Who flies 15,000 miles to just spend one night in a foreign country? This guy!
I was recently invited to Sao Paulo to take a look a behind the scenes look at TAM Airlines’ operations. When invited, my first thought was, “hell yes,” but once seeing that I would be flying 15,000 miles for one night in Brazil, I felt that there might be some challenges (and lack of sleep). But was it worth it? I wasn’t sure at first. So, I decided to take you behind-the-scenes of the behind-the-scenes trip — what is it like to do a media trip in such a short amount of time.
The media schedule was cram-packed of activities and not too much time to sleep. I would fly from Seattle to New York in economy (well, premium economy on the way home), then take the red-eye on TAM from New York’s JFK to São Paulo–Guarulhos International Airport, and then take another red eye back to the US. With such a short trip, this meant that I needed to do the best I could to rest when possible, keep hydrated, and heck, why not have some fun too.
When I take these media trips, I think most of my friends and family visualize me on the beach or next to a pool with a nice drink (probably one with an umbrella in it) and it is all wine and dine. These media trips are VERY different than that, but it doesn’t mean that I do not love them. Even though there is a lot of fun in doing them, I am on a job and doing work. Sometimes, that means pushing through when all my body wants to do is shut down. This trip put me to the test.
First off – if you are looking to visit Brazil, plan early. US citizens need to get a visa, and depending on where you live and the current status, it can take a long time. When I was invited to go by TAM, I had two month’s notice, and figured that was plenty — nope.
Hiring a standard visa service to take my passport to the Brazilian Consulate in San Francisco wouldn’t have given me enough time, so we had to get creative.
Working with the airline and their outside PR firm (Megan, Carla, Candace, and Kellie – thank you so much for your hard work!), I was lucky enough to get an appointment at the consulate and we hired a courier service to handle my documents. At the time, I gave it a 75% chance of working, but in the end I got my passport and visa in hand just three days before my flight. High stress for sure, but I was happy to finally make it work.
The trip started with my alarm going off at 4am. It takes something pretty cool to get me up that early, but this trip was enough to do it.
My American Airlines flight out of Seattle was scheduled to depart at 7:00am. However, before I even left my house, the flight was delayed until 8:40am. I thought it was odd, since the plane had arrived into Seattle the night before and it was the first flight of the day. Turned out that the crew was late arriving into Seattle and, due to the crew rest rules, the flight had to be pushed back.
When I checked in at home, it said I couldn’t pick a seat. Of course, I was quite afraid of getting the dreaded middle seat, but lucky I got an aisle seat after arriving at the airport. When boarding the 737 I was happy to see it had the Boeing Sky Interior — it really does a great job of making the cabin feel more spacious.
I started to doze off as we taxied and thought it was a very long way to the runway. Then I woke up when the engines shut down. Wait a second — either that was the best nap ever and we were in New York, or we were back at the gate. Unfortunately, we were back at the gate.
The safety video wouldn’t play and none of the fight attendants were able to find their display kit, so we had to go back to the gate to borrow one from another aircraft. Sigh. However, the video started to magically play, so we were good to go. Overall, the flight left about 2.5 hours late.
The flight went just fine. I was able to nap a little and work on my emails through the GoGo in-flight internet. One odd thing was that they never played a movie on the overhead screens. Surely the flight was long enough, but whatever, I had the internet.
I was fine with my connection time, since I originally had four hours at JFK, but now I was down to two. I was disappointed, since I was excited to chill out at the Admiral’s Club with Jason Rabinowitz and Cynthia Drescher, who were also making the trip as well (flying TAM Business Class gave me the access).
I was a bit nervous, since I didn’t have my boarding pass for my TAM Airlines’ flight to Brazil. Flying on a media non-rev, sometimes one is not able to check in at home or via the app, and must do it in person. This was one of those times.
I first tried to go straight to the lounge, operated by American Airlines (TAM and AA are both oneworld, so I assumed they could check me in). The nice woman at the counter explained that they did not have the ability to print my boarding pass, since it was a different airline. I explained that I would go get my boarding pass at the gate, but it won’t be open for another 45 minutes. Luckily Jason was in the lounge lobby and corroborated my story, and the front desk worker was nice enough to give me access to the lounge to wait until the gate opened.
I had a few beers in the lounge, finally got my boarding pass, got on the plane and yada yada yada, flew to Brazil.
Upon arrival to GRU we met with our TAM Public Relations person, Clara, and our driver, and were off to our hotel, the Hilton.
It was about 6:30 am local time, we just flew a red eye, and our first activity was set for 10:30am. We were hoping our rooms would be available for an early check in to take a shower and freshen up, which worked out.
I had heard that Sao Paulo traffic was bad, but holy cow. It took us a long time to get to the hotel, but at least we got to see a little bit of the city.
I was tired, but excited for the day. I was able to shower, get some work done, and was back in the lobby waiting to head to our first stop: TAM’s Headquarters. Luckily for us; it was right across the street from the hotel.
We got a tour, met with some fine media and PR folks with TAM, and were soon on our way to check out the airline’s uniform shop. I had never seen an airline set up their uniform process like that and was quite impressed. I wanted to try a uniform on, but I was told that probably wasn’t a good idea. Darn it!
Each place we went, it took a little bit of time to get checked in. Some facilities just required us to show our IDs, others needed to keep them and give us badges. Each badge at every location was a little different.
Once we were done checking out the uniforms, it was time to eat. And what better food to get while in Brazil than Italian?! No, seriously.
I guess there is a large Italian population in Sao Paulo and we had lunch at this amazing place called Vicolo Nostro. Some of the best Italian food (especially for being lunch time) that I have ever had.
One would think that after the early morning wake up in Seattle, the flight to JFK and the red eye down south, I would be exhausted when we hit mid-afternoon. But heck no — we were next off to the service training academy, which was some of the good stuff!
I have been to quite a few training centers at this point, but what made this one stand out was our ability to get so hands-on. Can we go into the safety raft? Sure! How about slide down the safety slide? No problem. May we try to rescue a mannequin in a dark smoke-filled room? Here are some safety goggles, do it! Take a dip into the pool? Go ahead. But crap, I didn’t have my bathing suit.
Although all the great things we were able to learn and do were interesting, the golden moment for me was being able to go down a safety slide. It was my first time doing so, and I have to admit that it is pretty awesome. I have been wanting to do it forever, but every other airline always told me, “no.” I mean, I get it for safety reasons, and of course we don’t want to make too much fun out of something that is serious business. But still — how about just once? Of course TAM was happy to say yes!
During many flight attendant training center visits we have to be rushed through to avoid classes, but it seemed they actually scheduled time in for us and we were able to go at a nice and slow pace, absorbing and learning about everything around us.
Afterwards, we went to get some ice cream (I think there was some fancy name for it, but it was something like ice cream). Then we went to a super fancy restaurant called KAA for dinner.
No question — the place looked very high-end. But all of us were not that impressed with our appetizers, dinner, or drinks. Not that they were horrid, but for the level of restaurant and for the price, it was disappointing. Oh well, at least I left full.
At this point it was about 10pm local time. I didn’t want to do the math of how little sleep I had in the last day or so with my travels, but I was pretty sure it was time for rest.
When we got back to the hotel, I realized that I forgot my sleeping pills (I normally use them on short trips to keep me on track). Even with the lack of sleep, I was still too amped up and didn’t get to bed until 1:00am. That made it REALLY hard when my alarm went off at 4:00am.
Yes. That is 4:00am — three hours later. We were to meet in the lobby of the hotel at 4:30am and were going to take a flight within Brazil to check out TAM’s Museum and Maintenance facility. I was only running on airline-adrenaline at this point, but I was still smiling.
Disclaimer: TAM paid for my flights to/from Seattle and my accommodations to do this story. All opinions are my own.