In Part 1 of my trip I talked about the process of getting to Brazil and went over the first day of the media trip. I had just spent my one and only night in Brazil, and was in the hotel lobby at 4:30am local time to start day two. Bring it!
At this point, I was definitely feeling the lack of sleep. I had used all the coffee packets in my hotel room. The first thing of the day was for us to head to Sao Paulo’s secondary airport, Congonhas-São Paulo Airport (CGH), which was only 15 minutes away from the hotel. Our destination? Leite Lopes Airport (RAO), then about an hour’s drive to TAM’s Museum and Maintenance facility (MRO).
This was exciting for me for a number of reasons. First off, just being able to see the Museum and MRO, of course. But also, this was going to be the first time that I had ever flown on a non-US domestic flight. It seemed weird to me and thinking about it at 5am, I thought that I might had missed a memory, but nope, this was the first time and something to check off the ol’ AvGeek to-do list.
CGH is a small airport. This made it easy to get checked in and to our gate. Originally the flight was to depart from a remote gate, meaning boarding from the tarmac (yay), but at the last minute, it was changed to a real gate (boo). TAM originally had us three journalists (me, Jason Rabinowitz and Cynthia Drescher) seated together. No good. Not that we don’t like each other (we actually get along quite lovely), however we each wanted out own window seats. Luckily the flight was not that booked and we made it happen.
After finding my seat, I was given a lime-flavored candy, which was a classy touch. Then… well, I do not remember much. I think I sort of woke up a bit when we took off, but next thing that I knew, we were already on approach to RAO. I was told there was a drink service, but none for me — sleep was too important.
If I thought CHG was small — dang — RAO was way smaller. But arriving to the airport did give me another aviation first to check off my list: de-planing from the rear door. It doesn’t happen much in the US. I have de-planed from the front to the tarmac plenty of times (haven’t we all), but when I saw that going out the rear door was an option, I took a left turn to the back of the plane (I was halfway back, so I could have chosen either way).
We had a car set to pick us up and we all piled in. It wasn’t as roomy as the van we were driven around in while cruising Sao Paulo, but it did the job. It was about another 60 minute drive until we arrived to the MRO.
I have been to a few airline maintenance facilities at this point and it is interesting how some of them are very safety conscious and some just tell you to be careful. TAM probably has the most safety protocols in place that I have experienced. Not only did we get to wear these weird hardhat / baseball cap hybrids, but we also were given a pair of steel toed boots. Not going to lie — I felt pretty stylish.
After getting an interesting and entertaining tour of the MRO, we had to return the hats and shoes to the airline and we just crossed the street to get to the TAM Museum. First thing we did was get some food in the cafe located in the corner of the museum, which has windows that overlook the MRO. Although the MRO is not open to the public, the museum is and you can get a glimpse into the MRO through those windows.
We were given a tour by the president of the museum and a few workers. It was great seeing their passion and interest in aviation and sharing that passion with us. It was also nice to see an airline (and the founders) so motivated to build the world’s largest airline-owned museum.
Although I was excited to see that we were able to tour the inside of the Fokker 100 (it is open to the public), it wasn’t so cool when 50 elementary aged kids decided to tour it the same time. Not that I dislike kids, but 50 of them, in a smaller airliner, can get a little cozy.
Then it was back to the airport (RAO) to catch a flight to GRU, where we would catch a flight back to JFK. But before we headed out, we had a few Brazilian beers at the tiny airport.
The Brazilian domestic flight from RAO was quite similar to the one coming in. I found my seat, sat down, got my lime candy, and passed out. A well-deserved 45 minute nap.
Our flight to JFK was scheduled to leave at about 11:30pm and by the time we arrived at GRU, we didn’t have too much of a layover. At that point I had one mission: take a shower. I had a good 18 hours of travel time ahead of me and I hadn’t had a shower since about 4:00am.
We made our way to the new TAM lounge and quickly signed up for showers. By the time I was done, we needed to head to our gate and board the 777-300ER. This time the three of us media folks were sitting in 8A,C,D — and I had the window seat. Boo ya.
I was able to stay awake through take off and dinner being served after midnight, but then fell asleep for about eight hours. Nothing like sleep derivation to make a flight go by quickly.
Once arriving in New York — I never went through customs faster. I was out and making my way to Terminal 4 in no time.
I was flying Delta back to Seattle. I had a window seat set up in the back. I decided to pitch the fine folks at Delta to see if the would be interested in a First Class product review. They are in the process of updating their domestic First Class product, but my 757 had the old product. They counter-pitched me doing Economy Comfort and the upgrades they just added for flights between SEA and JFK. Deal.
The problem was, when I got my seat assignment — I was given a middle seat. I really had to think about this one. A window in normal Economy or a middle seat in Economy Comfort. Well, there was no story in economy, so I went for the middle and I have to say it was the right decision.
And, like that, I was back in Seattle. I was gone for only four days and spent only one night on the ground in Sao Paulo; the rest of the time was spent in the air. When I got home, my brain was fried and I was feeling new levels of jetlag that I had never experienced.
That night I went to take a nap at 5pm. I didn’t wake up until 8am the next day. That is 15 hours of sleep for any of you wanting to keep track — a new record for me.
So was it worth it? Totally. I am not going to lie, even two months later, I think I would be hesitant to do a similar trip again so soon, but with a bit more time, I am sure that I would be game.
We did so many awesome things in the two days on the ground — it made the two red-eyes and lack of sleep worth while. All done with the help of “airline adrenaline.”
Disclaimer: TAM paid for my flights to/from Seattle and my accommodations to do this story. All opinions are my own.