when trying to pick a seat, as it really isn’t apparent on Seat Guru or American’s seat chart. For the short flight (or even a long one) any Business Class seat will be much more comfortable than Coach, but in our opinion, the Even numbered window seats are the best and most private.
So after taking a few photos we were off to Miami. As we were flying down we saw a beautiful sunset on the right hand side of the plane, which the man sitting next to the window took for me as I had my iPhone out and couldn’t take a good sunset photo from my middle section seat.
Once in Miami, we stopped by the newly remodeled Admiral’s Club near gate D25 area. I was surprised how packed the lounge area was at 7pm on Friday night. It was so crowded we couldn’t find a seat, and left a bit disappointed with the remodel, but opted for the nicer and much less crowded Premium Lounge in the E concourse. We have been to the Premium Lounge on several occasions which is for travelers flying in Business or First on One World partner airlines. It is a bit of a walk from the D gates, but well worth it in terms of quiet and personal space, as well as complimentary food and drinks. It has a self service bar with various liquors, as well as bottled beers, wines, and Tattinger Champagne.
We relaxed in the Premium lounge for a couple hours before heading down to the ‘D27’ departure gate for our 10pm flight. While the lounge was busy, it was no where near the madhouse that the Admiral’s Club on D concourse was like. The Premium Lounge is compartmentalized so there are lots of mini rooms and has a much more relaxing and private feel to it. British Airways had a lot of guests in there judging by the number of passengers leaving when their boarding call was announced. I’ve taken photos of the lounge before, so only took a couple photos of our seating area here this visit. The lounge seemed almost empty after the BA passengers departed for their A380 around 8pm, yet the lounge is open until 10pm, and was still fully stocked with food and drinks.
We had a 10 minute walk from ‘E’ to our ‘D’ gate, and arrived right as they were about to board our flight. Boarding was easy, and we boarded right away when they called for First Class and Business Class travelers (AA announced these together as one group instead of separately).
When boarding we went to the left, walking thru the smaller of the two Business Class cabins; the forward one only having two rows. Before we were upgraded from Business to First, we had seats reserved in this section in row 3. In all honesty, there really didn’t seem like much difference in the seats and privacy from this section of Business to First, and if I were flying Business Class on this plane would definitely pick row 3 or 4. Seat Guru shows row 4 to be bothersome by the galley’s and lavatories, but that did not appear to be an issue for that row, at least from what I noticed as it was behind and back aways from these seats.
Unlike on some international flights in First, we weren’t escorted to our seats upon boarding; not a big deal, but it is a small (and free) touch that seems easy enough to implement, especially considering there are only 8 First Class seats, and two of them were unoccupied. I was seated in seat 2A, which is the second and last row of First Class, and literally abuts the Business Class section although there is a curtain separating First and Business. The photo below is taken from my seat area in First Class, looking back at the two-row forward Business Cabin, separated only by the curtain immediately behind it – literally no space between the two cabins, but the closed curtain (after take-off) did offer privacy.
As our tickets were being scanned at the gate upon boarding, the American Airlines agent told Steve (DOS) his seat was broken, and was assigned 2 G instead of the window at 2J. So much for the last minute notice, not to mention holding up the line while they had to reprint his boarding pass. He tried to get seat 2D which was the center section directly next to me, but it was taken. Fortunately a nice gentleman in that seat switched with DOS’s new seat 2G, (which was the identical seat but on the opposite aisle), so we could sit across from each other at least. The window seat 2A and 2D/G are slightly aligned offside each other instead of directly across from each other which allows a bit more privacy, but you can still easily converse across the aisle.
We had two dedicated female Flight Attendants for our First Class cabin, and while efficient didn’t seem to be the type I would expect in First Class. The Lead Flight Attendant must have formerly worked for Aeroflot with a heavy accent and rather gruff no-nonsense demeanor, while the other Asian Flight Attendant was more friendly, but attended to the galley prep more than the service so we didn’t see her much. While we got what we requested, it just did come naturally, and had to request wine refills etc. It was ok service, but I can’t imagine it being much better than Business Class.
The seat itself however and inflight entertainment definitely made up for any shortcomings in service. One difference in the First vs Business Class seats was the First seats actually swiveled allowing you to use the window seat desk space as a working office. Also the seat came with comfortable bedding and more plush blankets and towels. For the hard product alone, I would chose First Class over Business, although not necessarily for the service, but I’ll report back on the flight home on Monday and see if it’s any different.
After getting seated at boarding, we were offered Champagne or Orange Juice in a plastic cup. I had the Champagne, and did manage to get a refill before pushing back slightly late at 10:15pm. The Captain for our flight was very personable-sounding and offered a warm welcome aboard, and gave us a very smooth 8 hour flight.
After take off we were served warm nuts and a drink. The night-time view of Miami out the large windows was very nice.
In between having our leisurely diner, I watched the movie Florence Foster Jenkins with Meryl Streep, based on a true story. While Meryl Streep hasn’t been on my ‘love list’ lately since she openly bashed Trump at an award ceremony, which I thought was highly unprofessional regardless of political affiliation, I never-the-less enjoyed the movie on my individual big screen TV in row 2A.
We also had a soup course, followed by a Mediterranean salad.
Our main course of Filet was cooked way to well done for our tastes, but we ate it anyhow. It was a bit tough due to the extra cooking, but hey it’s ‘plane food’ so we bungled through it. By this time I had put my phone away, so sorry I don’t have a photo of the main course, although I did retrieve it again for dessert. After dinner, we had a dessert of a chocolate fudge sundae with toppings of our choice.
I was awoken by the ‘Russian’ Flight Attendant, offering a quiche or fruit platter breakfast. We both had the fruit platter with granola and yogurt, although I missed the coffee being served when I went to the restroom to change out of my pajamas before landing.
During breakfast, the lead Flight Attendant confiscated my Bose headsets along with the rest of the cabin, no doubt due to AA policy, but it left you with a feeling of being a petty their for thinking about taking the headsets with you. Highly tacky in my option; they could easily collect these when they’ve landed.
After deplaning the 777 from the 2nd door (behind the two row business class section), we quickly went thru immigration and as we had no checked bags went thru customs quickly as well. I was concerned we might have an issue with our Brazilian visa, as it was issued last year on my old passport, but as it’s good for 10 years, they website said to bring your old passport containing the visa with you, as well as your new passport. Fortunately we had no trouble checking in for the flight, not at Brazilian immigration; actually they were quite cordial to us.
We breezed through customs, and then were met by our private driver and escort, whom we had pre-arranged before arrival. While a bit more than a taxi, I would highly recommend it due to the convenience. The drive from GRU Airport to our Grand Hyatt Hotel (on a Saturday morning) took approximately and hour.
Once at the hotel, we checked in, but our room wasn’t ready, so we went to the 20th floor Concierge Lounge, and had a late breakfast that was just finishing at 11am. While waiting for our room we checked email, had some coffee and relaxed bit. The Concierge Lounge offers incredible views of Sao Paulo below, which at first glance we found to be a clean and modern city.
We had reserved a Suite, so it probably took a bit longer than usual but we were in our room by 12:45pm. Our room was on the 15th floor, and in a quiet location at the end of the hall. We took a couple photos of the room before showering and taking a couple hour nap!
To be continued . . Bem vindo a Paulo!